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Afghanistan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government sometimes restricted these rights.

Freedom of Expression: The law provides for freedom of speech, and the country has a free press. There were reports authorities at times used pressure, regulations, and threats to silence critics. Criticism of the central government was regular and generally free from restrictions, but criticism of provincial government was more constrained, where local officials and power brokers exerted significant influence and authority to intimidate or threaten their critics, both private citizens and journalists.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Media were sometimes limited in their access to government information and often faced threats and violence from the internal conflict. Politicians, security officials, and others in positions of power at times threatened or harassed journalists because of their coverage. During a speech on April 30 to mark his return to the country, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar inspired protests when he publicly called the media “wicked” and told followers to censor the media.

Freedom of speech and an independent media were more constrained at the provincial level. Specific political and ethnic groups, including those led by former mujahedin leaders, owned many provincial media outlets and controlled the content. Some provinces had limited media presence.

Print media continued to publish independent magazines, newsletters, and newspapers. A wide range of editorials and dailies openly criticized the government. Still, there were concerns that violence and insecurity threatened media independence and safety. Due to high levels of illiteracy, most citizens preferred television and radio to print media. A greater percentage of the population, including those in distant provinces, had access to radio.

According to news reports, President Ghani issued a presidential decree on August 29 exempting media companies, except for television channels, from paying fines for past-due income taxes. The decree partially answered criticisms levied by press freedom groups the week prior that increased taxes and fines would hurt many independent media outlets.

Violence and Harassment: Government officials used threats, violence, and intimidation to attempt to silence opposition journalists, particularly those who spoke out about impunity, war crimes, corruption, and powerful local figures. According to Reporters Without Borders, the governor of Baghlan called a journalist and two other employees of privately owned Arezo TV into his office on May 25 to make them delete news footage. The Afghan Journalist Safety Committee (AJSC) reported 10 journalists killed in the first six months of the year. For the same period, the AJSC recorded 73 cases of violence against journalists, which included killing, beating, inflicting injury and humiliation, intimidation, and detention of journalists–a 35 percent increase from the first six months of 2016. Government-affiliated individuals or security forces committed most of the violence against journalists and were responsible for 34 instances of violence, leaving 39 instances attributable to the Taliban, ISIS-K, local warlords, and individuals. According to AJSC, the Eastern zone and Kabul zone, which include provinces north of Kabul, had the most cases of violence against journalists. The Southeastern zone had the least number of cases of violence against journalists.

On May 17, ISIS-K attacked the Afghanistan National Radio and Television compound in Jalalabad and killed seven persons. The May 31 bombing, widely attributed to the antigovernment Haqqani group, killed 31 employees of the Roshan television and news media telecommunications company and caused millions of dollars of damage to the company’s headquarters. The same attack killed at least one camera operator of Tolo News and one BBC driver, injured nine employees of other media outlets, and caused extensive damage to 1TV’s headquarters.

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 increased levels of insecurity and threats from insurgents, warlords, and organized criminals. They also reported local governmental authorities were less cooperative in facilitating access to information.

In August 2016 the Office of the National Security Council approved a new set of guidelines to address cases of violence against journalists. The initiative created 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 run by the NDS to identify threats against journalists. Press freedom organizations reported that, although the committee met and referred cases to the Attorney General’s Office, it did not increase protection for journalists.

In March a media advocacy group reported that many female journalists worked under pseudonyms to avoid recognition, harassment, and retaliation. According to the group, there were no female journalists in the provinces of Kunduz, Nuristan, or Panjsher because of insecurity.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: 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. An NGO supporting media freedom surveyed journalists in 13 provinces and found 90 percent lacked access to government information. A Kabul Press Club survey showed more than half of journalists were dissatisfied with the level of access to government information.

Libel/Slander Laws: The penal code and the mass media law prescribe jail sentences and fines for defamation. Authorities sometimes 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 information.

Nongovernmental Impact: Some reporters acknowledged they avoided criticizing the insurgency and some neighboring countries in their reporting because they feared Taliban retribution. Insurgent groups coerced media agencies in insecure areas to prevent them from broadcasting or publishing advertisements and announcements of the security forces, entertainment programming, music, and women’s voices.

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. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 10.6 percent of the population had internet access, mostly in urban areas, in 2016.

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 to spread its messages. Internet usage remained relatively low due to high prices, a lack of local content, and illiteracy.

On November 4, the government announced a temporary ban on two popular encrypted messaging applications–WhatsApp and Telegram–from November 1 to 20. On November 6, the government rescinded the ban.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Albania

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. There were reports that the government, business, and criminal groups sought to influence the media in inappropriate ways.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of viewpoints, although there were some efforts to exert direct and indirect political and economic pressure on the media, including threats and violence against journalists who tried to investigate crime and corruption stories. Political pressure, corruption, and lack of funding constrained the independent print media, and journalists reportedly practiced self-censorship. Lack of economic security reduced reporters’ independence and contributed to bias in reporting. The Albanian Journalists Union continued to report significant delays in salary payments to reporters at most media outlets. Financial problems led some journalists to rely more heavily on outside sources of income.

While dramatic growth in online media during the year added to the diversity of views, NGOs maintained that professional ethics were a low priority for such outlets, raising concerns over the spread of false news stories that benefited specific financial or political interests.

In its annual Media Sustainability Index, the International Research and Exchanges Board indicated that the county’s media environment deteriorated in several areas. Donor funding for organizations that pushed for a more independent press remained limited, and the press was vulnerable to misuse under constant political and economic pressure. According to the report, very few media outlets produced independent reports about organized crime because their journalists lacked financial and editorial independence.

The independence of the Audiovisual Media Authority, the regulator of the broadcast media market, remained questionable, and the role of the authority remained limited. Most owners of private television stations used the content of their broadcasts to influence government action toward their other businesses. Business owners also freely used media outlets to gain favor and promote their interests with political parties.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of violence and intimidation against members of the media, and political and business interests subjected journalists to pressure.

In May 2016 the Union of Albanian Journalists denounced the severe beating of sports journalist Eduard Ilnica, allegedly for reporting on the violent behavior of a coach during a soccer match. Authorities arrested the coach, who in February was convicted of assault by both the district court and appellate court but released for time served in pretrial detention.

On March 8, two unidentified persons attacked Elvi Fundo, a journalist and owner of the news portal citynews.al, with iron bars, causing serious injuries. Police investigated the attack but as of September had not identified the perpetrators. According to Fundo, his portal’s stories accusing other media owners of drug trafficking and some police of corruption were possible reasons for the attack.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists often practiced self-censorship to avoid violence and harassment and as a response to pressure from publishers and editors seeking to advance their political and economic interests. A 2015 survey by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) Albania found that large commercial companies and important advertisers were key sources of pressure.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law permits private parties to file criminal charges and obtain financial compensation for insult or deliberate publication of defamatory information. NGOs reported that the fines, which could be as much as three million leks ($26,000), were excessive and, combined with the entry of a conviction into the defendant’s criminal record, undermined freedom of expression.

On June 9, a member of the High Council of Justice, Gjin Gjoni, filed defamation lawsuits against two BIRN journalists and two journalists of the daily Shqiptarja.com for their coverage of his asset declaration, which was being investigated by prosecutors. Gjoni was seeking seven million leks ($61,000) from BIRN and four million leks ($35,000) from Shqiptarja.com, claiming the stories damaged his reputation.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to March data from Internet World Stats, approximately 67 percent of the population used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Algeria

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 regularly criticized and satirized government officials and policies, but the government on some occasions restricted these rights. The government’s actions 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 Expression: While public debate and criticism of the government were widespread, journalists and activists believed they were limited in their ability to criticize the government publicly on topics crossing unwritten “red lines.” Authorities arrested and detained citizens for expressing views deemed damaging to state officials and institutions, and citizens practiced self-restraint in expressing public criticism. The law criminalizing speech about security force conduct during the internal conflict of the 1990s remained in place, although the government said there had never been an arrest or prosecution under the law. A separate law provides for up to three years’ imprisonment for publications 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.

Press and Media Freedom: The National Agency for Publishing and Advertising (ANEP) controls public advertising for print media. According to the NGO Reporters without Borders (RSF), private advertising existed but frequently came from businesses with close links to the ruling political party. Although ANEP said in September that it represented only 15 percent of the total advertising market, nongovernmental sources assessed the majority of daily newspapers depended on ANEP-authorized advertising to finance their operations. The government’s lack of transparency over its use of state-funded advertising permitted it to exert undue influence over print media. On November 14, Hadda Hazem, the editor of the El Fadjr newspaper, began a hunger strike to protest what she described as government pressure on public and private advertisers to deprive El Fadjr of advertising revenue in retaliation for its criticisms of the government.

Police arrested blogger Merzoug Touati on January 25 on charges stemming from his publication of an interview with a former Israeli diplomat. On September 13, Touati began a hunger strike. He remained in detention at year’s end.

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 difficulty 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.

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.

In September the Ministry of Communication stated there were 249 accredited written publications, down from 332 last year. Of the daily printed publications, the ministry stated six were state-operated. The ministry said the decline in accredited publications was due to a reduction in advertising revenue.

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, the Ministry of Communication said in 2016 it would limit the number of private satellite channels to 13 and foreign-based unaccredited television outlets would be shut down. At year’s end, however, the government had not shut down any such outlets. Regulations require the shareholders and managers of any radio or television channel to be Algerian citizens and prohibit 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, 14 accredited foreign press agencies reported during the year. In addition, six 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.

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

From October 5-November 28, Tout sur l’Algerie (TSA), an online news website, was inaccessible via Algerie Telecom, the state-owned traditional internet service provider (ISP), and via Mobilis, the state-owned mobile ISP. Algerie Telecom did not provide TSA the reasons for the blockage. In October the Ministry of Communication denied any involvement, saying the issue rested with Algerie Telecom. TSA director Hamid Guemache told RSF that the explanations provided by the authorities “are not convincing” and that he suspected a “political blockage.”

Libel/Slander Laws: NGOs and observers criticized the law on defamation as vaguely drafted and said the definitions used as failed 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 ($877 to $4,385). The Ministry of Justice did not provide information on the percentage of defamation claims that originated from private citizens, as opposed to government officials. Defamation laws specify that former members of the military who make statements deemed to have damaged the image of the military or to have “harmed the honor and respect due to state institutions” may face prosecution.

The Ministry of Communication prohibited the sale of the August issue of Le Monde Diplomatique, a French monthly publication, that contained an article titled “Forbidden Memory in Algeria” about the aftermath of the internal conflict in the 1990s. The ministry said the article’s discussion of President Bouteflika’s health was injurious to the president and stated the publication did not appeal the decision.

The law criminalizes statements denigrating Islam or insulting the Prophet Muhammed or “messengers of God.” In 2016 police in Setif arrested Slimane Bouhafs, a Christian convert, for posting statements on his Facebook page questioning the morals of the Prophet Muhammed. A court sentenced him to five years in prison, plus a DZD 100,000 ($877) fine. His sentence was subsequently reduced to three years in prison and then commuted in July as part of a broad presidential amnesty. He was scheduled for release in March 2018 as a result of the commutation.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government monitored certain email and social media sites.

Internet users regularly exercised their right to free expression and association online, including through online forums, social media, and email. 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 ISPs to cooperate with authorities. Under the law the government may conduct electronic surveillance 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, ISPs 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 ($438 and $4,385) for users who do not comply with the law, including the obligation to cooperate with law enforcement authorities against cybercrime.

On April 4, seven administrators of a Facebook page called “Granada City” appeared in court in Bouira on charges stemming from a post in January calling for a general strike. The charges against them were dropped in May.

For a second year, the government blocked access to social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, for several days during nationwide high school exams. The decision was in response to previous leaks of exam results, which were posted on social media.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 43 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Academic seminars generally 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. The law gives the authorities broad power to ban books that run counter to the constitution, “the Muslim religion and other religions, national sovereignty and unity, the national identity and cultural values of society, national security and defense concerns, public order concerns, and the dignity of the human being and individual and collective rights.” It further prohibits books that “make apology for colonialism, terrorism, crime, and racism.”

A January 17 decree by the prime minister clarified the process for the Ministry of Culture’s review of imported books, both in print and electronic form. According to the decree, importers must submit to the ministry the title, author’s name, editor’s name, edition, year, International Standard Book Number, and number of copies to be imported. Importers of books covering the “national movement and the Algerian Revolution” must submit the entire text of the books for review, including a secondary review by the Ministry of the Moudjahidine (veterans of the Revolution). The Ministry of Culture can also require a full content review of books on other topics if it chooses. The ministry has 30 days to review the importation application; in the absence of a response after 30 days, the importer may proceed with distribution of the publication. After making a determination, the ministry notifies the customs service of the decision to allow or ban the importation of the publication. Appeals may be made to the ministry, with no independent or judicial review provided for in the decree.

A government official said that rejected book importation requests were almost always for religious books that promote extremist ideas. A January 4 decree established a commission within the Ministry of Religious Affairs to review imports of the Quran. This decree requires all applications to include a full copy of the text and other detailed information. The ministry has three to six months to review the text, with the absence of a response after that time constituting a rejection of the application. A separate January 4 decree covering religious texts other than the Quran stated, “The content of religious books for import, regardless of format, must not undermine the religious unity of society, the national religious reference, public order, good morals, fundamental rights and liberties, or the law.” The importer must submit the text and other information, and the ministry must respond within 30 days. A nonresponse after this period of time is considered a rejection. Religious texts distributed without authorization may be seized and destroyed.

On March 4, police in the city of Aokas in Bejaia province reportedly prevented a local NGO from holding a conference featuring professor Younes Adli on “Kabyle [Berber] thought in the 18th and 19th centuries.”

In September press outlets reported Algiers International Book Fair Commissioner Hamidou Messaoudi announced that of the 120,000 books proposed for inclusion in the annual fair by 920 publishers representing 51 countries, the Book Fair Commission prohibited the inclusion of 130. Messaoudi said the action was taken pursuant to Algerian law prohibiting the exhibition of books that glorify terrorism, encourage radicalization, or incite racism.

Andorra

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Angola

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Antigua and Barbuda

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government respected this right on a somewhat limited basis.

Press and Media Freedoms: Privately owned print media, including daily and weekly newspapers, were active and offered a range of opinions. There were claims, however, that the government did not allow fair access to opposition and independent media. In public statements the prime minister threatened journalists and singled out the sole independent media outlet as the cause for the country’s problems.

Libel/Slander Laws: There were two libel cases pending against the country’s sole independent media outlet involving ruling party ministers.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to 2016 International Telecommunication Union data, 73 percent of the population had access to the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Argentina

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Independent newspapers, radio and television outlets, and internet sites were numerous and active, expressing a wide variety of views.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. There were reports of media outlet shutdowns and staff dismissals during the year, primarily due to economic concerns. Media observers noted the closures mainly affected outlets that were maintained artificially through public funding mechanisms from the previous administration.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of physical attacks, threats, and harassment against journalists in relation to their reporting, most of which covered cases of official corruption.

On July 25, Jesus Baez de Nacimiento, owner of Carretero 101 FM Radio, was shot four times as he entered his home in Misiones Province. His assailants were not apprehended by year’s end. The incident was related to the radio station’s reporting on alleged complicity between local police and drug traffickers, according to local media organizations.

The Argentine Journalism Forum (FOPEA) reported 54 physical attacks against journalists as of October, most sustained during press coverage of protests. Buenos Aires city police detained three journalists on September 1 while they were covering a demonstration, releasing them three days later. Two other television journalists were injured by police use of tear gas during the protest. On October 1, four television journalists from various channels alleged unknown individuals assaulted them during another demonstration. FOPEA expressed concern over these attacks during protests, claiming that certain media outlets were targeted due to their editorial lines, and called for enhanced security measures to protect journalists reporting on protests.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: On March 23, a national appeals court levied on the satirical magazine Barcelona a significant fine for damages after it published a controversial cover with the image of Maria Cecilia Pando de Mercado, a conservative activist. FOPEA and the Association of Argentine Journalists claimed the ruling had a negative impact on freedom of expression.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for the Media: On September 26, the government issued a presidential decree amending the 2016 law on public access to information, requiring executive branch approval of organizational structure of the Agency for Access to Public Information. Press groups welcomed the action, but the Association for Civil Rights and other NGOs expressed concern the decree would harm the agency’s autonomy.

As of October the Ministry of Security, acting under a 2016 protocol to protect journalists in cases where their activities entail risks, enacted protective measures, including police protection, in three cases where journalists received threats after conducting investigations related to drug trafficking and trafficking in persons.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The World Bank reported that 70 percent of citizens used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Armenia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Australia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Austria

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Azerbaijan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Bahrain

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.” The government limited freedom of speech and press through active prosecution of individuals under libel, slander, and national security laws that targeted citizen and professional journalists and by passing legislation to limit speech in print and social media.

Freedom of 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.” The penal code allows penalties for conviction of no less than one year and no more than seven years’ imprisonment, plus a fine, for anyone who “offends the monarch of the Kingdom of Bahrain, the flag, or the national emblem.” The government charged two persons with “insulting the king” during the year. Additionally, the government charged or convicted four individuals for “insulting a government institution.” There were 32 cases of “inciting hatred against a religious sect” and 1,017 cases of misuse of a telecommunications device.

In 2016 police arrested BCHR President Nabeel Rajab for tweets released in 2015 criticizing the Saudi-led coalition’s military operations in Yemen and treatment of prisoners in Jaw Prison. His trial began in July 2016 and continued as of December. A separate trial began January 23 for a second set of charges, spreading false information and malicious rumors. The charges in the second case alleged he provided two television “foreign interviews” to foreign press in 2015 in which he defamed Bahrain. On July 10, although present for some portions of his trial, the Lower Criminal Court convicted Rajab in absentia for his foreign interviews and sentenced him to two years in prison; on September 28, an appeal of the conviction was heard before the Court of Appeals. On November 22, a judge denied Rajab’s appeal in the interviews case. Rajab’s final appeal to the Court of Cassation, the country’s highest court, was scheduled to begin January 15. His “tweets” case continued as of year’s end, with the next session also scheduled for January 15.

Press and Media Freedom: 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.

On June 4, the Ministry of Information Affairs ordered the indefinite suspension of the only independent newspaper operating in the country, al-Wasat. The government accused it of publishing content “offensive to a sisterly Arab state” when it covered protests in Morocco. On June 26, the newspaper’s board of directors issued a letter terminating the contracts of its approximately 160 employees.

On January 7, journalist Faisal Hayyat, a video blogger, was released after serving three months in prison for conviction of posting an allegedly defamatory tweet against an Islamic religious figure. Security forces summoned him again for questioning on April 23 for charges related to the Diraz protests. He was released and banned from international travel while his case remained under investigation.

Violence and Harassment: According to local journalists, authorities sometimes harassed, arrested, or threatened journalists and photographers due to their reporting. Authorities claimed, however, that some individuals who identified themselves as journalists and photographers were 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 brought criminal complaints against journalists who worked without accreditation. The government arrested or deported individuals engaged in journalism that were in the country on other types of visas.

On March 22, CID detained and questioned Agence France Presse photographer Mohammed al-Sheikh at Bahrain Airport, then released him without charge the same day.

On May 25, the government refused for the second time renewal of Nazeha Saeed’s permit as an independent journalist for France 24 and Radio Monte Carlo and fined her 1,000 dinars ($2,650). The ministry did not give a reason for its decision, nor was recourse available.

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 publishing articles, press releases, or stories on certain subjects.

The press and publications law prohibits anti-Islamic content in media and mandates imprisonment for “exposing the state’s official religion to 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.”

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 for conviction 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. The Ministry of Interior reported the government fined or imprisoned 88 individuals for “slander,” “libel,” or “divulging secrets” between January and September.

National Security: National security-related law provides for fines up to 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 concerning an accredited representative of a foreign country due to acts connected with the person’s position.

INTERNET FREEDOM

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 98 percent of citizens used the internet in 2016. The government blocked some websites from being accessed from inside the country, including some opposition-linked websites. After the government cut relations with Qatar in June, it blocked Qatari news websites such as al-Jazeeraal-Sharq, and Raya. 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. The government sentenced several journalists and bloggers arrested in 2016-17 to prison for social media postings.

Political and human rights activists reported being interrogated by security forces regarding their postings on social media. They sometimes reported repeated interrogations that included threats against their physical safety and that of their families, threats against their livelihood, and threats of denial of social services like housing and education. Several activists reported shutting down or deciding to cease posting to their social media accounts because of the threats.

Opposition leader Ebrahim Sharif was interrogated on January 15 for using Twitter to criticize the government’s execution of three Shia citizens that same day, and on March 20, he was charged with “inciting hatred against the regime” for a series of tweets critical of the government, including one questioning the dissolution of political societies. Sharif believed he remained under an active international travel ban.

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 students, 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 questioned them on their political beliefs and those of their families during interviews. The government maintained it distributed all scholarships and made all placements based on merit.

Bangladesh

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government sometimes failed to respect this right. 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 Expression: The constitution equates criticism of the constitution with sedition. Punishment for sedition ranges from three years’ to life imprisonment. In 2016 several high-profile individuals were charged with sedition, including BNP leader Khaleda Zia, television personality Mahmudur Rahman Manna, and reporter Kanok Sarwar. The government did not proceed with the prosecutions of Manna and Sarwar. The law limits hate speech but does not define clearly what constitutes hate speech, which permits the government’s 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. The Foreign Donation Act criminalizes any criticism of constitutional bodies. Section 57 of the 2006 Information and Communication Technology Act (ICTA) references defamation of individuals and organizations and was used to prosecute opposition figures and civil society.

Press and Media Freedom: 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.

The government maintained editorial control over the Bangladesh public television station (BTV) and mandated that private channels broadcast government content at no charge. Civil society said that political interference influenced the licensing process, since 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.

Utpal Das, a journalist for an online news outlet, went missing in October and reappeared in December. Das gave confusing statements after his return, and observers alleged he was forcibly disappeared as a method of intimidation. Mubasher Hasan, a university professor and social media personality, disappeared for 44 days during the year. After The Wire, a news website, alleged that the army intelligence forces were responsible for the disappearance, the government blocked access to The Wire’s website.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, on May 17, the Foreign Ministry sent letters to its embassies abroad instructing them to monitor Bangladeshi journalists traveling abroad. The letter cited a recommendation from the Parliamentary Standing Committee, which had expressed concern that traveling journalists were giving “wrong information on Bangladesh in the international arena.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: 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.

Privately owned newspapers usually enjoyed freedom to carry diverse views. Political polarization and self-censorship remained a problem, however. The government used advertising as a weapon to control the media by withholding advertising spending.

The government penalized media that criticized the government. On multiple occasions, government officials threatened privately owned television channels not to broadcast the opposition’s activities and statements. Daily newspapers Prothom Alo and Daily Starwere denied access to prime ministerial events because they published reports critical of the government and prime minister, according to observers. The government also intervened to suppress reports deemed damaging to the ruling party. On September 22, the Burma news portal mizzima.com published a report by Indian journalist Subir Bhaumik under the headline “Bangladesh’s Hasina Survives Another Attempt on Her Life.” On September 23, the local television stations Jamuna TV and DBC News broadcast the report as breaking news but were pressured to pull it off the air.

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.

Some international media outlets reported delays and difficulties in obtaining visas. 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.

Local and international media, including major news agencies, were largely able to report on the influx of Rohingya refugees from Burma, although two Burmese photojournalists were detained in September and charged with espionage. Many members of the international media traveled to the country on tourist visas, but police detained the photojournalists for using tourist visas to enter the country instead of journalist visas. After two weeks in detention, the journalists were released on bail but could not leave the country until authorities dropped the charges four weeks later.

Nongovernmental Impact: Atheist, secular, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) writers and bloggers reported they continued to receive death threats from violent extremist organizations. In November a human rights lawyer claimed he received death threats for writing about and advocating for the country’s LGBTI community.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet and censored online content in isolated incidents. The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) reported approximately 77 million internet subscriptions in August, including an estimated 71 million mobile internet subscriptions (one individual may have more than one subscription). The government prohibited Virtual Private Networks and Voice Over Internet Protocol telephony but rarely enforced this prohibition.

In several incidents the government interfered in internet communications, filtered or blocked access, restricted content, and censored websites or other communications and internet services. It suspended or closed many websites 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. The BTRC filtered internet content the government deemed harmful to national unity and religious beliefs. In August 2016 the BTRC carried out a directive to block 35 news websites that had published material critical of the government and political leaders or were perceived to feature overt support for political opposition groups. Many of the sites remained blocked.

Section 57 of the ICTA criminalizes the posting online of inflammatory or derogatory information against the state or individuals. Opponents of the law said it unconstitutionally restricted freedom of 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.

According to an investigation by the Daily Star, the government prosecuted at least 21 journalists in 11 cases under section 57 of the ICTA from March to June.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Although the government placed few restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, 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 based on political affiliation.

Barbados

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Civil society representatives, however, reported that journalists who were overly critical of the government could be denied access to press conferences or denied the opportunity to ask questions of government officials.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Civil society representatives reported media practiced self-censorship when reporting on corruption due to fear that making allegations could invite a defamation lawsuit.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 79 percent of citizens used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Belarus

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Belgium

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Belize

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judicial system, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Violence and Harassment: In May the sergeant of arms for the National Assembly physically assaulted two members of the press and threatened another, who was covering a protest in the Senate. The government did not immediately censure him, but he was eventually suspended from attending subsequent sessions.

In September a female journalist was physically assaulted by an officer attached to the Special Patrol Unit of the Police while she was covering a political event in Orange Walk. She subsequently made a formal complaint to the PSB. The minister of state of home affairs responded to the incident by stating, “The police department has a job to do and in that situation we have always asked the media to stay a distance away from the situation.”

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to local marketing firm, Idea Labs Ltd., 45 percent of the population had internet access as of June 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Benin

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Bhutan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. Citizens could criticize the government publicly and privately without reprisal.

Freedom of 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 Freedom: 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 2017 of the Ministry of Information and Communications estimated the number of internet users at 72 percent of the population.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Bolivia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

While the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including of the press, the government frequently carried out reprisals against media outlets that expressed dissenting opinions. Government actions to curb criticism created a climate of hostility towards independent journalists and media and resulted in self-censorship of many news sources. Some media sources reported the government pressured and intimidated them to report favorably about its policies, particularly by withholding of government advertising and imposing steep taxes.

Freedom of Expression: The government continued to denounce press critics and independent media sources. The National Association of Bolivia Press (ANP) Monitoring Unit of Freedom of Expression registered 59 verbal and physical aggressions towards reporters and photographers in 2016.

On April 28, in its annual report, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights enumerated several limitations the government placed on the media, including the use by some government officials of the term “the cartel of lies” (“cartel de la mentira”) to discredit independent journalists and news outlets; the situation of journalists who were forced to leave the country in 2016; pressure against notable journalists who criticized the government; and discriminatory use of state advertising, among others.

In January the former presidency minister and current ambassador to Cuba, Juan Ramon Quintana, denounced an “international cartel of lies,” which he claimed operated in the country. According to Quintana, international news sources, including the British publication The Daily Mirror and Chilean news sources, were guilty of trying to “damage the president and the government’s image” through their reporting.

According to the international NGO Freedom House, freedom of press declined during the year. The report cited the government’s threats of legal action, the “cartel of lies” campaign against independent media, and the fact that two journalists, Carlos Valverde and Wilson Garcia, fled the country to avoid government reprisal. In June, Reporters without Borders began a signature collection campaign to pressure the government to restore the fundamental rights of Garcia, former executive director of the print and digital newspaper Sol de Pando, and allow him to return to the country without fear of reprisal from the government.

Press and Media Freedom: According to the Inter American Press Association, Bolivia is one of a number of countries whose government regularly attempts to disqualify the independent press by accusing it of acting as “political opposition,” and a “bearer of false news” responsible for generating social tension. According to Supreme Decree 181, the government is responsible for providing goods and services to all media outlets in a nondiscriminatory manner. There were many credible reports that the government chose not to purchase state advertisements in media outlets they designated as adversarial to the government.

Some media outlets alleged the government pressured news organizations to report favorably about government policies and retaliated against news organizations that did not comply. The National Press Association and several journalists alleged the government’s retaliatory tactics included withdrawing all of its advertisements, thus denying a significant source of revenue, and launching excessive tax audits, which forced companies to spend unreasonable time and resources to defend themselves. On May 3, the ANP expressed its concern that the government continued to attack independent news outlets and “economically suffocate” media entities that did not cater to the government.

Despite official denials, financial actions on the part of the government appeared to support the claim that the government was trying to control the media narrative. In 2016 the government increased media investment by 22 percent over the previous 12 months. Further, the Ministry of Communication received a 367 million boliviano ($54 million) budget allocation for 2016, an increase of 260 million bolivianos ($38 million) compared with 2015. Finally, the government invested in the creation of the new General Directorate of Social Networks, an entity dedicated specifically to placing government-friendly messages in social media outlets and engaging in online harassment of social media users who criticize the government on their personal pages.

Violence and Harassment: On October 20, members of the Police Operations Tactical Unit assaulted two journalists who were interviewing protesters in Plaza Murillo, a main gathering square in La Paz. According to a complaint the Federation of Press Workers filed with the police commander, the attacks violated legally guaranteed freedoms of assembly and press and resulted in injuries to the journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government censored journalists, and journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of losing their jobs, fear of prosecution, and fear of losing access to government sources. According to a 2014 study published by the University of Texas’ Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas and the Unite Foundation, 54 percent of journalists reported being censored, and 83 percent stated they knew of colleagues who had been censored. Of those responding, 59 percent admitted to self-censorship. Approximately 28 percent of journalists were censored for topics that could have caused conflict with the government, 26 percent for reasons that could have affected the interests of advertisers, and 26 percent for reasons that could have exposed journalists to lawsuits.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

Government employees faced reprisal for expressing support for initiatives, ideas, and events critical of the MAS administration online and on social media. Reprisals included termination of employment.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 40 percent of the population had internet access in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, although political considerations allegedly influenced academic appointments.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Botswana

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Brazil

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with minimal restriction, but nongovernmental criminal elements subjected journalists to violence because of their professional activities. Despite national laws prohibiting politically motivated judicial censorship, some local-level courts engaged in judicial censorship. In instances of violence perpetrated by protesters or provocateurs during massive demonstrations, at times security forces injured journalists during crowd-control operations.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were sometimes subject to harassment and physical attacks as a result of their reporting. The Brazilian Association of Radio and Television recorded 174 acts of violence against journalists in 2016, compared with 116 cases in 2015. Law enforcement personnel perpetrated the majority of the attacks during protests related to the 2016 impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff. According to a report by the international NGO Article 19 on violations of freedom of expression published in May, in 2016 there were 31 “serious violations against communicators,” which included four killings, five homicide attempts, and 22 death threats. Communicators encompassed journalists, bloggers, radio broadcasters, and owners of media outlets. Sao Paulo was the state that registered the most violations (16 percent), while the Northeast was the region with the most violations (45 percent). Public authorities such as politicians and law enforcement officials perpetrated 77 percent of the violations, and police did not open investigations in 39 percent of the cases.

In September, Roseli Ferreira Pimentel, the mayor of Santa Luzia–part of metropolitan Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais State–was arrested for ordering the killing of Mauricio Campos Rosa, owner of the newspaper O Grito, in August 2016. According to a local radio station, the motive was likely related to Rosa’s journalistic investigations into corruption involving city councilors and a cooperative responsible for garbage collection. Police arrested Pimentel after discovering that she had diverted 20,000 reais ($6,190) from public funds to pay the perpetrators.

Although there were no reported deaths of journalists in the first half of the year, journalists and bloggers continued to be the victims of serious threats. On March 3, the car of journalist Rodrigo Lima was set on fire outside the offices of the newspaper Diario da Regiao, in Sao Jose do Rio Preto, Sao Paulo State. On March 24, police searched the home of blogger Carlos Eduardo Cairo Guimaraes and seized his laptop, his cell phone, and his wife’s cell phone in an effort to identify the sources of a February story in which he wrote that police would question former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as part of a corruption investigation.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: President Temer and his wife Marcela were accused of censorship when Marcela Temer’s lawyers filed an injunction ordering the national daily newspapers O Globo and Folha de Sao Paulo to remove articles about a person found guilty in October 2016 of blackmailing Marcela Temer following the hacking of her cell phone. Her lawyers argued the articles violated her privacy. On February 13, a judge in Brasilia granted a judicial order that required removal of the articles and prohibited any further publication of material about the case. The Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism, National Association of Magazine Editors, Brazilian Association of Radio and Television, National Association of Newspapers, and Brazilian Press Association called the ruling censorship. Both newspapers appealed the decision; on February 15, an appeals court overturned the injunction against Folha de Sao Paulo. In June Marcela Temer’s lawyers dropped the legal case against both newspapers.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

The 2014 landmark Marco Civil law–considered an internet “bill of rights”–enshrines net neutrality and freedom of expression online and provides for the inviolability and secrecy of user communications online, permitting exceptions only by court order. Nevertheless, several legal and judicial rulings citing Marco Civil had the potential to threaten freedom of expression on the internet. Anonymous speech is explicitly excluded from constitutional protection, which left little privacy protection for those who used the internet anonymously through a pseudonym. Police and prosecutors may obtain data pursuant to three main statutes: the Wiretapping Act, Secrecy of Financial Data Act, and Money Laundering Act.

Private individuals and official bodies took legal action against internet service providers and providers of online social media platforms, such as Google and Facebook, holding them accountable for content posted to or provided by users of the platform. In June WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton participated in a two-day hearing held by the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of judicial suspensions in 2016 of WhatsApp and the possibility of retrieving encrypted data related to criminal investigations. As of October no date had been set for trials related to these matters.

The electoral law regulates political campaign activity on the internet. The law prohibits paid political advertising online and in traditional media. During the three months prior to an election, the law also prohibits online and traditional media from promoting candidates and distributing content that ridicules or could offend a candidate.

According to CGI.br, the country’s internet management committee, 60 percent of households had access to the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Brunei

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Bulgaria

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Burkina Faso

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Burma

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Burundi

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Cabo Verde

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Cambodia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Cameroon

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Canada

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Expression: The Supreme Court has ruled that the government may limit free speech in the name of goals such as ending discrimination, ensuring social harmony, or promoting gender equality. The court has also ruled that the benefits of limiting hate speech and promoting equality are sufficient to outweigh the freedom of speech clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the country’s constitutional bill of rights.

The criminal code prohibits public incitement and willful promotion of hatred against an identifiable group in any medium. Inciting hatred (in certain cases) or genocide is a criminal offense, but the Supreme Court sets a high threshold for such cases, specifying that these acts must be proven willful and public. Provincial-level film censorship, broadcast licensing procedures, broadcasters’ voluntary codes curbing graphic violence, and laws against hate literature and pornography impose some restrictions on the media.

In January a gunman killed six persons and injured 17 more in a shooting at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Center in Quebec City. The gunman was arrested and charged, although the government did not charge him with terrorism. While public and official reaction to the event was overwhelmingly condemnatory, in July an unidentified individual left a package at the same mosque with a note expressing hate and a defaced Quran.

In July police charged a Mississauga, Ontario, man with one count of willful promotion of hatred for posting abusive videos and materials against Muslims and other groups on his website freedomreport.ca and other social media platforms. The charge related to a series of online postings over a five-month period, rather than a single incident.

In April, Justice Jacques Chamberland opened public hearings in Quebec in an inquiry ordered by the provincial government into reports Quebec law enforcement agencies surveilled eight journalists between 2008 and 2016 as part of internal police investigations into sources of leaked information. Although the police had a warrant from a Quebec court for each case, testimony suggested police might have based warrant applications on unsubstantiated allegations. The electronic monitoring allowed police authorities to track the journalists’ movements and telephone logs.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

Approximately 99 percent of households could access broadband services. According to 2016 International Telecommunication Union data, 90 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Central African Republic

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Chad

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Chile

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and press.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 66 percent of the population had access to the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau)

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Colombia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Violence and harassment, as well as the criminalization of libel, inhibited freedom of the press, and the government frequently influenced the press, in part through its large advertising budgets. The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Violence and Harassment: According to the domestic NGO Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), through December 11, there were 302 incidents of violence and harassment against journalists, including the killing of one journalist, although FLIP noted many other incidents might have gone unreported in the most dangerous areas of the country. During the same period, FLIP reported 128 threats, some aimed simultaneously at more than one journalist. FLIP also reported six journalists were illegally detained, 43 journalists were physically attacked, and 14 were stigmatized or harassed due to their work. According to FLIP, the justice sector brought to trial eight persons involved in four cases of violence against journalists, although investigations continued.

As of July the Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office was investigating 46 active cases of crimes against journalists. Eight cases were in the trial stage, and one person was convicted for such crimes.

On September 8, in the case of journalist Flor Alba Nunez Vargas, Juan Camilo Ortiz was sentenced to 47 years in prison, while Ortiz’s alleged accomplice, Jaumeth Albeiro Florez, known by the alias “Chori,” remained at large. The intellectual authors of the crime were unknown.

As of June 30, the National Protection Unit (NPU) provided protection services to 15 journalists. The NPU’s Protocol for Attention to Cases of Journalists and/or Social Communicators, issued in September 2016, aimed to provide more robust risk studies and meet the particular needs of this group. Some NGOs raised concerns about perceived shortcomings in the NPU, such as delays in protection being granted and in the appropriateness of measures to specific threats.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: FLIP alleged that some journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of being sued under libel laws or of being physically attacked, mostly by nongovernment actors. FLIP argued that the high degree of impunity for those who committed aggressions against journalists was also a factor.

Libel/Slander Laws: By law slander and libel are crimes. There is no specific law against slandering public officials, and the government did not use prosecution to prevent media from criticizing government policies or public officials. Political candidates, businesspersons, and others, however, publicly threatened to sue journalists for expressing their opinions, alleging defamation or libel. FLIP reported no new cases were filed against journalists for libel or slander as of August 18, although 27 prosecutions of journalists for libel or slander continued from 2013.

Nongovernmental Impact: Members of illegal armed groups sought to inhibit freedom of expression by intimidating, threatening, kidnapping, and killing journalists. National and international NGOs reported local media representatives regularly practiced self-censorship because of threats of violence from these groups.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Due to the general climate of violence and impunity, self-censorship occurred both online and offline, particularly within communities at risk in rural areas.

The 2016 investigation continued into past abuses by the Army Intelligence Unit known as “Andromeda” (see section 1.f.).

The International Telecommunication Union estimated 58 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Comoros

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Costa Rica

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private communications without appropriate legal authority. The International Telecommunication Union reported that in 2016, 66 percent of individuals used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Côte d’Ivoire

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Croatia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Cuba

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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

Government workers reported being fired, demoted, or censured for expressing dissenting opinions or affiliating with independent organizations. Several university professors, researchers, and students reported they were forced from their positions, demoted, or expelled for expressing ideas or opinions outside of government-accepted norms. In April the University of Marta Abreu in Las Villas expelled first-year journalism student Karla Maria Perez for “counterrevolutionary projections, actions, membership in organizations, and online publishing.” The university’s government-affiliated student group, the Federation of University Students, supported this decision in an open letter, stating that Perez was a “known member of an illegal and counterrevolutionary organization that is against the principles, objectives, and values of the Cuban revolution,” and quoted Fidel Castro’s famous dictum, “Within the revolution, everything; against the revolution, nothing.”

During the year some religious groups reported greater latitude to express their opinions during sermons and at religious gatherings, although most members of the clergy continued to exercise self-censorship. Religious leaders in some cases criticized the government, its policies, and the country’s leadership without reprisals. The Catholic Church operated a cultural and educational center in Havana that hosted debates featuring participants expressing different opinions about the country’s future. Reverends Mario Travieso and Alain Toledano, both affiliated with the Apostolic Movement, reported frequent police harassment, including surveillance, threats, intimidation, and arbitrary fines. Both Travieso and Toledano claimed that the government was harassing them because of their outspoken criticism of certain government policies during their sermons.

Press and Media Freedom: The government directly owned all print and broadcast media outlets and all widely available sources of information. News and information programming was generally uniform across all outlets, with the exception of broadcasts of Venezuelan government news programming. The government also controlled nearly all publications and printing presses. The party censored public screenings and performances. The government also limited the importation of printed materials. Foreign correspondents in the country had limited access to and often were denied interviews with government officials. They also struggled to gather facts and reliable data for stories. Despite meeting government vetting requirements, official journalists who reported on sensitive subjects did so at personal risk, and the government barred official journalists from working for unofficial media outlets in addition to their official duties.

Violence and Harassment: The government does not recognize independent journalism, and independent journalists sometimes faced government harassment, including detention and physical abuse. Most detentions involved independent journalists who filmed arrests and harassment of Todos Marchamos activists or otherwise attempted to cover politically sensitive topics. Two journalists were detained, had their equipment confiscated, and were harassed for covering the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Some independent journalists reported interrogations by state security agents for publishing articles critical of government institutions.

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

The government sometimes barred independent libraries from receiving materials from abroad and seized materials donated by foreign governments, religious organizations, and individuals. Government officials also confiscated or destroyed cameras and cell phones of individuals to prevent them from distributing photographs and videos deemed objectionable, such as those taken during arrests and detentions. Activists reported interrogations and confiscations at the airport when arriving from the United States. On April 6, airport authorities detained Eliecer Avila, leader of the human rights organization Somos+, for six hours upon his return from a human rights conference in Colombia. Authorities reportedly confiscated Avila’s laptop computer, training materials, memory drives, and other personal belongings.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government uses defamation of character laws to arrest or detain individuals critical of the country’s leadership.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted access to the internet, and there were credible reports that the government monitored without appropriate legal authority citizens’ and foreigners’ use of email, social media, internet chat rooms, and browsing. The government controlled all internet access, except for limited facilities provided by a few diplomatic missions and a small but increasing number of underground networks.

While the International Telecommunication Union reported that 39 percent of citizens used the internet in 2016, that number included many whose access was limited to a national intranet that offered only government-run email and government-generated websites, at a fraction of the price of open internet. Other international groups reported lower internet penetration, stating approximately 15 percent of the population had access to open internet.

The government selectively granted in-home internet access to certain areas of Havana and sectors of the population consisting mostly of government officials, established professionals, some professors and students, journalists, and artists. Others could access email and internet services through government-sponsored “youth clubs,” internet cafes, or Wi-Fi hot spots approved and regulated by the Ministry for Information, Technology, and Communications. Users were required to purchase prepaid cards in order to access the internet.

During the year the government increased the number of Wi-Fi hot spots to more than 500 countrywide and lowered the cost to one convertible peso (CUC) ($1) per hour, still beyond the means of some citizens, whose average official income was approximately 29 CUC ($29) per month. The cost of access to the national intranet was 10 cents per hour. Authorities reviewed the browsing history of users, reviewed and censored email, and blocked access to at least 41 websites considered objectionable. In addition to internet access at public Wi-Fi hot spots, citizens and foreigners could buy internet access cards and use hotel business centers. Access usually cost between five and 10 CUC ($5 to $10) an hour, a rate well beyond the means of most citizens.

While the law does not set specific penalties for unauthorized internet use, it is illegal to own a satellite dish that would provide uncensored internet access. The government restricted the importation of wireless routers, actively targeted private wireless access points, and confiscated equipment.

The use of encryption software and transfer of encrypted files are also illegal. Despite poor access, harassment, and infrastructure challenges, a growing number of citizens maintained blogs in which they posted opinions critical of the government, with help from foreign supporters who often built and maintained the blog sites overseas. The government blocked local access to many of these blogs. In addition a small but growing number of citizens used Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media to report independently on developments in the country, including observations critical of the government. Like other government critics, bloggers faced government harassment, including detention and physical abuse.

Human rights activists reported frequent government monitoring and disruption of cell phone and landline services prior to planned events or key anniversaries related to human rights. The government-owned telecommunications provider ETECSA often disconnected service for human rights organizers, often just before their detention by state security, or to disrupt planned activities.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and controlled the curricula at all schools and universities, emphasizing the importance of reinforcing “revolutionary ideology” and “discipline.” Some academics refrained from meeting with foreigners, including diplomats, journalists, and visiting scholars, without prior government approval and, at times, the presence of a government monitor. Those permitted to travel abroad were aware that their actions, if deemed politically unfavorable, could negatively affect them and their relatives back home. During the year the government allowed some religious educational centers greater space to operate.

Outspoken artists and academics faced some harassment and criticism orchestrated by the government.

Public libraries required citizens to complete a registration process before the government granted access to books or information. Citizens could be denied access if they could not demonstrate a need to visit a particular library. Libraries required a letter of permission from an employer or academic institution for access to censored, sensitive, or rare books and materials. Religious institutions organized small libraries. Independent libraries were illegal but continued to exist, and owners faced harassment and intimidation.

Cyprus

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Czech Republic

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Denmark

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Djibouti

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Dominica

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression.

Press and Media Freedom: Government officials at times did not permit journalists to attend parliamentary sessions.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment or fines. While there were no active defamation suits against local journalists, there were three active libel cases against opposition leader Linton Lennox, and the government was suing a foreign-based blogger for libel. Public and private threats of lawsuits from a variety of sources, including the Skerrit government, were used against media members, leading to some self-censorship.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 67 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Dominican Republic

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with some restriction.

Press and Media Freedom: Individuals and groups were generally able to criticize the government publicly and privately without reprisal, although there were several incidents in which authorities intimidated journalists or other news professionals. In October the Dominican Association of Dailies expressed concern that the president’s security detail mistreated journalists and impeded media participation at presidential events.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists and other persons who worked in media were occasionally harassed or physically attacked. Some media outlets reported that journalists, specifically in rural areas, received threats for investigating or denouncing criminal groups or official corruption. The Inter American Press Association reported that journalists suffered violent attacks from military and police security details of government officials, particularly while covering civil society-led protests. In July the Dominican College of Journalists denounced inaction by government officials after an attack on television reporter Indira Vasquez and cameraman Jose Manual de la Cruz. The journalists said they were assaulted by a businessman and his two sons while covering environmental damage caused by the excavation of aggregate material at the Bajabonico River in Puerto Plata.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The constitution provides for protection of the confidentiality of journalists’ sources and includes a “conscience clause” allowing journalists to refuse reporting assignments. Nonetheless, journalists practiced self-censorship, particularly when coverage could adversely affect the economic or political interests of media owners. Some media outlets chose to omit the bylines of journalists reporting on drug trafficking and other security matters to protect the individual journalists.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes defamation and insult, with harsher punishment for offenses committed against public or state figures than for offenses against private individuals. The Dominican College of Journalists reported that journalists were sued by politicians, government officials, and the private sector to pressure them to stop reporting. In 2016 the Constitutional Tribunal annulled several articles in the Law on Freedom of Expression that criminalized statements denouncing events that were of public interest and that authorities considered damaging. The court also ruled that media outlets, executive staff, and publishers are not liable for libel suits against individual journalists. While some observers proclaimed this relieved pressure on journalists by business interests that controlled much of the mainstream media, others described the ruling as benefiting business interests’ ability to distance themselves from protecting their editors and journalist teams. The law continues to penalize libel for statements concerning the private lives of certain public figures, including government officials and foreign heads of state.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content without appropriate legal authority; however, there were allegations that the government monitored private online communications. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 61 percent of citizens used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Ecuador

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government restricted this right. The government continued to use the communications law to limit the independence of the press.

Freedom of Expression: Generally, individuals could discuss matters of general public interest publicly or privately without reprisal, although various civil society groups, journalists, and academics argued that the law limited their freedom of expression and restricted independent media. Under the 2013 communication law, media outlets are also legally responsible for the opinions of their contributors. Independent of this law, the 2014 criminal code prohibits citizens from threatening or insulting the president or executive branch, and penalties for violators range from six months to two years’ imprisonment or a fine from $16 to $77.

Article 176 of the criminal code establishes a prison sentence of up to three years for those who “disseminate, practice, or incite any distinction, restriction, or preference on grounds of nationality, ethnicity, place of birth, age, sex, gender identity or sexual orientation, cultural identity, marital status, language, religion, ideology, socioeconomic status, immigration status, disability, or health status with the aim of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise of equal rights.” According to some legal experts, the article could restrict freedom of speech.

Press and Media Freedom: Freedom House continued to rate the country’s press status as “not free.” Regulatory bodies created under the communication law monitored and disciplined the media through a combination of legal and administrative sanctions. The domestic freedom of expression watchdog group Fundamedios reported 210 “attacks on freedom of expression” through June 30, including sanctions of media outlets under the communications law, cases of restrictions on digital rights, and the “abusive use of State power,” including the withdrawal of official publicity, forced correction, cancellation of frequencies and programs, and arbitrary dismissals of employees. Fundamedios noted that the number of attacks were unusually high during the first semester of the year, especially during the presidential campaign season (between January and April), compared with 2016. Fundamedios also reported that during the first three months of Moreno’s presidency, attacks on the media decreased and the government-aligned public media outlets became more objective and balanced both in their news reporting and in editorial pages. President Moreno encouraged dialogue with the media and specifically called on journalists to report on corruption. Although the communication law remains in place, media outlets reported a reduction in government attacks on the media.

Independent media remained active and expressed a wide variety of views, including those critical of the government, although many analysts and journalists noted the 2013 law had led to self-censorship in private media, pointing to a decrease in investigative reporting under the Correa administration.

The law limits the ability of media to provide election coverage during the official campaign period. A constitutional court ruling in 2012 affirmed the right of the press to conduct interviews and file special reports on candidates and issues during the campaign period, but it left in place restrictions on “direct or indirect” promotion of candidates or specific political views.

The law includes the offense of inciting “financial panic” with a penalty of imprisonment for five to seven years for any person who divulges false information that causes alarm in the population and provokes massive withdrawals of deposits from a financial institution that places at risk the institution’s stability. Some analysts viewed this as a warning to the media in their reporting on the country’s financial problems. Media outlets reported privately that they refrained from some financial reporting due to concern over possible legal consequences.

The government administered an estimated 30 media outlets and used its extensive advertising budget to influence public debate. The law mandates the broadcast of messages and reports by the president and his cabinet free of charge. During the Correa administration, the government increasingly required media stations to broadcast statements by the president and other leaders, thereby reducing the stations’ private paid programming. President Moreno reduced the amount of time required for presidential broadcasts to one 15-minute broadcast weekly. President Moreno replaced the general editor of the state-owned newspaper, El Telegrafo, which traditionally strongly advocated for the government and its policies, with former journalist Fernando Larenas.

The law calls for the redistribution of broadcast frequencies to divide media ownership between private media (33 percent), public media (33 percent), and community media (34 percent). Observers claimed this redistribution of frequencies would reduce the private media by almost 50 percent. Government officials asserted in public statements that the redistribution of frequencies guaranteed a more inclusive and diverse media environment. In the previous year, the Agency for Regulation and Control of Telecommunications and the Council for Regulation and Development of Information and Communication (known by its Spanish acronym CORDICOM) initiated a process to adjudicate 1,472 radio and television frequencies. In January well established, private radio outlets Radio Democracia and Radio Vision, among others, were told that they were at risk of losing their frequencies to government-associated community media outlets due to the government adjudication process. Opposition groups protested the government-run tendering process of airwaves for its lack of transparency and for taking place during an election year. As of August 26, the redistribution of frequencies was suspended.

Violence and Harassment: On February 16, media outlets reported that authorities found explosive devices targeting two female journalists, Janeth Hinostroza of Teleamazonas television station and Estefani Espin of Ecuavisa, three days prior to the 2017 general elections. Former president Correa and other high-level government officials criticized journalists and media outlets. In his last national televised address on May 21, Correa tore up a copy of the newspaper La Hora, labeled the media as his “greatest opponent” in his 10-year administration, and asked his followers to promote awareness in citizens to avoid being cheated by the “mercantilist press.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists working at private media companies reported instances of indirect censorship. On May 25, the Superintendence of Information and Communication (Supercom) fined a radio station $3,750 for insulting former president Correa. The director of the radio station, Luis Almeida, asserted that no infractions were committed, as analyst Jaime Verduga was exercising his freedom of thought and expression. Almeida also noted that Verduga repeated Correa’s own words, which were published by the government-owned digital media outlet El Ciudadano.

The law requires the media to “cover and broadcast facts of public interest” and defines the failure to do so as a form of prior censorship. Supercom decides prior censorship cases and can impose fines. Many private media complained that the government could decide what is of “public interest” and thus unduly influence their independent reporting. On April 27, three media outlets received a warning in writing from Supercom for transmitting results of exit polls that projected the opposition candidate as winner of the 2017 national elections on April 2. On April 21, Supercom fined seven outlets $3,750 for “prior censorship” due to their decision not to publish a series of articles by Argentine newspaper Pagina 12, alleging that opposition presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso had dozens of offshore accounts. Representatives of the affected media outlets argued that the original story was poorly reported and that the publishing of unverified allegations would have violated the law. The ruling remained in effect as of September 15. On August 24, a district administrative court nullified a $90,000 fine originally levied in 2014 against political cartoonist Bonil (Xavier Bonilla) of the daily newspaper El Universo. The court ruled that “opinions are not meant to inform” and that the constitution guarantees freedom of expression. The head of Supercom, Carlos Ochoa, announced that Supercom would contest the ruling.

The law also imposes local content quotas on the media, including a requirement that a minimum of 60 percent of content on television and 50 percent of radio content be produced domestically. Additionally, the law requires that advertising be produced domestically and prohibits any advertising deemed to be sexist, racist, or discriminatory in nature. Furthermore, the Ministry of Public Health must approve all advertising for food or health products.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used libel laws against media companies, journalists, and private individuals. Libel is a criminal offense under the law, with penalties of up to three years in prison, plus fines. The law assigns responsibility to media owners, who are liable for opinion pieces or statements by reporters or others, including readers, using their media platforms. The law includes a prohibition of “media lynching,” described as the “coordinated and repetitive dissemination of information, directly or by third parties through the media, intended to discredit a person or company or reduce its public credibility.” The exact terms of this provision remained vaguely defined but threatened to limit the media’s ability to conduct investigative reporting. Supercom has the authority to determine if a media outlet is guilty of media lynching and to apply administrative sanctions. On June 5, former president Correa filed a complaint against journalist Martin Pallares for an article he published on April 21, alleging that Pallares uttered expressions in disrepute or dishonor against him, a crime punishable by 15 to 30 days’ imprisonment. On July 3, Judge Fabricio Carrasco found Pallares innocent of the charges of discrediting the president. On July 19, Judge Maximo Ortega de Ferrer accepted Correa’s appeal to review the July 3 ruling.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, including for the Media: On inauguration day President Moreno announced that his government would end former president Correa’s practice of holding multihour, mandatory press events on Saturdays (often used by Correa to attack his opponents, particularly the media). Moreno subsequently highlighted the important role the press plays in the fight against corruption. Moreno invited civil society representatives and government agencies to address differences in opinion regarding the 2013 communication law through a national dialogue. Supercom officials participated in roundtable discussions on communication law reforms. Fundamedios noted in September that reported attacks against freedom of expression dropped more than 50 percent in the first three months of the Moreno administration, compared with the final three months of the Correa administration, adding, “The drastic drop in the number of attacks on freedom of expression reflects a new reality that could translate into an improvement in the exercise of this fundamental right in Ecuador.” Supercom issued fewer sanctions during the first three months of the Moreno administration.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, but there were credible reports that the government censored online content and monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. A government regulation requires that internet service providers comply with all information requests from the superintendent of telecommunications, allowing access to client addresses and information without a judicial order. Freedom House evaluated the internet as partly free. The International Telecommunication Union reported a 54 percent internet usage rate in 2016.

While individuals and groups could generally engage in the expression of views via the internet, the government increasingly monitored Twitter and other social media accounts for perceived threats or alleged insults against the president and government officials. Some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and media outlets reported cyberattacks by unknown perpetrators that appeared politically motivated since they occurred during coverage of the 2017 general elections and when content was perceived as critical of the government. On August 25, Fundamedios reported attacks on its digital portal for two consecutive weeks. On May 22, Usuarios Digitales, an internet watchdog organization, reported 160 internet attacks on social networks and digital platforms between April 2016 and March 2017. The website of the national private media group El Comercio was hacked on a regular basis. The organization had a team of digital experts tracking internet attacks on a daily basis.

The law holds a media outlet responsible for online comments from readers if the outlet has not established mechanisms for commenters to register their personal data (including national identification number) or created a system to delete offensive comments. The law also prohibits the media from using information obtained from social media unless they can verify the author of the information. On April 17, the Ministry of Interior’s legal office filed a case against Luis Eduardo Vivanco, former editor in chief of La Horanewspaper, based on his tweets that “attempt to disparage the actions carried out by the government in its permanent fight against corruption.” On May 18, Vivanco appeared before the Office of the Public Prosecutor to render his testimony.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

While there were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, academics reported that concerns over the process of awarding government contracts intimidated academics into practicing self-censorship. In December 2016 the National Assembly passed legislation eliminating public funding for research at universities that operate under international agreements. According to human rights organization Freedom House, “The legislation has the potential to undermine the sustainability of two graduate universities, Universidad Andina Simon Bolivar and Universidad Latinoamericana de Posgrado Lider en Ciencias Sociales (commonly referred to as FLACSO Ecuador.)”

Egypt

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but includes a clause stating, “It may be subject to limited censorship in times of war or public mobilization.” The government frequently did not respect these rights.

Freedom of Expression: Citizens expressed their views on a wide range of political and social topics. The government investigated and prosecuted critics for alleged incitement of violence, insults to religion, insults to public figures and institutions such as the judiciary and the military, or violation of public morals. Individuals also faced societal and official harassment for speech viewed as sympathetic to the MB, such as using a hand gesture showing four fingers, a reference to the 2013 security operation to disperse the sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square.

The law provides a broad definition of terrorism, to include “any act harming national unity or social peace.” The president has stated that lying is a form of terrorism. Human rights observers expressed concern that authorities could use the ambiguous definition to stifle nonviolent speech and nonviolent opposition activity.

On May 21, the Court of Cassation cancelled the sentence against author Ahmed Naji and ordered his retrial. In 2016 authorities sentenced Naji to two years in prison on charges of violating public morals based on the publication of an excerpt of his novel, The Use of Life, which contained explicit descriptions of sexual acts and illegal drug use. Authorities had acquitted Naji of the same charges in January 2016, but prosecutors appealed the decision. On July 6, Cairo airport authorities prevented author Naji from traveling to New York, informing him he was subject to an exit ban. The date for the retrial was not set as of December.

On December 12, authorities sentenced both pop singer Shyma and music video director Mohamed Gamal to two years in prison for “inciting debauchery.” The charges stemmed from a music video in which the singer eats an apple and a banana in an allegedly suggestive manner.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a variety of views but with significant restrictions. The constitution, penal code, and media and publications law govern media issues. The government regulated the licensing of newspapers and controlled the printing and distribution of a majority of newspapers, including private newspapers and those of opposition political parties. The law does not impose restrictions on newspaper ownership.

The more than 20 state-owned media outlets broadly supported official state policy. The National Press Authority holds the power to appoint and dismiss editorial leadership of state-owned print outlets. The governmental Egyptian Radio and Television Union appointed the heads of state-owned radio and television channels. Both state-owned and private media (including television and online journalism) sometimes criticized the government, but dominant media narratives supported the president and his policy initiatives.

As of December the Committee to Protect Journalists reported there were 20 imprisoned journalists in the country. Authorities continued to keep journalist Ismail Alexandrani in detention without formal charges as of December. Authorities detained the Egyptian investigative researcher in 2015 at Hurgada airport upon his return from Berlin. In November 2016 a court ordered his release, but authorities successfully appealed the release order. According to local rights groups, Alexandrani was under investigation for “reporting false news” and “joining a banned group.” Alexandrani’s reporting and scholarly work focused on Sinai.

In May police raided the offices of al-Borsa, an Arabic financial newspaper, and Daily News Egypt, the only independent English-language newspaper. Mostafa Sakr, chairperson of Business News–the parent company of both newspapers–was detained by police but released later that day. Authorities ordered Sakr’s assets frozen after they designated him as a terrorist earlier in the year (see section 1.e.). In August the state-run committee assigned to seizing funds and assets of MB-affiliated members assigned the state-run newspaper Akhbar al-Youm to assume operation of the Daily News Egypt, as well as the Arab International Company for Commercial Agencies, parent company of prominent Alef bookstore chain.

In March a court reduced a two-year sentence for harboring fugitives against Yehia Kalash, former president of the press syndicate, and Gamal Abdel Reheem and Khaled el-Balshy to a one-year suspended sentence. The defendants appealed the sentence again, and the case was pending at year’s end. The charges stemmed from their efforts to prevent the detention of two journalists during a May 2016 police raid on the press syndicate headquarters.

On May 8, a court reduced the sentences of television presenter Mohamed Adly and journalists Samhi Mostafa and Abdullah Fakharany from life in prison to five years and acquitted news organization managers Hany Salah-el-Deen and Mosad al-Barbary. Authorities convicted the five, along with Hassan al-Kabbani, in 2015 on charges including inciting violence and disseminating false news. Kabbani was not included in the retrial.

On August 14, a court ordered a 45-day extension to al-Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein’s pretrial detention. In December 2016 authorities arrested Hussein in Cairo, accusing him of disseminating false news and receiving monetary funds from foreign authorities to defame the state’s reputation. Subsequently, authorities have held him in pretrial detention, and, according to press reports, he has yet to face formal charges. On August 24, Hussein’s daughter told the press that prison authorities denied Hussein treatment for a broken arm.

Violence and Harassment: According to media reports and local and international human rights groups, state and nonstate actors arrested and imprisoned, harassed, and intimidated journalists. Foreign correspondents reported cases where the government denied them entry, deported them, and delayed or denied issuance of media credentials; some claimed these actions were part of a government campaign to intimidate foreign media.

On April 24, authorities denied Sudanese journalists, Taher Saty and Kamal Eddin, entry into the country when they arrived at Cairo International Airport after returning from vacation in France. According to a Sudanese Journalists’ Network statement, authorities deported both individuals within 24 hours.

On August 17, authorities arrested crime reporter Abdallah Ras and took him to a National Security Agency office, according to his employer al-Bawaba News. The Interior Ministry initially denied arresting and detaining Rashad, and his employer and family did not know his whereabouts or what charges he faced for more than 11 days. He was charged with joining a banned group, and his next hearing was scheduled for December.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Official censorship occurred. The SOE empowers the president empowered to monitor newspapers, publications, editorials, drawings, and all means of expression and to order the seizure, confiscation, and closure of publications and print houses.

On, April 10, April 11, and September 3, authorities banned the printing of daily newspaper al-Bawaba. According to press reports, the banned issues contained articles critical of the Interior Ministry and its response to terrorist attacks.

On August 6, the state printing press refused to publish newspaper al-Masryoun’s weekly edition. According to an Arabic Network for Human Rights Information report, the printing press told al-Masryoun staff that a security institution ordered the press not to print the newspaper. According to press reports, the August 6 edition of al-Masryoun contained an article critical of the country’s dealings with Israel.

Some activists and many journalists reported privately they self-censored criticism of the government or comments that could be perceived as sympathetic to the MB, due to the overall anti-MB and progovernment media environment. Publishers were also wary of publishing books that criticized religious institutions, such as al-Azhar, or challenged Islamic doctrine.

On November 19, police raided the downtown Cairo office of Merit Publishing House and detained a volunteer on suspicion of being in possession of unregistered books. On December 28, police returned to Merit, confiscated two books, and took Merit’s owner to the police station for questioning. He was subsequently released.

Libel/Slander Laws: Local and international rights groups reported several cases of authorities charging and convicting individuals with denigrating religion under the so-called blasphemy law, primarily targeting Christians but also Muslims.

In May authorities charged former under secretary of the Ministry of Islamic Endowment Sheikh Salem Abdul Galeel with denigration of religion and undermining national unity for stating on his television program Muslims Are Asking that Christians are infidels (kuffar) and their faith is corrupt. Galeel’s television show was canceled, and the Ministry of Islamic Endowments banned him from preaching in any mosque. Galeel was released on bail; a hearing remained pending at year’s end.

In July authorities charged Coptic Orthodox priest Makary Younan with denigration of religion, discrimination against a specific group, disturbing peace and order in the country, exploiting religion to spread thoughts that aimed to stir strife and insult divine religions, and harming national unity and social coherence. Younan stated in a sermon that, according to both Islamic and non-Islamic historical sources, Egypt had been a Christian-majority country until it was defeated by an Islamic army. On November 12, the court dropped the case after the prosecuting lawyer agreed to reconcile with Younan.

National Security: The law allows government censors to block the publication of information related to intelligence and national security.

The law imposes a fine on any person who “intentionally publishes…or spreads false news.” The fine is many times the average annual salary of most local journalists.

Judges may issue restraint orders to prevent media from covering court cases considered sensitive on national security grounds. Rights groups stated authorities sometimes misused the orders to shield government, police, or military officials from public scrutiny. Citing safety and security, the government and military restricted media access to many parts of North Sinai.

On April 12, an Alexandria court sentenced lawyer Mohamed Ramadan to 10 years in prison, followed by five years under house arrest and a five-year ban on using the internet. It convicted him of insulting the president, misusing social media platforms, and incitement to violence under the country’s counterterrorism law, as a result of comments he made on social media. In December 2016 authorities arrested Ramadan while he was visiting clients at Montazah Police Station in Alexandria.

On May 19, a rights lawyer told media that authorities had arrested approximately 30 activists on charges relating to sharing posts critical of the government on social networking sites. The charges, which fall under the country’s antiterrorism law, included inciting public opinion against the government, insulting the president, obstructing state institutions, and seeking to overthrow the regime.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The constitution protects the right to privacy, including on the internet. The constitution provides for the confidentiality and “inviolability” of postal, telegraphic, and electronic correspondence; telephone calls; and other means of communication. They may not be confiscated, revealed, or monitored except with a judicial order, only for a definite period, and only in cases defined by law. The constitution prohibits the government from “arbitrarily” interrupting, disconnecting, or depriving citizens seeking to use all forms of internet communications.

The government, however, restricted and disrupted access to the internet and censored online content. There were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Law enforcement agencies restricted or disrupted individuals’ access to the internet, and the government monitored social media accounts and internet usage, relying on a law that only allows targeted interception of communications under judicial oversight for a limited period and does not permit indiscriminate mass surveillance. The public prosecutor prosecuted individuals accused of posting “insulting” material.

The counterterrorism law criminalizes the use of the internet to “promote ideas or beliefs that call for terrorist acts” or to “broadcast what is intended to mislead security authorities or influence the course of justice in relation to any terrorist crime.” The law also authorizes the public prosecutor and investigators to monitor and record online communications among suspects in terrorism cases for a period of 30 days, renewable in 30-day increments. The law does not specify a maximum period.

On April 20, police arrested Dostour Party member Nael Hassan on charges including insulting the president online based on social media comments, according to public statements by his lawyer. On November 1, he was released.

There were multiple reports that the government temporarily blocked access to internet messaging applications. For example, on July 7, the government blocked an internet communication site for mobile users; the block lasted one day.

On June 24, authorities convicted Ghazy Sami Ghazy and fined him EGP 30,000 ($1,700) on charges of insulting the president in relation to a poem he published on Facebook. On the same day, authorities acquitted him of publishing fake news. In March authorities arrested and imprisoned him on charges including spreading and publishing false information, preventing state institutions from carrying out their duty, and insulting the president via poems on his Facebook account.

The government attempted to disrupt the communications of terrorist groups operating in Sinai by cutting telecommunication networks: mobile services, internet, and sometimes landlines. Cuts generally occurred from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Networks were again fully accessible at approximately 8 p.m. and sometimes later. Cutsalso disrupted operations of government facilities and banks.

The law obliges internet service providers and mobile operators to allow government access to customer databases, allowing security forces to obtain information regarding activities of specific customers, which could lead to lack of online anonymity. Individuals widely used social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, to spread criticism of the government and security forces.

There were reports authorities monitored social media and internet dating sites to identify and arrest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

As of December the government had blocked more than 400 websites without providing a clear legal basis or authority responsible for the blocks. The blocked sites included international NGOs, local human rights NGOs, and numerous virtual private network services. On May 24, the government announced it had blocked 21 websites, mostly independent and MB-affiliated news sites, on charges of inciting terrorism and spreading lies. Some blockages appeared to be in response to critical coverage of the government. For instance, authorities blocked one website less than 48 hours after it published a report detailing systematic government use of torture.

In February, Citizen Lab and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights released a report documenting a large-scale and sophisticated phishing campaign targeting human rights NGOs, lawyers, journalists, and political activists that began in November 2016. The organizations were unable to identify a perpetrator of the attacks.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 41 percent of the population used internet in 2016. Media reported 1.7 million active users on Twitter and stated 35 million persons used Facebook.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were reports of government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. In June the Ministry of Education removed mention of the country’s 2011 and 2013 revolutions from high school history class curriculums. In 2016 Minister of Higher Education Ashraf al-Shihy published a statement requiring private universities to review all research papers and thesis dissertations to assure they do not include any “direct or indirect insult to societies or individuals belonging to any brotherly or friendly countries.” According to media and local rights groups, a degree of self-censorship, similar to that reported by nonacademic commentators, allegedly existed when academics publicly commented on sensitive political and socioeconomic issues. Faculty members needed security agency approval to travel abroad for academic purposes. Faculty and officials at public universities and research centers also must obtain Ministry of Foreign Affairs permission to travel abroad. In August an official at the country’s embassy in Berlin threatened to cancel researcher Taqadum al-Khatib’s PhD scholarship if he did not surrender his passport and access to his personal Facebook account, according to a local NGO report. In September, Damietta University cancelled al-Khatib’s scholarship, and press reported he was dismissed from the university in October. According to the university’s dean, al-Khatib violated the terms of his scholarship when he changed his research topic without informing the university board. Human rights groups stated the university dismissed him for his research on the sovereignty of the disputed Tiran and Sanafir islands.

The Ministry of Education began a campaign to remove all MB members from teaching positions before the start of the 2017-18 academic year. Press reported that Asyut University terminated six teaching staff members, and Cairo University announced it had suspended four professors for alleged MB affiliation.

There was censorship of cultural events. The Ministry of Culture must approve all scripts and final productions of plays and films. The ministry censored foreign films to be shown in theaters but did not censor the same films sold as DVDs.

On July 2, the rock band Cairokee announced the General Authority for Censorship of Works of Art rejected four songs on their new album “A Drop of White” and banned the entire album from sale in stores and from broadcast on television and radio. The band continued offering the album online and played the music during concerts. Band members told press they believed authorities banned the four songs because of their “political overtones.”

The Syndicate of Musicians stated that it would ban future concerts by Lebanese band “Mashrou’ Leila” after concert-goers waved a rainbow flag in support of LGBTI rights during a September performance in the country (see section 6).

El Salvador

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. Some restrictions, however, occurred throughout the year. The law permits the executive branch to use the emergency broadcasting service to take over all broadcast and cable networks temporarily to televise political programming.

Press and Media Freedom: There continued to be allegations that the government retaliated against members of the press for criticizing its policies.

On June 30, news anchor Rafael Dominguez, a strong critic of the administration, warned that his Channel 8 morning show, Asi Estamos, was cancelled in response to government pressure on the channel for his broadcasts. Although the program was initially canceled, it was restarted on July 19 after pressure from journalist associations and civil society.

Violence and Harassment: After reporting on violence in the country, journalist contacts reported experiencing threats from persons believed to be government officials. On August 24, Factum magazine journalist Juan Martinez d’Aubuisson reported intimidation, possibly by police officers, due to an August 22 report, “An Inside Look at a Police Death Squad.” The report presented evidence that led to the arrest of four police officers linked with extrajudicial killings, sexual abuse, and extortion. On August 24, an anonymous Twitter account reportedly run by police officers called for the death of journalists from Factum and online El Faro magazine, similar to the death of Christian Poveda, a journalist killed in 2009 by gang members after a supposed betrayal of loyalty. On August 26, Factummagazine staff also reported that four individuals posing as PDDH officers visited their offices and asked about the whereabouts of a number of journalists. Factum staff contacted the journalists, who subsequently contacted the PDDH, and PDDH representatives confirmed that they had not sent anyone.

On August 30, the PDDH called on the attorney general to issue protective measures for Martinez and other Factum journalists. According to Factum journalist Cesar Castro Fagoaga, the PNC offered special police protection, but the journalists declined the protection, as it was being provided by police, and insisted on a thorough investigation. The Factum journalists were interviewed by the Attorney General’s Office in September and were told by the prosecutor that police had not been in touch with their office. On October 27, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordered protective measures for the Factum journalists. According to Castro Fagoaga, as of November 22, government officials had not been in touch to coordinate the measures.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government advertising accounted for a significant portion of press advertising income, although exact data was not publicly available. Newspaper editors and radio directors occasionally discouraged journalists from reporting on topics the owners or publishers might not view favorably. According to the Salvadoran Journalists Association (APES), the media practiced self-censorship, especially in its reporting on gangs and narcotics trafficking.

Nongovernmental Impact: APES noted journalists reporting on gangs and narcotics trafficking were subject to threats and intimidation, resulting in self-censorship.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The International Telecommunication Union reported 29 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Equatorial Guinea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Eritrea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Estonia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Ethiopia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Federated States of Micronesia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Fiji

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Finland

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

France

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Gabon

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Georgia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Germany

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Ghana

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Greece

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Grenada

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2016 an estimated 55 percent of the population had internet access.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Guatemala

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including of the press, and the government generally respected these rights. The intimidation of journalists resulted in significant self-censorship, however.

Press and Media Freedom: There were no legal restrictions on the editorial independence of the media. Reporters covering organized crime, including its links to corrupt public officials, acknowledged practicing self-censorship, recognizing the danger investigative journalism posed to them and their families. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views.

Violence and Harassment: Members of the press continued to report violence and impunity impaired the practice of free and open journalism. Members of the press reported numerous threats by public officials, and criminal organizations increased journalists’ sense of vulnerability.

According to the Public Ministry, 40 complaints were filed for attacks or threats against journalists, and three journalists were killed from January through the middle of September, compared with 87 complaints and eight killings in all of 2016.

The investigation remained open at year’s end regarding the 2016 killing of radio journalist Alvaro Alfredo Aceituno Lopez.

On November 7, the Supreme Court lifted the parliamentary immunity of congressman Julio Antonio Juarez Ramirez based on allegations from the Public Ministry and CICIG that he ordered the killing of journalist Danilo Efrain Zapon Lopez in 2015 in Mazatenango, Suchitepequez. Journalist Federico Benjamin Salazar Geronimo was also killed in the attack and reporter Marvin Tunches was injured. On October 12, Sergio Waldemar Cardona Reyes and German Morataya were convicted and sentenced to 30 and two years in prison, respectively, for their involvement in the Lopez killing.

The Public Ministry employed a unit dedicated to the investigation of threats and attacks against journalists. The NGO Center for Reporting in Guatemala noted that the unit had few resources.

Civil society organizations reported that sexual harassment of female journalists was widespread but rarely reported.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Members of the press reported receiving pressure, threats, and retribution from various public officials regarding the content of their reporting. Some owners and members of media also accused the government of following a discriminatory advertising policy that penalized or rewarded print and broadcast media based on whether the government perceived the news or commentary as supportive or critical.

The online newsmagazine Nomada reported threats against individual reporters and magazine leadership. Editors used armored vehicles due to fear of attack. After reporting on undisclosed bonuses given by the Ministry of Defense to President Morales, Nomada’s website was targeted in a denial-of-service attack for several days. Nomada published the story on its Facebook account until service was restored. Nomada had experienced similar attacks previously.

Nongovernmental Impact: Organized crime exerted influence over media outlets and reporters, frequently threatening individuals for reporting on criminal activities.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 35 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Guinea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Guinea-Bissau

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Guyana

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Independent media were active and at times expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: A 2015 directive from the prime minister determines that all headlines in the state-owned print media be approved by the Office of the Prime Minister before publication. In April the minister of communities publicly admonished the editor of the state-owned newspaper for using a report on oil and gas as its lead article. The minister stated a report on a local government event should have been the lead article.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 36 percent of citizens used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Haiti

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Press and Media Freedom: There were isolated incidents of actions against journalists by national and local government officials. As a result some independent media believed they were unable to criticize the government freely. Certain topics such as narcotics trafficking and organized crime remained largely unreported because of perceived danger.

Violence and Harassment: Some journalists were subjected to threats, harassment, and physical assault, allegedly due to their reporting. In some instances government authorities participated in these acts.

In August, Gabriel Fortune, the mayor of Les Cayes, repeatedly made statements on the radio that journalist Jean Nazaire Jeanty should be killed or “disappeared” by the government because of his reporting. Jeanty had criticized the appearance and smell of a nearby beach preparing to host a music festival. Jeanty filed a complaint against Fortune, but his case was dismissed when Jeanty did not come to a preliminary court hearing. Jeanty said he had not been informed that the hearing was taking place.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were no reported cases of government-sponsored censorship, but human rights advocates claimed that certain government officials used public security ordinances to limit radio commentary criticizing the executive branch.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authorization. Socioeconomic and infrastructure hurdles contributed to the dominance of radio and, to a lesser extent, television, over the internet.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 12 percent of citizens had access to the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Honduras

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and laws provide for freedom expression, including for the press, with some restrictions, and the government generally respected this right. A small number of powerful business magnates with intersecting commercial, political, and family ties owned most of the major news media.

Freedom of Expression: The penal code includes a provision to punish persons who directly, or through public media, incite discrimination, hate, contempt, repression, or violence against a person, group, or organization for reasons of gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, political opinion or affiliation, marital status, race or national origin, language, nationality, religion, family affiliation, family or economic situation, disability, health, physical appearance, or any other characteristic that would offend the victim’s human dignity.

Media associations and NGOs expressed concerns about revisions to the penal code in January that criminalize certain speech, including on social media, regarding terrorism.

Violence and Harassment: There were continued reports of harassment and threats against journalists and social communicators (including social and political commentators, talk-show hosts, and bloggers). Reports linked most of these instances of harassment and threats to organized criminal elements and gangs.

Government officials at all levels publicly denounced violence and threats of violence against members of the media and social communicators. UNAH’s Violence Observatory reported two killings of journalists and social communicators during the first six months of the year. For example, on January 17, journalist Igor Abisai Padilla Chavez was shot and killed. There were also many reports of intimidation and threats against members of the media and their families, including from members of the security forces and from organized crime. It was usually unclear whether violence and threats against journalists were linked to their work or were products of generalized violence.

Human rights defenders, including indigenous and environmental rights activists, political activists, labor activists, and representatives of civil society working to combat corruption, reported threats and acts of violence. Civil society organizations, including students, agricultural workers groups, and indigenous rights groups, criticized the government and its officials for allegedly criminalizing and stigmatizing social protest (see section 2.b.). Several senior state officials made public comments that local and international civil society organizations interpreted as threatening towards their members. This included the minister of environment, who in January suggested police should arrest members of international NGOs reporting on corrupt activities, and the chief justice of the Supreme Court at the midterm review of the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, who stated domestic and international civil society acted in their own interests and presented false information that indirectly incited violence. Members of the Police Purge Commission, National Anti-Corruption Council, and Organization of American States’ Mission against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) reported receiving threats. Among others, Olivia and Berta Zuniga, the daughters of killed activist Berta Caceres, reported being targets of multiple threatening incidents. The AFL-CIO’s International Solidarity Center reported threats against several labor leaders, including public sector union leaders (also see section 7.a.). On April 13, melon-sector union leader Moises Sanchez Gomez reported being attacked by several individuals who warned him to cease his union activities. His brother Hermes Misael Sanchez Gomez was injured by a machete in the attack.

The Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization continued to strengthen implementation of the 2015 Law for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, Social Communicators, and Justice Operators. A key part of this law was the creation of a national mechanism for the protection of human rights defenders and others protected by law. Some NGOs continued to express concern about weak implementation of the law and limited resources available for the protection of human rights defenders. Civil society organizations continued to criticize the government’s failure to investigate threats against activists and journalists adequately.

The government allocated a budget of 10 million lempiras ($424,000) in 2016, and 15.2 million lempiras ($644,000) in 2017–10 million lempiras ($424,000) from the National Budget for the operation of the mechanism, and an additional 5 million lempiras ($212,000) for protective measures from the Security Tax for the protection mechanism. By June 30, it had 27 permanent and contract staff. As of June 30, the mechanism had received 81 new requests for protection, of which 62 met the requirements of the law and were accepted. This increased the total requests for protection since the law’s approval in 2015 to 168. Of these, it had accepted 118, and from these, 14 cases were closed because the beneficiaries had left the country or had rejected the protection measures. The remaining 104 cases included 73 human rights defenders, 19 journalists, three social communicators, and nine justice-sector workers. Of these requests, 17 were from persons who were already beneficiaries of protection measures mandated by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) that the Human Rights Office of the Ministry of Security continued to implement. As of June 30, the Ministry of Security had transferred eight cases to the protection mechanism of 66 outstanding IACHR orders for protection in the country.

The HNP’s Violent Crimes Task Force (VCTF) investigated crimes against high-profile and particularly vulnerable victims, including judges, journalists, human rights activists, and members of the LGBTI community. As of October 2, the VCTF had remitted 25 cases to the Public Ministry, carried out 34 raids with judicial orders, executed 12 warrants for capture, detained 26 persons involved in crimes, and obtained six judicial sentences.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Members of media and NGOs said the press self-censored due to fear of retaliation from organized crime or corrupt government officials.

Libel/Slander Laws: Citizens, including public officials, can initiate criminal proceedings for libel and slander. On September 7, indigenous Garifuna community activist Miriam Miranda issued an alert that police were attempting to arrest her following charges of slander brought by international businessmen over land disputes between the businessmen and Garifuna communities.

A health ministry official charged a union activist with slander after the activist filed charges with the Public Ministry that the official had paid to have him killed following his public statements about corrupt activities in a regional hospital. The Public Ministry conducted an investigation and brought charges against the official, but a judge found insufficient evidence to continue to trial. The official subsequently brought charges of slander against the union leader. A judge dismissed a request by the union leader to dismiss the charges and ordered the case to proceed to trial.

National Security: Reporters without Borders and other civil society organizations continued to express concerns about potential abuse of the law for the Classification of Public Documents Related to Defense and National Security. Beginning in the third quarter of 2015, the government made available to the public some information about activities that the security tax and other trust funds support, and it incorporated trust fund numbers into the current budget. In June MACCIH issued a report detailing the necessity of changing the law to effectively combat corruption.

Nongovernmental Impact: Some journalists and other members of civil society reported threats from members of organized crime. It was unclear how many of these threats were related to the victims’ professions or activism. Several anonymous social media sites, possibly linked to political parties, criticized activists, civil society organizations, and journalists who were critical of the government or opposition party policies.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, but there were credible reports that the government monitored private online communications. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2016 approximately 30 percent of the population used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Hungary

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Iceland

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

India

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and expression, but it does not explicitly mention freedom of the press. The government generally respected these rights, although there were instances in which the government allegedly pressured or harassed media outlets critical of the government.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals routinely criticized the government publicly and privately. According to HRW, however, sedition and criminal defamation laws were sometimes used to prosecute citizens who criticized government officials or opposed state policies. In certain cases local authorities arrested individuals under laws against hate speech for expressions of political views. Freedom House asserted the view that freedom of expression is eroding in the country, noting the government’s silence regarding direct attacks on free speech. In some instances the government reportedly withheld public-sector advertising from outlets that criticized the government, causing some outlets to practice self-censorship. According to media watchdog The Hoot’s India Freedom Report detailing cases between January 2016 and April 2017, “there was an overall sense of shrinking liberty not experienced in recent years.” The report detailed 54 alleged attacks on journalists, at least three cases of television news channels being banned, 45 internet shutdowns, and 45 sedition cases against individuals and groups.

On March 12, a graduate student from Periyar University in Tamil Nadu state was apprehended by police while distributing pamphlets in support of continuing protests against government oil exploration projects at Neduvasal in Pudukottai District and Kadiramangalam in Thanjavur District. Police invoked a provision of the Goondas Act, which allows preventive detention of a habitual offender for up to one year without the possibility of bail. Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami, who also holds the home portfolio, defended the student’s detention, saying that she “was causing disturbances to the public by taking part in various protests.”

On September 13, Akhil Gogoi, an RTI activist and president of the anticorruption organization Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, was arrested in Assam on charges of sedition a day after he gave a speech criticizing various policies of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Additionally, Gogoi was labelled a Maoist by the government. His case continued at year’s end.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media generally expressed a wide variety of views. The law prohibits content that could harm religious sentiments or provoke enmity among groups, and authorities invoked these provisions to restrict print media, broadcast media, and publication or distribution of books.

On June 5, CBI officials searched the offices and residence of NDTV founder Prannoy Roy due to fraud allegations. NDTV called the raids “a blatant political attack on the freedom of the press.” Other news agencies characterized the raids as political in light of NDTV’s critical reports of BJP leadership. The Editors Guild of India expressed concern about the raids and called on the CBI to uphold due process of law and freedom of expression for media. On September 11, Hindustan Times (HT) owner Shobhana Bhartia announced editor in chief Bobby Ghosh’s exit from the media outlet. Ghosh had been critical of BJP leadership, including Prime Minister Modi, and was the creator of HT’s “Hate Tracker” regarding violence against Muslims; Dalits; women; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals (LGBTI); and other discriminated groups.

On November 5, cartoonist G. Bala was arrested for posting a cartoon critical of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami and other state government officials on his Facebook page. Bala’s cartoon suggested officials were preoccupied with enriching themselves rather than addressing the problems of citizens. Police confirmed Bala was arrested and charged with publishing obscene materials in electronic form and printing defamatory material. He was granted bail on November 6.

The government maintained a monopoly on AM radio stations, limiting broadcasting to the state-owned All India Radio (AIR), and restricted FM radio licenses for entertainment and educational content. Widely distributed private satellite television provided competition for Doordarshan, the government-owned television network. There have been some accusations of political interference in the state-owned broadcasters. On August 15, the Chief Minister of Tripura, Manik Sarkar, alleged that Doordarshan and AIR refused to broadcast his Independence Day remarks. State governments banned the import or sale of some books due to material government censors deemed inflammatory or could provoke communal or religious tensions.

Violence and Harassment: Some journalists and media persons reportedly experienced violence and harassment in response to their reporting. During the year a subcommittee of the Press Council of India issued a report to the government on the protection and preservation of the freedom of the press and integrity of journalists; the report highlighted that at least 80 journalists had been killed since 1990 and only one conviction had been made.

Online and mobile harassment, particularly of female journalists, was prevalent, with some female activists and journalists reporting that they receive thousands of abusive tweets from “trolls” every week. The HT launched an antitrolling campaign to call attention to this problem.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) expressed concern over attacks on journalists. For example, according to the CPJ, supporters of a legislator associated with the ruling Telugu Desam Party allegedly chased and attacked a reporter with a local Telugu newspaper in Andhra Pradesh on February 5. The attack, which was recorded anonymously on video, was allegedly in retribution for an investigative report published in a local journal, which accused the legislator and his brother of illegally mining sand and defaulting on bank loans.

On September 5, senior journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh was shot and killed by three assailants at her home in Bengaluru. The Karnataka government instituted a Special Investigation Team to probe the killing. On September 11, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein highlighted the killing of Lankesh as a journalist who addressed the corrosive effect of sectarianism and hatred. No arrests were made, and the investigation continued at year’s end.

On September 20, television journalist Shantau Bhowmik was beaten and stabbed to death while reporting on a clash between police and the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura. The National Union of Journalists India and others have condemned Bhowmik’s death and called for a journalist protection act to provide safety for journalists.

In an October 3 report, Reporters without Borders reported that journalist Deeksha Sharma received messages threatening her with rape and death. The report also included threats against Asian News International’s Abhay Kumar, The Hindu’s Mohammad Ali, Firstpost’sDebobrat Ghose, and NDTV’s Sonal Mehrotra Kapoor, among others.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In June the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting denied permission to screen three films at a film festival in Kerala. Films screened at festivals do not require certification by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), but they need a censor exemption from the ministry. The three films were about protests at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, the unrest in Kashmir, and the suicide of doctoral student activist Rohith Vemula.

In July the CBFC refused to approve a documentary on Nobel Laureate Economist Amartya Sen for public viewing. According to media reports, the CBFC objected to sections in the documentary where Sen used the terms “cow,” “Gujarat,” “Hindu India,” and “Hindutva.” The maker of the documentary, Suman Ghosh, refused to accede to the CBFC instruction to mute these four terms.

Libel/Slander Laws: In April the BJP filed a complaint against Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal for accusing the National Election Commission of manipulating voting machines, the use of which Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party had contested and lost, in the Punjab state elections.

National Security: In some cases government authorities cited laws protecting national interest to restrict media content. For example, on April 26, the state of Jammu and Kashmir ordered internet service providers to block 22 social media and instant messaging sites, including Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter, for one month after persistent street demonstrations. This was the first time the state government banned individual social media websites rather than restricting internet and data services.

Nongovernmental Impact: In a statement released in June 2016, UN special rapporteurs on human rights expressed the view that Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) “provisions were increasingly being used…to silence organizations involved in advocating civil, political, economic, social, environmental, or cultural priorities, which may differ from those backed by the [g]overnment.” The statement highlighted the suspension of foreign banking licenses for NGOs including Greenpeace India, Lawyers Collective, and the Sabrang Trust. In May, HRW urged UN member countries to call on India to stop targeting NGOs and others who criticized the government or its policies.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were some government restrictions on access to the internet, disruptions of access to the internet, and censorship of online content. There were also reports the government occasionally monitored users of digital media, such as chat rooms and person-to-person communications. The law permits the government to block internet sites and content and criminalizes sending messages the government deems inflammatory or offensive. Both central and state governments have the power to issue directions for blocking, intercepting, monitoring, or decrypting computer information.

In 2015 the Supreme Court struck down a provision of information technology law that had resulted in a significant number of arrests between 2012 and 2015 for content published on social media. The Supreme Court upheld other provisions authorizing the government to block certain online content. One provision gives the government authority to issue orders to block online content “in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defense of India, security of the State, and friendly relations with foreign states or public order” without court approval.

On August 7, the central Ministry of Communications announced new rules allowing the government to shut telephone and internet services temporarily during a “public emergency” or for “public safety.” Experts noted these rules meant internet shutdowns could be carried out in a more organized manner but raised concerns over arbitrary censorship. According to HRW from January to June, the government temporarily shut the internet 20 times in different locations across the country. In 2016 there were 31 reported shutdowns.

Internet access and services were frequently curtailed during several weeks of violence and curfew in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and occasionally in other parts of the country, including in Haryana during large-scale demonstrations by the Dera Sacha Sauda religious sect in August. The government claimed that it was sometimes necessary to restrict access to the internet to prevent violence fueled by social media. According to HRW authorities sometimes failed to follow legal procedures and in some instances ordered shutdowns unnecessarily.

In July media watchdog The Hoot reported internet shutdowns had risen from eight in the first half of 2016 to 23 in the first half of the year.

In July and August, the central government’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, based on a complaint filed by the State of Jammu and Kashmir Police, reportedly asked Twitter to block 248 accounts, tweets, and hashtags in view of threats posed by them. The ministry requested that a list of 115 accounts and tweets, which were found “propagating objectionable contents,” be blocked “in the interest of the public order as well as for preventing any cognizable offense….”

Persons continued to be charged with posting offensive or derogatory material on social media. For example, the BJP filed charges against Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal for posting election-related material on Facebook. An individual was arrested in Madhya Pradesh on charges of hurting religious sentiments by posting a picture of a holy man buying meat. Following Hindu nationalist Yogi Adityanath’s appointment as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, several critics were reportedly charged over their social media posts.

The Central Monitoring System (CMS) continued to allow governmental agencies to monitor electronic communications in real time without informing the subject or a judge. The CMS is a mass electronic surveillance data-mining program installed by the Center for Development of Telematics, a government-owned telecommunications technology development center. The CMS gives security agencies and income tax officials centralized access to the telecommunication network and the ability to hear and record mobile, landline, and satellite telephone calls and Voice over Internet Protocol, to read private emails and mobile phone text messages, and to track geographical locations of individuals in real time. Authorities can also use it to monitor posts shared on social media and track users’ search histories on search engines, without oversight by courts or parliament. This monitoring facility was available to nine security agencies, including the Intelligence Bureau, the Research and Analysis Wing, and the Home Affairs Ministry.

In August, Minister of State in the Ministry of Communications Manoj Singh informed parliament’s upper house that the government decided to set up the CMS to automate the process of lawful interception and monitoring of telecommunications. The law governing interception and monitoring provides an oversight mechanism to prevent unauthorized interceptions. Punishment for unauthorized interception includes fines and/or a maximum prison sentence of three years.

Freedom House, in its 2016 India Country Report, rated the country “partly free” with respect to internet user rights, including accessibility, limits on content, and violations of individual rights. According to Freedom House, internet freedom declined slightly in 2016, offsetting gains made in 2014 and 2015. The NGO reported the number of network shutdowns ordered by local authorities increased. The report documented incidents of physical attacks on internet users for content posted online and stated at least 17 individuals were arrested for information circulated on WhatsApp, including group administrators based on content shared by other group members.

Authorities may hold search engines liable for displaying prohibited content, and the government sometimes requested user data from internet companies. According to Facebook’s April transparency report, the government made 7,289 data requests in the second half of 2016, and Facebook complied with 52 percent of those requests. Google also highlighted an increase in government requests for user data in its most recent transparency report. From January 1 through June 30, Twitter reported 261 account information requests from the government–a 55-percent increase over the previous six months–and 102 requests for accounts to be removed.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government occasionally applied restrictions on the travel and activities of visiting foreign experts and scholars; however, in most cases the government supported and issued visas for international academic conferences and exchanges.

Police in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh filed cases against lower-caste Dalit academician Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd after complaints were received from Vysya caste groups that his book, Samajika Smugglurlu Komatollu, portrayed the community in a negative light. On September 12, Hyderabad police registered three cases following complaints lodged by Vysya caste associations and Ilaiah against each other. Ilaiah also complained of receiving abusive calls and death threats. On September 19, the Andhra Pradesh Crime Investigation Department filed a case against Ilaiah on the charge of “promoting enmity between different groups based on religion, place, and through other means.” Andhra Pradesh Director General of Police N. Sambasiva Rao stated police were examining if there was a need to ban the book.

Indonesia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Iran

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, except when words are deemed “detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam or the rights of the public.” According to the law, “anyone who engages in any type of propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran or in support of opposition groups and associations shall be sentenced to three months to one year of imprisonment.”

Article 26 of the 2016 Charter on Citizens’ Rights acknowledges the right of every citizen to freedom of speech and expression. The charter grants citizens the right freely to seek, receive, publish, and communicate views and information, using any means of communication, but it has not been implemented.

The law provides for prosecution of persons accused of instigating crimes against the state or national security or “insulting” Islam. The government severely restricted freedom of speech and of the press and used the law to intimidate or prosecute persons who directly criticized the government or raised human rights problems, as well as to bring ordinary citizens into compliance with the government’s moral code.

Freedom of Expression: Authorities did not permit individuals to criticize publicly the country’s system of government, supreme leader, or official religion. Security forces and the judiciary punished those who violated these restrictions, as well as those who publicly criticized the president, cabinet, and parliament.

The government monitored meetings, movements, and communications of its citizens and often charged persons with crimes against national security and insulting the regime based on letters, emails, and other public and private communications. Authorities threatened arrest or punishment for the expression of ideas or images they viewed as violations of the legal moral code.

Former president Mohamed Khatami remained barred from giving public remarks, and media remained banned from publishing his name or image. According to national and international media reports, the former president was further barred in October from making public appearances for three months, including at meetings, theater performances, and concerts. Activists reportedly said this ban was one of the latest signs of the continuing crackdown within the regime on reformists.

Press and Media Freedom: The government’s Press Supervisory Board issues press licenses, which it sometimes revoked in response to articles critical of the government or the regime, or did not renew for individuals facing criminal charges or incarcerated for political reasons. During the year the government banned, blocked, closed, or censored publications deemed critical of officials.

The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (“Ershad”) severely limited and controlled foreign media organizations’ ability to work in the country by requiring foreign correspondents to provide detailed travel plans and topics of proposed stories before granting visas, limiting their ability to travel within the country, and forcing them to work with a local “minder.”

Under the constitution private broadcasting is illegal. The government maintained a monopoly over all television and radio broadcasting facilities through government agency Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. Radio and television programming, the principal source of news for many citizens (especially in rural areas with limited internet access), reflected the government’s political and socioreligious ideology. The government jammed satellite broadcasts as signals entered the country, a continuing practice since at least 2003. Satellite dishes remained illegal but ubiquitous. Those who distributed, used, or repaired satellite dishes faced fines up to 90 million rials ($2,500). Police launched campaigns to confiscate privately owned satellite dishes throughout the country under warrants provided by the judiciary.

Under the constitution the supreme leader appoints the head of the audiovisual policy agency, a council composed of representatives of the president, judiciary, and parliament. The Ministry of Culture reviews all potential publications, including foreign printed materials, prior to their domestic release, and may deem books unpublishable, remove text, or require word substitutions for terms deemed inappropriate.

Independent print media companies existed, but the government severely limited their operations.

Violence and Harassment: The government and its agents harassed, detained, abused, and prosecuted publishers, editors, and journalists, including those involved in internet-based media, for their reporting. The government also harassed many journalists’ families. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reported that the government summoned at least 10 families of foreign-based journalists during the year for interviews with intelligence officers to pressure them to “stop collaborating with enemy media.” As in previous election years, there were numerous reports of the government’s widespread crackdown on journalists in the runup to the May presidential and local elections.

In August it was widely reported that the government had frozen the assets of more than 150 BBC Persian service present-day and former staff and contributors, banning them from buying or selling property, cars, or other nonliquid assets.

In September, RSF reported at least 50 Iranian journalists based abroad had been threatened during the year, including at least 16 who received death threats. RSF noted that alleged sources used by international media in the country continued to be targeted and harassed. Mehdi Khazali, editor of the blog Baran, was arrested in Tehran in August for sending “false information about the government to counterrevolutionary websites based abroad and to VOA.”

Reformist journalists Issa Saharkhiz, Ehsan Mazandarani, Afarin Chitsaz, and Saman Safarzai were originally arrested in 2015 on charges of membership in “an infiltration group connected to the United States and United Kingdom.” Saharkhiz was conditionally released from prison in April after having been sentenced to three years in August 2016 for “insulting the supreme leader” and “propagating against the state.” In October, according to an RSF report, Saharkhiz was banned from international travel.

According to the CHRI, the government sentenced Mazandarani, a reporter for reformist daily newspaper Etemad and the former editor of Farhikhtegan, to seven years’ imprisonment in April 2016 for “assembly and collusion against national security” and “propaganda against the state.” The sentence was reduced on appeal to two years in July 2016. On February 11, Mazandarani was released from prison but subsequently detained and returned to Evin Prison in March as part of the government’s crackdown on journalists in the runup to the May elections. RSF reported his release from prison on October 31.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law forbids government censorship but also prohibits dissemination of information the government considers “damaging.” During the year the government censored publications that criticized official actions or contradicted official views or versions of events. “Damaging” information included discussions of women’s rights, the situation of minorities, criticism of government corruption, and references to mistreatment of detainees.

Officials routinely intimidated journalists into practicing self-censorship. Public officials often filed criminal complaints against newspapers, and the Press Supervisory Board, which regulates media content and publication, referred such complaints to the Press Court for further action, including possible closure, suspension, and fines. According to the IHRDC, the Islamic Republic News Agency determined the main topics and types of news to be covered and distributed topics required for reporting directly to various media outlets.

According to RSF, on October 5, the Tehran prosecutor’s office for culture and media suspended Mostaghel (or Independent), a reformist daily newspaper, for publishing a photo of former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, along with photos of other prime ministers from 1979-89. This action was considered a violation of an order by the High Council for National Security and Justice banning media coverage of the leaders of the 2009 protests that followed the disputed presidential election (see section 1.d., Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees).

According to international and local media reports, in the runup to the May presidential election, the country’s state television censored a documentary released by President Rouhani’s campaign that showed supporters chanting for 2009 presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has been under house arrest since 2011. A picture of former president Mohammad Khatami, whose name and image have been banned from use in media since 2015, was also cut from the video.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government commonly used libel laws or cited national security to suppress criticism. According to the law, if any publication contains personal insults, libel, false statements, or criticism, the insulted individual has the right to respond in the publication within one month. By law “insult” or “libel” against the government, government representatives, or foreign officials while they are on Iranian soil, as well as “the publication of lies” with the intent to reform (but not undermine the government) are considered political crimes and subject to certain trial and detention procedures (see section 1.e.). The government applied the law throughout the year, often citing statements made in various media outlets or internet platforms that criticized the government, to arrest, prosecute, and sentence individuals for crimes against national security.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet, monitored private online communications, and censored online content. Individuals and groups practiced self-censorship online.

The Ministries of Culture and of Information and Communications Technology are the main regulatory bodies for content and internet systems in the country. The supreme leader’s office also includes the Supreme Council of Cyberspace (SCC) charged with regulating content and systems. The government collected personally identifiable information in connection with citizens’ peaceful expression of political, religious, or ideological opinion or beliefs.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 53 percent of the population used the internet. According to the Ministry of Culture, 70 percent of youth between the ages of 15 and 29 used the internet. NGOs reported the government continued to filter content on the internet to ban access to particular sites and to filter traffic based on its content. The law makes it illegal to distribute circumvention tools and virtual private networks, and Minister of Information and Communications Technology Jahromi was quoted in the press in September saying that using circumvention tools is illegal.

The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance must approve all internet service providers. The government also requires all owners of websites and blogs in the country to register with the agencies that comprise the Commission to Determine the Instances of Criminal Content (also referred to as the Committee in Charge of Determining Unauthorized Websites or Committee in Charge of Determining Offensive Content), the governmental organization that determines censoring criteria. These include the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, Intelligence Ministry, and the Tehran Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Ministry of Information and Communications Technology regulations prohibit households and cyber cafes from having high-speed internet access. The government periodically reduced internet speed to discourage downloading material.

According to media reports, former minister of information and communications technology Mahmoud Vaezi announced that the government had improved methods to control the internet and had shut down a number of online platforms. According to a CHRI report in July, Vaezi vowed to “get rid” of foreign social media and described the government’s efforts to block popular foreign products like WeChat and WhatsApp.

In a June speech, Supreme Leader Khamenei emphasized the importance of the country’s National Information Network (NIN), launched in 2016 to “allow higher speeds and easier access while eliminating threats.” RSF reported that the NIN acts like an intranet system, with full content control and user identification. Authorities may disconnect this network from World Wide Web content and reportedly intended to use it to provide government propaganda, while blocking access to independently reported news or freely gathered information.

Authorities continued to block online messaging tools, such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, although the government operated Twitter accounts under the names of Supreme Leader Khamenei, President Rouhani, Foreign Minister Zarif, and other government-associated officials and entities.

During the year the social media platform Telegram was widely used by government officials, activists, media organizations, and citizens, although the government restricted access to some Telegram content. In August the SCC announced new regulations requiring that all foreign social media platforms, like Telegram, move all their data to servers inside the country or risk being closed. Telegram users in the country were harassed throughout the year for content posted through its servers. RSF reported in June that 173,000 Telegram accounts were blocked and 94 internet users, mainly Telegram users, had been arrested since the start of the year. In April, Prosecutor General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri announced that Telegram’s new voice-call option was blocked in the country because “intelligence agencies cannot monitor it.” In March, eight Telegram administrators were arrested, with no reason provided.

Government organizations, including the Basij “Cyber Council,” the Cyber Police, and the Cyber Army, which observers presumed to be controlled by the IRGC, monitored, identified, and countered alleged cyber threats to national security. These organizations especially targeted citizens’ activities on officially banned social networking websites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr, and reportedly harassed persons who criticized the government or raised sensitive social problems.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government significantly restricted academic freedom and the independence of higher education institutions. Authorities systematically targeted university campuses to suppress social and political activism by prohibiting independent student organizations, imprisoning student activists, removing faculty, preventing students from enrolling or continuing their education because of their political or religious affiliation or activism, and restricting social sciences and humanities curricula.

Authorities barred Bahai students from higher education and harassed those who pursued education through the unrecognized online university of the Bahai Institute for Higher Education (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/).

The government maintained controls on cinema, music, theater, and art exhibits and censored those productions deemed to transgress Islamic values. The government censored or banned films deemed to promote secularism, non-Islamic ideas about women’s rights, unethical behavior, drug abuse, violence, or alcoholism.

According to the IHRDC, the nine-member film review council of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, made up of clerics, former directors, former parliamentarians, and academics, must approve the content of every film before production and again before screening. Films may be barred arbitrarily from screening even if all the appropriate permits were received in advance.

In January, Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Reza Salehi Amiri reportedly boasted about the banning of 10 films from the Tehran Fajr International Film Festival. Amiri was quoted saying that for the first time, films with “feminist and inappropriate themes” had been removed.

Officials continued to discourage teaching music in schools. Authorities considered heavy metal and foreign music religiously offensive, and police continued to repress underground concerts and arrest musicians and music distributors. The Ministry of Culture must officially approve song lyrics, music, and album covers as complying with the country’s moral values, although many underground musicians released albums without seeking such permission.

Mehdi and Hossein Rajabian and Yousef Emadi were arrested in 2013 and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment following a 15-minute trial by a revolutionary court, which found them guilty of “insulting Islamic sanctities,” “spreading propaganda against the system,” and “illegal audio-visual activities” for the distribution of unlicensed music. Authorities shut down their website, and Amnesty International reported the three were beaten and given electric shocks in detention. In June the Rajabian brothers were released, but in September, according to a CHRI report, a revolutionary court sentenced Emadi to an additional year in prison, plus two years of internal exile, for “propaganda against the state” and his alleged dissemination of information to foreign media while in Evin Prison.

Iraq

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution broadly provides for the right of free expression that does not violate public order and morality, express support for the banned Ba’ath party, or advocate altering the country’s borders through violent means. The primary limitation on individual and media exercise of these rights was self-censorship due to credible fear of reprisals by the government, political parties, ethnic and sectarian forces, terrorist and extremist groups, or criminal gangs.

Freedom of Expression: Despite the constitutional protection for freedom of expression, central government and KRG oversight and censorship sometimes interfered with media operations, at times resulting in the closure of media outlets, restrictions on reporting, and interference with internet service. Individuals were able to criticize the government publicly or privately but not without fear of reprisal. For example, on March 14, KRG security forces prevented a Nalia Radio and Television (NRT) journalist from covering the visit of a western ambassador to Bashiqa. On August 28, the KRG Directorate of Media, Printing, and Publications announced it would temporarily halt the broadcast of NRT, a media outlet that criticized the KDP and the Kurdistan Region’s independence referendum; NRT was closed for one week before resuming programming without incident. On October 28, the National Commission of Media and Communications called for Erbil-based Rudaw TV and Kurdistan 24 TV to suspend broadcasts for operating without a license and broadcasting programs that incite violence.

Press and Media Freedom: An active media expressed a variety of views largely reflecting the owners’ political viewpoints. Media also self-censored to comply with government restrictions against “violating public order” and because of a fear of reprisal by militias, criminal organizations, and private individuals, including political figures. Media outlets, unable to cover operating costs through advertising revenue, frequently relied upon political funding that diminished their ability to report unbiased news. Political parties strongly influenced, or controlled outright, most of the several hundred daily and weekly print media publications, as well as dozens of radio and television stations.

Some media organizations reported arrests and harassment of journalists, as well as government preventing them from covering politically sensitive topics, including security issues, corruption, and weak governmental capacity. Government, KRG security authorities, and militias sometimes prevented journalists from reporting; they cited security pretexts.

On July 1, the Kurdish Journalists’ Syndicate released a report alleging 56 reported violations of press freedom in the first half of the year. From January 1 to September 1, according to the Metro Center for Defending Journalists’ Rights, there were 166 press violations against 144 journalists and media outlets. Both organizations reported that security forces physically blocked journalists’ access to story locations and press conferences.

Security forces barred Gorran-affiliated Kurdish News Network journalist Hazhar Anwar Jawhar, who reported he received several death threats, from covering stories, and they repeatedly assaulted him. He stated KDP security forces in Makhmour prevented him from reporting in the area in 2016 and that a KRG Ministry of Interior official warned him in April that if he did not lower his profile, he would be killed.

Violence and Harassment: According to a report of the Committee to Protect Journalists, 34 journalists were killed during the year.

Reporting from ISIS-controlled areas remained dangerous and difficult. Journalists covering armed clashes involving government, militia, and ISIS forces faced serious threats to their safety, with several instances of journalists killed or injured. Military officials, citing safety considerations, sometimes restricted journalists’ access to areas of active fighting.

Media workers often reported they were pressured by persons and institutions, including politicians, government officials, security services, tribal elements, and business leaders, not to publish articles critical of them. Media workers reported accounts of government or partisan violence, intimidation, death threats, and harassment. For example, on January 31, government officers reportedly harassed and beat a Radio al-Mirbad journalist to prevent him from reporting negative news in Basrah Governorate.

Throughout the IKR there were numerous beatings, detentions, and death threats against media workers. In some cases the aggressors wore military or police uniforms. For example, on March 10, unknown gunmen fired on the house of freelance journalist Hemin Kareem in Sulaimaniyah. Kareem claimed he was targeted due to his critical writing on social media. According to a November 2 HRW statement, on October 30, at least six masked men in military uniforms broke into the Daquq home of Arkan Sharifi, a high school principal and cameraman for Kurdistan TV, and stabbed him to death. At year’s end the assailants remained unidentified and their motives unknown.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits producing, importing, publishing, or possessing written material, drawings, photographs, or films that violate public integrity or decency. The penalties for conviction include fines and imprisonment. Fear of violent retaliation for publishing facts or opinions displeasing to political factions inhibited free expression. Public officials reportedly influenced content through rewarding positive reporting with bribes, providing money, land, access to venues, and other benefits to journalists, particularly to members of the progovernment Journalists’ Syndicate. These restrictions extended to privately owned television stations operating outside of the country.

The Ministry of Culture must approve all books published in or imported into the country, thereby subjecting authors to censorship.

In August the National Commission of Media and Communications prevented two television channels from broadcasting the satirical al-Basheer Show, reportedly for violating the code of media conduct.

The KDP banned NRT, Payam, and the Kurdish News Network from covering the frontlines of the fight against ISIS in Ninewa Governorate as well as Mosul liberation operations that started in October 2016. Additionally, on August 28, the KRG banned NRT local broadcasts for one week because of commercial advertisements for the “No for Now” anti-Kurdistan Region independence referendum campaign. On August 31, KDP supporters raided NRT headquarters in Dahuk and destroyed the NRT logo on the roof of the building.

Libel/Slander Laws: Criminal and civil law prohibits defamation. Many in media complained this provision prevented them from freely practicing their profession by creating a strong fear of prosecution, although widespread self-censorship impeded journalistic performance as well. Public officials occasionally resorted to filing libel charges that in some cases resulted in punitive fines on individual media outlets and editors, often for publishing articles containing allegations of corruption. When cases went to court, the courts usually sided with the journalist, according to local media-freedom organizations.

Libel is a criminal offense under KRG law as well, and judges may issue arrest warrants for journalists on this basis.

Nongovernmental Impact: Nongovernmental actors, including militia groups, reportedly threatened journalists with violence for reporting on sensitive subjects.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were overt government restrictions on access to the internet, and there were credible reports, but no official acknowledgement, that the government monitored email and internet communications without appropriate legal authority. Despite restrictions, political figures and activists used the internet to criticize corrupt and ineffective politicians, mobilize protesters for demonstrations, and campaign for candidates through social media channels.

The government acknowledged that it interfered with internet access in some areas of the country due to the deterioration in the security situation and ISIS’s disruptive use of social media platforms. During the year there were reports that government officials attempted to have pages critical of the government removed from Facebook and Twitter as “hate speech,” although they did not succeed in doing so.

There were no reports the Ministry of Communications imposed social media blackouts. Sporadically throughout the year, the government instructed internet service providers to shut down the internet during school exams, reportedly so students could not cheat.

According to the World Bank, approximately 21 percent of the population used the internet in 2016, compared with 17 percent in 2015.

ISIS also severely restricted access to the internet and telephone service in areas under its control and threatened users with death.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Social, religious, and political pressures significantly restricted the exercise of freedom of choice in academic and cultural matters. In all regions various groups reportedly sought to control the pursuit of formal education and granting of academic positions. The country’s universities did not pursue gender-segregation policies. ISIS limited female education beyond the primary level in areas that it controlled.

Academic freedoms remained restricted in areas of active conflict and in ISIS-controlled territory. ISIS targeted libraries, museums, and academic institutions in violent attacks and abducted students and faculty. The situation improved during the year, however, as the government liberated locations from ISIS rule, and thousands of schools reopened.

ISIS limited cultural expression by targeting artists, poets, writers, and musicians in areas under its control.

NGOs in the KRG reported that senior professorships were easier to obtain for those with links to the traditional KDP and PUK ruling parties.

Ireland

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank, and Gaza

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law generally provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

The law imposes tort liability on any person who knowingly issues a public call for an economic, cultural, or academic boycott of the State of Israel, or of institutions or entities in areas under its control in the West Bank. Plaintiffs must prove direct economic harm to claim damages under the “antiboycott” legislation. In 2015 the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of this law.

The law also permits the finance minister to institute regulations imposing administrative sanctions on those calling for such a boycott, including restrictions on participating in tenders for contracts with the government and denial of government benefits. On March 6, the Knesset passed an amendment barring entry to the country to visitors (excluding permanent residents) who called for such a boycott. Criteria published on July 24 by the Population and Immigration Authority restricted enforcement of this law to prominent activists promoting a boycott individually or as a leader of an organization. Adalah criticized the law for making political opinions a factor in decisions about whether to allow noncitizens entry to the country. Since immigration authorities already had broad powers to deny entry, and they do not routinely provide visitors who are denied entry with the statute under which they were refused, it is unknown how many times this law has been applied.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits hate speech and content liable to incite to violence or discrimination on grounds of race, origin, religion, nationality, and gender.

In July 2016 the Knesset passed a law increasing the penalty for desecrating the Israeli flag from one year to three years in prison and increased the fine from the equivalent of eight dollars to 58,400 shekels ($16,400).

In cases of speech that are defined as incitement to violence or hate speech, the law empowers police to limit freedom of expression.

Authorities repeatedly attempted to obstruct events by the NGO Breaking the Silence in public facilities. For example, on February 7, at the request of Culture Minister Miri Regev, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat tried to prevent a speech by Breaking the Silence by ordering the eviction from a government-owned building of an art gallery in which the speech was scheduled to take place. The art gallery refused to cancel the event, and it proceeded as planned on February 8 (see also Press and Media Freedom below). Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Press and Media Freedom: In December 2016 ACRI published a report detailing a variety of legislative and rhetorical attacks on media throughout the year by elected officials, especially Prime Minister Netanyahu, and expressed concern about the chilling effect of these attacks on press freedom. On October 23, President Reuven Rivlin said, “It is one thing to work to remedy the problems of the media…and quite another thing to try to control it. … How can it be in the interest of the State of Israel–or of any democracy and Israel’s democracy in particular–to have a weak media begging for its life?” Reactions to the president’s speech included death threats on social media and hate graffiti, according to media reports.

In February, Prime Minister Netanyahu gave up the position of communications minister after a petition to the Supreme Court objected to his holding the communications portfolio while being investigated for corruption relating to his dealings with media companies. In May he appointed MK Ayoob Kara to the position of communications minister.

On July 31, Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered Communications Minister Kara to close the offices of the news outlet al-Jazeera, accusing the network of incitement to violence during a crisis on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. As of October the government had not closed al-Jazeera. Media reported on September 7, however, that Prime Minister Netanyahu banned al-Jazeera’s bureau chief Walid al-Omari from a government seminar on freedom of speech.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: All media organizations must submit to military censors any material relating to specific military issues or strategic infrastructure problems, such as oil and water supplies. Organizations may appeal the censor’s decisions to the Supreme Court, and the censor may not appeal a court judgment. In July the Israel Democracy Institute stated that power to prohibit publication of news should be transferred from the military censor to the judicial system.

News printed or broadcast abroad is subject to security censorship. The government regularly enacted restrictive orders on sensitive security information and continuing investigations, and required foreign correspondents, as well as local media, to abide by these orders. According to data provided by the military at the request of +972 MagazineMekomit and the NGO Movement for Freedom of Information, from 2011 through August 2016, the military censor banned the publication of 1,936 articles and redacted information from 14,196 articles. Ha’aretz reported on October 2 that the national police legal advisor issued new guidelines increasing the police’s authority to bar journalists from entering an area based on “fear that the journalist’s entry will inflame a violent atmosphere to a level that is liable to endanger people’s lives” or possibly violate a gag order. Previous gag orders restricted only publication, not journalists’ presence.

In January 2016 the State Attorney’s Office sought a court order to compel the NGO Breaking the Silence to reveal the identity of an individual who served in the IDF during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge and who testified to the organization about alleged war crimes during the operation. Breaking the Silence claimed the investigation was politically motivated and that providing this information would effectively force the organization to ends its operations. In March, Breaking the Silence and the state reached a compromise in which the NGO would transfer to the government original source materials for its report on Operation Protective Edge but withhold the names of its sources. As of the end of the year, the case remained pending at the Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court.

National Security: The Counterterrorism Law, which took effect in November 2016, criminalizes as “terrorist acts” speech supporting terrorism, including public praise of a terrorist organization, display of symbols, expression of slogans, and “incitement.” There were at least 11 convictions under the law as of the end of the year, according to media reports.

On August 15, police arrested Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the Northern Islamic Movement, which the government outlawed in 2015 under the emergency law, an act for which it was criticized by Arab-Israeli politicians who had claimed the decision to outlaw the Northern Islamic Movement appeared to have motivated by politics rather than a threat to national security. Authorities indicted Salah for incitement to terrorism and supporting an illegal association.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government monitored email and social media platforms and censored online content; according to Adalah, the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

The government monitored email, internet chat rooms, and the popular texting application WhatsApp for security purposes. On July 17, the Knesset passed a law authorizing district court judges to restrict access to internet sites to prevent the commission of crimes. The state attorney’s cyber unit’s end-of-year report for 2016 stated that requests to social media outlets to remove content based on its assessment that the content is illegal under the law led to the removal of 1,554 online postings.

Internet access was widely available, and approximately 73 percent of the country’s inhabitants used it regularly.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The law prohibits institutions that receive government funding from engaging in commemoration of the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” the term used by Palestinians to refer to the displacement of Palestinians during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.

On June 9, Education Minister Naftali Bennett presented a new draft code of ethics to prevent academics from engaging in “political activity,” defined as supporting or opposing a party, political figure, or position on a topic under debate in the Knesset. Academics and a Supreme Court justice condemned Bennett’s initiative as an assault on academic freedom and freedom of speech. The government did not implement the code of ethics as of October 19.

Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank, and Gaza – West Bank and Gaza

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The PA basic law generally provides for freedom of expression, but it does not specifically provide for freedom of the press. The PA enforced legislation that NGOs claimed restricted press and media freedom in the West Bank. The PASF continued to restrict freedom of expression in the West Bank, including for the Palestinian press–most notably through harassment, intimidation, and arrest.

In Gaza, Hamas restricted press freedom through frequent arrests and extended interrogations of journalists, as well as harassment and limitations on access and movement for some journalists. These restrictions led journalists to self-censor.

Israeli civil and military law provides limited protections of freedom of expression and press for Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israeli authorities continued to restrict press coverage and placed limits on certain forms of expression–particularly by restricting Palestinian journalists’ movement, as well as through violence, arrests, closure of media outlets, and intimidation, according to media reports and the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms.

Freedom of Expression: Although no PA law prohibits criticism of the government, media reports indicated PA authorities arrested West Bank Palestinian journalists and social media activists who criticized, or covered events that criticized, the PA. Additionally, there were several complaints during the year that the PA prevented journalists from covering events favorable to Hamas in the West Bank.

Palestinian President Abbas approved a law known as the “Cybercrime Law” or the “Electronic Crimes Law” on June 24. The law imposes imprisonment and fines for the publication of material that would endanger “the integrity of the Palestinian state” or “public order,” or for the publication of material that attacks “family principles or values.” Based on this law, the PA arrested West Bank journalists and blocked websites associated with political rivals. On June 12, the Palestinian attorney general ordered the West Bank-based internet service providers to block access to more than two dozen websites. Eleven of these sites were affiliated with political parties, including Hamas or other opposition groups critical of the Fatah-controlled PA.

In Gaza, Palestinians publicly criticizing Hamas authorities risked reprisal by Hamas, including arrest, interrogation, seizure of property, and harassment. Media practitioners accused of publicly criticizing Hamas, including civil society and youth activists, social media advocates, and journalists, faced punitive measures, including raids on their facilities and residences, arbitrary detention, and denial of permission to travel outside Gaza. In July, Hamas security forces summoned 12 Gaza-based journalists and social media activists for questioning based on anti-Hamas social media posts. Human rights NGOs reported that Hamas interrogators subjected several of those detained to harassment and violence.

De facto Hamas authorities also imposed restrictions on the work of foreign journalists in the Gaza Strip, including lengthy interrogations of foreign journalists at entry points to the Gaza Strip and refusal or long delays in providing permits to enter the Gaza Strip. Some of this harassment appeared to be punitive reaction to what Hamas perceived as critical reporting.

In Jerusalem, Israeli authorities prohibited displays of Palestinian political symbols, such as the Palestinian flag, as well as public expressions of anti-Israeli sentiment, which were punishable by fines or imprisonment. Israeli authorities did not always enforce these restrictions. Israeli security officials prohibited PLO- or PA-affiliated groups from meeting in Jerusalem. They also restricted media coverage of incidents that might provoke criticism of Israeli policies.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent Palestinian media operated under restrictions in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. The PA Ministry of Information requested that Israeli reporters covering events in the West Bank register with the ministry. According to the PA deputy minister of information, the ministry provides permits to Israeli journalists only if they do not live in a settlement. While officially the PA was open to Israeli reporters covering events in the West Bank, at times Palestinian journalists reportedly pressured Israeli journalists not to attend PA events.

Previously Hamas had modestly loosened some restrictions on PA-affiliated or pro-PA publications in Gaza, although significant restrictions remained. In 2014 Hamas lifted its ban on three West Bank-based newspapers–al-Qudsal-Ayyam, and al-Hayat al-Jadida. Hamas authorities permitted broadcasts within Gaza of reporting and interviews featuring PA officials. Hamas allowed, with some restrictions, the operation of non-Hamas-affiliated broadcast media in Gaza. For instance, the PA-supported Palestine TV reportedly operated in Gaza.

Hamas sought to restrict the movement of journalists both at crossing points into Gaza and within Gaza. In a few cases, authorities refused reporters permits, provided permits of untenably brief duration, or told reporters their permits were conditional on not working with specific Palestinian journalists. In some cases Hamas rejected permit applications for or arrested international reporters in retaliation for unfavorable news coverage.

On June 18, Hamas security forces arrested Hasan Jaber of the al-Ayyam daily and questioned him regarding his report on an anti-Hamas group in Gaza. He was released later that night.

In areas of the West Bank to which Israel controls access, Palestinian journalists claimed Israeli authorities restricted their freedom of movement and ability to cover stories. The ISF does not recognize Palestinian press credentials or credentials from the International Federation of Journalists. Few Palestinians held Israeli press credentials, following Israel’s revocation of the vast majority of these credentials during the Second Intifada, which began in 2000.

Israel does not issue Palestinian journalists special press permits to travel into Jerusalem or west of the security barrier. Palestinian journalists who were able to obtain entry permits on other grounds, as well as Jerusalem-based Palestinian journalists, reported incidents of harassment, racism, and occasional violence when they sought to cover news in Jerusalem, especially in the Old City and its vicinity.

In April 2016 Israeli authorities arrested Palestinian journalist and deputy head of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate Omar Nazzal at an Israeli-Jordanian border crossing as he traveled to Sarajevo to attend a meeting of the European Federation of Journalists. The Israeli government alleged that Nazzal was involved in unlawful activity and association with the terrorist group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He was released on February 20 after serving 10 months in Israeli prison under administrative detention.

Violence and Harassment: There were numerous reports that the PASF harassed, detained (occasionally with violence), prosecuted, and fined journalists in the West Bank during the year. Since January the number of violations against freedom of press by the PA in the West Bank and the Hamas de facto government in Gaza significantly increased. The PA arbitrarily arrested, harassed, or intimidated a number of Palestinian journalists and activists. In Gaza, Hamas authorities arrested several journalists, including those who criticized Hamas for its handling of the continuing electricity crisis.

On July 6, PA Preventive Security agents arrested journalist Jihad Barakat of Palestine Today TV, for taking a picture of the PA prime minister’s motorcade as it stopped at an Israeli checkpoint near Tulkarm, in the West Bank. Authorities charged Barakat with “being at a public place, at such time and in such circumstances for an unlawful or improper purpose.” On July 9, authorities released Barakat, but his case was still pending.

PA security forces also at times reportedly demanded deletion of footage showing PA security personnel. For example, according to the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms, on August 27, PA security forces detained photographer Hazem Nasser of Transmedia and reporter Mujahed Saadi of Media Port for two hours after they covered a sit-in in front of the Palestinian Preventive Security facilities in Jenin. PA security forces deleted all photos of the sit-in saved on their camera hard drives.

The PA also occasionally obstructed the West Bank activities of media organizations with Hamas sympathies and limited media coverage critical of the PA.

The PA also had an inconsistent record of protecting Israeli and international journalists in the West Bank from harassment by Palestinian civilians or their own personnel.

In Gaza, Hamas at times arrested, harassed, and pressured journalists, sometimes violently. Reportedly Hamas summoned and detained Palestinian and foreign journalists for questioning to intimidate them. Hamas also constrained journalists’ freedom of movement within Gaza during the year, attempting to ban access to some official buildings as well as to several prodemocracy protests.

On June 4, the Hamas Magistrate’s Court in Gaza sentenced journalist Hajar Abu Samra in absentia to six months in jail. The charges came a few months after Abu Samra published an investigative report about corruption in the Medical Referrals Department of the Ministry of Health in Gaza. On June 11, Hamas convicted Mohammad al-Talouli, an activist against Hamas policies, of misusing technology and distributing misleading information to the public in comments he posted on Facebook. He was released on bail and was awaiting trial.

Throughout the year there were dozens of reports of Israeli actions that prevented Palestinian or Arab-Israeli journalists from covering news stories in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem. These actions included harassment by Israeli soldiers and acts of violence against journalists. Palestinian journalists also claimed that Israeli security forces detained Palestinian journalists and forced them to delete images and videos under threat of violence or arrest/administrative detention.

On May 18, an Israeli settler shot and seriously wounded Associated Press photographer Majdi Mohammad Eshtayeh while he covered a disturbance in Hawara, in the West Bank. According to the Associated Press, citing video footage, the settler fired his gun after Israeli soldiers arrived and dispersed the protesters. The Israeli-based Foreign Press Association stated the photographer was clearly identified as a journalist, with a protective helmet and vest with the word “Press” in large letters. Israeli police said they were still investigating the incident as of November 21.

On April 28, Israeli police prevented international photographers from covering a demonstration near the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City. According to the Foreign Press Association, police kicked and shoved journalists; a Reuters reporter required hospital treatment after the incident. The border police also used horses to charge photographers and cameramen without warning, leading to injuries of an Agence France-Presse (AFP) photographer.

There were many reports of Palestinian journalists injured by rubber-coated steel bullets and live fire or tear gas while covering demonstrations and clashes in the West Bank between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The PA prohibits calls for violence, displays of arms, and racist slogans in PA-funded and controlled official media. There were no confirmed reports of any legal action against, or prosecution of, any person publishing items counter to these PA rules. Media throughout the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem reported practicing self-censorship. There were reports of PA authorities seeking to erase images or footage from journalists’ cameras or cell phones.

In Gaza civil society organizations reported Hamas censored television programs and written materials, such as newspapers and books.

On January 12, plainclothes Hamas security officers detained an Associated Press reporter covering a demonstration in Gaza and forced him at gunpoint to surrender his mobile phones to them. In a separate instance, Hamas uniformed police officers beat an AFP photographer after he refused to surrender his camera. Police confiscated the camera’s memory card and arrested him.

While Israeli authorities retain the right to censor the printing of all Jerusalem-based Arabic publications for material perceived as a security concern (as Israeli authorities also do with Israeli media), anecdotal evidence suggested Israeli authorities did not actively review the Jerusalem-based al-Quds newspaper or other Jerusalem-based Arabic publications. Jerusalem-based publications reported they engaged in self-censorship as a result.

The Israeli government continued to raid and close West Bank Palestinian media sources, primarily on the basis of allegations they incited violence against Israeli civilians or security services. On October 18, the ISF launched a coordinated nighttime raid of seven branch offices of three Palestinian media service support companies located in Area A of the West Bank due to allegations of “broadcasting calls and incitement to terrorist acts.” The companies rented out space to numerous customers, including media funded by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Additionally, the ISF have raided and shut seven other Palestinian media outlets since 2015.

Israeli military law governs Palestinian incitement in the West Bank. Acts of incitement under military law are punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment. NGOs and other observers said Israeli military regulations were vaguely worded and open to interpretation. The ISF generally cited two laws in its military orders when closing Palestinian radio stations–the 1945 Defense Emergency Regulations and the 2009 Order Concerning Security Provisions. These laws generally define incitement as an attempt to influence public opinion in a manner that could harm public safety or public order.

West Bank Palestinian broadcaster Wattan TV continued to attempt to retrieve from the Israeli government foreign-funded equipment confiscated in 2012 by the ISF from its Ramallah Studio, under allegations that Wattan TV had “disturbed various communication systems.” Wattan TV’s lawyers were not permitted to view evidence nor testimony presented against the media broadcaster and complained of an opaque legal process that left West Bank Palestinian broadcasters with no realistic legal recourse. An Israeli court was scheduled to rule on Wattan’s request for compensation in January 2018.

Libel/Slander Laws: There were some accusations of slander or libel against journalists and activists in the West Bank.

On September 4, Palestinian security forces in the West Bank arrested human rights activist Issa Amro after he criticized the PA in a Facebook post for its arrest of another Palestinian journalist, Ayman Qawasmeh. PA security services had detained Qawasmeh on September 4 for calling in a social media video for PA President Abbas and Prime Minister Hamdallah to resign. Amro was released on bail from PA custody on September 10.

On June 6, PA security forces arrested Palestinian journalist Taher Shamali in the West Bank. Authorities charged him with “insulting higher authorities and causing strife” in an article he wrote criticizing Palestinian President Abbas. He was subsequently released.

National Security: There were some accusations of suppression of journalists on national security grounds.

On August 8, undercover PA security agents arrested five journalists from Hamas-affiliated media outlets in the West Bank for “leaking sensitive information to hostile security services.” PA authorities released the five journalists on August 14, after posting bail; they were awaiting trial as of November 9.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Internet was generally accessible throughout the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem. Frequent power outages in Gaza interrupted accessibility. A 2015 agreement between the Israeli government, the PA, and telecommunications companies that would allow import of 3G and newer telecommunications technologies into the West Bank was implemented, leading to fewer limitations on mobile internet access.

While there were no PA restrictions on access to the internet, there were reports the PA actively monitored social media, pressuring and harassing activists and journalists. There were instances the PA arrested or detained Palestinians because of their posts on social media.

Gaza-based Palestinian civil society organizations and social media practitioners stated Hamas de facto authorities monitored the internet activities of Gaza residents and took action to intimidate or harass them. On January 1, the Hamas public prosecutor’s office arrested and interrogated Ramzi Hirzallah, a former Hamas member, on the basis of allegations he had insulted Hamas officials on Facebook. Hamas security officials confiscated his cell phone and computers and prevented human rights representatives from meeting with him. Hamas authorities released Hirzallah a few days later with a warning not to insult Hamas officials.

Israeli authorities monitored Palestinians’ online activities and arrested a number of Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem for social media statements they categorized as incitement. In November, Israeli authorities arrested Jerusalem resident Amin Syam because he posted on social media lyrics from a song using the term “martyr.” Israeli authorities said they believed the post was a call to violence. Syam was detained for four days and released.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The PA did not restrict academic freedom in the West Bank, and there were no known reports of PA censorship of school curricula, plays, films, or exhibits. Palestinian law provides for academic freedom, but individuals or officials from academic institutions reportedly self-censored curricula. Faculty members reported PA security elements present on university campuses among the student body and faculty, which may have contributed to self-censorship.

Public schools as well as UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) schools in Gaza followed the same curriculum as West Bank schools. Palestinians in Gaza reported limited interference by Hamas in public schools at the primary, secondary, or university levels. Hamas did reportedly interfere in teaching methodologies or curriculum deemed to violate Islamic identity, the religion of Islam, or “traditions,” as defined by Hamas. Hamas also interfered if there were reports of classes or activities that mixed genders. UNRWA reported no Hamas interference in the running of its Gaza schools.

Hamas authorities sought to disrupt some educational, cultural, and international exchange programs. They routinely required Palestinians to obtain exit permits prior to departing Gaza. Students participating in certain cultural and education programs (including programs sponsored by foreign governments and international organizations) faced questioning from de facto Hamas authorities. Hamas authorities denied exit permits for some Palestinians through the Rafah and Erez crossings.

Hamas authorities also interfered in local cultural programs. There were continued reports the de facto government suppressed cultural expression that might offend Hamas’ interpretation of religious and cultural values and identity.

Israeli restrictions on movement adversely affected academic institutions and access to education and cultural activities for Palestinians (see section 2.d. and section 6).

There were reports the Israeli government prevented copies of the PA curriculum from entering Jerusalem for use in schools in Palestinian-majority neighborhoods and that the Jerusalem Municipality instead provided an edited/censored version of the PA curriculum that deleted information on Palestinian history and culture. In August, Israeli police blocked the delivery of textbooks bearing the PA logo to schools located on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound in the Old City of Jerusalem. Local officials complained to Western diplomats about reported efforts by the Israeli Ministry of Education to tie funding of Palestinian schools to the use of Israeli curriculum and to “Israelize” the curriculum. In September, three schools in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Silwan, al-Issawiya, and Shuafat went on strike to protest the condition of the schools’ infrastructure and the Israeli government’s attempts to impose the Israeli curriculum as a condition for repairing the infrastructure.

Italy

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Jamaica

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution guarantees freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, generally effective judicial protection, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 45 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom.

The Jamaica Broadcasting Commission bars certain lyrics and music videos, including songs referring to violent sex or violence against women, children, and other vulnerable persons, and expunges lyrics deemed inappropriate to broadcast.

Japan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Jordan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides that “The State shall guarantee freedom of opinion; and every Jordanian shall freely express his opinion by speech, writing, photography, and the other means of expression, provided that he does not go beyond the limits of the law.” Authorities applied regulations to limit freedom of speech and press in practice. Authorities applied articles of the Counterterrorism Law, the Cybercrimes Law, the Press and Publications Law, and the penal code to arrest local journalists.

Freedom of Expression: The law permits punishment of up to three years’ imprisonment for insulting the king, slandering the government or foreign leaders, offending religious beliefs, or stirring sectarian strife and sedition. During the year the government restricted the ability of individuals to criticize the government by arresting a number of activists for political expression and for criticizing foreign governments. Authorities used laws against slander of public officials, blackmail, and libel to restrict public discussion, as well as employing official gag orders issued by the public prosecutor and circulated by the Media Commission.

In January the Court of Cassation ratified the State Security Court’s December 2016 decision to convict Nahed Hattar’s killer of “committing terrorist acts that led to the death of a human being” and to sentence him to capital punishment. Authorities arrested Hattar in August 2016 for posting an editorial cartoon on Facebook that included a personification of God, and a lone gunman killed him a month later for his Facebook post insulting religion. On March 4, authorities executed the convicted murderer.

On January 12, authorities arrested retired Major General Mohammed Otoum and seven other activists protesting against expected price increases and alleged government corruption on social media. The State Security Court prosecutor charged them with undermining the regime and engaging in acts to incite public opinion in breach of the law. A number of members of parliament (MPs) addressed the king in a letter highlighting the incident. Authorities released the detainees on bail four weeks later. The case against Otoum and the other activists remained pending.

In early August the local press reported that the Court of First Instance’s prosecutor filed charges including slander, incitement, and defamation against local journalist Mohammad Qaddah, who reportedly posted a video on Facebook, which authorities described as “insulting” and “derogatory” to women in the country. Sixteen individuals joined the prosecution against Qaddah as victims. The case continued.

The Media Commission licenses all public-opinion polls and survey research centers in accordance with the Press and Publication law.

Press and Media Freedom: All publications must obtain licenses from the government to operate. Multiple daily newspapers operated; observers considered several as independent of the government, including one regarded as close to the Islamic Action Front (Muslim Brotherhood) political party. Observers also judged several dailies to be close to the government. The independent print and broadcast media largely operated with limited restriction, and media observers reported government pressure, including the threat of large fines and prison sentences, to refrain from criticizing the royal family, discussing the GID, covering on-going security operations, using language deemed offensive to religion, or slandering government officials. The government influenced news reporting and commentary through political pressure on editors and control over important editorial positions in government-affiliated media. For example, journalists of government-affiliated and independent media reported that security officials used bribes, threats, and political pressure to force editors to place articles favorable to the government in online and print newspapers.

The law grants the head of the Media Commission authority to close any unlicensed theater, satellite channel, or radio channel. During the year the Media Commission granted broadcasting licenses to companies owned by citizens and foreigners. Those with licenses may not legally broadcast anything that would harm public order, social security, national security, or the country’s relations with a foreign country; incite hatred, terrorism, or violent sedition; or mislead or deceive the public. There is a fine for broadcasting without a license. The cabinet, however, must justify the reasons for rejecting a license and allow the applicant to appeal the decision to the judiciary.

Authorities arrested or temporarily detained some journalists, and government officials or private individuals threatened some journalists. On October 25, authorities arrested seven journalists and social media users under the cybercrimes law and the press and publications law after the Secretary-General of the Royal Court, Youssef al-Issawi, filed a complaint against them for publishing accusations against him on social media. The journalists allegedly accused Issawi of corruption. Authorities detained two of the seven but released the others. The investigation for all seven of journalists continued at year’s end.

On June 6, the government closed the al-Jazeera Jordan’s office and withdrew its license in connection with the Qatar/Gulf dispute.

In February 2016 authorities arrested al-Ra’i journalist Zaid Murafai for publishing an article on a protest by judges and court employees regarding losses in their pension fund. The court charged Murafai with slander and defamation under the Cybercrimes Law, as well as reporting on a pending case. Authorities released Murafai on bail four days later; charges remained pending at year’s end.

The government has a majority of seats on the board for the leading semiofficial daily newspaper, al-Rai, and a share of board seats for ad-Dustour daily newspaper. According to press freedom advocates, the GID’s Media Department must approve editors in chief of progovernment newspapers.

Media observers noted that, when covering controversial subjects, the government-owned Jordan Television, Jordan News Agency, and Radio Jordan reported only the government’s position.

By law any book can be published and distributed freely. If, however, the Press and Publications Directorate deems that passages violate public norms and values, are religiously offensive, or are “insulting” to the king, it can request a court order to prohibit the distribution of the book. The Media Commission banned distribution of 36 books from January through October for insulting religion or promoting terrorism, compared to more than 150,000 books approved for import.

Violence and Harassment: The government subjected journalists to harassment and intimidation.

In its semiannual report The Status of Media Freedoms in Jordan between January and July 2017, the Center for Defending the Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ) documented 98 violations of freedoms against 46 journalists and three media organizations, five cases of physical assault, two cases of humiliating treatment, and numerous assaults on equipment and deletion of content from cameras.

The center documented 34 violations against journalists covering the August 15 municipal and governorate elections. Violations included 16 cases of poll workers obstructing journalists’ work, 11 cases of withholding information, unspecified harassment, threats of abuse, and damaging equipment.

In February the CDFJ documented 33 violations against 26 journalists covering the release of soldier Ahmad al-Daqamsah, who had served 20 years in prison for killing seven Israeli schoolchildren. Authorities banned coverage in 26 cases, and four reported attacks on their equipment.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government directly and indirectly censored the media. Journalists claimed that the government used informants in newsrooms and exercised influence over reporting and that GID officials censored reporting. Editors reportedly received telephone calls from security officials instructing them how to cover events or to refrain from covering certain topics or events, especially criticism of political reform. Bribery of journalists took place and undermined independent reporting. Occasionally, government officials provided texts for journalists to publish under their bylines. An opinion poll conducted among 266 media figures found 93.6 percent of journalists self-censored. Journalists cited the threat of detention and imprisonment for defamation for a variety of offenses and court-ordered compensation of as much as 150,000 Jordanian dinars (JD) ($210,000). At times editors in chief censored articles to prevent lawsuits. The government’s use of “soft containment” of journalists, including withholding financial support, scholarships for relatives, and special invitations, led to significant control of media content.

During the year the Media Commission did not circulate any official gag orders restricting discussion in all forms of media, including social media. For grand felony cases or cases of domestic violence, the public prosecutor may issue a gag order to protect the victims or witnesses involved. For example, the Media Commission enforced a publication ban concerning the case of an alleged robber, whom a homeowner shot and killed in west Amman.

The government continued to enforce bans on the distribution of selected books for religious, moral, and political reasons.

Libel/Slander Laws: Government prosecutors relied on privately initiated libel, slander, and defamation lawsuits to suppress criticism of public figures and policies. Dozens of journalists, as well as MPs, faced libel and slander accusations filed by private citizens.

In May authorities arrested an anticorruption activist for defamation after accusing a former minister and current minister of abusing public office for personal gain. Charges remained pending at year’s end.

National Security: The government used laws protecting national security to restrict criticism of government policies and officials. The government also issued gag orders restricting discussion on all forms of media concerning the December 2016 terrorist attacks in the southern city of Karak.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted or disrupted access to the internet and censored online content; there were credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The law requires the licensing and registration of online news websites, holds editors responsible for readers’ comments on their websites, requires that website owners provide the government with the personal data of its users, and mandates that editors in chief be members of the Jordan Press Association. The law gives authorities explicit power to block and censor websites. On July 15, authorities blocked a public petition website for five days, because it was perceived to be an unlicensed news website, before restoring its permissions. The website is dedicated to democracy, rights, and equality petitions.

Authorities continued to block the website of an online lifestyle magazine that covered topics including LGBTI problems, claiming that it was an unlicensed publication.

According to the Media Commission, there is no registration fee for a website. News websites must employ editors in chief with at least four-years’ membership in the Jordan Press Association. The owner and editor in chief can be fined between 3,000 JD ($4,200) and 5,000 JD ($7,000), in addition to criminal penalties, for website content that “includes humiliation, defamation, or disparagement of individuals in a manner that violates their personal freedoms or spreads false rumors about them.”

According to journalists, security forces reportedly demanded websites remove some posted articles. The government threatened websites and journalists that criticized the government, while it actively supported those that reported favorably on the government. The government monitored electronic correspondence and internet chat sites. Individuals believed they were unable to express their views fully or freely via the internet, including by personal email.

According to the World Bank, internet penetration was 75 percent during the year, up from 38 percent in 2010.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government placed some limits on academic freedom. Some members of the academic community claimed there was a continuing intelligence presence in academic institutions, including monitoring academic conferences and lectures. The government monitored political meetings, speech on university campuses, and sermons in mosques and churches. Academics reported the GID must clear all university professors before their appointment. Academics also reported university administration must approve all research papers, forums, reading materials, movies, or seminars, and administrators clear potentially controversial material through the GID. Authorities edited commercial foreign films for objectionable content before screening in commercial theaters.

In June the government withdrew authorization for a planned concert by Mashrou’ Leila, a Lebanese alternative rock band linked to the LGBTI movement. Authorities also banned the group in 2016. The Ministry of Tourism initially sponsored the show, but the government ultimately reversed course after encountering vocal opposition from MPs, religious leaders, and media commentators, who claimed the group (headed by a gay-identified singer) and its music (touching on themes including sex and alcohol) clashed with Jordanian values.

Kazakhstan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

While the constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, the government limited freedom of expression and exerted influence on media through a variety of means, including laws, harassment, licensing regulations, internet restrictions, and criminal and administrative charges. Judicial actions against journalists and media outlets, including civil and criminal libel suits filed by government officials encouraged self-censorship. The law provides for additional measures and restrictions during “social emergencies,” defined as “an emergency on a certain territory caused by contradictions and conflicts in social relations that may cause or have caused loss of life, personal injury, significant property damage, or violation of conditions of the population.” In these situations the government may censor media sources by requiring them to provide their print, audio, and video information to authorities 24 hours before issuance or broadcasting for approval. Political parties and public associations may be suspended or closed should they obstruct the efforts of security forces. Regulations also allow the government to restrict or ban copying equipment, broadcasting equipment, and audio and video recording devices and to seize temporarily sound-enhancing equipment.

During a September altercation between foreign workers, mostly Indian construction workers, and local security at a major construction site in Astana, which resulted in dozens of foreign workers being deported, citizens reported that access to social media, including Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and WhatsApp, was partially or fully blocked in multiple instances. The government denied responsibility and said that technical difficulties were to blame.

Freedom of Expression: The government limited individual ability to criticize the country’s leadership, and regional leaders attempted to limit criticism of their actions in local media. The law prohibits insulting the president or the president’s family, and penalizes “intentionally spreading false information” with fines of up to 12.96 million tenge ($40,000) and imprisonment for up to 10 years.

On January 24, the Astana city court found the chief editor of Central Asia Monitor newspaper and Radiotochka.kz web portal Bigeldy Gabdullin guilty of extortion in return for nonpublication of negative information about wrongdoing. According to several media outlets, including Zakon.kz, Kazinform, Tengrinews.kz, and Ratel.kz, Gabdullin admitted his guilt in full, repented, and restituted the injured parties’ material losses. The court sentenced Gabdullin to five years of probation.

On February 17, police stopped the Aktau reporter of Radio Azattyk, Sania Toiken, under the pretext she did not have a seat belt fastened. Police took her to a station for interrogation in regards to the oil workers’ hunger strike she witnessed in her reporting work. Police held her in the station for two hours, causing her to miss the regional governor’s press conference.

The Independent Tribuna newspaper’s chief editor, Zhanbolat Mamay, was arrested on February 10 and charged with money laundering. The Tribuna newspaper has been a target of investigation and litigation since its founding in 2012. The newspaper closed in June after Mamay’s arrest. On September 7, the Medeu district court in Almaty found him guilty of money laundering and sentenced him to three years of restriction of freedom, confiscation of property, and a three-year ban on journalistic activity.

Press and Media Freedom: Many privately owned newspapers and television stations received government subsidies. The lack of transparency in media ownership and the dependence of many outlets on government contracts for media coverage are significant problems. Companies allegedly controlled by members of the president’s family or associates owned many of the broadcast media outlets that the government did not control outright. According to media observers, the government wholly or partly owned most of the nationwide television broadcasters. Regional governments owned several frequencies, and the Ministry of Information and Communication distributed those frequencies to independent broadcasters via a tender system.

All media are required to register with the Ministry of Information and Communication, although websites are exempt from this requirement. The law limits the simultaneous broadcast of foreign-produced programming to 20 percent of a locally based station’s weekly broadcast time. This provision burdened smaller, less-developed regional television stations that lacked resources to create programs, although the government did not sanction any media outlet under this provision. Foreign media broadcasting does not have to meet this requirement.

Violence and Harassment: According to the NGO Adil Soz, through October authorities prevented reporters from carrying out their duties in 30 instances. Adil Soz found that authorities denied or significantly restricted journalists’ access to public information 138 times.

Journalists working in opposition media and covering stories related to corruption reported harassment and intimidation by government officials and private actors. According to media watchdog organization Adil Soz, the internet portal Zhumyrtka.kz News closed on January 24 as a result of threats of criminal persecution and prison sentences for their publications.

On March 2, the Kapshagay city court ruled that, pursuant to the amnesty law, the prison term for the president of the Kazakhstan Union of Journalists, Seitkazy Matayev, should be cut in half. On November 16, the Kapshagay city court ruled to release Matayev, and he was released from prison on December 4.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law enables the government to restrict media content through amendments that prohibit undermining state security or advocating class, social, race, national, or religious discord. Owners, editors, distributors, and journalists may be held civilly and criminally responsible for content unless it came from an official source. The government used this provision to restrict media freedom.

The law allows the prosecutor general to suspend access to the internet and other means of communication without a court order. The prosecutor general may suspend communication services in cases where communication networks are used “for criminal purposes to harm the interests of an individual, society, or the state, or to disseminate information violating the Election Law… or containing calls for extremist or terrorist activities, riots, or participation in large-scale (public) activities carried out in violation of the established order.”

By law internet resources, including social media, are classified as forms of mass media and governed by the same rules and regulations. Authorities continued to charge bloggers and social media users with inciting social discord through their online posts.

In July Uralsk police opened a criminal investigation against blogger Aibolat Bukenov for allegedly disseminating false information presenting a danger to the public order or the rights and legal interests of citizens or organizations. On Facebook, Bukenov posted his criticism of the Uralsk government spending 25 million tenge (approximately $77,000) for a pyramid of flowers. He opined that that money should have been spent on road repairs instead. On January 10, a court in Almaty found activist Zhanar Akhmet guilty of illegally organizing a rally. She posted a call to her followers to attend an appeal hearing on the case of movie director Talgad Zhanybekov to support him during his trial. Zhanar Akhmet was found guilty and punished by an administrative fine of 113,450 tenge ($350).

Libel/Slander Laws: The law provides enhanced penalties for libel against senior government officials. Private parties may initiate criminal libel suits without independent action by the government, and an individual filing such a suit may also file a civil suit based on the same allegations. Officials used the law’s libel and defamation provisions to restrict media outlets from publishing unflattering information. Both the criminal and civil codes contain articles establishing broad liability for libel, with no statute of limitation or maximum amount of compensation. The requirement that owners, editors, distributors, publishing houses, and journalists prove the veracity of published information, regardless of its source, encouraged self-censorship at each level.

The law includes penalties for defamatory remarks made in mass media or “information-communication networks,” including heavy fines and prison terms. Journalists and human rights activists feared these provisions would strengthen the government’s ability to restrict investigative journalism.

NGOs reported libel cases against journalists and media outlets remained a problem. Media freedom NGO Adil Soz reported 13 criminal libel charges and 73 civil libel lawsuits filed against journalists and media.

On April 4, a district court in Almaty ruled in favor of ex-minister Zeinulla Kakimzhanov’s lawsuit claims against Forbes Kazakhstanmagazine and news site Ratel.kz, assigning 50.2 million tenge ($155,000) in damages as compensation for a story “harming Kakimzhanov’s honor and dignity.” Media and civil society activists criticized the court proceedings for a number of procedural violations.

National Security: The law criminalizes the release of information regarding the health, finances, or private life of the president, as well as economic information, such as data about mineral reserves or government debts to foreign creditors. To avoid possible legal problems, media outlets often practiced self-censorship regarding the president and his family.

The law prohibits “influencing public and individual consciousness to the detriment of national security through deliberate distortion and spreading of unreliable information.” Legal experts noted the term “unreliable information” is overly broad. The law also requires owners of communication networks and service providers to obey the orders of authorities in case of terrorist attacks or to suppress mass riots.

The law prohibits publication of any statement that promotes or glorifies “extremism” or “incites social discord,” terms that international legal experts noted the government did not clearly define. The government subjected to intimidation media outlets that criticized the president; such intimidation included law enforcement actions and civil suits. Although these actions continued to have a chilling effect on media outlets, some criticism of government policies continued. Incidents of local government pressure on media continued.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Observers reported the government blocked or slowed access to opposition websites. Many observers believed the government added progovernment postings and opinions in internet chat rooms. The government regulated the country’s internet providers, including majority state-owned Kazakhtelecom. Nevertheless, websites carried a wide variety of views, including viewpoints critical of the government. Official statistics reported more than 70 percent of the population had internet access in 2016.

The Ministry of Information and Communication controlled the registration of “.kz” internet domains. Authorities may suspend or revoke registration for locating servers outside the country. Observers criticized the registration process as unduly restrictive and vulnerable to abuse.

The government implemented regulations on internet access that mandated surveillance cameras in all internet cafes, required visitors to present identification to use the internet, demanded internet cafes keep a log of visited websites, and authorized law enforcement officials to access the names and internet histories of users.

NGO Adil Soz reported that during the first nine months of 2016, courts blocked 55 websites for “propaganda of religious extremism and terrorism.”

In several cases the government denied it was behind the blocking of websites. Bloggers reported anecdotally their sites were periodically blocked, as did the publishers of independent news sites. On June 15, James Palmer, a reporter for Foreign Policymagazine, published an article critical of government expenditure for Expo 2017. Two days later, the magazine’s website was blocked in Kazakhstan and an Expo spokesperson made a statement asserting Palmer never visited the country and fabricated the story. The Minister of Information published a statement denying the government blocked the website.

Government surveillance was also prevalent. According to the Freedom on the Net 2017 report, “the government centralized internet infrastructure in a way that facilitated control of content and surveillance.” Authorities, both national and local, monitored the internet traffic and online communications. The Freedom on the Net report stated that “activists using social media were occasionally intercepted or punished, sometimes preemptively, by authorities who had prior knowledge of their planned activities.”

Freedom on the Net reported during the year that the country maintained a system of operative investigative measures that allowed the government to use surveillance methods called Deep Packet Inspection (DPI). While Kazakhtelecom maintained that it used its DPI system for traffic management, there were reports that Check Point Software Technologies installed the system on its backbone infrastructure in 2010. The report added that a regulator adopted a new internet monitoring technology, the Automated System of Monitoring the National Information Space.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government generally did not restrict academic freedom, although general restrictions, such as the prohibition on infringing on the dignity and honor of the president and his family, also applied to academics. Many academics practiced self-censorship.

Kenya

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Kiribati

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Kosovo

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Kuwait

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Kyrgyz Republic

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press, and citizens generally were free to exercise these rights. NGO leaders and media rights advocates, however, asserted the situation worsened during the year, highlighting the increase in libel lawsuits against independent media outlets and journalists and forced closure of news agencies. Self-censorship was prevalent, and some journalists reported pressure from editors and political figures to bias their reporting on sensitive topics.

Freedom of Expression: As in earlier years, some journalists reported intimidation related to coverage of sensitive topics, such as interethnic relations, “religious extremism,” or the rise of nationalism. The trend was particularly salient against Uzbek-language media outlets. Others were prosecuted or felt threatened for reporting critically on public figures.

On March 18, local and foreign press reported that police disrupted a small rally in support of freedom of speech held in the center of Bishkek. Media rights activists, journalists, and opposition MPs participated in the march, several of whom were detained briefly by police for deviating from the march route and spilling onto the streets of the city. The event, led by a known activist and government critic, Edil Baisalov, was intended to raise awareness of the numerous libel lawsuits and criminal investigations targeting journalists and members of the independent media community.

On September 12, a Bishkek court sentenced journalist Zulpukar Sapanov to four years in prison for inciting “inter-religious strife.” The PGO initiated a criminal investigation of the journalist after representatives of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims filed a complaint in response to the publication of Sapanov’s book, entitled Kydyr’s Namesake. The Spiritual Administration of Muslims and the State Commission on Religious Affairs both publicly condemned the book, which analyzed the ethnic and pagan past of the Kyrgyz people. The court found the book contained content that “diminishes the role of Islam as a religion and creates a negative attitude toward Muslims.” On September 29, a Bishkek court reduced Sapanov’s initial sentence to two years’ probation and ordered his immediate release from prison.

Press and Media Freedom: In recent years there were attempts to proscribe independent media from operating freely in the country. Tight government controls over news content on state television was widely acknowledged. Media rights advocates noted increasing pressure on media outlets in advance of the October presidential elections. Such pressure included civil and criminal lawsuits filed against independent media and journalists in connection with their reporting.

On June 9, the GKNB initiated a criminal case against journalist Ulugbek Babakulov for “inciting ethnic hatred and enmity.” Babakulov published an online article entitled “People Are Like Beasts,” which described nationalist and anti-Uzbek statements of Kyrgyz users on social networks. In response to the article, MPs called for stripping Babakulov’s citizenship, and the journalist became the target of death threats, prompting him to flee the country. Access to the regional news site where the article was originally published, Fergananews.com, was subsequently blocked in the country (see Censorship or Content Restrictions below).

Media reported on February 10 that a Bishkek court terminated the PGO’s criminal case against journalist Dayirbek Orunbekov, which sought to collect two million som ($29,000) in damages for insulting the honor and dignity of the president. Local authorities, however, barred Orunbekov from leaving the country, and he remained legally liable for civil damages. On August 22, a Bishkek court ordered the closure of the opposition television station September for allegedly disseminating extremist material in connection with its airing of a 2016 corruption allegation against former prime minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov. The station broadcast an interview with a former police chief of Osh Oblast, who alleged that Jeenbekov had used state funds to promote interethnic clashes in 2010.

In March the Prosecutor General’s office pursued defamation charges against former member of parliament Cholpon Jakupova, and Zanoza Media (now called Kaktus.Media) co-founders, Dina Maslova and Naryn Aiyp, on behalf of President Atambaev. On November 30, the Supreme Court upheld a ruling requiring the defendants to pay approximately $430,000 in fines to former President Atambaev for “moral compensation.” Also on December 19, media reported that a court ordered an asset freeze on the television channel NTS, the largest private television channel in the country and widely believed to be affiliated with opposition politician Omurbek Babanov.

There was a small degree of foreign ownership of media through local partners. Nonetheless, on June 3, the president signed amendments to the law on mass media that prohibited a foreign entity from forming a media outlet and limited foreign ownership of television stations. Through local partners, Russian-language television stations dominated coverage and local ratings. A number of Russia-based media outlets operated freely in the country, and the government treated them as domestic media.

Violence and Harassment: Some journalists were subject to harassment and violence. As an example illustrative of several instances, on May 2, MP Zhyldyz Musabekova reportedly threatened journalist Ypel Ankrulova with violence over corruption allegations published by the journalist. On June 24, Ankrulova filed a complaint against Musabekova with the PGO. The complaint remained pending at year’s end.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: As in previous years, journalists and NGO leaders alleged some news outlets instructed their reporters not to report critically on certain politicians or government officials. The sources also reported some news outlets received requests from offices of the government to report in a particular way or to ignore specific news stories.

On June 8, in response to a petition from the PGO, a Bishkek court ruled to block access in the country to Fergananews.com for its decision to publish Babkulov’s “People Are Like Beasts” article.

NGO leaders and media contacts reported that state-owned broadcasters continued under pressure to run stories promoting government policies and initiatives and develop narratives critical of NGOs, opposition figures, and civil society activists.

Libel/Slander Laws: While libel is not a criminal offense except in narrowly prescribed instances, NGO leaders described the False Accusations Amendments, passed in 2014, as a practical “recriminalizing of libel.” Journalists noted the law exposed media to libel suits in civil courts that could bankrupt the outlets or journalists in their defense attempts. In 2015 the Supreme Court narrowed the reach of the law, holding that henceforth it would only apply in cases of knowingly making false statements in a police report but not to statements in media. A prominent libel case against the online media outlet Zanoza (see below), however, appeared to contradict the Supreme Court’s 2015 holding. Libel is not a criminal offense.

From March through April, the PGO filed five civil lawsuits against web-based news outlet Zanoza, and two against Azattyk, the Kyrgyz service of broadcaster Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty for “offending the honor and dignity” of the president. The suits stemmed from published articles pertaining to statements made by politicians and activists about the president. On May 12, the president requested that the PGO drop the lawsuits against Azattyk, but over the summer, Bishkek courts ruled against Zanoza in separate hearings, finding the outlet liable for damages in the amount of 27 million som ($391,000). One of the co-founders of Zanoza and a defendant in one of the suits, Naryn Ayip, stated that the court’s decisions were designed to force the site to close.

The OSCE’s International Election Observation Mission Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions after the October 15 presidential elections noted that television outlets, including public broadcasters, “failed to provide sufficient and unbiased news coverage of the campaign.” The OSCE also assessed that “defamation claims against media by the incumbent president and other candidates had an adverse effect on public debate and resulted in self-censorship among journalists.”

Freedom House noted “insult” and “insult of public officials” were criminal offenses and that the law is detrimental to the development of freedom of speech and mass media in the country. The head of the Media Policy Institute reported that the organization routinely defended journalists charged with libel and slander, and members of media regularly feared the threat of lawsuits.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government generally allowed access to the internet, including social media sites, and there were no public credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Nonetheless, NGOs reported police regularly monitored lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) chat rooms and dating sites and arranged meetings with LGBTI users of the sites to extort money from them.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, the internet penetration rate was 34 percent.

According to the PGO, authorities had blocked 86 websites as of the beginning of the year. These sites involved groups that the government deemed to be terrorist or extremist, as well as sites advertising sexual services. Four of the sites involved the banned religious group Hizb ut-Tahrir.

In May 2016 parliament passed an amendment to the law on countering extremist activity that authorizes the Ministry of Transport and Communications to block internet websites spreading extremist and terrorist materials without a court order. During the year there were no reports the government utilized this law.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom. Institutions providing advanced religious education must follow strict reporting policies, but they reported no restrictions on academic freedom.

Laos

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Latvia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Lebanon

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and stipulates that restrictions may be imposed only under exceptional circumstances. The government generally respected this right, but there were some restrictions, particularly regarding political and social issues.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals were free to criticize the government but legally prohibited from discussing the dignity of the president and from insulting him or the president of a foreign country. In such cases the attorney general can automatically refer the publication in question to the judiciary.

Press and Media Freedom: The print media in the country is regulated by the 1962 Publications Law. The law holds journalists responsible for erroneous or false news; threats or blackmail; insult, defamation, and contempt; causing prejudice to the Lebanese president’s dignity; insulting the president or the president of a foreign country; instigation to commit a crime through a publication; and sectarian provocation. The Publications Law contains detailed rules governing the activities of printing houses, press media, libraries, publishing houses, and distribution companies. It also establishes media institutions such as the Press Syndicate. The law provides rules and conditions for becoming a journalist and for obtaining licenses for new publications. It also prohibits the press from publishing blasphemous content of the country’s officially recognized religions or content that may provoke the sectarian feuds.

There was uncertainty regarding which legal framework is applicable to online news sites in the country. There are no specific laws regulating online speech in the country. The penal code, however, contains a number of speech offenses. Several articles in the penal code criminalize defamation of public officials, public entities, and individuals. Moreover, the military justice code prohibits defamation of the army. Accordingly, individuals, journalists, and bloggers may be prosecuted for what they express online.

The law governing audiovisual media bans live broadcasts of unauthorized political gatherings and certain religious events and prohibits the broadcast of “any matter of commentary seeking to affect directly or indirectly the well-being of the nation’s economy and finances, material that is propagandistic and promotional, or promotes a relationship with Israel.” Media outlets must receive a license from the Council of Ministers, based on a recommendation by the minister of information, to broadcast direct and indirect political news and programs. The law prohibits broadcasting programs that seek to affect the general system, harm the state or its relations with Arab and other foreign countries, or have an effect on the well-being of such states. The law also prohibits the broadcast of programs that seek to harm public morals, ignite sectarian strife, or insult religious beliefs.

Violence and Harassment: Broadcast journalists continued to suffer from intimidation and harassment. Political friction and tension led some outlets to fear entering certain “politically classified” areas to report without removing brandings and logos that referenced the outlets. Outlets that sought to report in areas classified as Hizballah areas must obtain special permission from Hizballah’s media arm.

On February 13, hundreds of protesters surrounded the building of al-Jadeed TV following a show they believed offended Amal Movement leader and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri. Protesters threw stones at the building and attempted to storm it. A cameraman and an employee were slightly injured. The incident was followed by blocking the television station’s transmission in several areas of the southern suburbs of Beirut. The channel remained off the air until November 25.

On May 11, two unidentified persons burned al-Jadeed TV vehicles in the parking lot of the television station. Authorities opened an investigation into the incident; however, no one had been arrested or charged by year’s end.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law permits, and authorities selectively used, prior censorship of pornographic material, political opinion, and religious material considered a threat to national security or offensive to the dignity of the head of state or foreign leaders. The DGS may review and censor all foreign newspapers, magazines, and books to determine admissibility into the country, but these reviews are mostly for explicit, pornographic content. Some journalists reported that political violence and extralegal intimidation led to self-censorship among journalists.

The law includes guidelines regarding materials deemed unsuitable for publication in a book, newspaper, or magazine. Any violation of the guidelines could result in the author’s imprisonment or a fine.

Authors could publish books without prior permission from the DGS, but if the book contained material that violated the law, the DGS could legally confiscate the book and put the author on trial. In some cases authorities might deem the offending material a threat to national security. Authorities did not take such offenses to trial based on the publication law, but rather on the basis of criminal law or other statutes. Publishing a book without prior approval that contained unauthorized material could put the author at risk of a prison sentence, fine, and confiscation of the published materials.

Authorities from any of the recognized religious groups could request the DGS to ban a book. The government could prosecute offending journalists and publications in the publications court. According to one NGO, as of December the government opened more than 30 cases in the publications court during the year.

Libel/Slander Laws: The 1991 security agreement between the Lebanese and Syrian governments, still in effect at year’s end, contained a provision prohibiting the publication of any information deemed harmful to the security of either state.

On April 5, the Court of Publication fined journalists Thaer Ghandour, Ibrahim al-Amin, and Hasan Sabra over allegations of defamation and slander. On November 10, the Justice Ministry asked the state prosecutor general to launch an investigation into comments made by two Saudi commentators who defamed and slandered Lebanese state officials on a local television talk show.

Nongovernmental Impact: Radical Islamist groups sometimes sought to inhibit freedom of the press through coercion and threats of violence.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The law does not restrict access to the internet. There was, however, a perception among the general public that the government monitored email and social media activity. The government reportedly censored some websites to block online gambling, pornography, religiously provocative material, extremist forums, and Israeli websites, but there were no verified reports the government systematically attempted to collect personally identifiable information via the internet.

The ISF’s Cyber Crimes Unit and other state agencies summoned journalists, bloggers, and activists to question them about social media and blog posts, especially when they criticized political figures.

Restrictions on freedom of speech concerning government officials applied to social media communications, which authorities considered a form of publication rather than private correspondence. There were also reports of political groups intimidating individuals and activists for their online posts.

In March authorities arrested and detained an activist over Facebook posts criticizing senior officials, including the president. He was interrogated without a lawyer and released on bail after nine days of detention. On August 17, the DGS detained another activist due to his social media posts, which criticized Hizballah’s involvement in Syria, along with the Syrian and Iranian regimes and their political allies in Lebanon. After his release, the activist said authorities harassed and threatened him regarding further criticism of Hizballah and its allies.

Internet access was available and widely used by the public. According to the Internet World Statistics, internet penetration was 76 percent as of March.

On April 4, seven administrators of a Facebook page called “Granada City” appeared in court in Bouira on charges stemming from a post in January calling for a general strike. The charges against them were dropped in May.

For a second year, the government blocked access to social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, for several days during nationwide high school exams. The decision was in response to previous leaks of exam results, which were posted on social media.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 43 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There are no government restrictions specific to academic freedom, but libel and slander laws apply.

The majority of private universities enjoyed freedom of expression, and students were free to hold student elections and organize cultural, social, and political activities.

During the year the government censored and barred the screening of at least two films. The DGS reviewed all films and plays, and there were complaints the DGS’s decision-making process lacked transparency and was influenced by the opinions of religious institutions and political groups. Cultural figures and those involved in the arts practiced self-censorship to avoid being detained or refused freedom of movement.

In May the Ministry of Economy banned the movie Wonder Woman because the lead actress was Israeli. A group called Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel-Lebanon prompted the ban.

On September 10, DGS officials interrogated director Ziad Douweiry at Beirut International Airport as he returned from the Venice Film Festival. At the airport the DGS confiscated Douweiry’s Lebanese and French passports and requested that he appear in military court the following day for further questioning. Reportedly, Douwiery filmed some scenes of one of his movies in Israel. On September 11, authorities released Douweiry and filed no charges against him.

Lesotho

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Liberia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Libya

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitutional Declaration provides for freedom of opinion, expression, and press, but various militias, including those aligned with the GNA, exerted significant control over media content, and censorship was pervasive. Unidentified assailants targeted journalists and reporters for political views.

Freedom of Expression: Freedom of speech was limited in law and practice. The law criminalizes acts that “harm the February 17 revolution of 2011.” The HoR, since its election in 2014 and the GNA, since taking its seat in Tripoli in 2016, did little to change restrictions on freedom of speech. Observers noted civil society practiced self-censorship because armed groups threatened and killed activists. Widespread conflict in major urban areas deepened the climate of fear and provided cover for armed groups to target vocal opponents with impunity.

Observers reported that individuals censored themselves in everyday speech, particularly in locations such as Tripoli.

In early November the Special Deterrence Force shut down the government-secured Comic Con in Tripoli and arrested the organizers, who were held without charges for almost two months.

Press and Media Freedom: Press freedoms, in all forms of media, are limited. Increased threats by various assailants forced many journalists to practice self-censorship.

There were numerous reports of the closing of media outlets and reports of raids by unidentified actors on organizations working on press freedom. Indirect restrictions on press freedom imposed by both foreign and domestic actors further polarized the media environment. In April Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that security forces had detained photographer Abdullah Doma multiple times while reporting on various events in LNA-controlled Benghazi.

Violence and Harassment: Attacks on media, including harassment, threats, abductions, violence, and killings reached the point where it was nearly impossible for media to operate in any meaningful capacity in areas of conflict.

Impunity for attacks on media exacerbated the problem, with no monitoring organizations, security forces, or a functioning judicial system to constrain or record these attacks.

On October 11, media reports stated LNA-affiliated forces arrested six journalists while covering a cultural event in Hun in the southwest.

In August the publication of an anthology containing a small amount of material deemed “obscene” by conservative members of the local community resulted in death threats against several authors.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The international NGO Reporters Without Borders reported that all sides used threats and violence to intimidate journalists to prevent publication of information. The unstable security situation created hostility towards civilians and journalists associated with opposing militias or political factions. In addition, journalists practiced self-censorship due to lack of security and intimidation. According to social media reports, the LNA confiscated books they claimed promoted Shi’ism, secularism, and perversion.

Libel/Slander Laws: The penal code criminalized a variety of political speech, including speech considered to “insult constitutional and popular authorities” and “publicly insulting the Libyan Arab people.” It and other laws also provide criminal penalties for conviction of defamation and insults to religion. Most reports attributed infringement of free speech to intimidation, harassment, and violence.

National Security: The penal code criminalized speech considered to “tarnish the [country’s] reputation or undermine confidence in it abroad,” but the government did not enforce this provision of the code during the year.

Nongovernmental Impact: Militias, terrorist and extremist groups, and individual civilians regularly harassed, intimidated, or assaulted journalists. For example, the control of Derna by violent extremist organizations restricted freedom of expression. While media coverage focused on the actions of Islamist-affiliated violent extremists, other armed actors also limited freedom of expression.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were no credible reports that the government restricted or disrupted internet access or monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority during the year. Nor were there credible reports that the government censored online content.

Facebook pages were consistently hacked by unknown actors or closed due to mass reporting and complaints.

The government did not exercise effective control over communications infrastructure for most of the year. Social media, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, played a critical role in official and unofficial communications. A large number of bloggers, online journalists, and citizens reported practicing self-censorship due to instability, militia intimidation, and the uncertain political situation.

Internet penetration outside urban centers remained low, and frequent electrical outages resulted in limited internet availability in the capital and elsewhere. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 20.3 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no reported government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. Security conditions in the country, however, restricted the ability to practice academic freedom and made cultural events rare.

Liechtenstein

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Lithuania

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Luxembourg

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Macedonia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Madagascar

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Malawi

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Malaysia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Maldives

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, except on religious matters, but the government imposed legal restrictions on this freedom.

Freedom of Expression: The Anti-Defamation and Freedom of Expression Act enacted in 2016 criminalizes any expression that “contradicts a tenet of Islam, threatens national security, contradicts social norms, or encroaches on another’s rights, reputation, or good name.” The act imposes fines of up to two million Maldivian rufiyaa (MVR) ($129,700) for violations and jail terms of up to six months for failure to pay fines. A fine can be appealed only after it is paid. According to the law, journalists can also be required to reveal the sources of alleged defamatory statements in direct contravention to Article 28 of the constitution, which states, “No person should be compelled to disclose the source of any information that is espoused, disseminated, or published by that person.” In August 2016 UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression David Kaye asserted the law limits the right to freedom of expression to such a degree that the right itself is in jeopardy. Political opposition parties and major NGOs condemned the bill as having an adverse effect on fundamental freedoms of expression.

Ministry of Youth regulations prohibit publishing literary material without first seeking authorization from the National Bureau of Classification. The regulations define publication of literary material as “any writing, photograph, or drawing that has been made publicly accessible electronically or by way of printing, including publicizing or circulating on the internet.”

On several occasions police sought to limit free speech and expression by arresting and questioning individuals who participated in opposition political protests. Journalists in particular were routinely detained while covering protests and held for several hours before being released without charges. According to media sources, the government directly and indirectly forbade civil servants from attending political protests, and some employees of public and private institutions were fired for similar reasons. Opposition parties reported difficulty conducting lawful rallies because of 2016 amendments to the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act that imposed additional restrictions on planning and execution of protests. Police and members of the military routinely monitored opposition rallies. Police reported they had dispersed six major protests and 30 smaller gatherings for violation of the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act, as of July 31. During the year police conducted several warrant-based raids on campaign headquarters of Maldives United Opposition coalition partners. Journalists reported police intimidation against protesters and journalists covering the raids and protests, including physical assault, use of pepper spray, and deliberate damage of equipment.

The constitution prohibits utterances contrary to tenets of Islam or the government’s religious policies.

In a March 21 statement, Amnesty International called for the immediate release of opposition social media activist Thayyib Shaheem, who was arrested on March 16 on suspicion of spreading false information and “creating panic” through his tweets about a flu outbreak. Amnesty International believed he was detained for his criticism of a proposed large-scale development project and declared him a prisoner of conscience. Thayyib was released on April 17 following a month in Dhoonidhoo custodial center and had not been charged as of October. The Criminal Court had conditioned his release on his stopping criticism of the government on social media and his remaining in the country for 60 days. On March 13, police confiscated the telephone of another prominent social media activist, Shamoon Jaleel, who had also been critical of the proposed development project.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Criticism of the government and debates on societal problems were commonplace, but media did not question Islamic values or the government’s policies on religion. Under the Anti-Defamation and Freedom of Expression Act, the government can impose heavy fines against media outlets that broadcast criminalized content and can revoke licenses of website and outlets that fail to pay the fines.

Between January and February, three journalists from independent news outlet Raajje TV were convicted and issued fines for obstruction of law enforcement officers after being arrested while covering an opposition protest and a bomb scare in 2015; a fourth reporter from the same outlet was fined MVR 50,000 ($3,240) in March under the Anti-Defamation Act. The Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) said the reporter had slandered a government official by publishing a rape victim’s allegations that the official had covered up her case. The MBC also fined Raajje TV MVR 200,000 ($13,000) in the same case. Days after Raajje TV paid the fine, the MBC issued another fine of MVR one million ($64,850) against the outlet for broadcasting an opposition rally deemed defamatory towards the president. Other news outlets that also broadcast the rally were allegedly not fined. In October the MBC issued a fourth fine of MVR 500,000 ($32,475) against Raajje TV for broadcasting an opposition politician’s criticism of President Yameen deemed a threat to national security. Media claimed the charges and fines were part of the government’s systematic attempts to silence free speech. They also reported media outlets and journalists could not afford the fines. Raajje TV sought public donations to pay off its fines.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities allegedly attacked, harassed, and intimidated media representatives.

The most significant incident of violence was the killing of Yameen Rasheed, blogger and social media activist, as cited in section 6. Some observers claimed police did not investigate the case thoroughly, nor did they respond to or investigate the multiple death threats Rasheed had previously reported to the police, according to Rasheed’s social media accounts and his friends and family. After Rasheed’s killing, several journalists and social media activists fled the country and took up self-exile in Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom due to threats of arrest by the government or fear of vigilante justice by religious extremists. Journalists believed the government used the investigations as an intimidation tactic to pressure media into not criticizing the government. During the year the government took statements from 11 journalists from three media stations.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Parliament Privileges Act and the Anti-Defamation and Freedom of Expression Act allow authorities to force journalists to reveal their sources, but authorities did not routinely take advantage of this provision. Media reported higher levels of self-censorship in reporting political news following the passage of the Anti-Defamation and Freedom of Expression Act. During the year several outlets stopped publishing bylines to protect their journalists from possible punitive actions. Members of civil society organizations and journalists said crackdowns on political opposition members led them to self-censor.

In August 2016, one day after the ratification of the Anti-Defamation and Freedom of Expression Act, the MBC ordered Medianet, the only private cable television provider in the country, to be more careful about self-censorship to avoid broadcasting “content which breaches social norms.” During the year the commission claimed that it continued to receive complaints of inappropriate content from some viewers. In June the MBC issued a fine of MVR 500,000 ($32,425) against Medianet for rebroadcasting an al-Jazeera documentary that exposed alleged systemic corruption, abuse of power, and criminal activity by the Yameen administration. The MBC also ordered Medianet to issue a formal apology over broadcasting the content that it said, “threatened national security.” The fine imposed on Medianet was the fourth punitive action taken under the defamation act.

NGO sources stated media practiced self-censorship on matters related to Islam due to fears of harassment from being labeled “anti-Islamic.” Journalists also practiced self-censorship in reporting on problems in the judiciary or criticizing the judiciary.

There were no known restrictions on domestic publications, nor were there prohibitions on the import of foreign publications or materials, except for those containing pornography or material otherwise deemed objectionable to Islamic values, such as Bibles and idols for worship. The restriction applies only to items for public distribution; tourists destined for resort islands were not prohibited from carrying Bibles and other religious paraphernalia for their personal use.

In March the MBC warned that it would take action against media outlets allegedly violating the antidefamation law, claiming that outlets spread falsehoods and slander that encouraged terrorism and harmed the nation’s ties with other countries. The Criminal Court also issued a similar threat to take action against reporters who “write reports which threaten peace, sow strife among the public, create misgivings in the hearts of the people towards institutions and heads of the Maldivian state, bring the three branches of the state into disrepute and sow discord among the public, some of which encourage terrorism.” In May the Department of Judicial Administration appealed for media organizations to refrain from “misrepresenting” judicial rulings in their reporting in May. In July the MBC announced media outlets would be penalized for covering any public gatherings that had not received authorization from authorities. In August the MBC again issued a circular warning it would take action against media outlets allegedly violating the antidefamation law by spreading falsehoods about the government allegedly obstructing medical care to an opposition leader.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government generally did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 59 percent of the population had reliable access to the internet in 2016.

The Communications Authority of Maldives (CAM) is the regulatory body mandated to enforce internet content restrictions on sites hosted within the country and to block domestic access to any websites. CAM maintained an unpublished blacklist of all offending websites. CAM did not proactively monitor internet content; instead, it relied on requests from ministries and other government agencies to block websites that violate domestic laws on anti-Islamism, pornography, child abuse, sexual and domestic violence, and other prohibitions. The MPS reported it did not investigate any websites for unlawful content related to prohibitions on anti-Islamic rhetoric, pornography, child abuse, sexual and domestic violence, or other violations as of September. In May police issued a statement calling for four liberal bloggers who lived abroad to appear for police questioning on unspecified charges and warned they would be prosecuted if they failed to return to the country within two weeks. The bloggers reportedly feared they were being targeted for promoting secularism in their blogs and did not answer the summons.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The law prohibits public statements contrary to the government’s policy on religion or the government’s interpretation of Islam. In response to the law, there were credible reports that academics practiced self-censorship. The government censored course content and curricula. Sunni Islam was the only religion taught in schools.

Mali

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Malta

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Marshall Islands

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Mauritania

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Mauritius

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Mexico

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Most newspapers, television, and radio stations had private ownership. The government had minimal presence in the ownership of news media but remained the main source of advertising revenue, which at times influenced coverage. Media monopolies, especially in small markets, could constrain freedom of expression.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were subject to physical attacks, harassment, and intimidation (especially by state agents and transnational criminal organizations) due to their reporting. This created a chilling effect that limited media’s ability to investigate and report, since many of the reporters who were killed covered crime, corruption, and local politics. During the year more journalists were killed because of their reporting than in any previous year. The OHCHR recorded 15 killings of reporters, and Reporters Without Borders identified evidence that the killing of at least 11 reporters was directly tied to their work.

Perpetrators of violence against journalists acted with impunity, which fueled further attacks. According to Article 19, a press freedom NGO, the impunity rate for crimes against journalists was 99.7 percent. The 276 attacks against journalists in the first six months of the year represented a 23 percent increase from the same period in 2016. Since its creation in 2010, the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Journalists (FEADLE), a unit of the Attorney General’s Office, won only two convictions in more than 800 cases it pursued. During the year there was only one conviction for the murder of a journalist at the local level. In February a court in Oaxaca convicted and sentenced a former police officer to 30 years’ imprisonment for the 2016 murder of journalist Marcos Hernandez Bautista. The OHCHR office in Mexico publicly condemned the failure to prosecute crimes against journalists.

Government officials believed organized crime to be behind most of these attacks, but NGOs asserted there were instances when local government authorities participated in or condoned the acts. An April report by Article 19 noted 53 percent of cases of aggression against journalists in 2016 originated with public officials. Although 75 percent of those came from state or local officials, federal officials and members of the armed forces were also suspected of being behind attacks.

In April the government of Quintana Roo offered a public apology to journalist Pedro Canche, who was falsely accused by state authorities of sabotage and detained for nine months in prison.

According to Article 19, 11 journalists were killed between January 1 and October 15. For example, on March 23, Miroslava Breach, correspondent for the daily newspapers La Jornada and El Norte de Chihuahua, was shot eight times and killed as she was preparing to take her son to school in Chihuahua City. Many of her publications focused on political corruption, human rights abuses, attacks against indigenous communities, and organized crime. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), she was the only national correspondent to cover the troubled Sierra Tarahumara indigenous region. On December 25, federal police made an arrest in the case of an individual linked to a branch of the Sinaloa cartel who they stated was the mastermind of the crime. Breach’s family told La Jornada newspaper they did not believe the suspect in custody was behind the killing, which they attributed to local politicians who had previously threatened the reporter.

On May 15, Javier Valdez, founder of Riodoce newspaper in Sinaloa, winner of a 2011 CPJ prize for heroic journalism and outspoken defender of press freedom, was shot and killed near his office in Culiacan, Sinaloa.

During the first six months of the year, the National Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists received 214 requests for protection, an increase of 143 percent from 2016. Since its creation in 2012 through July, the mechanism accepted 589 requests for protection. On August 22, a journalist under the protection of the mechanism, Candido Rios, was shot and killed in the state of Veracruz. Following the wave of killings in early May, the president replaced the special prosecutor for crimes against freedom of expression at the Attorney General’s Office and held a televised meeting with state governors and attorneys general to call for action in cases of violence against journalists. NGOs welcomed the move but expressed concern regarding shortcomings, including the lack of an official protocol to handle journalist killings despite the appointment of the special prosecutor. NGOs maintained that the special prosecutor had not used his office’s authorities to take charge of cases in which state prosecutors had not produced results.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Human rights groups reported state and local governments in some parts of the country worked to censor the media and threaten journalists. In June the New York Times newspaper reported 10 Mexican journalists and human rights defenders were targets of an attempt to infiltrate their smartphones through an Israeli spyware program called Pegasus that was sold only to governments, citing a forensic investigation by Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto. Officials at the Attorney General’s Office acknowledged purchasing Pegasus but claimed to have used it only to monitor criminals.

Journalists reported altering their coverage in response to a lack of protection from the government, attacks against members of the media and newsrooms, false charges of “publishing undesirable news,” and threats or retributions against their families, among other reasons. There were reports of journalists practicing self-censorship because of threats from criminal groups and of government officials seeking to influence or pressure the press, especially in the states of Tamaulipas and Sinaloa.

Libel/Slander Laws: There are no federal laws against defamation, libel, or slander, but local laws remain in eight states. Five states have laws that restrict the use of political caricatures or “memes.” These laws were seldom applied.

Nongovernmental Impact: Organized criminal groups exercised a grave and increasing influence over media outlets and reporters, threatening individuals who published critical views of crime groups. Concerns persisted regarding the use of physical violence by organized criminal groups in retaliation for information posted online, which exposed journalists, bloggers, and social media users to the same level of violence faced by traditional journalists.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or block or filter online content. Freedom House’s 2016 Freedom on the Net report categorized the country’s internet as partly free, noting an increase in government requests to social media companies to remove content.

Some civil society organizations alleged that various state and federal agencies sought to monitor private online communications. NGOs alleged that provisions in secondary laws threatened the privacy of internet users by forcing telecommunication companies to retain data for two years, providing real-time geolocation data to police, and allowing authorities to obtain metadata from private communications companies without a court order. Furthermore, the law does not fully define the “appropriate authority” to carry out such actions. Despite civil society pressure to nullify the government’s data retention requirements and real-time geolocation provisions passed in 2014, the Supreme Court upheld those mechanisms. The court, however, noted the need for authorities to obtain a judicial warrant to access users’ metadata.

In June the government stated it was opening a criminal investigation to determine whether prominent journalists, human rights defenders, and anticorruption activists were subjected to illegal surveillance via sophisticated surveillance malware.

INEGI estimated 59 percent of citizens over age five had access to the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Moldova

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Monaco

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Mongolia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Montenegro

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Morocco

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law generally provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, although they criminalize and restrict some freedom of expression in the press and social media–specifically criticism of Islam, of the institution of the monarchy, and of the government’s positions regarding territorial integrity and the Western Sahara. Such criticism can result in prosecution under the penal code, with punishments ranging from fines to jail time, despite the freedom of expression provided for in the 2016 press code. The 2016 press code applies only to journalists accredited by the Ministry of Communication for speech or publications in the line of work; private speech by accredited journalists remains punishable under the penal code. International and domestic human rights groups criticized criminal prosecutions of journalists and publishers as well as of libel suits, claiming that the government principally used these laws to restrict independent human rights groups, the press, and social media.

Freedom of Expression: The law criminalizes the criticism of Islam, of the legitimacy of the monarchy, of state institutions, of officials such as those in the military, and of the government’s positions regarding territorial integrity and the Western Sahara. The government sometimes prosecuted persons who expressed criticism on these topics. According to government figures, 16 individuals were charged under the penal code this year for criminal speech, including praising terrorism, defamation, inciting rebellion, and insult (see Libel/Slander Laws and National Security).

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media, as well as partisan media, were active and expressed a wide variety of views within the restrictions of the law. In 2016 parliament passed a new press code that limits punishments for accredited journalists to fines. Three journalists were prosecuted under the press code during the year, compared with eight in 2016.

Many contributors working for online news outlets, and many online news outlets themselves, were unaccredited and therefore were not covered under the press code for their publications. They remained subject to provisions of the antiterrorism law and the penal code that permit the government to jail and impose financial penalties on anyone who violates restrictions related to defamation, libel, and insults. In addition, the government can apply the penal code to accredited journalists for actions outside of their official duties.

The government also enforced strict procedures governing journalists’ meetings with NGO representatives and political activists. Foreign journalists needed, but did not always receive, approval from the Ministry of Communication before meeting with political activists.

On July 25, the court of first instance in Al Hoceima sentenced Hamid El Mahdaoui, editor of news website badil.info, to a three-month prison sentence and 20,000 dirham ($2,000) fine for inciting individuals to participate in a prohibited demonstration. Although El Mahdaoui was an accredited journalist, he was prosecuted under the penal code for activities outside his official duties. Authorities claimed that El Mahdaoui had given a speech in Al Hoceima calling on citizens to demonstrate. El Mahdaoui denied the allegations and claimed he was in Al Hoceima to report on ongoing protests. His lawyer told HRW that El Mahdaoui was asked his opinion of the Hirak protest movement and responded that individuals have the right to protest. A police officer filmed the exchange, and the officer’s video was used as evidence in the trial. El Mahdaoui’s sentence was increased to one year in prison on appeal on September 12. In a separate case in Casablanca, authorities questioned El Mahdaoui on additional charges of failing to report a national security threat. Authorities alleged that El Mahdaoui received information that an individual intended to smuggle weapons into the country for use in protests but failed to report it. El Mahdaoui’s defense denied the conversation, and claimed that even if it had occurred, there would have been no need to report such information because El Mahdaoui knew it would be impossible to smuggle in weapons. The second case was expected to begin in November.

The trial for seven members of the Moroccan Association for Investigative Journalism, including Hicham Mansouri, Maati Monjib, and Hisham Almiraat, has been repeatedly delayed since 2015.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities subjected some journalists to harassment and intimidation, including attempts to discredit them through harmful rumors about their personal lives. Journalists reported that selective prosecutions served as a mechanism for intimidation.

On July 25, authorities expelled journalists Jose Luis Navazo and Fernando Sanz with the Spanish newspaper El Correo Diplomatico. Navazo had resided in Morocco for more than 15 years. According to the journalists, police escorted them to the border without interrogation or providing a reason for the expulsion. The journalists allege, and the government later confirmed, that they were expelled for their reporting on protests in the Rif. The government claimed that their actions posed a threat to public security. Authorities expelled at least three other international journalists during the year, citing a lack of valid permits.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Self-censorship and government restrictions on sensitive topics remained serious hurdles to the development of a free, independent, and investigative press. While the government rarely censored the domestic press, it exerted pressure by pursuing legal cases that resulted in heavy fines and suspended publication. Such cases encouraged editors and journalists to self-censor. A Freedom House report in 2016 noted an “atmosphere of fear among journalists” that led to increased self-censorship. The press code lists threats to public order as one of the criteria for censorship. Publications and broadcast media must also obtain government accreditation. The government may deny and revoke accreditation as well as suspend or confiscate publications.

In June the Casablanca airport police removed from circulation an issue of the Arabic language Arab women’s monthly magazine Sayidaty. The magazine included an article with a map of the Arab world that showed the flag of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic over the area of Western Sahara.

Libel/Slander Laws: The press code includes provisions that permit the government to impose financial penalties on accredited journalists and publishers who violate restrictions related to defamation, libel, and insults. A court may impose a prison sentence if an accredited journalist is unable or unwilling to pay the fine.

Individuals who are not registered as journalists may be charged for defamation, libel, and slander under the criminal code, as can accredited journalists for their private actions. On August 18, Mohamed Taghra was sentenced to 10-months’ imprisonment and a 500 dirham ($50) fine under the criminal code on charges of libel and slander against the Royal Gendarmerie, following his posting of a video on YouTube accusing gendarmerie officers of falsifying records of accidents. Taghra was not a registered journalist and did not publish the video via a registered journalistic outlet, and he was charged under the criminal code.

National Security: The antiterrorism law provides for the arrest of individuals, including journalists, and filtering websites deemed to “disrupt public order by intimidation, terror, or violence.”

In December 2016, eight individuals were arrested for posting messages of support on social media for the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey. The group was charged with incitement and praise of terrorism and received sentences of between one and two years’ imprisonment in April. On July 29, the king pardoned the group. On June 10, authorities arrested El Mortada Iaamrachen for social media postings accusing the state of organizing terrorist attacks and the protests in the Rif to justify arrest campaigns. Iaamrachen’s supporters contend his posts were “sarcastic.” On November 30, the Rabat Court of Appeal sentenced Iaamrachen to five years’ imprisonment for incitement and praise of terrorism.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not disrupt access to the internet, but it did apply laws governing and restricting public speech and the press to the internet. The 2016 press code stipulates that online journalism is equivalent to print journalism. Laws on combatting terrorism permit the government to filter websites. According to Freedom House’s 2017 Freedom on the Net report, the government did not block or filter any websites during the year. However, Freedom House alleges that the threat of press code restrictions, and selective distribution of government advertising revenue had the effect of limiting the diversity of online content. Activists claimed access to certain hashtags on Twitter was restricted for short periods in advance of or during expected large protests to disrupt organization. The government also prosecuted individuals for expressing certain ideological views online (see section 2.a., National Security).

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 58 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The law permits the government to criminalize presentations or debate questioning the legitimacy of Islam, the legitimacy of the monarchy, state institutions, or the status of Western Sahara. The law restricts cultural events and academic activities, although the government generally provided more latitude to political and religious activism confined to university campuses. The Ministry of Interior approved appointments of university rectors.

Mozambique

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Namibia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Nauru

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Nepal

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. In some cases the government failed to enforce the law effectively. Human rights lawyers and some journalists stated that the 2015 constitution enables the government to restrict freedom of speech and press in ways they considered vague and open to abuse. For example, the constitution lists a number of circumstances under which laws curtailing freedom of speech and press may be formulated. These include acts that “jeopardize harmonious relations between federal units” and acts that assist a foreign state or organization to jeopardize national security. The constitution prohibits any acts “contrary to public health, decency, and morality” or that “disturb the public law and order situation.” The same provision of the constitution also prohibits persons from converting other persons from one religion to another or “disturbing the religion” of others.

Freedom of Expression: Citizens generally believed they could voice their opinions freely and often expressed critical opinions in print and electronic media without restriction. In July the government limited freedom of expression for the members of Kathmandu’s Tibetan community by rejecting requests from the Tibetan Buddhist community to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday publicly. Although Tibetan Buddhists were allowed to hold small private events in homes or monasteries, police asked celebrants at one site to remove photos of the Dalai Lama and printed banners from public view.

Press and Media Freedom: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, with a few exceptions. Several editors and journalists reported they faced intimidation by police and the Election Commission of Nepal in their coverage of the first two phases of local elections in May and June.

Journalists also stated they increasingly received vague threats and retribution from officials in response to their investigative reporting on corruption. For example, on August 17, the managing director of the Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) Gopal Khadka filed a defamation case against Nagarik, a leading Nepali daily, for its reporting on allegations of corruption by the NOC in its procurement of land for storage depots.

Violence and Harassment: According to the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), the government did not make sufficient efforts to preserve the safety and independence of the media and rarely prosecuted individuals who attacked journalists. The FNJ also stated that some members of the security forces and the Election Commission of Nepal attempted to prevent the press from freely covering the local elections.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The constitution prohibits prior censorship of material for printing, publication or broadcasting, including electronically. The constitution also provides that the government cannot revoke media licenses, close media houses, or seize material based on the content of what is printed, published, or broadcast. The constitution, however, also provides for “reasonable restrictions” of these rights for acts or incitement that “may undermine the sovereignty, territorial integrity, nationality of Nepal, or harmonious relations between the federal units or harmonious relations between the various castes, tribes, religions, or communities.” Speech amounting to treason, defamation, or contempt of court is also prohibited.

Media professionals expressed concern regarding an additional provision in the constitution that allows the government to formulate laws to regulate media. They argued that such laws could be used to close media houses or cancel their registration. The constitution also includes publication and dissemination of false materials as grounds for imposing legal restrictions on press freedom. Media experts reported, however, that these provisions have not been enforced against any media houses.

Although by law all media outlets, including government-owned stations, operate independently from direct government control, indirect political influence sometimes led to self-censorship. This was particularly true of stories that could be considered politically provocative.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The 2008 Electronic Transaction Act prohibits publication in electronic form of material that may be “contrary to the public morality or decent behavior,” may “spread hate or jealousy,” or may “jeopardize the harmonious relations subsisting among the peoples of various castes, tribes and communities.” There were several incidents in which authorities took action under the Electronic Transaction Act in response to material posted on social media. According to press reports, on August 2, police arrested Nirab Gyawali for allegedly posting defamatory remarks on Facebook against Renu Dahal, the daughter of former Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal. Gyawali, whose father was running against Dahal in the Bharatpur municipality mayoral election, was charged under the Electronic Transactions Act for an insulting Facebook posting about Dahal. On August 3, the Kathmandu District Court released Gyawali on bail of NRs 25,000 ($250) pending further judicial proceedings.

On March 20, the government issued an amended Online Media Operation Directive, which requires all country-based online news and opinion websites to be registered. The directive gives the government the authority to block websites based on content if it lacks an “authoritative source,” creates “a misconception,” or negatively affects international relationships. The government also has the authority to block content that threatens the country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, nationality, or harmonious relations. Online sedition, defamation, contempt of court, or indecent and immoral content may also be blocked. The new version makes the registration, license renewal, and content production provisions for online platforms more complicated, including by requiring a copy of a site’s Value Added Tax or Permanent Account Number registration certificate. Renewals now require online platforms to provide updated human resource and payroll records annually. The FNJ expressed concern that the directive’s vague language gives the government power to censor online content. On March 26, Prabesh Subedi, a journalist, filed a writ petition against the directive at the Supreme Court requesting its repeal for its violation of the right to freedom of expression. As of August the Supreme Court had not heard the case.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The law provides for the freedom to hold cultural events. Government permits are required to hold large public events. During the year the Tibetan community did not request permission for a number of small events confined to their settlements or within monasteries; they did not face repercussions although they faced restrictions (see section 2.b.). Authorities granted approval to the Tibetan community to organize a ceremony for the third day of the Tibetan New Year on February 11, but in July government officials rejected requests from the Tibetan Buddhist community to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday publicly. With the exception of the Dalai Lama’s birthday, Tibetans attended such events with minimal reports of restrictions on movement.

Netherlands

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

New Zealand

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Nicaragua

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government used administrative, judicial, and financial means to limit the exercise of this right. Although the law provides that the right to information may not be subjected to censorship, it also establishes retroactive liability, including criminal penalties for libel and slander.

Freedom of Expression: Some individuals suffered reprisals for expressing opinions in public on matters of special importance to the ruling party. There were a number of incidents throughout the year in which public officials, including at the ministerial, congressional, and local government levels, were reportedly ousted for expressing their opinions through the independent media or on social media.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media faced official and unofficial restrictions, reprisals, and harassment but were generally allowed to express a variety of views. The government restricted media freedom through harassment, censorship, and use of arbitrary justifications. Private individuals sympathetic to the government also harassed the media for criticizing the government.

In April the radio show Onda Local was taken off the air by radio station La Primerisima, which was owned by FSLN members. The Onda Local director publicly accused the station owners of acting at the behest of the vice president. The radio show was known for investigative journalism on social topics like women’s issues and protests over worker’s rights, mining corporations, and construction of a proposed interoceanic canal. The station owners did not comment on or provide a justification for the decision to cancel the show.

The government continued to use direct and indirect means to pressure and seek to close independent media outlets, allegedly for political reasons. Independent media owners continued to express concern that incidents of vandalism, seizure of broadcast equipment, and fear of criminal defamation charges created a climate of self-censorship, which the government could exploit to limit press freedom. An independent television station was fined an amount the owner believed was disproportionate due to administrative procedures. The station owner repeatedly expressed concern due to pressure from government officials because of the station’s independent stance. Other media harassment came through continued financial audits performed by the Directorate General of Revenue, which resulted in cases being brought to the consideration of the Customs and Administrative Tax Court. Independent news outlets reported they were generally not permitted to attend official government events, were denied interviews by government officials, and received restricted or no direct access to government information. Official media, however, were not similarly restricted.

Since 2008 the General Law (Law 200) on Telecommunications has been in review in the National Assembly. Until the reforms are approved or denied, media outlets are unable to apply for new broadcasting licenses. Nevertheless, the government granted licenses in a discretionary manner and extended the validity of existing licenses indefinitely. Human rights groups and independent media continued to criticize the legal insecurity created by the lack of telecommunications legislation, since Law 200 regulates routine administrative processes, such as the purchase and import of goods related to broadcasting and license adjudication. Furthermore, independent radio owners continued to defer long-term investments due to the lack of updated licenses.

The Communications Research Center of Nicaragua reported that control over television media by the FSLN and President Ortega continued throughout the year. National television continued to be largely controlled either by business associates of the president or directly owned and administered by his family members. Eight of the 10 basic channels available were under direct FSLN influence or owned and controlled by persons with close ties to the government.

Generally, media stations owned by the presidential family limited news programming and served as outlets for progovernment or FSLN propaganda and campaign advertisements. Press and human rights organizations claimed the use of state funds for official media, as well as biased distribution of government advertising dollars, placed independent outlets at an unfair disadvantage. Independent media asserted the moratorium on granting new government broadcasting licenses, combined with the uncertainties of the National Assembly’s protracted telecommunications review, contributed to legal insecurity and shrinking opportunities for private investment. Some independent media owners also alleged the government exerted pressure on private firms to limit their advertising in the independent media, although other observers believed the lack of advertising was the result of self-censorship by private companies or a business decision based on circulation numbers.

Violence and Harassment: One of the largest daily newspapers, opposition-leaning La Prensa, claimed government officials and supporters regularly intimidated its journalists, actively hindered investigations, and failed to respond to questions on a variety of problems, particularly those involving the constitution, rule of law, and corruption. There were several reported cases of threats against the press.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Many journalists practiced self-censorship, fearing economic and physical repercussions for investigative reporting on crime or official corruption. Additionally, media outlet owners exercised self-censorship by choosing not to publish news that affected public perceptions of the government or the FSLN.

The government continued to enforce inequitably the controversial Law 528, or “Ley Arce,” which established high tariffs and bureaucratic delays on the importation of ink, paper, machinery, and other printing necessities, despite constitutional provisions protecting the right to freedom from tariffs for media. Although the law applies to all print media, print media owners and international NGOs claimed the government specifically applied it to La Prensa, which operated one of the few printing operations not controlled by the government. Journalist organizations expressed concern regarding the lack of government support for the media sector and their organizations.

Libel/Slander Laws: Although during the year the government did not use libel laws or cite national security to suppress publications, independent media reported engaging in self-censorship due to the government’s previous use of libel laws. Slander and libel are both punishable under the law with fines ranging from 120 to 300 times the minimum daily wage.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content; despite this, several NGOs claimed the government monitored their email and online activity without appropriate legal authority. Additionally, paid government supporters used social media and website commentary spaces to harass prominent members of civil society, human rights defenders, and a well-known journalist.

The International Telecommunication Union reported approximately 25 percent of citizens used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were some government restrictions on academic freedom, and many academics and researchers reported pressure to censor themselves. There were no government restrictions on cultural events.

Human rights NGOs and civil society groups reported authorities required students in elementary and secondary public schools to participate in progovernment rallies while schools were in session. Political propaganda for the ruling party was posted inside public schools. Teacher organizations and NGOs alleged continuing FSLN interference in the school system through the use of school facilities as FSLN campaign headquarters, favoritism shown to members of FSLN youth groups or children of FSLN members, politicized issuance of scholarships, and the use of pro-FSLN education materials.

Niger

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Nigeria

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Norway

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits “threatening or insulting anyone, or inciting hatred or repression of or contempt for anyone because of his or her: a) skin color or national or ethnic origin; b) religion or life stance; c) sexual orientation or lifestyle; or d) disability.” Violators are subject to a fine or imprisonment not to exceed three years. According to the government ombudsman for equality and discrimination (LDO), hate speech on the internet against ethnic minorities, religious groups, women, and LGBTI persons continued to be a problem. Beginning in 2017, hate crime statistics were to include prosecuted cases and final convictions.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The prohibitions against hate speech applied also to the print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 97 percent of the population used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Oman

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for limited freedom of speech and press, but authorities did not always respect these rights. Journalists and writers exercised self-censorship.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits criticism of the sultan in any form or medium, as well as any “material that leads to public discord, violates the security of the state, or abuses a person’s dignity or his rights;” “messages of any form that violate public order and morals or are harmful to a person’s safety;” and “defamation of character.” Therefore, it is illegal to insult any public official or private citizen. Authorities have prosecuted individuals for writing about the sultan in a way the government perceived to be negative.

Press and Media Freedom: Media did not operate freely. Authorities tolerated limited criticism in privately owned newspapers and magazines; however, editorials generally were consistent with the government’s views. Although mainstream social debate occurred in media, the government and privately owned radio and television stations did not generally broadcast political material criticizing the government.

In October the Supreme Court upheld previous court rulings and permanently shut down al-Zaman, an independent newspaper. In September 2016 a court had temporarily shut down the publication after it published an article detailing alleged corruption in the Supreme Court. The court sentenced the managing editor, Yousef al-Hajj to one year in prison and chief editor Ibrahim al-Maamari to six months. Journalist Zaher al-Abri was acquitted on appeal. Al-Maamari was released in April, and al-Hajj was released in October.

Authorities required journalists to obtain a license to work; freelance journalists were ineligible for a license.

Violence and Harassment: Some journalists reported near-daily harassment by high-level government officials for printing stories perceived as critical of their particular ministries.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Headlines in both public and private media print outlets were subject to an official, nontransparent review and approval process before publication. Journalists and writers exercised self-censorship. The law permits the Ministry of Information to review all media products and books produced within or imported into the country. The ministry occasionally prohibited or censored material from domestic and imported publications viewed as politically, culturally, or sexually offensive. In May a court sentenced a local author to three years in prison for “insulting the Sultan,” and “undermining the status of the country” in books published in 2014 and 2016 on the country’s history. Some books were not permitted in the country. There is only one major publishing house in the country, and publication of books remained limited. The government required religious groups to notify the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs before importing any religious materials and submit a copy for the ministry’s files.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used libel laws and national security concerns as grounds to suppress criticism of government figures and politically objectionable views. Libel is a criminal offense, which allows for a heavy fine and prison sentence.

National Security: The government prohibited publication of any material that “violates the security of the state.”

INTERNET FREEDOM

The law restricts free speech exercised via the internet, and the government enforces the restrictions. The government’s national telecommunications company and private service providers make internet access available for a fee to citizens and foreign residents. Internet access is available via schools, workplaces, wireless networks at coffee shops, and other venues, especially in urban areas.

Authorities monitored the activities of telecommunications service providers and obliged them to block access to numerous websites considered pornographic, or culturally or politically sensitive. The criteria for blocking access to internet sites were not transparent or consistent. Authorities sometimes blocked blogs as well as most video and audio chat technologies, such as Skype.

The Law to Counter Information Technology Crimes allows authorities to prosecute individuals for any message sent via any medium that “violates public order and morals.” The law details crimes that take place on the internet that “might prejudice public order or religious values” and specifies a penalty of between one month and a year in prison and fines of not less than 1,000 rials ($2,600). Authorities also applied the law against bloggers and social media users who insult the sultan.

The government placed warnings on websites informing users that criticism of the sultan or personal criticism of government officials would be censored and could lead to police questioning, effectively increasing self-censorship. During times of regional turmoil, the government also shared posters in social media encouraging users to report others who sought to disturb the peace.

Website administrators or moderators were cautious concerning content and were reportedly quick to delete potentially offensive material in chat rooms, on social networking fora, and on blog postings. Some website administrators posted warnings exhorting users to follow local laws and regulations.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 70 percent of individuals used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Academics largely practiced self-censorship. Colleges and universities were required to have permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Higher Education before meeting with foreign diplomatic missions or accepting money for programs or speakers. In June a Western diplomatic mission sought permission to host a college fair for students but was told by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that interaction with students was forbidden. In October the Ministry allowed foreign diplomatic missions to participate in a government-hosted college fair.

The government censored publicly shown films, primarily for sexual content and nudity, and placed restrictions on performances in public venues. Dancing in restaurants and entertainment venues without a permit also was forbidden by law.

In August 2016 the government closed the AMIDEAST Muscat office, which had prepared local students for education abroad. The office had also facilitated cultural exchange.

Pakistan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and press, but there were constitutional restrictions. In addition, threats, harassment, violence, and killings led journalists and editors to practice self-censorship.

Freedom of Expression: The constitution provides for the right to free speech and the press, subject to “any reasonable restriction imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam” or the “integrity, security, or defense of Pakistan, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality.” The law permits citizens to criticize the government publicly or privately, but criticism of the military could result in political or commercial reprisal. Blasphemy laws restrict individual rights to free speech concerning matters of religion and religious doctrine. The government restricted some language and symbolic speech based on “hate speech” and “terrorism” provisions.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, and journalists often criticized the civilian portions of the government. The press addressed the persecution of minorities. By law the government may restrict information that might be prejudicial to the national interest. Threats, harassment, and violence against journalists who reported on sensitive issues such as civil-military tensions or abuses by security forces occurred during the year.

There were 455 independent English, Urdu, and regional-language daily and weekly newspapers and magazines. To publish within AJK, media owners had to obtain permission from the Kashmir Council and the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting controlled and managed the country’s primary wire service, the Associated Press of Pakistan, the official carrier of government and international news to the local media. The military had its own media and public relations office, Inter-Services Public Relations. The government-owned Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation and Pakistan Television Corporation broadcast television programs nationwide and operated radio stations throughout the country. In FATA and PATA, authorities allowed independent radio stations to broadcast with the FATA secretariat’s permission.

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) licensed 89 private domestic and 22 foreign television channels; many of the channels were critical of the government. There were 143 commercial FM radio stations, but their licenses prohibited news programming. Some channels evaded this restriction by discussing news in talk-show formats. International radio broadcasts, including the BBC, were normally available. PEMRA imposed a blockage of transmissions of Indian television news channels until July 17, when the federal Lahore High Court lifted the ban.

PEMRA continued to enforce a ban on criticism of the judiciary and armed forces as proscribed in the constitution. PEMRA issued editorial directives to television stations during the year and authorized its chairman to shut down any channel found in violation of the PEMRA code of conduct, primarily with regard to prohibiting telecasts of protests that might instigate sectarian violence. PEMRA also maintained its ban on radio outlets broadcasting any Indian media content. Outlets continued to defy the ban, and most FM radio channels aired popular Indian songs.

Violence and Harassment: Security forces, political parties, militants, and other groups subjected media outlets, journalists, and their families to violence and harassment. Female journalists in particular faced threats of sexual violence and harassment, including via social media. Security forces allegedly abducted journalists. Media outlets that did not practice self-censorship were often the targets of retribution. Additionally, journalists working in remote and conflict-ridden areas lacked basic digital security as well as traditional security skills, which placed additional pressure to self-censor or not cover a story.

According to the International Federation of Journalists, state and nonstate actors killed, physically attacked, harassed, intimidated, and kidnapped journalists and subjected them to other forms of pressure. The Committee to Protect Journalists included the country in its annual “impunity index” because the government allowed deadly violence against members of the press to go unpunished.

In January unidentified attackers shot and killed Muhammad Jan of the Daily Qudrat newspaper while on a motorbike in Kalat, Balochistan. The Lahore-based Express Tribune reported that journalist Rana Tanveer suffered a broken leg after he was struck by a car on June 9. He had previously received death threats from unidentified sources for covering stories about religious minorities. On June 21, the University of Agriculture Faisalabad’s private security guards beat journalists from news channel Samaa TV, who had arrived to cover a student-related incident. The journalists had been refused entry but were filming from outside the university when the guards attacked them. University guards also attacked journalists from other television channels who arrived to support their fellow reporters. Also on June 21, in Islamabad, madrassa students attacked a Din News television reporter and cameraman filming what appeared to be electricity theft by the madrassa. The seminary students beat the news team and pelted them with stones.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Small, privately owned wire services and media organizations generally reported that they engaged in self-censorship, especially in reporting news about the military forces. Journalists reported regular denial of official permission to visit conflict areas or having to be escorted either by members of the military or by militants in order to report on conditions in conflict areas. The result was pressure to produce final articles that were slanted toward the military or militant viewpoint, depending upon the escort. Other reporting tended to be relatively objective and only focused on events, rather than deeper analysis, which journalists generally regarded as risky. Observers perceived that foreign journalists had more autonomy to write about issues and to be under less scrutiny by the government. Private cable and satellite channels also reported that they censored themselves at times. Blasphemy and anti-Ahmadi laws restricted publication on certain topics. Foreign books needed to pass government censors before they could be reprinted, but there were no reports of books being banned during the year. Imported books and magazines were subject to censorship for objectionable sexual or religious content. Obscene literature, a category the government defined broadly, was subject to seizure.

The government fined private television channels for alleged violations of the “code of ethics” and for showing banned content on-screen. According to Freedom House, authorities used PEMRA rules to silence broadcast media by either suspending licenses or threatening to do so.

National Security: Some journalists asserted authorities cited laws protecting national security to censor and restrict media distribution of material that criticized government policies or military or public officials. The 2015 Electronic Media (Programs and Advertisements) Code of Conduct included a clause that restricted reporting in any area that was part of a military operation in progress.

Nongovernmental Impact: Militant and criminal elements killed, kidnapped, beat, and intimidated journalists and their families, leading many to censor their reporting.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Since 2012 the government has implemented a systematic, nationwide content-monitoring and filtering system to restrict or block “unacceptable” content, including material that is deemed un-Islamic, pornographic, or critical of the state or military forces. According to Freedom House, the government justified such restrictions as necessary for security purposes. There also were reports the government attempted to control or block some websites, including sites the government deemed extremist and sites that advocated for Baloch independence. There was decreasing transparency and accountability surrounding content monitoring, and the government often used vague criteria without due process. In its Freedom in the World Report for 2017, Freedom House claimed that more than 200,000 (down from 400,000 in 2016) websites were banned in the country because of their allegedly anti-Islamic, pornographic, or blasphemous content. The report noted restrictive laws governing the use of the internet and stated that civil society organizations faced a continuing clampdown. The provincial government in Balochistan blocked access to a Baloch human rights blog run by journalists. The government blocked several Baloch websites, including the English-language website The Baloch Hal and the website of Daily Tawar, a Balochistan-based newspaper.

In March the government petitioned Facebook and Twitter to identify Pakistanis worldwide who are found posting material considered offensive to Islam so that local authorities could prosecute them or pursue their extradition on charges of blasphemy, which could result in a death sentence.

On June 10, an antiterrorism court sentenced Taimoor Raza, a 30-year-old Shia man, to death for making allegedly blasphemous posts on Facebook, which observers noted was the first time a court handed down a death sentence specifically for committing blasphemy on social media.

The government enforced the 2016 Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, which many critics claimed contained overly broad and vague definitions of what constituted online speech deemed suitable for removal and/or criminal charges. On June 25, a journalist was arrested by armed men at his house in Quetta and subsequently was handed over to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and charged under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act for allegedly posting “illegal material” on social media. Digital rights activists expressed serious concerns about the law’s potential to curb freedom of expression, particularly on social media. The law states that the government will establish special tribunals for cybercrimes, but it remained unclear how the courts would enforce and interpret the bill.

The Electronic Transaction Act and other laws cite a number of offenses involving the misuse of electronic media and systems and the use of such data in other crimes. The act also stipulates that cyberterrorism resulting in a death is punishable by the death penalty or life imprisonment.

The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) is responsible for the establishment, operation, and maintenance of telecommunications and has complete control of all content broadcast over telecommunication channels. Despite a 2011 PTA ban on using virtual private networks (VPNs) and voice-over-internet protocol (VOIP), at year’s end VPNs and VOIP were both accessible.

NGO and internet-freedom observers reported that the government intensified its surveillance of activists and journalists online, resulting in disappearances of numerous social media activists. In May the FIA informed media outlets it was investigating as many as 200 social media accounts on charges of “spreading negative material against the army and other institutions.” There were also reports that the government used surveillance software.

According to the PTA, as of November there were approximately 50 million broadband subscribers, representing approximately 24.5 percent internet penetration.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government generally did not restrict academic freedom but screened and censored cultural events. There was government interference with art exhibitions, musical, and cultural activities. All such events require a government-issued permit (a “no objection certificate”) in order to be held. The Ministry of Culture operated the Central Board of Film Censors, which previewed and censored sexual content and any content that glorified Indian heroes, leaders, or military figures in foreign and domestic films.

Palau

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Panama

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press. Some journalists complained of harassment, intimidation, and threats when covering stories of impropriety, corruption, or other crimes involving members of the Ministry of Public Security or members of the public security forces.

Press and Media Freedom: During the year media outlets owned by political and business leaders facing legal proceedings claimed those proceedings limited their freedoms of expression. Media outlets continued to publish and broadcast freely throughout the year. There were anecdotal reports of the government discouraging journalists from publishing stories critical of the administration.

Television channels owners and radio directors linked to opposition parties claimed to be victims of government retaliation for their political views through the opening of corruption investigation against them. In 2016 police arrested NexTV president and former president of the board of directors of the government-run national savings bank Caja de Ahorros, Riccardo Francolini, and former Caja de Ahorros board member and current NexTV anchor and news director Fernando Correa on embezzlement charges unrelated to their media activities.

Violence and Harassment: In 2016 the Ministry of Government submitted a bill that would fine media outlets that published material promoting violence against women. Several journalist unions condemned the bill as an attempt to censor and regulate media content. Pressure from civil society stalled the National Assembly’s approval of the bill. In March the National Assembly approved a revised version of the bill, which transfers responsibility for the fines from the Ministry of Government to the judicial branch.

In April the National Assembly passed a law regulating sexual content in classified advertisements of newspapers, forbidding the publication of sex-work advertisements, in an effort to prevent sex trafficking. Some critics viewed it as a form of censorship.

New media journalists often faced challenges similar to their traditional media counterparts. For example, ClaraMente (a platform launched from Facebook, with a widespread audience) reporters Mauricio Valenzuela and Hugo German reportedly received death threats over the telephone regarding their publications critical of anti-immigration right-wing groups and religious organizations.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

The government provided free, wireless internet in public spaces that, when working, reached 86 percent of the population. According to government statistics, two million persons had fixed internet access, representing 50 percent of the population.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Papua New Guinea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Paraguay

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law and constitution provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and press for the most part, although widespread corruption in the judiciary hindered protections in court.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists occasionally suffered harassment, intimidation, and violence, primarily from drug-trafficking gangs and criminal groups, but also from politicians and police. The media and international NGOs reported several such incidents against journalists.

On September 2, citing lack of evidence, Judge Leongino Benitez released Brazilian drug trafficker, Felipe “Baron” Escurra Rodriguez, who had reportedly planned to kill well known journalist Candido Figueredo Ruiz. In 2012, Brazilian police intercepted a call involving Escurra in which he discussed killing Figueredo for reporting on Escurra’s illicit activities along the Paraguay-Brazil border. Escurra had been in custody since his arrest after a shootout with SENAD agents in August 2016. An appeal against Escurra’s release was pending as of October 13.

On June 23 and July 1, President Cartes publicly called for the imprisonment of radio journalists Mercedes Menchi Barriocanal and Oscar Acosta, accusing them of inciting the March 31 protests that resulted in the burning of the national congress building. Barriocanal and Acosta had been critical of Cartes’ legislative push to amend the constitution to allow for presidential re-election. The push for re-election sparked the March 31 protests.

On December 14, a Paraguayan court found Vilmar “Neneco” Acosta, former mayor of Ypejhu, guilty of ordering the assassination of ABC Color journalist Pablo Medina and his assistant Antonia Chaparro in 2014. On December 19, Acosta was sentenced to 39 years in prison. Authorities continued to search for Acosta’s brother, Wilson Acosta Marques, whom they accused of participating in the assassination, but Flavio Acosta Riveros, the alleged assassin (nephew of Wilson and Vilmar), remained in a Brazilian prison awaiting extradition.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) reported 51 percent of inhabitants used the internet in 2016. This did not reflect the existing and growing number of individuals who had access to the internet at work or through mobile phones. According to the ITU, there were 105 cell phones for every 100 citizens in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Peru

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government mainly respected this right. Generally, an independent press and a functioning democratic political system promoted freedom of expression.

Violence and Harassment: Numerous journalists alleged police, protesters, and company personnel assaulted and threatened them while covering various protests and incidents of social unrest. The Press and Society Institute reported the most common type of threat was made against local radio and television broadcast journalists who investigated local government authorities for corruption. The institute alleged the aggressors were often local and regional government officials, such as mayors and regional governors.

Police continued to investigate the 2016 killing of radio journalist Hernan Choquepata Ordonez in the coastal province of Camana, Arequipa Region. Reports suggested Choquepata was killed after he criticized mayors of the municipalities of Camana and Mariscal Caceres.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some media, most notably in the provinces outside of Lima, continued to practice self-censorship due to fear of local government reprisal.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes libel. In contrast with 2016, there were no reports that officials intimidated reporters with possible libel charges.

Nongovernmental Impact: Some media reported that narcotics traffickers and persons engaged in illegal mining activities threatened press freedom by intimidating journalists who reported information that undermined their operations.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to the National Statistics and Information Institute, 62 percent of the population used the internet (including cell phone users). The International Telecommunication Union reported that 45 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Philippines

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Poland

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

While the constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, laws restrict these freedoms.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits hate speech, including the dissemination of anti-Semitic literature and the public promotion of fascist, communist, or other totalitarian systems.

Violence and Harassment: On July 31, prosecutors charged two men with robbery and physical assault after they beat a television news reporter and stole his camera when he was filming logging activity in the Bialowieza forest.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The constitution prohibits censorship of the press or social communication. At the same time, laws regulating broadcasting and media prohibit, under penalty of fines, license revocation, or other authorized sanctions, the promotion of activities endangering health or safety, or contrary to law, morality, or the common good and requires that all broadcasts “respect the religious feelings of the audiences and, in particular, respect the Christian system of values.” These laws also specify that journalists must be unbiased and balanced in their coverage and verify quotations and statements with the person who made them before publication.

The National Radio and Television Broadcasting Council, a five-member body appointed by the Sejm (two members), the Senat (one member), and the president (two members), is constitutionally responsible for protecting freedom of speech and has broad power to monitor and regulate programming, allocate broadcasting frequencies and licenses, apportion subscription revenues to public media, and impose fines or other sanctions on all public and private broadcasters that violate the terms of their licenses or laws regulating broadcasting and media. While council members are required to suspend their membership in political parties and public associations, critics asserted that the council remained politicized. Critics also allege persistent progovernment bias in state television news broadcasts.

On December 11, the National Radio and Television Broadcasting Council announced a 1.48 million zloty ($420,000) fine against private broadcaster TVN. The broadcasting council issued the fine, after finding TVN had violated Article 18 of the broadcasting law, which outlaws programs or other content that would promote actions which violate the law, Polish national interest, morality and social good, incite hatred, or pose a threat to life, health or the natural environment. The fine was in response to a complaint about TVN’s news coverage of December 2016 protests in front of the national parliament building and an opposition sit-in inside the main parliamentary chamber. In its decision, the broadcasting council stated that due to TVN’s coverage of the protests, viewers may have decided to join the protests, which initially had been permitted but had later been declared illegal by the police and allegedly endangered public safety.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense and includes publicly insulting or slandering members of parliament, government ministers, or other public officials, as well as private entities and persons. Defamation outside the media is punishable by a fine and community service. The courts rarely applied maximum penalties, and persons convicted of defamation generally faced only fines or imprisonment for up to one year. The maximum sentence for insulting the president or the nation is three years’ imprisonment. Journalists have never received the maximum penalty in defamation cases, according to the Helsinki Human Rights Foundation. Media owners, particularly of small local independent newspapers, were aware that potentially large fines could threaten the financial survival of their publications. According to Ministry of Justice statistics for 2016, the latest data available, courts convicted one person of insulting the president and two persons for insulting constitutional organs of the government. In 2016 the courts fined one person for public defamation.

The prosecutorial investigation into remarks published in a 2015 German newspaper interview with Polish-American Princeton University historian Jan Gross continued at year’s end. In October 2016 the Katowice prosecutor assigned to the case discontinued the investigation, but a supervisory prosecutor overturned the decision and instructed the prosecutor to seek expert opinions on whether Gross’s statement that Poles had killed more Jews than they had Nazis during the World War II German occupation offended the Polish nation, a violation of Criminal Code Article 133 which assigns a sentence of up to three years’ imprisonment.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications or email without appropriate legal authority. The 2016 antiterrorism law authorizes the ABW to block websites without a prior court order in cases relating to combating, preventing, and prosecuting terrorist crimes, shut down telecommunications networks when there is a terrorist threat, and conduct surveillance of foreign nationals for up to three months without a court order. During the year there were no reports by media or NGO sources of the blocking of websites by the ABW.

The law against defamation applies to the internet as well. In 2016, the latest year for which statistics were available, prosecutors investigated 701 hate speech cases involving the internet, compared with 793 cases in 2015. In 2016, according to data from the International Telecommunication Union, 19.2 percent of the population had a fixed broadband subscription, and 73.3 percent of the population used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Portugal

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press. The law criminalizes the denigration of ethnic or religious minorities, as well as offensive practices such as Holocaust denial. Prison sentences for these crimes run between six months and eight years.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 72 percent of the population used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Qatar

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press in accordance with the law, but the government limited these rights. Self-censorship remained the primary obstacle to free speech and press.

Freedom of Expression: Citizens did not discuss sensitive political and religious issues in public forums, but citizens discussed these issues in private and on social media. In July the country hosted an international conference on freedom of expression, including representatives from international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as Human Rights Watch (HRW). HRW was not prevented from making remarks critical of the country’s cybercrime law, the closure of the Doha News website, or women being unable to transmit citizenship to their children. The law prohibits residents from criticizing the emir. Members of the majority foreign population exercised self-censorship on sensitive topics. The law penalizes damaging, removing, or performing an action that expresses hate and contempt to the country’s flag, the Gulf Cooperation Council flag, or the flag of any international organization or authority by up to three years in prison. The use of the national flag without formal permission from authorities, displaying a damaged or discolored flag, or changing the flag by adding photographs, text, or designs to it are also criminalized.

Press and Media Freedom: The law includes restrictive procedures on the establishment of newspapers, closure, and confiscation of assets of a publication. It also criminalizes libel and slander, including insult to dignity. A journalist may be fined up to 100,000 Qatari riyals (QAR) ($27,500) and imprisoned for a year for defamation and reporting of “false news.”

Members of the ruling family or proprietors who enjoyed close ties to government officials owned all print media. Both private and government-owned television and radio reflected government views; they generally did not criticize authorities or the country’s policies. The government owned and partially funded the Doha-based al-Jazeera satellite television network, which carried regional, international, and theme-based programming. It also partially funded other media outlets operating in the country. Some observers and former al-Jazeera employees alleged that the government influenced the content. Since November 2016 authorities blocked access to Doha News, a website that had received significant domestic criticism for its coverage of socially sensitive issues ranging from labor rights to homosexuality. The government did not make an official statement on the closure, but it maintained that the blocking of the website was a result of registration and fund-raising violations under the law.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Qatar Media Corporation, the Ministry of Culture and Sports, and customs officials censored material. There were no specific reports of political censorship of foreign broadcast news media or foreign programs. The government reviewed, censored, or banned foreign newspapers, magazines, films, and books for objectionable sexual, religious, and political content. Journalists and publishers continued to self-censor due to political and economic pressures when reporting on government policies or material deemed denigrating to Islam, the ruling family, and relations with neighboring states. Shortly after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt broke diplomatic relations with and closed borders, ports and airspaces to Qatar on June 5, the Qatari government reportedly instructed newspaper editors to avoid inflammatory language targeting the disputant countries. In September the Doha-based daily al-Watan refused to publish a commentary by a known local author that contained criticism of a prominent religious figure in Saudi Arabia. Nonetheless, the author posted the commentary on his personal blog and later disseminated it via other media outlets.

Libel/Slander Laws: Laws restrict the publication of information that could incite the overthrow of the regime or harm supreme state interests; slander the emir or heir apparent; report official secret agreements; defame the Abrahamic faiths or include blasphemy; prejudice heads of state or disturb relations; harm the national currency or the economic situation; violate the dignity of persons, the proceedings of investigations, and prosecutions in relation to family status; or defame the state or endanger its safety.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The maximum punishments for violations of cybercrime law are up to three years in prison and a fine of 500,000 QAR ($137,500). The law prohibits any online activity that threatens the safety of the state, its general order, and its local or international peace. It also criminalizes the spread of “false news,” forces internet providers to block objectionable content, and bans the publication of personal or family information, even if true.

The law requires internet service providers to block objectionable content based on a request from judicial entities. Internet providers also are obligated to maintain long-term electronic records and traffic data for the government. The government-controlled internet service provider Ooredoo restricted the expression of views via the internet and censored the internet for political, religious, and pornographic content through a proxy server, which monitored and blocked websites, email, and chat rooms. Users who believed authorities had censored a site mistakenly could submit the website address to have the site reviewed for suitability; there were no reports that any websites were unblocked based on this procedure. The Ministry of Transportation and Communication is responsible for monitoring and censoring objectionable content on the internet.

Internet access was widespread, and more than 98 percent of households were connected to the internet, according to a 2016 UN report.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The constitution provides for freedom of expression and scientific research. Instructors at Qatar University noted that they often exercised self-censorship. Instructors at foreign-based universities operating in the country, however, reported they generally enjoyed academic freedom. There were occasional government restrictions on cultural events, and some groups organizing cultural events reported they exercised self-censorship. Authorities censored books, films, and internet sites for political, religious, and sexual content and for vulgar and obscene language.

Republic of Korea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Republic of the Congo

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Romania

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Independent organizations such as Media Monitoring Agency, Freedom House, and Center for Independent Journalism noted excessive politicization of the media, corrupt financing mechanisms, and editorial policies subordinated to owner interests.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits denying the Holocaust and promoting or using the symbols of fascist, racist, xenophobic, or Legionnaire ideologies, the latter being the nationalist, extremist, anti-Semitic interwar movement that was among the perpetrators of the Holocaust in the country.

During a February press conference, Internal Affairs Minister Carmen Dan accused by name several prominent journalists of supporting antigovernment street protests. She also criticized the Facebook group Corruption Kills for calling on persons to protest against the government. Journalists and NGOs characterized her statements as contrary to freedom of expression and termed the issuing of such public “black lists” an act of intimidation. The Association for Technology and Internet called Dan’s comments “a threat against those who use social media channels for communication.”

On December 11, during antigovernment protests against corruption, police declared they had begun criminal investigations against several persons who posted calls for protests on Facebook, claiming they incited breaches of public order and peace due to the language used in the postings. Such crimes are punishable by imprisonment ranging from three months to three years or a criminal fine.

Two major private broadcasters, Antena 3 and Romania Television, were controlled by businessmen who were vocal supporters of the government. Both outlets gave strongly critical and factually inaccurate coverage of the January antigovernment protests. NGOs protested that the outlets sought to compromise the demonstrators as well as freedom of expression. On January 29, an estimated 45,000 demonstrators marched in front of the office of the National Audio-Visual Council, accusing the council of intentional delays in ruling against the outlets. Following public and NGO pressure in February, the council fined the two stations 50,000 lei ($13,000) each for misinforming their viewers.

Press and Media Freedom: While independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without overt restriction, politicians or persons with close ties to politicians and political groups either owned or indirectly controlled numerous media outlets at the national and local levels. The news and editorial stance of these outlets frequently reflected their owners’ views. There were also allegations that owners suppressed stories at odds with their interests or threatened the authors of such stories.

Various media outlets led by businessmen who were either found guilty or were under investigation for alleged fraud and corrupt activities forced the departure of reporters known for their promotion of the rule of law. During the year the daily newspaper Romania Libera fired or forced out several investigative reporters who had reported on corruption cases. Ondine Ghergut and Malin Bot were fired in February. In October the owners prompted the departure of the newspaper’s editorial board, including editorial director Sabin Orcan, editor in chief Razvan Chiruta, deputy editor in chief Sabina Fati, and senior editors Catalin Prisacariu, Mircea Marian, Mihai Duta, Silviu Sergiu, and Petre Badica. According to media reports, they failed to meet the requirements of the newspaper’s owner Alexander Adamescu, a fugitive wanted in a fraud case, to editorialize against anticorruption prosecutors and the judicial system.

Violence and Harassment: In January, Romania Curata investigative reporter Daniel Befu appealed to authorities and the public to protect his family from acts of intimidation. Befu stated that someone had scrawled threatening graffiti on his parents’ house and other locations in his home city. The messages appeared after he published several investigative articles on alleged local corruption and the role of local criminal groups. The Internal Affairs Ministry had not identified any suspects as of September.

In July tax inspectors from the Finance Ministry began investigating the news group Rise Project and news website Hotnews. The investigations followed a series of articles by the two outlets on controversial domestic and international transactions allegedly coordinated by Chamber of Deputies president and Social Democratic Party leader Liviu Dragnea. Several NGOs and independent media groups asserted the tax inspection was aimed at intimidating the news organizations.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In January the state agency Agerpres withdrew three translated reports from Reuters, Agence France Presse, and Deutsche Presse Agentur about the January protests. Agerpres stated that the three news items did not meet the agency’s standards. Marius Hosu, the reporter who selected the three articles, alleged censorship and notified the agency’s ethics committee.

Libel/Slander Laws: In March, Bucharest mayor Gabriela Firea filed a criminal complaint for “harassment” against the news website Bucurestiul.ro, which covers and aggregates reports on the activities of Bucharest’s municipal government, including public expenses. Firea repeatedly denied media and NGOs access to city council meetings on budget matters.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to statistics compiled by the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 60 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

In March media outlets and NGOs accused the Excelsior Theater of censorship, purportedly at the behest of the Bucharest municipal government, for canceling a planned video on the January-February pro-rule-of-law street protests. NGOs and some media outlets noted the theater had hosted progovernment political events in the past and accused the theater’s management of yielding to political influence.

Russia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

While the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, the government increasingly restricted those rights. The government instituted several new laws restricting both freedom of expression and of the press, particularly in regards to online expression. Regional and local authorities used procedural violations and restrictive or vague legislation to detain, harass, or prosecute persons who criticized the government. The government exercised editorial control over media, creating a media landscape in which most citizens were exposed to predominantly government-approved narratives. Significant government pressure on independent media constrained coverage of numerous problems, especially the situation in Ukraine and Syria, LGBTI problems, the environment, elections, criticism of local or federal leadership, as well as problems of secessionism or federalism. Censorship and self-censorship in television and print media, and on the internet was increasingly widespread, particularly regarding points of view critical of the government or its policies. The government used direct ownership or ownership by large private companies with government links to control or influence major national media and regional media outlets, especially television.

Freedom of Expression: Government-controlled media frequently used terms such as “traitor,” “foreign agent,” and “fifth column” to describe individuals expressing views critical of or different from government policy, leading to a climate intolerant of dissent.

Authorities continued to misuse the country’s expansive definition of extremism as a tool to stifle dissent. As of November 13, the Ministry of Justice expanded its list of extremist materials to include 4,294 books, videos, websites, social media pages, musical compositions, and other items, an increase of nearly 300 items from 2016. According to the Investigative Committee, detectives referred more than 500 extremism cases to prosecutors in 2015, a number of which included charges of “extremism” levied against individuals for exercising free speech on social media and elsewhere. According to the SOVA Center, as of August courts issued eight inappropriate verdicts against 27 individuals for participating in activities of an organization declared extremist and issued seven inappropriate verdicts against seven persons for inciting hatred.

On August 11, the Tverskoy District Court of Moscow found journalist Aleksandr Sokolov of the independent news company RBK guilty and sentenced him to three and one-half years in a penal colony on charges of organizing an extremist group and attempting to overthrow the government. Authorities arrested Sokolov in 2015 on a charge of participating in the activities of the People’s Will Army, which the Moscow City Court declared an extremist organization. Sokolov maintained he simply provided professional services to the group, such as registering its website. Sokolov had previously reported on state corruption and embezzlement in connection with the construction of the Vostochnyy space center. In 2015 the Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Sokolov as a political prisoner and called for the court to drop its prosecution of him.

Several persons, including in some instances minors, were charged with extremism under the criminal code for comments and images posted in online forums. On March 16, a municipal court in Chebaksary fined Dmitriy Semyonov 1,000 rubles ($17) for “distributing extremist materials” by posting information about his 2014 conviction for “distributing extremist materials.” The first case began in 2013 when Semyonov posted a photograph on VKontakte (a social media platform) of former St. Petersburg lawmaker Vitaliy Milonov wearing a shirt with an Orthodox slogan that authorities ruled extremist.

On August 17, the Vyborg City Court ruled that a Jehovah’s Witness publication, the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, a translation of the Bible, and three Jehovah’s Witness brochures were extremist. The court relied on the findings of an “expert panel” that determined the book was not a Bible. The case against the publication dated to 2015, when customs officials stopped and impounded a shipment of the books from Finland at the border on suspicion of extremism. On December 20, the Leningrad Regional Court upheld the ruling. On April 20, the Supreme Court banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist organization (see section 2.c.).

By law, authorities may close any organization that a court determines to be extremist, including media outlets and websites. Roskomnadzor, the country’s media oversight agency, routinely issued warnings to newspapers and internet sources suspected of publishing extremist materials. Three warnings in one year sufficed to initiate a closure lawsuit.

During the year authorities invoked a 2013 law prohibiting the “propaganda” of nontraditional sexual relations to minors to restrict the free speech of LGBTI persons and their supporters. On July 26, authorities charged LGBTI activist Evdokia Romanova of Samara under the law. According to Human Rights Watch, Romanova was accused of sharing information on Facebook in 2015 and 2016 about the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, an international group that advocates for young persons’ access to accurate information about health and sexuality. On October 18, a Samara court convicted Romanova and fined her 50,000 rubles ($857), making her the seventh LGBTI activist convicted under the “propaganda” law.

During the year authorities prosecuted individuals for speech allegedly violating a 2013 law that prohibits “offending the feelings of religious believers.” In one such case, on August 2, a Sochi court fined Viktor Nochevnov 50,000 rubles ($857) for posting satirical images of Jesus Christ on his social media pages.

During the year authorities prosecuted individuals for speech that allegedly violated a 2013 law prohibiting the “rehabilitation of Nazism.” In June a Trans-Baikal regional court convicted a 36-year-old citizen of Krasnokamensk for justification of Nazism. On his personal page in social networks the man posted comments justifying the Holocaust, Nazism, and Hitler. He received two years’ imprisonment with a probation period of two years, as well as a fine of 350,000 rubles ($6,000).

The law bans the display of Nazi symbols and the symbols of groups placed on the government’s list of “extremist” organizations. There was no official register or list of banned symbols.

Press and Media Freedom: The government continued to restrict press freedom. As of 2015, the latest year for which data was available, the government and state-owned or state-controlled companies directly owned more than 60 percent of the country’s 45,000 registered local newspapers and periodicals. Most other outlets were owned by government-friendly oligarchs. The federal government or progovernment individuals completely or partially owned all of the so-called federal television channels, the only stations with nationwide reach. The 29 most watched stations together commanded 86 percent of television viewership; all were owned at least in part by the federal or local governments or by progovernment individuals. Government-owned media outlets often received preferential benefits, such as rent-free occupancy of government-owned buildings. At many government-owned or controlled outlets, the state increasingly dictated editorial policy. In January 2016 a law came into effect that restricts foreign ownership of media outlets to no more than 20 percent. Another provision of the ambiguously worded law seemingly bans foreign ownership entirely. The government used these provisions to consolidate ownership of independent outlets under progovernment oligarchs and to exert pressure on outlets that still retained foreign backers. In its annual report on freedom of the press, Freedom House rated the country “not free.”

Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to be subjected to arrest, imprisonment, physical attack, harassment, and intimidation as a result of their reporting. The Glasnost Defense Fund reported numerous such actions against journalists. As of September incidents of violence and harassment included three killings, 40 attacks, 82 detentions by law enforcement officers, 14 prosecutions, 42 threats against journalists, 21 politically motivated firings, and one attack on media offices. Journalists and bloggers who uncovered various forms of government malfeasance or who expressed criticism of the government often faced harassment, either in the form of direct threats to their physical safety or threats to their security or livelihood, frequently through legal prosecution.

On March 9 in St. Petersburg, unknown assailants severely beat journalist Nikolay Andrushchenko. He was found several hours later and placed in a medically induced coma. He never regained consciousness and died on April 20. Andrushchenko had been subjected to two prior attacks, in 2007 and 2016. Independent reporting connected the attacks to Andrushchenko’s investigations into local government corruption and links between St. Petersburg city officials and organized crime networks. Authorities opened an investigation but did not identify any suspects as of year’s end. Andrushchenko’s colleagues expressed doubts about the rigor and objectivity of the investigation.

On October 23, an assailant broke into the studios of the independent radio station Ekho Moskvy and stabbed journalist Tat’yana Felgengauer in the neck with a knife. Authorities detained the assailant; a government newspaper reported that investigators believed the assailant to be psychologically unstable and saw no other motivation for the attack, although state television directly linked his alleged psychosis to his extensive listening to Echo Moskvy. Weeks earlier Felgengauer had been targeted in a series of reports on a state-run news channel alleging she took money from a foreign government to train bloggers and citizen journalists opposed to the government.

On September 9, independent journalist Yuliya Latynina announced she had left the country after suffering a string of attacks. On September 3, unknown individuals set fire to her car. On July 20, unknown individuals sprayed an unidentified noxious-smelling poisonous substance through the windows of her home in the suburbs of Moscow, sickening her and her family members. In August 2016 an unknown attacker threw feces at her as she left the radio station where she worked. Authorities opened investigations into the attacks, but no arrests were made as of year’s end.

Journalists reporting on the North Caucasus remained particularly vulnerable to physical attacks or prosecution for their reporting. Following their expose on the large-scale violations of human rights against gay men in Chechnya, Chechen officials made threats against the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which first broke the story. At an April 3 gathering of some 15,000 men at a mosque, Chechen presidential adviser Adam Shahidov called Novaya Gazeta journalists “enemies of our faith and our motherland” and threatened “vengeance.” A resolution adopted at the gathering included a promise that “retribution will catch up with the hatemongers wherever and whoever they are, without a statute of limitations,” which Novaya Gazeta believed to constitute a call to violence against its journalists. On April 15, Novaya Gazeta journalist Elena Milashina announced that the she had left the country following threats against her life. On April 19, Novaya Gazeta reported that it received an envelope mailed from Chechnya containing an unidentified white powder.

In April a Chechen court upheld the 2016 conviction in Chechnya of Caucasian Knot journalist Zhalaudi Geriyev on drug possession charges, which resulted in a three-year prison sentence. In July the Supreme Court refused to consider the case. Human rights groups maintained the verdict was politically motivated and in direct retaliation for Geriyev’s independent reporting on Chechnya.

There was no progress during the year in establishing accountability in a number of high-profile killings of journalists, including the 2006 killing of Anna Politkovskaya and the 2009 killing of Natalia Estemirova. In November, Ukrainian authorities arrested Magomed Dukuzov, the chief suspect in the, 2004 killing of Forbes Russia editor Paul Klebnikov, reportedly at the request of authorities. Klebnikov’s relatives emphasized that authorities still have never adequately investigated and identified the person who ordered the killing.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Self-censorship in independent media was reportedly widespread. For example, on June 24, journalist Ilya Rozhdestvenskiy announced his resignation from the RBC news outlet because it refused to publish his investigative report about the existence of an FSB secret prison near Moscow where torture was reportedly used against detainees. Rozhdestvenskiy reported his editors rejected the article six times, claiming that it was in the incorrect format. A different newspaper subsequently published the article.

On November 25, the government approved legislation expanding the scope of the Foreign Agent Law to include media organizations that receive funding from foreign sources. The amendments will potentially restrict designated organizations’ ability to operate freely in Russia. On December 4, the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and seven of their affiliate media organizations received notices from the Ministry of Justice requiring that they register as “foreign agents.” On December 6, the State Duma (the lower house of Russia’s parliament) banned reporters credentialed by media organizations registered as foreign agents from its premises.

Libel/Slander Laws: Officials at all levels used their authority, sometimes publicly, to restrict the work of journalists and bloggers who criticized them, including taking legal action for alleged slander or libel. In one such case, on June 26, a Kursk court fined local journalist and opposition legislator Olga Li 90,000 rubles ($1,540) for allegedly defaming a local judge. The charges stemmed from a series of online videos in which Li criticized national and local politicians belonging to the United Russia party.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government took significant new steps to restrict free expression on the internet. Threats to internet freedom included: physical attacks on bloggers; politically motivated prosecutions of bloggers and social media users for “extremism,” separatism, treason, libel, or other crimes; blocking of specific sites by national and local service providers; distributed denial-of-service attacks on sites of opposition groups or independent media, including on the site of the independent pollster Levada Center less than two weeks before State Duma elections; monitoring by authorities of all internet communications; and attempts by national, local, and regional authorities to regulate and criminalize content.

The internet was widely available to citizens in all parts of the country, although connection speeds varied by region. According to data compiled by the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 73 percent of the country’s population used the internet in 2015.

A report issued by the legal services NGO Agora stated that the number of cases in which authorities infringed the rights of internet users increased dramatically in 2016, from 15,022 cases in 2015 to 116,103. The majority of cases (111,498) involved content filtering and blocking in one form or another. The report attributed some of the surge in cases to improved data published by Roskomnadzor, the country’s communications authority, but reported a substantial increase in pressure on internet freedom overall. The number of regions in the country in which internet users were subjected to serious pressure remained at 30 in 2016. The report stated that 82 million residents lived in areas where internet users faced severe pressure.

A law passed in July requires that commercial virtual private network (VPN) services and internet anonymizers block access to websites and internet content prohibited in Russia. Under the law Roskomnadzor can block sites that provide instructions on how to circumvent government blocking. The law also authorizes law enforcement agencies including the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the FSB to identify VPN services that do not comply with the subsequent ban by Roskomnadzor. When the law came into force on November 1, Roskomnadzor announced that the majority of commercial VPNs and anonymizers used in Russia had registered and intended to comply with the law, although most foreign-based VPNs had not. As of mid-December, there were no reports Roskomnadzor blocked specific VPN services.

Another law passed in July prohibits companies registered as “organizers of information dissemination,” including online messaging applications, from allowing unidentified users. Messaging applications and platforms that fail to comply with the requirements to restrict anonymous accounts can be blocked. The law was scheduled to come into force in January 2018.

On August 11, according to press reports, the communications ministry published a draft order outlining the kinds of user data “organizers of information dissemination” will have to share with the FSB. Beginning in July 2018, the law will require these companies to store and provide to the FSB in-depth user information, including user name; full real name; date of birth; exact address; internal passport number; lists of relatives, friends, contacts, all foreign languages spoken; date and time of account’s creation; date and time of all communications; full text of all communications; full archives of all audio and video communications; all shared files; records of all e-payments; location for use of each service; IP address; telephone number; email address; and software used.

Human rights activists and NGOs widely criticized both laws. Human Rights Watch noted that journalists, human rights activists, students, and others often use VPNs to protect the privacy and security of their online activity as well as to circumvent internet censorship. On August 11, the social media application Snapchat registered as an “organizer of information dissemination.” A spokesperson for the company stated it did not know whether information provided to Roskomnadzor would be used for the law’s purpose. On May 4, Roskomnadzor blocked the Chinese messaging application WeChat for not complying with its registration request. On April 10, Roskomnadzor blocked the mobile push-to-talk messaging application Zello, frequently used by truck drivers and first responders, on the grounds that it failed to register as an “organizer of information dissemination.” A group of long-haul truckers had used Zello to organize a strike.

On January 1, amendments to the Federal Law on Information, Information Technologies, and Protection of Information and to the administrative code came into force requiring owners of internet search engines (“news aggregators”) with more than one million daily users to be accountable for the truthfulness of “publicly important” information before its dissemination. Authorities can demand that content deemed in violation be removed, and they can also impose heavy fines for noncompliance. Dunja Mijatovic, the special representative on freedom of the media of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), raised concerns the law “could result in governmental interference of online information and introduce self-censorship in private companies.”

In June 2016 the Ministry of Telecommunications and Mass Communications published amendments to the Information Society State Program, drafted by order of the Security Council, according to which domestic networks must handle 99 percent of internet traffic by 2020.

The law requires domestic and foreign businesses to store citizens’ personal data on servers located in the country. Critics expressed concern the law would have negative commercial effects and provide the government with further access to citizens’ private information. In November 2016 Roskomnadzor blocked the U.S.-based professional networking website LinkedIn for failure to comply with the law, the first social networking site targeted under the law. On March 7, Roskomnadzor released a statement confirming LinkedIn would remain blocked.

In April, Roskomnadzor blocked three online messaging applications: BlackBerry Messenger, LINE, and Imo.im, as well as the video chat application Vchat, for failing to share data about their users with authorities. A law on the “right to be forgotten” allows individuals in the country to block search engine companies from showing search results that contain information about them.

Roskomnadzor maintained a federal blacklist of internet sites and required internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to web pages that the agency deemed offensive or illegal, including information that was already prohibited, such as items on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. The law gives the prosecutor general and Roskomnadzor authority to demand that ISPs block websites that promote extremist information or “mass public events that are conducted in violation of appropriate procedures.” The NGO Roskomsvoboda reported that, as of October, more than four million domains were blocked without a legitimate basis. On December 12, Roskomnadzor blocked the website of the opposition movement “Open Russia” along with several related sites including “Open Elections,” “Open University,” and khodorkovsky.ru, the website of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the exiled former oligarch who founded Open Russia, on the grounds that they were “undesirable foreign organizations.” On December 14, Roskomnadzor threatened to block Twitter.com in Russia if it did not block Open Russia’s twitter feed.

In 2016 the State Duma passed the “Yarovaya package” of security-related amendments to the law that require telecommunications providers to provide authorities with “backdoors” around encryption technologies used by applications such as WhatsApp, Viber, and Telegram. Providers face fines of one million rubles ($17,140) for noncompliance.

In August 2016 the FSB announced it had the capability to collect encryption keys from internet companies that could decrypt unreadable data on the internet. Although many experts doubted it was possible to decrypt all forms of encryption, particularly end-to-end encryption, it was believed that the country’s security services were able to intercept messages on at least some messaging platforms. On October 16, the Meshchanskiy District Court of Moscow fined Telegram 800,000 rubles ($13,715) for refusing to pass to the FSB keys for decoding user messages. According to the case file, on July 12, the FSB sent a request to Telegram’s office, giving the company until July 16 to provide information on six telephone numbers. As of December the case was still being litigated.

In August the communications ministry published a draft order outlining the kinds of user data that would be collected by the security services from “organizers of information dissemination” as part of implementation of the 2016 Yarovaya Law. Beginning in July 2018, the law requires companies to store in-depth user information that could be collected by the FSB through the System of Operative Investigative Measures (SORM) equipment that the law requires to be connected to the data storage servers.

During the year authorities blocked or threatened to block some websites and social network pages that either criticized government policy or violated laws on internet content. On April 2, the Prosecutor General’s Office requested that Roskomnadzor block five websites that were calling for participation in protests the government considered “unsanctioned.”

During the year authorities prosecuted individual bloggers for alleged illegal content published online, including other users’ comments on their pages. According to media reports, on July 21, authorities in Kurgansk Oblast opened an administrative case against 14-year-old Dmitry Morozov for displaying banned symbols after another minor posted a swastika on Morozov’s social media page. Authorities claimed Morozov did not delete the symbol with sufficient speed.

The government continued to employ its longstanding use of SORM, which requires ISPs to install, at their own expense, a device that routes all customer traffic to an FSB terminal. The system enabled police to track private email communications, identify internet users, and monitor their internet activity.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government took new steps during the year to restrict academic and cultural freedom.

On March 21, authorities revoked the license of the European University at St. Petersburg, which was known for its liberal views, in a move observers believed to be politically motivated. Local authorities terminated the university’s lease in September. The university came under criticism from nationalist politicians in 2016 because of a gender studies course it had offered.

On August 22, authorities arrested well-known theater director Kirill Serebrennikov on embezzlement charges punishable by up to 10 years in prison, alleging he took state funds for a Shakespeare play that was never produced. According to media outlets, however, the play had been staged more than 15 times. Observers believed the charges were politically motivated, citing Serebrennikov’s participation in antigovernment protests and criticism of government policies.

Authorities often censored or shut down cultural events or displays that they considered offensive or that expressed views in opposition to the government and in some cases initiated criminal proceedings against organizers. According to state-controlled press reports from July 11, Culture Minister Vladimir Medinskiy ordered the last-minute cancellation of a ballet at Moscow’s Bolshoy Theater about the life of Soviet ballet dancer Rudolf Nuriyev because it addressed the topic of Nuriyev’s sexual orientation. Medinskiy denied the allegations of censorship, but noted that he supported the theater’s decision to “postpone” the ballet. The ballet was later staged at the Bolshoy for two performances in December.

Persons expressing views of historical events that run counter to officially accepted narratives faced harassment. For example, some Russian Orthodox and nationalist political figures led a campaign to ban the film Matilda, which depicted Tsar Nikolas II’s romance with a ballerina. On August 31, unknown individuals threw Molotov cocktails at the studio of the film’s director, Aleksey Uchitel. On September 11, unknown individuals set fire to two cars outside the legal firm that represents Uchitel’. Screenings of the film around the country were cancelled after bomb threats. News outlets linked a September 6 arson attack on the Cosmos cinema in Yekaterinburg to opposition to the film.

Rwanda

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Saint Kitts and Nevis

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, the judicial system, and a functioning democratic political system combined to enable freedom of expression, including for the press.

Press and Media Freedom: Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and media reported that the media climate was sensitive. Media outlets reported self-censoring to avoid problems with the government.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communication without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 77 percent of citizens used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Saint Lucia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press and a functioning democratic political system combined to ensure freedom of expression.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 47 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Civil society continued to report concerns about expressing criticism of the government primarily due to fear of facing libel charges, including under the 2016 Cybercrime Act.

Libel/Slander Laws: The 2016 Cybercrime Act establishes criminal penalties, including imprisonment, for various offenses including libel by electronic communication, cyberbullying, and illegal acquisition of data. Freedom of speech organizations harshly criticized the law as being inconsistent with international freedom of speech norms. Civil society also expressed concerns that the prohibition on libel by electronic means would give rise to government efforts to silence its critics. The government did not charge anyone with libel or defamation during the year, but officials were pursuing damages from a 2016 case against a pro-opposition radio station for spreading public fear and alarm.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 55 percent of citizens used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Samoa

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

San Marino

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Expression: The country’s laws prohibit persons from disseminating, by any means, ideas based on racial superiority or on racial or ethnic hatred, or from committing or encouraging others to commit discriminatory acts on the grounds of race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, or sexual orientation. There were no reports of prosecutions based on these laws.

Press and Media Freedom: The law regulating media and the work of media professionals provides for an authority for information, which may impose sanctions (including fines) on journalists and media who violate a national media code of conduct. An implementing code of conduct was approved on July 31.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 75 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Sao Tome and Principe

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Saudi Arabia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law does not provide for freedom of expression, including for the press. The Basic Law specifies, “Mass media and all other vehicles of expression shall employ civil and polite language, contribute towards the education of the nation, and strengthen unity. The media are prohibited from committing acts that lead to disorder and division, affect the security of the state or its public relations, or undermine human dignity and rights.” Authorities are responsible for regulating and determining which speech or expression undermines internal security. The government can ban or suspend media outlets if it concludes they violated the press and publications law, and it monitored and blocked hundreds of thousands of internet sites. There were frequent reports of restrictions on free speech.

The legal definition of terrorism, according to the 2017 counterterrorism law, includes “any conduct…intended to disturb public order …or destabilize the state or endanger its national unity.” The law also penalizes “anyone who challenges, either directly or indirectly, the religion or justice of the King or Crown Prince…or anyone who establishes or uses a website or computer program…to commit any of the offenses set out in the law.” Local human rights activists, international human rights organizations, and the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism criticized the counterterrorism law for its overly broad and vague definitions of terrorism and complained the government used it to prosecute peaceful expression and dissent.

Freedom of Expression: The government monitored public expressions of opinion and took advantage of legal controls to impede the free expression of opinion and restrict individuals from engaging in public criticism of the political sphere. The law forbids apostasy and blasphemy, which can carry the death penalty, although there were no recent instances of death sentences being carried out for these crimes (see section 1.a.). Statements that authorities construed as constituting defamation of the king, the monarchy, the governing system, or the Al Saud family resulted in criminal charges for citizens advocating government reform. The government prohibits public employees from directly or indirectly engaging in dialogue with local or foreign media or participating in any meetings intended to oppose state policies.

Some human rights activists were detained and then released on the condition that they refrain from using social media for activism, from communicating with foreign diplomats and international human rights organizations, and from traveling outside the country, according to human rights organizations.

The government charged a number of individuals with crimes related to their exercise of free speech during the year.

In January authorities detained computer engineer Essam Koshak on charges of “inciting public opinion” for statements he reportedly made on Twitter. Koshak was being tried in the Specialized Criminal Court under the country’s 2017 counterterrorism law (applied retroactively) and the 2008 cybercrimes law. Trial proceedings were ongoing at year’s end.

Press and Media Freedom: The Press and Publications Law governs printed materials; printing presses; bookstores; the import, rental, and sale of films; television and radio; foreign media offices and their correspondents; and online newspapers and journals. Media fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture and Information. The ministry may permanently close “whenever necessary” any means of communication–defined as any means of expressing a viewpoint that is meant for circulation–that it deems is engaged in a prohibited activity, as set forth in the decree.

Media policy statements urged journalists to uphold Islam, oppose atheism, promote Arab interests, and preserve cultural heritage. In 2011 a royal decree amended the press law to strengthen penalties, create a special commission to judge violations, and require all online newspapers and bloggers to obtain a license from the ministry. The decree bans publishing anything “contradicting sharia, inciting disruption, serving foreign interests that contradict national interests, and damaging the reputation of the grand mufti, members of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars, or senior government officials.”

The law states that violators can face fines up to 50,000 riyals ($13,333) for each violation of the law, which doubles if the violation is repeated. Other penalties include banning individuals from writing. While the Violations Considerations Committee in the Ministry of Culture and Information has formal responsibility for implementing the law, the Ministry of Interior, the CPVPV, and sharia court judges considered these issues regularly and exercised wide discretion in interpreting the law. It was unclear which process accords with the law.

Although satellite dishes were illegal, the government did not enforce restrictions on them, and their use was widespread. Many foreign satellite stations broadcast a wide range of programs into the country in Arabic and other languages, including foreign news channels. Access to foreign sources of information, including via satellite dishes and the internet, was common. Foreign media were subject to licensing requirements from the Ministry of Culture and Information and could not operate freely. Privately owned satellite television networks, headquartered outside the country, maintained local offices and operated under a system of self-censorship.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities subjected journalists, writers, and bloggers to arrest, imprisonment, and harassment during the year.

In September well-known Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi said he moved to the United States in “self-exile” and “could face arrest upon returning home” due to his writing. He claimed his column in Saudi newspaper al-Hayat had been cancelled under political pressure. In 2016 authorities purportedly banned him from writing, appearing on television, and attending conferences as the result of remarks he made that were interpreted as criticizing the president of the United States, according to multiple media sources. Earlier, in July, authorities reportedly lifted the writing ban against him.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government reportedly penalized those who published items counter to government guidelines and directly or indirectly censored the media by licensing domestic media and by controlling importation of foreign printed material.

All newspapers, blogs, and websites in the country must be government-licensed. The Ministry of Culture and Information must approve the appointment of all senior editors and has authority to remove them. The government provided guidelines to newspapers regarding controversial issues. The Saudi Press Agency reported official government news. The government owned most print and broadcast media and book publication facilities in the country, and members of the royal family owned or influenced privately owned and nominally independent operations, including various media outlets and widely circulated pan-Arab newspapers published outside the country. Authorities prevented or delayed the distribution of foreign print media covering issues considered sensitive, effectively censoring these publications.

The government censored published material it considered blasphemous, extremist, racist, or offensive, or as inciting chaos, violence, sectarianism, or harm to the public order. On June 26 the PPO stated that producing and promoting “rumors that affect the public order” is a crime under the anticybercrimes law and punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of 3 million riyals ($800,000).

In some cases, however, individuals criticized specific government bodies or actions publicly without repercussions. The Consultative Council (Majlis as-Shura), an advisory body, frequently allowed print and broadcast media to observe its proceedings and meetings, but the council closed some high-profile or controversial sessions to the media.

Libel/Slander Laws: There were numerous reports during the year of the government using libel laws to suppress publication of material that criticized policies or public officials.

The anticybercrimes law provides for a maximum penalty of one-year’s imprisonment for “defamation and infliction of damage upon others through the use of various information technology devices.” In 2014 the law was amended to include social media and social networks.

In April the SCC sentenced an unnamed poet to two months in prison for writing and publishing a poem “insulting security personnel” on Twitter and YouTube, as well as producing, storing, and disseminating material that “aims to undermine public order.” The SCC also ordered his accounts on social media sites closed, according to local media reports.

National Security: Authorities used the anticybercrimes law and the counterterrorism law to restrict freedom of expression, including by prosecuting numerous individuals under these laws on charges related to statements made on social media.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The Ministry of Culture and Information or its agencies must authorize all websites registered and hosted in the country. The General Commission for Audiovisual Media has responsibility for regulating all audio and video content in the country, including satellite channels, film, music, internet, and mobile applications, independent from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Internet access was widely available, and nearly 75 percent of the population used the internet during the year, while 79 percent had mobile broadband subscriptions, according to first-quarter 2017 data from the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.

The press and publications law implicitly covers electronic media, since it extends to any means of expression of a viewpoint meant for circulation, ranging from words to cartoons, photographs, and sounds. In 2011 the government issued implementing regulations for electronic publishing that set rules for internet-based and other electronic media, including chat rooms, personal blogs, and text messages. Laws, including the anticybercrimes law, criminalize defamation on the internet, hacking, unauthorized access to government websites, and stealing information related to national security, as well as the creation or dissemination of a website for a terrorist organization. Security authorities actively monitored internet activity, both to enforce laws, regulations, and societal norms and to monitor recruitment efforts by extremist organizations such as ISIS. Activists complained of monitoring or attempted monitoring of their communications on web-based communications applications.

Access to the internet is legally available only through government-authorized internet service providers. The government required internet service providers to monitor customers and required internet cafes to install hidden cameras and provide identity records of customers. Although authorities blocked websites offering proxies, persistent internet users accessed the unfiltered internet via other means.

On a number of occasions, government officials and senior clerics publicly warned against inaccurate reports on the internet and reminded the public that criticism of the government and its officials should be done through available private channels. The government charged those using the internet to express dissent against officials or religious authorities with terrorism, blasphemy, and apostasy.

The press and publications law criminalizes the publication or downloading of offensive sites, and authorities routinely blocked sites containing material perceived as harmful, illegal, offensive, or anti-Islamic. The governmental Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) filtered and blocked access to websites it deemed offensive, including adult content, as well as pages calling for domestic political, social, or economic reforms or supporting human rights, including websites of expatriate Saudi dissidents.

The CITC coordinated decisions with the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency on blocking phishing sites seeking to obtain confidential personal or financial information. Authorities submitted all other requests to block sites to an interagency committee, chaired by the Ministry of Interior, for decision. Under the Telecommunication Act, failure by service providers to block banned sites can result in a fine of five million riyals ($1.33 million).

The CITC claimed that Facebook removed materials that the CITC deemed offensive but that Twitter ignored all CITC requests. In September 2016 the CITC announced that it had not blocked any free voice, video, or messaging services after criticisms on social media that these services had been blocked. During the year authorities announced they unblocked calling features for private messenger apps like Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp. In July 2016 users of FaceTime and other video-calling apps reported such services were blocked.

On May 25, the government blocked Qatari websites such as al-Jazeera due to a dispute between Qatar and a group of countries that included Saudi Arabia. Al-Jazeera remained blocked at year’s end.

On June 20, Ministry of Culture and Information spokesperson Hani al-Ghofaily stated that writing for blocked websites, providing them with materials to publish, or promoting alternative addresses to access them is a crime under the anticybercrimes law.

The government reportedly collected information concerning the identity of persons peacefully expressing political, religious, or ideological opinions or beliefs online.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted some public artistic expression. Academics reportedly practiced self-censorship, and authorities prohibited professors and administrators at public universities from hosting meetings at their universities with foreign academics or diplomats without prior government permission. In 2016 King Salman issued royal decrees creating the General Authority for Entertainment (GEA) and the General Authority for Culture, with a mandate to expand the kingdom’s entertainment and cultural offerings in line with its social and economic reform plan known as Vision 2030. During the year, the GEA sponsored events dedicated to film, comics, music, and dance. On December 11, the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information announced that commercial cinemas would be allowed to operate in the kingdom as of early 2018.

Senegal

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Serbia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. A lack of transparency of media ownership, continuing government involvement in media ownership, and threats and attacks on journalists undermined these freedoms.

The law includes a specific provision on hate speech based on race or religion, national or ethnic affiliation, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Press and Media Freedom: While independent media organizations generally were active and expressed a wide range of views, there were reports that the government pressured media by withholding advertising, abusing tax audits, and restricting access to public information. The media privatization law, which was passed in 2014 and amended in 2015, required the privatization of public media outlets. While the largest media company on the sale list, Tanjug news agency, failed to find a buyer and legally ceased to exist after 2015, the agency continued to operate. Competing news agencies FoNet and Beta complained that Tanjug received favored treatment and benefited from government-owned facilities and special access to public tender notices. For example, in August Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic issued a press statement to Tanjug only, which its competitors said violated the law. On August 21, FoNet wrote that only Tanjug, not FoNet or Beta, received notice of a public funding tender the government budget. Media reported the government continued to have a significant ownership stake in the major newspapers Politika and Vecernje Novosti.

After unknown persons wearing masks used machinery to tear down buildings in Belgrade’s Savamala neighborhood in late April 2016, news magazine NIN reported that demolition would not have been possible without the knowledge and help of Minister of Internal Affairs Nebojsa Stefanovic. In response to the story, Stefanovic filed a lawsuit against NIN, seeking damages of 300,000 dinars ($2,590). The first verdict found in Stefanovic’s favor but was overturned in April by a higher court, and Stefanovic was ordered to pay 89,700 dinars ($885) for NIN’s legal fees.

Violence and Harassment: The law prohibits threatening or otherwise putting pressure on public media and journalists or exerting any other kind of influence that might obstruct their work. During the year some reporters and media organizations were the victims of vandalism, intimidation, and physical attacks. The Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia announced that during 2016, it recorded a total of 69 cases of physical and verbal attacks on journalists, including nine physical attacks, one threat against property, 26 verbal threats, and 33 instances of pressure targeting journalists.

During the year the government-friendly tabloids InformerSrpski Telegraf, and TV Pink published and broadcast various reports related to supposed pending “coups d’etat” in the country and conspiracies to “bring down” then prime minister, now president, Vucic. The outlets accused several investigative journalists, whom they identified by name and photographs, as members of a group of “traitors” supporting the alleged “coups.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were reports that the government actively sought to direct media reporting on a number of issues.

Economic pressure sometimes led media outlets to practice self-censorship. State-controlled funds were believed to contribute a significant percentage of overall advertising revenue, giving the state correspondingly strong leverage over media outlets. Since the media depended heavily on advertising to survive, advertising agencies were in a strong position to influence them, including through the nontransparent termination of advertising contracts, making asymmetrical changes to such contracts, and inequitably distributing funds from public budgets and state-controlled advertising funds (such as those for public companies or municipalities). Many media outlets faced financial pressures to shape editorial opinion and news coverage and affect working conditions for journalists.

Journalists reported increasing difficulties and obstacles that limited their ability to practice their profession. Stevan Dojcinovic, director of the KRIK (Crime and Corruption Reporting Network) Investigative Center, stated in an article published in February, “Most laws in Serbia are irrelevant, as the state itself does not respect them.” Both KRIK and Dojcinovic were repeatedly targeted by tabloid publications after they reported on President Vucic’s personal assets. Dojcinovic stated that government employees and institutions were instructed not to cooperate with KRIK, despite the provisions of the law on public access to information. Bojana Pavlovic, a KRIK journalist, stated, “While we were working on politicians’ properties, suddenly all the people with whom we communicated in the Department of Land Registry were replaced. Later, we were told that the information we requested was not of public interest.” Pavlovic also stated she encountered obstacles to requests for information from courts about verdicts. Nedim Sejdinovic, president of the Association of Independent Journalists of Vojvodina, expressed concern about decreasing media freedom, stating there is a “drastic fall in the level of access to information.”

Nongovernmental Impact: During the year several media outlets published articles that accused numerous journalists, NGO activists, and independent institution representatives of being “traitors” to the country and attempting to violently overthrow the constitutional order. In August a group of journalists and NGO activists filed criminal charges against the right-wing organization Zavetnici, TV Pink, the tabloid Informer, and the internet portal Pravda, claiming that these reports included wrongful accusations and exposed them to public persecution. The case remained pending at year’s end.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were no reports that the government restricted or disrupted access to the internet or censored online content. According to National Institute of Statistics’ most recent data, 68 percent of the country’s population had an internet connection.

Although the internet remained unrestricted, the law obliges telecommunications operators to retain data on the source and destination of a communication for one year; the beginning, duration, and end of a communication; the type of communication; terminal equipment identification; and the location of the customer’s mobile terminal equipment. While intelligence agencies can access this metadata without court permission, the law requires a court order to access the contents of these communications.

Seychelles

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Sierra Leone

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Singapore

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Slovakia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press. While the government generally respected these rights, in some instances it impeded criticism and limited access to information to critical press outlets.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits the defamation of nationalities and race, punishable by up to three years in prison, and denial of the Holocaust and crimes committed by the fascist and communist regimes, which carry a prison sentence of six months to three years.

Press and Media Freedom: The prohibitions against defamation of nationalities and denial of the Holocaust and crimes committed by the fascist and communist regimes also applied to the print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals.

The majority of media were privately owned or funded from private sources. Radio and Television Slovakia and the TASR news agency received state funding for specific programming. Observers expressed concern, however, about the increasing consolidation of media ownership and its potential long term threat to press freedom. Most of the country’s private media outlets, including television stations and print publications, were controlled by relatively few financial conglomerates or wealthy individuals.

Members of the cabinet intermittently refused to communicate with two major daily newspapers, claiming their reporting was biased and that they had refused to apologize for publishing information that government officials claimed was untrue.

In 2015 Prime Minister Fico canceled the center-right investigative daily newspaper Dennik N’s accreditation to cover his foreign travel after it distributed stickers with an unflattering Fico caricature. Afterwards Fico allegedly ordered government ministries not to communicate with the daily. Fico claimed that by distributing the stickers the daily had become an opposition entity, and there was therefore no reason for the government to communicate with it. Some legal experts stated, however, that Fico’s action might be illegal, since the country’s press law requires the government to provide information to the press and press agencies without discrimination. At least four other print media outlets expressed their disagreement with Fico’s action, and the International Press Institute (IPI) Slovakia called on Fico to reverse his decision. Dennik N challenged both the decision and the cabinet’s practice in the Constitutional Court, which in April dismissed the complaint. In her annual report for 2015, the ombudsperson found the cabinet’s and individual ministries’ practices in denying Dennik N’s access to information to constitute a fundamental rights violation. The ombudsperson noted that some ministries changed their practice after her findings.

In November 2016 Prime Minister Fico called the media “dirty anti-Slovak prostitutes” when Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Miroslav Lajcak faced criticism that his ministry allegedly manipulated the public procurement of services related to the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the EU.

Libel/Slander Laws: While courts did not impose criminal penalties for defamation, financial elites targeted the press in a number of civil defamation lawsuits, which often required the press to pay large sums of money. IPI Slovakia and other observers expressed concern this financial risk could lead to media self-censorship.

In 2016 Interior Minister Robert Kalinak threatened to file a criminal complaint and libel lawsuit against the newsweekly Trend for a series of articles alleging his involvement in a tax fraud scheme involving politically connected real estate investor Ladislav Basternak. Criminal proceedings were pending.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Police, however, monitored websites containing hate speech and attempted to arrest or fine the authors. According to Eurostat, approximately 80 percent of the country’s population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Slovenia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits hate speech, including incitement to intolerance as well as violence. The penalty for hate speech is two years’ imprisonment. Although there were several highly publicized instances of possible hate speech online (e.g., Holocaust denial), there were no reported prosecutions of hate speech during the year and no evidence authorities levied fines. During an April interview on the Nova24 news program Sreda v Sredo, Bernard Brscic, who served as state secretary for a former prime minister, described Europe’s 2015-16 immigration crisis as an “invasion of Muslim and Negro hordes” and referred to the “so-called” Holocaust as “a perfidious way for the Jews to create collective guilt…and establish a multicultural dystopia.” The country’s print, broadcast, and online media reported widely on and criticized Brscic’s comments, and the director of the Slovenian Jewish Cultural Center threatened to press charges under the country’s Holocaust denial law. The local prosecutor’s office investigated Brscic’s comments and determined he was expressing an opinion on whether contemporary Germans bore responsibility for the Holocaust and did not deny the Holocaust itself. In July the general state prosecutor ordered an internal investigation, which remained in progress, as to why the local prosecutor’s office dropped the case against Brscic.

Press and Media Freedom: The print and broadcast media and publishers of books and online newspapers and journals are subject to the laws that prohibit hate speech, defamation, and libel.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Slovenian Association of Journalists and media analysts observed that standards of journalistic integrity suffered because of economic pressure; nonstandard forms of employment, such as freelance or student status; and reduced protections for journalists, leading some to practice self-censorship in order to maintain steady employment. Local media, some of which received funding at the municipality level, sometimes reflected the outlook of local political or business leaders.

Journalists and media representatives stated that existing media legislation does not address the problem of excessive concentration of ownership in the media, which limited the diversity of views expressed. Journalist associations also stated that the prevailing interpretation of media regulations narrowed the right to access information in the public interest.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to data from the International Telecommunication Union, 76 percent of individuals in the country used the internet in 2016, the most recent year for which data were available.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Solomon Islands

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Somalia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

South Africa

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

South Sudan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Spain

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits, subject to judicial oversight, actions including public speeches and the publication of documents that the government interprets as celebrating or supporting terrorism. The law provides for imprisonment for one to four years for persons who provoke discrimination, hatred, or violence against groups or associations on the basis of racist, anti-Semitic, or other references to ideology, religion or belief, family status, membership in an ethnic group or race, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, illness, or disability.

The law penalizes the illegal downloading and use of unauthorized websites, violent protests, insulting an officer, recording and disseminating images of police, and participating in unauthorized protests outside government buildings. The NGO Reporters without Borders (RSF) called the law a threat to press freedom, while the Professional Association of the Judiciary considered it contrary to freedom of speech and information. The opposition Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party appealed the law in the Constitutional Court.

On March 29, a 21-year-old woman received a one-year jail sentence for writing 16 “tweets” between 2013 and 2016 and ridiculing the victim of a 1973 Basque Homeland and Liberty terrorist bombing, former prime minister Luis Carrero Blanco.

On August 3, police detained Hamza Yalcin, a journalist with dual Turkish-Swedish nationality, at Barcelona’s El Prat airport after officials found an Interpol “red notice” for his arrest submitted by Turkey for crimes related to terrorism. A second writer with dual German-Turkish citizenship, Dogan Akhanli, was detained August 19 on similar charges, also stemming from an Interpol red notice issued by Turkey. Both were released after the courts rejected Turkey’s requests for extradition, and they left Spain without charges. The RSF criticized the government’s detention of both individuals.

Violence and Harassment: In a September 28 report, the RSF denounced a campaign of social network cyberbullying and the use of propaganda by the Catalan regional government to pressure local journalists and foreign correspondents. It also criticized the national government’s use of threats to intimidate Catalan media in their coverage of the October 1 referendum.

As of the end of 2016, at least three journalists were fined for disobeying the police. An editor for Catalonia Radio was fined 600 euros ($720) for disobeying police officers in February 2016. Another journalist from television channel Canal0 received a similar fine for disobeying police during a demonstration and declining to identify herself as a member of the press.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Authorities monitored websites for material containing hate speech or promoting anti-Semitism or terrorism.

The International Telecommunication Union reported that 81 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Sri Lanka

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Expression: Authorities restricted “hate speech,” including insult to religion or religious beliefs through the Police Ordinance and Penal Code.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Journalists in the Tamil-majority north, however, reported harassment, intimidation, and interference from the security sector when reporting on sensitive issues related to the civil war or its aftermath. They reported the military contacted them to request copies of photos, lists of attendees at events, and names of sources from articles. They also reported the military directly requested journalists refrain from reporting on sensitive events, such as Tamil war memorials or land occupation protests, and that they feared repercussions if they did not cooperate.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: On several occasions print and electronic media journalists noted they self-censored stories that criticized the president or his family. These journalists said they had received direct calls from private individuals or supporters of the government asking them to refrain from reporting anything that tainted the first family. In April then Media Ministry secretary Nimal Bopage noted privately owned television channel Derana TV would face a special investigation for “manipulating [the] President’s remarks at an event” and thereby misleading the public. Bopage was later transferred from the Media Ministry to an advisor role to the president on media. On November 8, the government’s Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka blocked access to the Lanka eNews website across all fixed line and mobile broadband networks. Lanka eNews had published several articles critical of the current government and the president. Multiple media organizations expressed concern over the extrajudicial blocking and called on internet service providers to unblock the website, which remained blocked at year’s end.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The government placed limited restrictions on websites it deemed pornographic. Approximately 30 percent of the country’s population used the internet regularly, and 21 percent had access to the internet at home. Media reports estimated a far larger percentage of the population accessed the internet via smartphones.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

State university officials allegedly prevented professors and university students from criticizing government officials. There were no other reported government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

Sudan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Suriname

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. Multiple media outlets published materials critical of the government. Ownership affiliations, either pro- or antigovernment, influenced the overall tone of reporting.

Agents of the government used the state media, particularly the state-run radio station, as a tool to criticize and attack those with views opposing the government. In certain instances the attacks directly threatened democracy and rule of law.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists reported intimidation by government and nongovernment actors.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media members reported continued self-censorship in response to alleged pressure from government officials or government-affiliated entities on journalists who published negative stories about the administration. Nonetheless, the press carried articles critical of the government on a daily basis. Additionally, many news outlets retained affiliations with particular political parties that could bias reporting. The generally low wages for journalists made them vulnerable to bias and influence, which further jeopardized the credibility of reporting.

At state-owned media outlets, journalists reported attempts to influence the content of their reporting. In February the state-owned television station STVS abruptly ended the live broadcast of a program in which a union leader was criticizing the government’s policy towards educators and while expressing his opinion on a dispute and strike in the education sector. In August the same station rejected an advertisement by a nongovernment organization (NGO) calling for public disclosure legislation because it found the video accompanying the text on corruption suggestive and negative towards the president. In both cases the station denied allegations of censorship.

NGOs reported the selective awarding of advertising by the government.

Libel/Slander Laws: The country’s criminal-defamation laws carry harsh penalties, with prison terms between three months and seven years. The harshest penalty is for expressing public enmity, hatred, or contempt towards the government.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were no government restrictions on access to the internet, and the government asserted that it did not monitor private online communications without appropriate legal oversight. Nevertheless, journalists, members of the political opposition and their supporters, and other independent entities perceived government interference or oversight of email and social media accounts.

Internet access was common and widely available in the major cities but less common in remote areas, with limited bandwidth and often limited or no access to electricity. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 45 percent of citizens used the internet in 2016, with 76 percent mobile broadband coverage.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Swaziland

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Sweden

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Expression: The law criminalizes expression considered to be hate speech and prohibits threats or statements of contempt for a group or member of a group based on race, color, national or ethnic origin, religious belief, or sexual orientation. Penalties for hate speech range from fines to a maximum of four years in prison. In addition the country’s courts have held that it is illegal to wear xenophobic symbols or racist paraphernalia or to display signs and banners with inflammatory symbols at rallies.

In 2016 there were 683 reports of cases involving hate speech, or 10 percent of all hate crimes reported.

Press and Media Freedom: The law criminalizing hate speech applies as well to print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the Internet Foundation in Sweden, more than 99 percent of citizens under the age of 55 used the internet on a daily basis. More than 93 percent of the population over the age of 12 used the internet daily.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Switzerland

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, although the law restricts speech involving racial hatred and denial of crimes against humanity. The government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits hate speech, such as public incitement to racial hatred or discrimination, spreading racist ideology, and denying crimes against humanity, including via electronic means. It provides for punishment of violators by monetary fines and imprisonment of up to three years. There were several convictions under this law during the year (see section 6, Anti-Semitism, and National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The law’s restriction on hate speech and denial of crimes against humanity also applies to print, broadcast, and online newspapers/journals. According to federal law, it is a crime to publish information based on leaked “secret official discussions.”

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 87 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Syria

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

While the constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, the government severely restricted these rights, often terrorizing, abusing, or killing those who attempted to exercise these rights.

Freedom of Expression: The government routinely characterized expression as illegal, and individuals could not criticize the government publicly or privately without fear of reprisal. The government also stifled criticism by invoking provisions of law prohibiting acts or speech inciting sectarianism. It monitored political meetings and relied on informer networks.

Press and Media Freedom: The government continued to exercise extensive control over local print and broadcast media, and the law imposes strict punishment for reporters who do not reveal their government sources in response to government requests. A number of quasi-independent periodicals, usually owned and produced by individuals with government connections, published during the year. In 2014 the government began allowing very limited use of Kurdish in state-run universities, following a decades-long, mostly ineffective ban prohibiting all Kurdish-language publications (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

The government owned some radio and most local television companies, and the Ministry of Information closely monitored all radio and television news and entertainment programs for adherence to government policies. Despite restrictions on ownership and use, citizens widely used satellite dishes, although the government jammed some Arab networks.

Books critical of the government were illegal.

Extremist organizations such as the HTS, Jund al-Aqsa, and ISIS also posed a serious threat to press and media freedoms.

Violence and Harassment: Government forces reportedly detained, arrested, and harassed journalists and other writers for works deemed critical of the state. Harassment included attempts at intimidation, banning such individuals from the country, dismissing journalists from their positions, and ignoring requests for continued accreditation. According to reliable NGO reports, the government routinely arrested journalists who were either associated with or writing in favor of the political opposition or the FSA and instigated attacks against foreign press outlets throughout the country.

The government and ISIS routinely targeted and killed both local and foreign journalists, according to the COI. During the year the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) documented the deaths of four journalists: Osama Nasr al-Zoabi, Syrian Medical Organization; al-Khateb, RT; Alaa Kraym, Qaboun Medical Center; and Mohamed Abazied, Nabd Syria Satellite Station.

According to the CPJ, the majority of reporters killed were covering politics and human rights issues. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) estimated 211 journalists and citizen journalists were killed between 2011 and March.

On August 2, a roadside bombing in the southwestern province of Daraa Osama killed Nasr al-Zoabi, a correspondent for the Syrian Media Organization . The CPJ reported al-Zoabi was on his way to report on the humanitarian effects of a government bombing campaign that took place in the Daraa Governorate in June. The car he was driving hit an improvised explosive device. The media organization reported that the explosion also killed al-Zoabi’s brother and a nephew.

The CPJ reported that six journalists remained missing in the country and seven remained imprisoned by the government. The reason for arrests was often unclear.

According to reports from media outlets operating in areas controlled by the PYD, they faced pressure and received online threats demanding they play pro-PYD songs. Reports indicated that members of the YPG detained and/or beat some opposition journalists affiliated with the Kurdish National Council.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government continued to control the dissemination of information strictly, including developments regarding fighting between the government and armed opposition, and prohibited most criticism of the government and discussion of sectarian problems, including religious and ethnic minority rights. The Ministries of Information and Culture censored domestic and foreign publications prior to circulation or importation and prevented circulation of content determined critical or sensitive. The government prohibited publication or distribution of any material security officials deemed threatening or embarrassing to the government. Censorship was usually greater for materials in Arabic.

Local journalists reported they engaged in extensive self-censorship on subjects such as criticism of the president and his family, the security services, or Alawite religious groups. The government required both domestic and foreign journalists who did not observe these guidelines to leave the country or targeted them for arrest, torture, or execution.

Libel/Slander Laws: Although the law prohibits imprisoning journalists for practicing their profession, the government continued to detain and arrest journalists who opposed the government. The government charged some of these individuals with libel.

National Security: The government cited laws protecting national security to restrict media distribution of material that criticized government policies or public officials.

Nongovernmental Impact: RSF reported that Syria had become the world’s deadliest country for journalists. According to the SNHR, from January to September, the government and its allied militias killed 15 media activists, ISIS killed seven, Russian forces killed four, armed opposition groups killed three, and the organization known as Fateh al-Sham killed one.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government controlled and restricted the internet and monitored email and social media accounts. According to the 2017 Freedom on the Net Report, the country remained one of the most dangerous and repressive environments for internet users in the world. The reported noted a slight improvement in internet access in areas liberated from ISIS. Individuals and groups could not express views via the internet, including by email, without prospect of reprisal. The government applied the law to regulate internet use and prosecute users. Other key developments reported during the year included that at least 15 citizen journalists remained imprisoned by the government on charges related to their digital activism and that hackers linked to Iran increased cyberattacks against Syrian opposition groups in an effort to disrupt reporting on human rights violations.

The government often monitored internet communications, including email, and interfered with and blocked internet service, SMS messages, and two-step verification messages for password recovery or account activation. The government employed sophisticated technologies and hundreds of computer specialists for filtering and surveillance purposes such as monitoring email and social media accounts of detainees, activists, and others. The government did not attempt to restrict the security branches’ monitoring and censoring of the internet. The security branches were largely responsible for restricting internet freedom and access; internet blackouts often coincided with security force attacks. The government censored websites related to the opposition, including the websites for local coordination committees as well as media outlets.

The government also restricted or prohibited internet access in areas under siege. It obstructed connectivity through its control of key infrastructure, at times shutting down the internet and mobile telephone networks entirely or at particular sites of unrest. There was generally little access to state-run internet service in besieged areas unless users could capture signals clandestinely from rooftops near government-controlled areas. Some towns in opposition-held areas had limited internet access via satellite connections. Some activists reportedly gained access independently to satellite internet or through second- and third-generation (3G) cell phone network coverage.

The government meanwhile expanded its efforts to use social media, such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, to spread progovernment propaganda and manipulate online content. Government authorities routinely tortured and beat journalists to extract passwords for social media sites, and the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), a group of progovernment computer hackers, frequently launched cyberattacks on websites to disable them and post progovernment material. In addition to promoting hacking and conducting surveillance, the government and groups that it supported, such as the SEA, reportedly planted malware to target human rights activists, opposition members, and journalists. Local human rights groups blamed government personnel for instances in which malware infected activists’ computers. Arbitrary arrests raised fears that authorities could arrest internet users at any time for online activities perceived to threaten the government’s control, such as posting on a blog, tweeting, commenting on Facebook, sharing a photograph, or uploading a video.

Observers also accused the SEA of slowing internet access to force self-censorship on government critics and diverting email traffic to government servers for surveillance.

According to the International Telecommunications Union, 31.9 percent of individuals used the internet and 43.6 percent of households had internet access at home in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Authorities generally did not permit teachers to express ideas contrary to government policy. The Ministry of Culture restricted and banned the screening of certain films.

ISIS and the HTS sought to restrict academic freedom severely and to curtail cultural events considered un-Islamic. Media sources reported that schools in ISIS-controlled Raqqa Governorate banned several academic subjects, including chemistry and philosophy.

During the conflict students, particularly those residing in opposition-held areas, continued to face challenges in taking nationwide exams. The government, however, allowed 360 students from Moadimiyeh and 68 students from Madaya to travel to government-held areas to take exams in May 2016. Moreover, areas previously held by ISIS that SDF and Coalition forces liberated reopened local schools. Children in the city of Tabqa, for example, returned to school in September in buildings ISIS fighters previously used. Many of the school buildings required extensive repair and many administrators required assistance to obtain basic supplies for learning.

Authorities in some Kurdish-controlled areas reportedly forced schools to close if they refused to use an officially sanctioned Kurdish curriculum. Media reports indicated that the SDF proposed teaching Kurdish in Arab-majority Raqqa.

Taiwan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Tajikistan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government restricted these rights.

Freedom of Expression: The authorities continued to curb freedom of speech through detentions, prosecutions, the threat of heavy fines, the passage of strict and overreaching slander legislation, and the forced closure of media outlets. By law a person may be imprisoned for as long as five years for insulting the president.

In March police in Khujand arrested Hasan Abdurazzoqov, a resident of Sughd Province, allegedly for offending the reputation of President Rahmon. According to media reports, Abdurazzoqov took down a picture of Rahmon from a city wall and threw it to the ground in front of observers. The Prosecutor’s Office launched a criminal case against Abdurazzoqov, accusing him of defaming the president, hooliganism, and vandalism. Authorities did not comment on the case, and reportedly no lawyers agreed to represent Abdurazoqov. If found guilty, Abdurazoqov faced up to eight years in prison.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media faced significant and repeated government threats on media outlets. Although some print media published political commentary and investigatory material critical of the government, journalists observed that authorities considered certain topics off limits, including, among other matters, questions regarding financial improprieties of those close to the president, or content regarding the banned IRPT.

Several independent television and radio stations were available in a small portion of the country, but the government controlled most broadcasting transmission facilities. A decree issued by the government, “Guidelines for the Preparation of Television and Radio Programs,” stipulates that the government through a state broadcast committee has the right to “regulate and control the content of all television and radio networks regardless of their type of ownership.”

The government allowed some international media to operate and permitted rebroadcasts of Russian television and radio programs. In November 2016 the independent news media outlet Tojnews closed its doors following government harassment. The outlet’s chief editor left the country due to personal security concerns and the threat of prosecution.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to face harassment and intimidation by government officials. Although the government decriminalized libel in 2012, state officials regularly filed defamation complaints against news outlets in retaliation for publishing stories critical of the government.

In late spring the Ismoili Somoni District Court of Dushanbe found journalist Mizhgona Halimova, a reporter for Ozodagon news agency, guilty of “not reporting on and concealing a crime.” The court claimed that Halimova had failed to disclose information concerning a citizen traveling to Syria to join ISIS and fined her 25,000 somoni ($2,850). During the hearing Halimova did not have legal representation, but journalists helped her pay the fine. Halimova did not appeal the decision, reportedly believing the appeal process would be flawed. Some sources speculated that authorities brought charges against Halimova because of her conflict with the chairwoman of the Committee on Women and Family Affairs, arising from a question Halimova asked the chairwoman at a press conference regarding women wearing the hijab. Until 2015 Halimova had worked for Najot, an official weekly newspaper of the IRPT, and the Nahzat.tj news website.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists regularly practiced self-censorship to avoid retribution from officials. Opposition politicians had limited or no access to state-run television. The government gave opposition parties minimal broadcast time to express their political views, while the president’s party had numerous opportunities to broadcast its messages.

Newspaper publishers reported the government exercised restrictions on the distribution of materials, requiring all newspapers and magazines with circulations exceeding 99 recipients to register with the Ministry of Culture. The government continued to control all major printing presses and the supply of newsprint. Independent community radio stations continued to experience registration and licensing delays that prevented them from broadcasting. The government restricted issuance of licenses to new stations, in part through an excessively complex application process. The National Committee on Television and Radio, a government organization that directly manages television and radio stations in the country, must approve and then provide licenses to new stations. The government continued to deny the BBC a renewal of its license to broadcast on FM radio.

Libel/Slander Laws: In 2012 the government repealed the law criminalizing libel and defamation and downgraded the offenses to civil violations, although the law retains controversial provisions that make publicly insulting the president an offense punishable by a fine or up to five years in jail. Nevertheless, libel judgments were common, particularly against newspapers critical of the government.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Individuals and groups faced extensive government surveillance of internet activity, including emails, and often self-censored their views while posting on the internet.

According to a World Bank report issued in June, 17 percent of the population used the internet regularly.

There were new and continuing government restrictions on access to internet websites, such as Facebook, YouTube, Google, Google services, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, although some of the restrictions were lifted during the year. The State Communications Service, the official communications regulator, routinely denied involvement in blocking these sites, but the government admitted to periodically implementing a law that allows interruption of internet content and telecommunications “in the interest of national security.” The government continued to implement a 2015 law enabling the GKNB to shut off internet and telecommunications during security operations.

On July 12, the Majlisi Milli, the upper house of parliament, passed a law giving law enforcement bodies the right to track citizens using the internet. According to the new bill, the security agencies can monitor internet traffic and have access to information regarding which internet sites citizens visit and the type of information they seek.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The Ministry of Education maintained a dress code that bans wearing the hijab in schools and government institutions. Authorities allowed women to wear a traditional version of the head covering–a scarf that covers hair but not the neck–to schools and universities. Some female students wore the hijab to and from school but removed it upon entering the school building. Parents and school officials appeared to accept this arrangement. The ministry also maintained its ban on beards for all teachers. Students with beards reported being removed from class, questioned, and asked to shave. In January the Ministry of Education signed a decree obliging all female teachers, university students, and schoolchildren to wear traditional dress, starting from March 1 until the end of the academic year in June.

In July and August, government authorities increased the urgency of their effort to dissuade citizens from wearing “foreign clothing,” primarily focused on the hijab, which covers the hair, ears, and neck. According to media reports, the government’s Committee on Women and Family Affairs, in cooperation with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, conducted informational campaigns, or “raids,” in public areas against women wearing the hijab, threatening those who refused to remove their hijab with a 1,000 somoni ($115) fine and six months’ imprisonment. In addressing these media reports, the ministry denied that such measures existed and claimed the government was conducting a public campaign to promote national culture and clothing.

A Ministry of Education directive requires school administrators to inform students of the Law on Parental Responsibility, which bans all persons under age 18 from participating in public religious activities, with the exception of funerals. The law provides that, with written parental consent, minors between the ages of seven and 18 may obtain a religious education during their free time from school and outside the state education curriculum and may worship as part of educational activities at religious institutions.

The government requires all persons studying religion abroad to register with the Committee on Religious Affairs (CRA), Ministry of Education, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The law provides criminal penalties for violating restrictions on sending citizens abroad for religious education, preaching and teaching religious doctrines, and establishing ties with religious groups abroad without CRA consent.

The Ministry of Education banned students from attending events sponsored by or conducted for foreign organizations during school hours. On April 1, police dispersed participants of a two-day international education fair in Dushanbe. The director of the organizing company reported on Facebook that she had obtained all the necessary permissions for the education fair, but police nevertheless entered the exhibition hall and shut down the event. Police also destroyed a promotional video and photograph materials from the event. The Ministry of Education subsequently released a statement claiming the organizers had lacked the necessary documentation for the event.

There were several reports throughout the year that academics writing on sensitive subjects regarding politics, religion, and history feared publishing or even submitting their articles for review for fear of retribution. There was no official censorship, however, of films, plays, art exhibits, music presentations, or other cultural activities.

Tanzania

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Thailand

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The Bahamas

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, a relatively effective–albeit extremely backlogged–judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without significant restriction.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes both negligent and intentional libel, with a penalty of six months’ imprisonment for the former and two years for the latter. In contrast with 2016, the government did not make use of criminal libel laws during the year.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authorization. The internet was widely available on New Providence and Grand Bahama islands, and the International Telecommunication Union estimated that 80 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. The Plays and Films Control Board rated and censored plays and films for public viewing.

The Gambia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Timor-Leste

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Togo

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Tonga

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Trinidad and Tobago

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits acts that would offend or insult another person or group on the basis of race, origin, or religion or that would incite racial or religious hatred.

Violence and Harassment: In September a Trinidad Guardian newspaper photojournalist, Kristian De Silva, was assaulted while on the job. The incident took place on the compound of a company accused of defrauding the government. One of the journalist’s attackers was a police officer, Corporal Billy Ramsundar, who was later was charged with assault and damaging a camera. The matter was before the court at year’s end.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 69 percent of citizens used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Tunisia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government mainly respected this right, although there were constraints. An independent press and a functioning democratic political system contributed to an environment generally conducive to this freedom. Some media outlets and civil society expressed concerns over security forces and other actors committing violence against journalists, occasional government interference in media, a perception the government or individual ministries were using negative media stories to discredit the work of civil society organizations, and the concentration of media ownership in the hands of a few political parties or families.

Freedom of Expression: Public speech considered offensive to “public morals” or “public decency,” terms undefined in the law, continued to be treated as criminal acts. Provisions of the penal and telecommunications codes, for example, criminalize speech that causes “harm to the public order or public morals” or intentionally disturbs persons “in a way that offends the sense of public decency.”

Press and Media Freedom: Activists expressed concern about government interference in media and in the concentration of media ownership. UN Special Rapporteur Emmerson noted concerns about the use of counterterrorism law and other legislative acts against journalists. In particular, journalists and several press freedom advocacy groups expressed concern that the government did not always respect laws regulating the work of journalists and providing journalists legal protections, including the abolishment of prison sentences for criminal defamation and other speech offenses. Article 19, an international NGO, called for reforms to the penal code and military justice code, which NGOs stated were used to target journalists, lawyers, and civil society activists. The codes criminalize defamation, false allegations against members of an administrative or judicial authority, and attacks against the “dignity, reputation, or morale of the army.”

In November 2016 prosecutors charged journalist Rached Khiari with impugning the reputation of the army and undermining its morale after his participation in a popular talk show during which he claimed that authorities signed an agreement allowing the United States to establish a military base in the country. He faced charges of up to three years in prison and was being tried in a military court, although he was a civilian. He faced additional charges of defamation of a civil servant and damaging the morale of the army to harm national defense, which carries a possible death penalty. As of September Khiari had not been arrested, and his case was still undergoing the appeals process.

Violence and Harassment: Security officials continued to harass and threaten journalists, according to human rights organizations. The NGO Tunis Center for Press Freedom (CTLP) reported 14 assaults and attacks on journalists between October 2016 and February 4, of which 58 percent were committed by security forces. The National Union of Tunisian Journalists expressed concerns about growing pressure exerted on local journalists and foreign media correspondents after an Israeli journalist traveled to the country to report on the December 2016 assassination in the country of engineer Mohamed Zouari, who was linked to Hamas. While the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) noted a decreasing number of attacks against journalists between March and August, it stressed assaults against journalists were still committed by security forces–mostly police or security guards during public events to prevent press coverage. The OHCHR attributed the decrease in part to the reduced number of large social gatherings during the year.

AI condemned the conviction in May of two journalists for criticizing a violent raid by security forces on their family home in Tozeur, purportedly to search for their brother, who was suspected of having extreme religious views. Following their criticism of these tactics, Salam Malik, president of the Tunisian Union for Media Association and director of the radio station Djerid FM, was sentenced to six months in prison by a court in Tozeur on May 10. His sister, Salwa Malik, director of programming at the radio station, received a six-month suspended sentence the same day. On appeal their sentences were reduced to a fine.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized individuals who published items counter to government guidelines. While online and print media frequently published articles critical of the government, journalists and activists at times practiced self-censorship to avoid violence targeting journalists, mainly from security forces or other anonymous attackers, according to the CTLP.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reported officers from the National Guard’s Central Investigation Brigade interrogated Sami Ben Gharbia, the cofounder of the independent news website Nawaat on May 3, demanding he reveal the sources of an April 24 article in which he published a draft economic and financial reconciliation law. The officers also demanded he supply the contact information of all journalists who worked on the article.

Libel/Slander Laws: Various civil society organizations expressed concern about the use of criminal libel laws to stifle freedom of expression. HRW highlighted the case of Nabil Rabhi, a blogger arrested on July 23 for Facebook posts in which he criticized Hafedh Caid Essebsi, the executive director of the Nida Tounes Party and son of the president, as well as other prominent members of the party. He was charged with defaming President Caid Essebsi and his family, sentenced on August 5 to six months in prison, and fined 1,200 dinars ($490). Rabhi appealed and was released from prison on October 22, after serving half of the sentence.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without legal authority. There was no censorship of websites, including those with pornographic content, with the exception of websites linked to terrorist organizations. According to Internet World Stats, 50.5 percent of the population used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no reports of government restrictions on academic freedom.

Turkey

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression within certain limits, and the government restricted freedom of expression, including for the press, throughout the year. Multiple articles in the penal code directly restrict press freedom and free speech, for example, through provisions that prohibit praising a crime or criminals or inciting the population to enmity, hatred, or denigration, as well as provisions that protect public order and criminalize insult. The law provides for punishment of up to three years in prison for conviction of “hate speech” or injurious acts related to language, race, nationality, color, gender, disability, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion, or sectarian differences. Human rights groups criticized the law for not including restrictions based on gender identity and noted that the law was sometimes used more to restrict freedom of speech than to protect minorities.

Many in media reported the government’s prosecution of journalists representing major independent newspapers and its jailing of scores of journalists during the preceding year hindered freedom of speech and that self-censorship was widespread amid fear that criticizing the government could prompt reprisals.

Hundreds of individuals, including journalists and minors, were indicted for insulting the president, prime minister, or state institutions. For example, on March 22, Ali Gul, an Istanbul law school student, was arrested and charged with insulting the president after he prepared a short video on social media regarding why Turks should vote “no” in the April constitutional referendum. He remained in jail for two months. In June the Ministry of Justice announced that in 2016 it had tried 3,658 persons on charges related to insulting the president. Comprehensive figures for the year were unavailable at year’s end.

Estimates of the number of journalists in jail varied. The Committee to Protect Journalists claimed that as of December 13, there were at least 81 journalists in prison. On December 6, the Journalists’ Union of Turkey claimed 149 journalists were in prison; Reporters without Borders reported that, as of October 24, there were more than 100 journalists in jail; the NGO Platform for Independent Journalism (P24) reported that, as of November 28, there were 153 journalists, editors, or media managers in jail, the vast majority for alleged ties to the PKK or the Gulen movement. As of May, an estimated additional 123 journalists were outside the country and did not return due to fear of arrest, according to the Journalists Association. Hundreds more remained out of work after the government closed media outlets allegedly affiliated with the PKK or the Gulen movement as part of the previous year’s government response to the attempted coup. On July 20, the Radio and Television Supreme Board revoked the licenses of five television stations for broadcasting inappropriate content. Another television station and 12 radio stations that previously had their licenses revoked under a July 2016 decree faced difficulty seeking redress and were unable to appeal to the Commission of Inquiry on Practices under the State of Emergency, which was established to review appeals by individuals and associations.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals in many cases could not criticize the state or government publicly without risk of civil or criminal suits or investigation, and the government restricted expression by individuals sympathetic to some religious, political, or cultural viewpoints. At times many who wrote or spoke on sensitive topics or in ways critical of the government risked investigation.

In July parliament amended its by-laws to prohibit the use of the word “Kurdistan” or other sensitive terms by members of parliament on the floor of parliament, providing for the possible issuance of fines to violators. On December 13, parliament suspended HDP spokesperson and Sanliurfa member of parliament Osman Baydemir for two General Assembly sessions after he referred to himself as a “representative of Kurdistan” during a discussion in parliament.

Human rights groups reported intensifying government pressure that, in certain cases, resulted in enhanced caution in their public reporting. On November 1, leading philanthropist and widely respected civil society figure leader Osman Kavala was arrested and subsequently charged with terrorism-related crimes. Observers widely viewed his detention as politically motivated. On July 5, police detained eight leading human rights activists, including Amnesty International Turkey director Idil Eser as well as two foreign trainers, during a workshop in Buyukada, near Istanbul, on terrorism grounds. On June 6, police detained Taner Kilic, the founder and chair of Amnesty International Turkey, in Izmir along with 22 others for alleged Gulen ties and in part for allegedly using the ByLock mobile application, a claim rejected by Amnesty International (see section 5). Critics alleged Kilic’s detention stemmed from government displeasure with Amnesty reporting critical of the government. In October a court released the “Buyukada 10” pending the outcome of their trial, which continued at year’s end. Kilic and Kavala remained in pretrial detention, with judicial proceedings against them continuing at year’s end.

Press and Media Freedom: Print media were privately owned and active. Conglomerates or holding companies, many of which had interests before the government on a range of business matters, owned an increasing share of media outlets. Only a fraction of these companies’ profits came from media revenue, and their other commercial interests impeded media independence, encouraged a climate of self-censorship, and limited the scope of public debate. Private newspapers were also published in numerous languages, including Armenian, Arabic, English, and Farsi, although most had low circulations. Nearly all private Kurdish-language newspapers, television channels, and radio stations remained closed on national security grounds under government decrees.

Government prosecution of independent journalists limited media freedom throughout the year. The pretrial detention since October 2016 of 20 prominent journalists, editors, and staffers of the country’s leading independent newspaper Cumhuriyet continued. Prosecutors alleged that material in the newspaper dating to 2014 aided a variety of terrorist organizations, including the PKK, the Gulen movement, and the leftist Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party or Front, and sought prison sentences ranging from seven and a one-half to 43 years. As of December 14, four employees remained in pretrial detention, some for more than 400 days.

As of December 14, a total of 18 journalists and editors who had worked for the now-closed, Gulen-linked Zaman newspaper and who were arrested in 2016, remained in detention on terrorism and coup-related charges. On December 8, an Istanbul court ruled for the continued imprisonment of 19 journalists and the release of three advertising and sales department staff members of the Zaman media group. Travel bans remained in place for those released. The journalists’ trial was in progress at year’s end.

On May 19, government authorities raided the offices of the left-leaning daily newspaper SozcuSozcu’s owner and three of its employees were detained, arrested, and charged with aiding the Gulen movement. Two were later released, while the other two remained jailed with judicial proceedings against all four continued at year’s end.

Other journalists said they were fired from their jobs or asked to censor their reporting if it appeared critical of the government. Some journalists working with foreign correspondents reported being pressured by their organization’s editors to avoid or stop working with those foreign journalists. These pressures contributed to an atmosphere of self-censorship in which media reporting became increasingly standardized along progovernment lines.

The government restricted access to the internet and regularly blocked selected online content, including online newspapers and journals (see Internet Freedom).

In several cases the government barred journalists from travelling outside the country. In August police confiscated the passport of Asli Erdogan, former board member and columnist for the closed pro-Kurdish daily Ozgur Gundem, as she was on her way to Germany to accept an award for her work. In September, after public pressure, authorities returned her passport. Some dual-national journalists entering the country were detained and many later deported. On February 14, German-Turkish national Deniz Yucel, a reporter for the German daily Die Welt, was detained; he remained in prison on terrorism-related charges as of year’s end.

On October 10, Wall Street Journal correspondent Ayla Albayrak was convicted of terrorist propaganda based on a story she wrote on government-PKK clashes, and was sentenced in absentia to two years and one month in prison. Her case remained under appeal at year’s end.

Violence and Harassment: Government and political leaders and their supporters used a variety of means to intimidate and pressure journalists, including lawsuits, threats, and, in some cases, physical attack. President Erdogan and AKP members sometimes verbally attacked journalists by name in response to critical reporting.

Human rights groups noted that filing terrorism-related charges was a common tool the government used to target journalists reporting on sensitive issues, particularly PKK terrorism and the Gulen movement (also see National Security). According to center-left online news portal Bianet, between July 2016 and July, courts heard 301 cases against journalists. In these cases prosecutors requested aggravated life sentences 142 times and life sentences five times.

Journalists reported that media outlets fired some individuals for being too controversial or adversarial with the government due to fear of jeopardizing other business interests. For example, journalist and television presenter Irfan Degirmenci was allegedly dismissed from his job at Kanal D, owned by the Dogan Publishing Group, after he announced on social media that he would vote “no” in the April constitutional referendum on constitutional changes proposed by the ruling AKP.

Journalists affiliated or formerly with pro-Kurdish outlets faced significant government pressure. Thirty-eight of the 56 individuals who worked as “solidarity” or “duty” editors of the Ozgur Gundem in 2016 faced prosecution for alleged “terror propaganda” at year’s end. On March 6, the acting editor of Ozgur Gundem, Nadire Mater, was sentenced to 15 months’ imprisonment and fined 15,000 lira ($3,900). Her sentence was suspended. The trials of other high-profile duty editors, including the president of the HRFT, Sebnem Korur Fincanci, and Reporters without Borders Turkey representative Erol Onderoglu, continued at year’s end.

Government officials withheld press accreditation and denied entry to the country of several journalists from France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Syria, the United Kingdom, and the United States. International journalists reported government interference in their ability to report within the country. On May 8, French photographer Mathias Depardon, while on assignment for National Geographic magazine, was arrested while working in Hasankeyf District in southeastern Batman Province on terrorism-related charges. On June 9, he was released following engagement by French authorities.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government and political leaders occasionally resorted to direct censorship of news media. On January 6, a state of emergency decree authorized the government to interfere with or stop broadcasts in the event of a terror incident. Lack of compliance could result in the media outlet being closed. The government declared media blackouts on terror attacks or other sensitive issues, although many media outlets disregarded these blackouts, which were not always enforced.

While the law does not prohibit particular books or publications, publishing houses were required to submit books and periodicals to prosecutors for screening at the time of publication.

The Turkish Publishers Association (TPA) reported that publishers often exercised self-censorship, avoiding works with controversial content (including government criticism, erotic content, or pro-Kurdish content) that might draw legal action. The TPA reported that publishers faced publication bans and heavy fines if they failed to comply in cases in which a court ordered the correction of offensive content. Publishers were also subject to book promotion restrictions. According to TPA’s Freedom to Publish Report for 2016-2017, the government closed 30 publishing houses. In some cases prosecutors considered the possession of some Kurdish-language, pro-Kurdish, or Gulenist books to be credible evidence of membership in a banned organization.

Some writers and publishers were subject to prosecution on grounds of defamation, denigration, obscenity, separatism, terrorism, subversion, fundamentalism, and insulting religious values. Authorities investigated or continued court cases against a myriad of publications and publishers on these grounds during the year. In January a court sentenced journalist Arzu Demir to six years in prison for spreading “terrorist organization propaganda” and “praising crime and criminality” for her two books, Women on the Mountains and Revolution in Rojava. Similarly, TPA reported that the government banned and confiscated Rojava: The Time for Kurds by Fehim Tastekin and History of Kurds by Aytekin Gezici.

On February 9, the government issued an emergency decree removing the Supreme Board of Election’s authority to fine or halt private radio and television broadcast outlets that violated the principle of equality, which required that broadcasters give equal access to the country’s major political parties. Critics charged that the move benefited the ruling AKP political party.

The Radio and Television Supreme Council continued the practice of fining broadcasters whose content it considered “contrary to the national and moral values of society.”

Libel/Slander Laws: Observers reported that government officials used defamation laws to stop political opponents, journalists, and ordinary citizens from voicing criticism. The law provides that persons who insult the president of the republic may face a prison term of up to four years. The sentence may be increased by one-sixth if committed publicly and by one-third if committed by media.

Authorities charged citizens, including children, with insulting Turkish leaders and denigrating “Turkishness.” In January authorities forcibly returned from northern Cyprus to Turkey prominent fashion designer Barbaros Sansal following a controversial social media post he made that criticized Turkish society. As he left his plane in Istanbul, a mob, some of whom appeared to be airport staff, beat him. He was arrested the next day, charged with insulting the Turkish nation, and sentenced to six-plus months in prison. As of December 31, his appeal continued. In May historian Suleyman Yesilyurt was indicted for “insulting” Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, while appearing on a television program. On June 1, after expressing remorse and apologizing in court, he was released.

Lawmakers, mostly from the pro-Kurdish HDP, were also targeted in a significant number of insult-related cases. At year’s end nine HDP lawmakers were in prison for a variety of charges related to terrorism and political speech.

While leaders and deputies from opposition political parties regularly faced multiple insult charges, free speech advocates pointed out that the law was not applied equally and that AKP members and government officials were rarely prosecuted under it.

National Security: Authorities regularly used the counterterrorism law and the penal code to limit free expression on grounds of national security. Organizations, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and Freedom House, reported that authorities used the counterterrorism law and criminal code to prosecute journalists, writers, editors, publishers, translators, rights activists, lawyers, elected officials, and students accused of supporting a terrorist organization–generally either the PKK or the Gulen movement. In December the HRA’s Adana branch reported that in 2016 and 2017, authorities opened approximately 100 criminal cases against 92 members of their association. The charges included violating meeting and demonstration laws, resisting government officers, spreading terrorist propaganda, insulting the state and praising crime and criminals. The HRA asserted the cases stemmed from an attempt to intimidate lawyers and undermine the organization’s operations.

In April a court in Sirnak Province banned the HDP’s constitutional referendum campaign song, resulting in a nationwide prohibition on the use of “Bejin ‘Na’” (“Say ‘No’”). A judge found the anthem’s lyrics to be a challenge to the indivisibility of the Turkish state. Prominent columnist Ahmet Altan and his brother, economist Mehmet Altan, both in prison on terror-related charges since September 2016 for allegedly sending coded messages to the 2016 coup plotters during a panel discussion on a television program, remained in detention at year’s end. Many observers viewed their prosecution as an effort to intimidate or silence prominent opposition voices.

Nongovernmental Impact: The PKK used a variety of pressure tactics that limited freedom of speech and other constitutional rights in the southeast. In the aftermath of curfews enacted in 2016 in response to PKK violence, some journalists, political party representatives, and residents of the southeast reported pressure, intimidation, and threats if they spoke out against the PKK or praised government security forces. In April PKK executive Cemil Bayik told media that if voters approved of AKP-proposed constitutional changes in the referendum that month, the PKK would attack Turkish security forces. PKK terrorists conducted or attempted targeted assassinations of a number of AKP and government officials in the southeast (see section 1.g.). In Van, an AKP provincial executive reported that her parents were threatened by the PKK because she worked for the AKP.

INTERNET FREEDOM

During the year internet freedom continued to worsen. The government restricted access to the internet and regularly blocked selected online content. The government at times blocked access to cloud-based services and permanently blocked access to many virtual private networks. There was evidence that the government monitored private online communications using nontransparent legal authority.

The Freedom House report Freedom on the Net 2017: Manipulating Social Media to Undermine Democracy highlighted increasing efforts by authorities to control use of virtual private networks and the use of government-employed “armies of ‘opinion shapers’” to spread progovernment views online.

The law allows the government to block a website or remove content if there is sufficient suspicion that the site is committing any number of crimes, including: insulting the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk; encouraging suicide, the sexual abuse of children, or the use of drugs and stimulants; providing substances dangerous to health; engaging in obscenity or prostitution; providing means for gambling; and threatening life or property. Sites may also be blocked to protect national security and public order.

The government-operated Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) is empowered to demand that internet service providers (ISPs) remove content or block websites with four hours’ notice. The regulatory body must refer the matter to a judge within 24 hours, who must rule on the matter within 48 hours. If it is not technically possible to remove individual content within the specified time, the entire website may be blocked. ISP administrators may face a penalty of six months to two years in prison or fines ranging from 50,000 to 500,000 lira ($13,500 to $135,000) for conviction of failing to comply with a judicial order.

The law also allows persons who believe a website has violated their personal rights to ask the regulatory body to order the ISP to remove the offensive content. Government ministers may also order websites blocked, and the regulatory authority is legally compelled to comply within four hours, followed by a court order within 24 hours.

The state of emergency allowed the government expanded powers to restrict internet freedom with reduced parliamentary and judicial oversight. The law provides that government authorities may access internet user records to “protect national security, public order, health, and decency” or to prevent a crime. The law also establishes an ISP union of all internet providers that are responsible for implementing website takedown orders. The BTK is not obligated to inform content providers of ordered blocks or to explain why a block was imposed. Content providers, including Twitter and Facebook, were required to obtain an operating certificate for the country.

Government leaders, including the president, employed staff to monitor the internet and initiate charges against individuals accused of insulting them. According to the internet freedom NGO Engelliweb, as of October 1, the government blocked 16,089 websites during the year. Of those, 15,035 were blocked through a BTK decision and 722 by court order.

Internet access providers, including internet cafes, are required to use BTK-approved filtering tools. Additional internet restrictions operated in government and university buildings.

On April 29, the BTK banned Wikipedia from operating in the country due to two terrorism-related articles, pursuant to a law that allows filtering on national security grounds. The BTK also demanded the removal of “offensive content” and that Wikipedia open an office in the country. The organization appealed the decision, which the Supreme Court upheld on May 5. As of December, Wikipedia remained inaccessible in the country without the use of virtual private networks.

According to Twitter’s internal transparency report, the company received 2,710 court orders and other legal requests from authorities to remove content in the first half of the year. According to digital news source The Daily Dot, on July 23 and again on July 25, Twitter blocked at least 12 journalists’ and three media outlets’ accounts. As of the end of September, Twitter had blocked 26 media-related accounts in the country at the government’s request.

In July authorities detained leading human rights activists and two foreign trainers during a digital security workshop for local human rights defenders. President Erdogan subsequently claimed the workshop was a “continuation” of the 2016 failed coup attempt.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

During the year the government continued to limit academic freedom, restrict freedom of speech in academic institutions, and censor cultural events.

Hundreds of additional professors lost their jobs or faced charges due to political speech during the year. The Human Rights Joint Platform (HRJP) reported that, as of August 31, a total of 5,717 academics from 117 universities had been dismissed since the 2016 attempted coup under state of emergency decrees; 140 were reinstated. Those dismissed were prohibited from travelling abroad, as were spouses and children. As part of an emergency decree issued on April 29, rectors continued to require the permission of the chairman of the Higher Education Board to travel abroad. Other administrators and some professors were also required to seek permission from supervisors for foreign travel.

Some academics and event organizers stated their employers monitored their work and that they faced censure from their employers if they spoke or wrote on topics not acceptable to academic management or the government. Many reported practicing self-censorship. Human rights organizations and student groups criticized legal and Higher Education Board-imposed constraints that limited university autonomy in staffing, teaching, and research policies.

The state of emergency also affected arts and culture. On December 15, the Diyarbakir Governorate banned the ninth “Which Human Rights?” film festival in Diyarbakir, organized by the HRA and documentary filmmakers, without providing an explanation. On July 27, the Tunceli Governorate refused to allow the Munzur Culture and Nature Festival to take place, citing the state of emergency. In May the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality closed its arts and culture magazine, 1453 Istanbul Kultur ve Sanat, after printing a cover photo that read, “Erdo-GONE,” an apparent reference to President Erdogan. The municipality filed a criminal complaint for “disrespectful and provocative content” and canceled the contracts of editors, the editorial coordinator in charge of content, and the editor in chief. On May 16, authorities blocked the magazine’s website.

Turkmenistan

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 did not respect these rights.

Freedom of Expression: The law requires political parties to allow representatives of the Central Election Committee and Ministry of Justice to monitor their meetings. The government also warned critics against speaking with visiting journalists or other foreigners about human rights problems.

During the year the government publicized new laws that stipulate civil servants must refrain from public statements on the activities of the government and its leaders if such statements are not part of their official duties. The laws also state that civil servants must refrain from making public statements regarding the value of goods, works, and services, including the government’s budget, borrowing, or debt.

In October 2016 state police services threatened to harm animal rights activist Galina Kucherenko for her online postings protesting a government campaign to destroy stray dogs and cats found on the city streets. Authorities continued their threats during the year, as Kucherenko continued to be harassed by state police services and was threatened with a 25-year prison sentence once the September 17-27 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games (AIMAG) concluded. Unidentified men visited Kucherenko November 15, and demanded she sign a police summons allegedly related to a complaint filed against her by a fellow activist. On December 7, unidentified men and police broke Kucherenko’s door, entered her apartment, and detained her and her daughter, Valeria. Valeria was fined and released on the same day; Galina was released after 15 days of arbitrary detention. Kucherenko’s home internet and mobile phone were blocked by authorities.

Press and Media Freedom: The government financed and controlled the publication of books and almost all other print media and online newspapers/journals. Quasi-independent weekly newspaper Rysgal continued to operate, although its stories were largely reprints from state media outlets or reflected the views of the state news agency. The government maintained restrictions on the importation of foreign newspapers except for the private, but government-sanctioned, Turkish newspaper Zaman Turkmenistan, which reflected the views of the official state newspapers, and Atavatan-Turkmenistan, a Turkish journal.

The government controlled radio and domestic television, but satellite dishes providing access to foreign television programming were widespread throughout the country. International organizations and news outlets highlighted the forced removal of some satellite dishes by the government and replacement with telecommunications packages, such as cable, that limited access to certain channels and kinds of information. Citizens also received international radio programs through satellite access.

The government continued its ban on subscriptions to foreign periodicals by nongovernmental entities, although copies of nonpolitical periodicals appeared occasionally in the bazaars. The government maintained a subscription service to Russian-language outlets for government workers, although these publications were not available for public use.

There was no independent oversight of media accreditation, no defined criteria for allocating press cards, no assured provision for receiving accreditation when space was available, and no protection against the withdrawal of accreditation for political reasons. The government required all foreign correspondents to apply for accreditation. It granted visas to journalists from outside the country only to cover specific events, such as international conferences and summit meetings, where it could monitor their activities. The government limited the issuance of visas to journalists covering the AIMAG. Journalists from the BBC and The Guardian scheduled to cover the AIMAG reported that their accreditations were issued and then revoked.

In August the government stated that 22 foreign journalists were accredited in the country. Six of them conducted reporting from foreign countries.

Violence and Harassment: The government subjected journalists critical of its official policy to surveillance and harassment. There were reports law enforcement officials harassed and monitored citizen journalists who worked for foreign media outlets, including by monitoring their telephone conversations and restricting their travel abroad. RFE/RL stringer Saparmamed Nepeskuliyev was arrested, charged, and convicted for possession of narcotics and sentenced to three years’ incarceration in August 2015. He remained imprisoned at year’s end. Human Rights Watch disputed the legal basis of the charge, stating it was politically motivated. Visiting foreign journalists reported harassment and denial of freedom of movement when they attempted to report from the country.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits censorship and provides for freedom to gather and disseminate information, but authorities did not implement the law. The government continued to censor newspapers and prohibit reporting of opposition political views or any criticism of the president. Domestic journalists and foreign news correspondents often engaged in self-censorship due to fear of government reprisal.

To regulate domestic printing and copying activities, the government required all publishing houses, printing, and photocopying establishments to register their equipment. The government did not allow the publication of works on topics that were out of favor with the government, including some works of fiction. The government must approve the importation, publishing, and dissemination of religious literature.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government continued to monitor citizens’ email and internet activity. Reports indicated the Ministry of National Security controlled the main internet access gateway and that several servers belonging to internet protocol addresses registered to the Ministry of Communications operated software that allowed the government to record Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) conversations, turn on computer cameras and microphones, and log keystrokes. The authorities blocked access to websites they considered sensitive, including YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as virtual private network connections, including those of diplomatic missions and international businesses, and severely restricted internet access to other websites. Skype, an encrypted VOIP service, was blocked throughout the year.

In 2016 the government reported that 12 percent of the population used the internet. The percentage of the population that accessed the internet via cell phones reportedly was much higher, although official estimates were not available. Much of the population received its news from Russian- and Turkish-language cable and satellite television feeds.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government did not tolerate criticism of government policy or the president in academic circles, and curtailed research in areas it considered politically sensitive, such as comparative law, history, ethnic relations, and theology. In 2015 a presidential decree established procedures for the government to certify foreign diplomas. To have foreign diplomas formally recognized, graduates must complete an application, submit information on their family history for three generations, and pass regular Turkmen university graduation exams related to their majors. Due to this extensive process, many graduates of foreign universities reported they were unable to certify their diplomas with authorities at the Ministry of Education, making them ineligible for employment at state agencies. Some graduates reported ministry officials demanded bribes to allow certification of their diplomas. The government strictly controlled the production of plays and performances in state theaters, and these were severely limited. Authorities also strictly controlled film screenings and limited viewings to approved films dubbed or subtitled in Turkmen and Russian, unless sponsored by a foreign embassy.

The Ministry of Culture censored and monitored all public exhibitions, including music, art, and cultural events.

Tuvalu

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Uganda

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Ukraine

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press. Authorities did not always respect these rights, however. The government introduced measures that banned or blocked information, media outlets, or individual journalists deemed a threat to national security or who expressed positions that authorities believed undermined the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Other problematic practices continued to affect media freedom, including self-censorship, so-called jeansa payments (publishing unsubstantiated news articles for a fee), and slanted news coverage by media whose owners had close ties to the government or opposition political parties.

In the Donbas region, Russia-led forces suppressed freedom of speech and the press through harassment, intimidation, abductions, and assaults on journalists and media outlets. They also prevented the transmission of Ukrainian and independent television and radio programming in areas under their control.

Freedom of Expression: With some exceptions, individuals in areas under government control could generally criticize the government publicly and privately and discuss matters of public interest without fear of official reprisal. The law criminalizes the display of communist and Nazi symbols. According to Amnesty International, during a public demonstration on May 9 in Dnipro, several marchers were arrested for carrying Soviet symbols. On May 16, the legislature passed a law banning the manufacture or promotion of the “St. George’s ribbon,” a symbol associated with Russian-led forces in the Donbas region. Several media reports indicated authorities subsequently fined individuals carrying these symbols.

The law prohibits statements that threaten the country’s territorial integrity, promote war, instigate racial or religious conflict, or support Russian aggression against the country, and the government prosecuted individuals under these laws.

Press and Media Freedom: The NGO Freedom House rated the country’s press as “partly free.”

Independent media and internet news sites were active and expressed a wide range of views. Privately owned media, the most successful of which were generally owned by wealthy and influential “oligarchs,” often presented readers and viewers a “biased pluralism,” representing the views of their owners, favorable coverage of their allies, and criticism of political and business rivals. The 10 most popular television stations were owned by businessmen whose primary business was not in media. Independent media had difficulty competing with major outlets that operated with oligarchic subsidies. According to a September 28 report by the Institute for Mass Information (IMI) and Reporters without Borders, the influence of political actors on the country’s media increased during the year, with media holdings remaining nontransparent and used to support political allies of their owners.

As of December 1, IMI recorded 183 cases of alleged violations of freedom of press compared with 133 cases for the same period of 2016.

The practice of jeansa continued to be widespread. IMI’s monitoring of national print and online media for jeansa indicated that a wide range of actors ordered political jeansa, including political parties, politicians, oblast governments, and oligarchs. According to IMI press monitoring, as of September, the highest proportion of jeansa in regional media occurred in print outlets in Zaporizhzhia and Mykolaiv Oblasts, where 16 percent and 15 percent of articles, respectively, were political or commercial jeansa.

Violence and Harassment: Violence against journalists remained a problem. Human rights groups and journalists criticized government inaction in solving these crimes, giving rise to a culture of impunity.

According to IMI, as of December 1, there were 27 reports of attacks on journalists, compared with 29 cases during the same period in 2016. As in 2016, private, rather than state, actors perpetrated the majority of the attacks. As of November 1, there were 37 incidents involving threats against journalists, down from 38 during the same period in 2016. IMI and editors of major independent news outlets also noted online harassment of journalists by societal actors, reflecting a growing societal intolerance of reporting deemed insufficiently patriotic, a development they asserted had the tacit support of the government.

On July 14, law enforcement officials searched the Kyiv office of Vesti media, which observers alleged to have a pro-Russian bias and beneficial owners. According to the company, the search lasted 16 hours, during which time operations of its website and radio station were blocked. According to the chief military prosecutor, the search related to an embezzlement case involving former revenues and taxes minister Oleksandr Klymenko. Authorities asserted that money Klymenko allegedly stole under tax-evasion schemes was used to finance the Vesti media holding company. Journalists wrote an open letter to the president, the prime minister, and other government authorities, stating they considered the search a violation of civil liberties and press freedom, and an attempt to harass and intimidate journalists.

On June 22, Ihor Huzhva, the editor in chief of the media outlet strana.ua, widely considered to have a pro-Russian editorial slant, was arrested in Kyiv on suspicion of large-scale extortion of 270,000 hryvnia ($10,000) in exchange for refraining from publishing compromising material on a politician. A member of the parliament, Dmytro Linko, alleged that Huzhva had demanded money from him. On June 27, Huzhva was released on bail. Huzhva’s lawyers claimed the journalist was arrested because of his professional activities, because his media outlet systematically criticized high-profile state officials. An investigation continued at year’s end.

There were no developments during the year in the July 2016 killing of well-known journalist Pavel Sheremet, who hosted a morning show on Vesti radio and worked for the Ukrainska Pravda online news outlet (see section 1.a.).

On June 27, the investigation of the killing of Oles Busyna, who was killed in 2015 allegedly by members of a right-wing political group, was completed and referred to a court for trial. Court hearings against two suspects were underway as of September.

There were multiple reports of attacks on journalists investigating government corruption. For example, on February 12, a car belonging to Serhiy Guz, editor in chief of the news website 5692.com and the newspaper Gorod 5692, was set on fire in Kamyanske, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. The journalist linked the attack to his professional activity and critical reporting on local authorities. Police opened an investigation.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: IMI recorded six incidents of censorship of individual publications. The government at times banned or restricted media content on vague grounds. For example, on April 28, the National State Films Agency prohibited showings of a documentary film about killed journalist Oles Buzina on the grounds the film’s content had “violated the law.”

Both independent and state-owned media periodically engaged in self-censorship when reporting stories that might expose political allies to criticism or that might be perceived by the public as insufficiently patriotic or provide information that could be used for Russian propaganda.

A law adopted by the parliament on May 23 obligates television channels to broadcast at least 75 percent of their content in the Ukrainian language as of October 13.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a civil offense. While the law limits the monetary damages a plaintiff can claim in a lawsuit, local media observers continued to express concern over high monetary damages awarded for alleged libel. Government entities, and public figures in particular, used the threat of civil suits, sometimes based on alleged damage to a person’s “honor and integrity,” to influence or intimidate the press and investigative journalists. In early September, the head of the pro-Russian civic movement Ukrainian Choice, Viktor Medvedchuk, filed a lawsuit against member of the parliament and journalist Serhiy Leshchenko for slander over a series of articles allegedly uncovering Medvedchuk’s participation in corrupt schemes in the gas market.

National Security: Authorities took measures to prohibit, regulate, and occasionally censor information deemed a national security threat.

The government continued the practice of banning specific works by pro-Russian actors, film directors, and singers, as well as imposing sanctions on pro-Russian journalists. According to the head of the State Film Agency, Phylyp Ilienko, as of mid-September, more than 500 films and television shows had been banned on national security grounds since August 2014. In May the president signed a decree restricting operations of 468 companies and 1,228 persons that allegedly posed a “threat to information and the cyber security of the state.” Among them were the country’s two most widely used social networks, which were based in Russia, and major Russian television channels. Human rights NGOs criticized the move, and the secretary general of the Council of Europe condemned the decision, stating, “blocking social networks, search engines, postal services, and information websites is contrary to our common understanding of freedom of expression and media [freedom].”

The government continued to block Russian television channels from broadcasting in the country, based on a 2014 decision by the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council taken to counter the perceived dangerous influence of Russian propaganda. On January 12, the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council did not renew the independent Russian television channel Dozhd because it recognized Crimea as part of Russia rather than Ukraine, in violation of Ukrainian law. Dozhd remained available by satellite and internet. As of year’s end, only four Russian channels were permitted to broadcast in the country, compared with 83 Russian channels at the start of 2014. According to the head of the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council, as of November 2, the council had issued 23 warnings to Ukrainian cable providers for violating the ban on certain Russian channels.

Media professionals continued to experience pressure from the SBU and the armed forces when reporting on sensitive issues, such as military losses. For example, on September 14, an SBU agent appeared at the office of the Ukrainska Pravda website demanding that it remove an article highlighting the need for more modern armament for the Ukrainian army and the government’s failure to prioritize upgrading the country’s military capabilities. In the letter the SBU stated it had opened an investigation into the article’s publication, claiming that it referenced state secrets. The editorial staff then presented SBU with an official letter of complaint. The SBU thereafter called the media outlet to apologize and, on September 20, initiated an internal probe into alleged pressure on journalists.

Authorities continued to deport and bar entry to foreign journalists in retaliation for their coverage of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. On August 25, the SBU barred two Spanish journalists from entering the country over their coverage of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Media groups called the move “an attack on free speech.” Human Rights Watch stated, “the Ukrainian government’s practice of accusing journalists of anti-Ukraine bias, then expelling them or denying them entry, is a serious violation of its international human rights commitments.”

On August 30, the SBU in Kyiv detained Anna Kurbatova, a journalist with Russian television Channel One. Kurbatova was expelled and banned from the country for three years for allegedly engaging in anti-Ukrainian propaganda. The expulsion occurred after Kurbatova described events marking the country’s independence day as a “sad celebration” because of the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine and economic hardship in the country.

Nongovernmental Impact: Russia-led forces in eastern areas of the country harassed, arbitrarily detained, and mistreated journalists (see section 1.g.). According to the HRMMU, “persons living in the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ and ‘Luhansk People’s Republic’ know that expressing their opinion freely and publicly was not acceptable in armed group-controlled territory.” The HRMMU also noted, “armed groups are directly influencing and shaping the content in local media” and that they require favorable coverage as the cost of retaining registration to operate.

The HRMMU reported that journalists entering territory controlled by armed groups of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” had to inform the “press center” of the “ministry of defense” about their activities on a daily basis, were arbitrarily required to show video footage at checkpoints, and were accompanied by members of armed groups when travelling close to the contact line.

On June 3, Ukrainian journalist Stanislav Aseyev (pen name Vasin) went missing in Donetsk. Unofficial sources reported the “ministry of state security” had arrested him. Aseyev had written about life in the “people’s republic” for popular Ukrainian media outlets. On July 17, civil society groups announced that local “authorities” confirmed they had arrested Aseyev and charged him with espionage.

On July 28, a court in the “Luhansk People’s Republic” sentenced blogger Eduard Nedelyaev to 14 years in prison on treason and espionage charges. Nedelyaev was known for his critical reports about life in the territory controlled by Russian-led forces; when he was arrested in November 2016, authorities cited his “extremist” views.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Law enforcement bodies monitored the internet, at times without appropriate legal authority, and took significant steps during the year to ban major Russian-sourced news and social media sites.

On May 17, the president signed Decree 133, requiring internet providers to block access for three years to the Russian social networks VKontakte and Odnoklassniki, the email service Mail.ru, the search engine company Yandex, and several major Russian television channels. Some observers questioned the legality of the measure, noting that the law does not allow blocking access to sites without a court decision.

Human rights groups and journalists who were critical of Russian involvement in the Donbas region and the occupation of Crimea reported their websites were subjected to cyberattacks, such as coordinated denial of service incidents and unauthorized attempts to obtain information from computers, as well as coordinated campaigns of “trolling” and harassment on social media.

In its annual Freedom on the Net report published in November, Freedom House concluded that internet freedom had deteriorated for the second year in a row. It noted in particular that “authorities have become less tolerant of online expression perceived as critical of Ukraine’s position in the conflict, and the government has been especially active this year in sanctioning social media users for ‘separatist’ and ‘extremist’ activities, with many users detained, fined and even imprisoned for such activities. Meanwhile, separatist forces in the east have stepped up efforts to block content online perceived to be in support of Ukrainian government or cultural identity.”

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were several reports of government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. On April 13, representatives of the Prosecutor’s Office of Crimea, now displaced to Kyiv, searched the premises of the International Center for Policy Studies (ICPS), a research and scientific institution in Kyiv. The search was allegedly to investigate the so-called Artemenko peace plan, which lawyer Andriy Artemenko had presented publicly. The plan suggested formally surrendering Crimea to the Russian Federation for a long-term lease. According to the search warrant, Ideas for Resolving the Conflict in Donbas, authored by ICPS Chairman Vasyl Filipchuk, served as the basis for the “peace plan” and search. The Coalition of Human Rights issued a public statement calling the search “a disproportionate interference of the state in the activities of the think tank and an attempt to monopolize the field of ideas and to impose state doctrine as the only one possible under the threat of prosecution of those offering other approaches.”

United Arab Emirates

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press; however, the law prohibits criticism of national rulers and speech that may create or encourage social unrest; the government restricted freedom of speech and press.

Freedom of Expression: After the onset of widespread regional turmoil in 2011, authorities severely restricted public criticism of the government and individual ministers. The government continued to make arrests or impose other restrictions for speech related to and in support of Islamist political activities, calls for democratic reforms, criticism of or perceived insults against the government and government institutions, and in rarer cases, criticism of individuals. In February a court sentenced poet Saqr al-Shehhi to three months in jail and a 250,000 AED ($68,000) fine for violating the cybercrime law, public order, and morality by posting a socially controversial poem on social media. An appeals court additionally banned him from social media for two years.

In other cases, authorities brought individuals to trial for posting material on social media platforms that was considered personally insulting to acquaintances, colleagues, employers, or religions.

On June 7, after the government severed diplomatic ties with Qatar, the General Prosecutor declared that showing any sympathy with Qatar or objecting to the government’s position against Qatar in written, visual, or verbal form, was punishable by three to 15 years in prison or a minimum fine of 500,000 AED ($136,000). Activists alleged authorities detained citizen Ghanem Abdullah Matar after he posted a series of videos on social media in June that expressed sympathy with Qatar.

Press and Media Freedom: International NGOs categorized the press, both in print and online, as not free. Except for media outlets located in Dubai and Abu Dhabi’s free trade zones, the government owned most newspapers, television stations, and radio stations. All media conformed to unpublished government reporting guidelines. The government also influenced privately owned media, through the National Media Council (NMC), which directly oversaw all media content. Satellite-receiving dishes were widespread and provided access to uncensored international broadcasts.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: By law the NMC, whose members the president appoints, licenses and censors all publications, including private association publications. The law authorizes censorship of domestic and foreign publications to remove criticism of the government, ruling families, or friendly governments. Statements that “threaten social stability;” and materials considered pornographic, excessively violent, derogatory to Islam, or supportive of certain Israeli government positions were criminalized. The law also criminalizes as blasphemy acts that provoke religious hatred or insult religious convictions through any form of expression, including broadcasting, printed media, or the internet. In August the government issued new regulations that require government and private institutions to obtain a license before publishing or broadcasting media or advertising content or face penalties. The order applied to any media or advertising activity and to any person or entity, including clubs, associations, diplomatic missions, foreign centers, and movie theaters, that issues any type of publication.

After severing diplomatic ties with Qatar, the government blocked Qatari-funded al-Jazeera’s website and broadcasting channels. Authorities also blocked Qatari-financed broadcaster beIN Sports for six weeks. Media sources reported authorities harassed beIN production crews in and around stadiums, including forcing them to remove company logos from microphones and subjecting them to police questioning.

Government officials reportedly warned journalists when they published or broadcast material deemed politically or culturally sensitive. Journalists commonly practiced self-censorship due to fear of government retribution, particularly as most journalists were foreign nationals and could be deported. Authorities did not allow some books they viewed as critical of the government, Islam, and local culture, as well as books that supported the Muslim Brotherhood or its ideology.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used libel and slander laws to suppress criticism of its leaders and institutions. The law criminalizes acts that defame others online or through information technology. In March an Indian national was convicted for defaming a prominent jewelry company on social media. He was fined 250,000 AED ($68,000), deported, and ordered to delete the related photos and close his Facebook profile for a year.

Those who commit libel face up to two years in prison. The maximum penalty for libel against the family of a public official is three years in prison.

National Security: Authorities often cited the need to protect national security as the basis for laws that curb criticism of the government or expression of dissenting political views. For example, the country’s cybercrimes laws include broad limitations on using electronic means to promote disorder or “damage national unity.” Human rights groups criticized these laws for excessively restricting freedom of speech. In February, Abu Dhabi police arrested 25 social media users under the cybercrime law for circulating misleading and fabricated information on crimes and alleged perpetrators before police investigations had been completed.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted access to some websites and monitored social media, instant messaging services, and blogs. Authorities stated they could imprison individuals for misusing the internet. Self-censorship was apparent on social media, and there were reports the Ministry of Interior monitored internet use. The International Telecommunication Union estimated more than 90 percent of the population had access to the internet.

The country’s two internet service providers, both linked to the government, used a proxy server to block materials deemed inconsistent with the country’s values, as defined by the Ministry of Interior. Blocked material included pornographic websites and a wide variety of other sites deemed indecent, such as those dealing with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) issues; Judaism and atheism; negative critiques of Islam; testimonies of former Muslims who converted to Christianity; gambling; promotion of illegal drug use; and postings that explained how to circumvent the proxy servers. International media sites, accessed using the country’s internet providers, contained filtered content. The government also blocked some sites containing content critical of ruling families in the UAE and other states in the region. The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority was responsible for creating lists of blocked sites. Service providers did not have the authority to remove sites from blocked lists without government approval. The government also blocked most voice-over-internet-protocol applications.

In March the government established the Federal Public Prosecution for Information Technology Crimes in Abu Dhabi to investigate criminal cases involving use of information technology, including the use of the internet with the intent to damage public morals, the promotion of sinful behavior, insults to Islam and God, illegal collections of donations, trafficking in persons, calling for or abetting the breach of laws, and the organization of demonstrations.

The law explicitly criminalizes use of the internet to commit a wide variety of offenses and provides fines and prison terms for internet users who violate political, social, and religious norms. The law provides penalties for using the internet to oppose Islam; to proselytize Muslims; to abuse a holy shrine or ritual of any religion; to insult any religion, belief, sect, race, color, or ethnic group; to incite someone to commit sin; or to contravene family values by publishing news or photographs pertaining to a person’s private life or family. In July an Arab man was prosecuted under the cybercrime law after his wife reported him for insulting her on WhatsApp. He was fined 5,000 AED ($1,360) and deported.

The 2012 cybercrimes decree and the 2015 Antidiscrimination Law provide for more severe penalties for violations and include jail terms that reach life sentences and fines between 50,000 AED ($13,600) and three million AED ($81,600) depending on severity and seriousness of the crime. These laws added to existing online communication limitations on freedom of speech to include prohibitions on criticism or defamation of the government or its officials; insults based on religion, belief, sect, race, color, or ethnic origin; insults directed at neighboring countries; and calls for protests and demonstrations.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom, including speech both inside and outside the classroom by educators, and censored academic materials for schools. The government required official permission for conferences and submission of detailed information on proposed speakers and topics of discussion. This was also required at private schools for events on campus. Some organizations found it difficult to secure meeting space for public events that dealt with contentious issues.

Cultural institutions avoided displaying artwork or programming that criticized the government or religion. Self-censorship among cultural and other institutions, especially for content presented to the public, was pervasive and generally directed at preventing the appearance of illegal works, including those deemed as promoting blasphemy or addressing controversial political issues.

United Kingdom

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Uruguay

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 66 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Uzbekistan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media does not operate freely because the state exercises broad control over media coverage. All media entities, foreign and domestic, must register with authorities and provide the names of their founder, chief editor, and staff members. Print media must also provide hard copies of publications to the government. The law holds all foreign and domestic media organizations accountable for the accuracy of their reporting, prohibits foreign journalists from working in the country without official accreditation, and subjects foreign media outlets to domestic mass media laws. The government used accreditation rules to deny foreign journalists and media outlets the opportunity to work in the country.

Amendments to the Law on Information Technologies hold bloggers legally accountable for the accuracy of what they post and prohibit posts potentially perceived as defaming an individual’s “honor and dignity.” Limitations also preclude perceived calls for public disorder, encroachment on constitutional order, posting pornography or state secrets, issuing “threats to the state,” and “other activities that are subject to criminal and other types of responsibilities according to legislation.”

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

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

The government used large-circulation tabloids, such as Darakchi and Bekajon, as platforms to publish articles that criticized lower-level government officials. A few purportedly independent websites consistently reported the government’s viewpoint. During the year, however, press and news organizations began broadcasting and publishing a wider variety of views and news, to include criticisms and policies enacted under former president Karimov. In July the government launched Ozbekiston, a 24-hour news channel that broadcast current affairs and news in Uzbek, Russian, and English. Most of the programming was prerecorded for later broadcast, especially programming with political content or government officials.

Violence and Harassment: Police and security services subjected print and broadcast journalists to arrest, harassment, and intimidation as well as to bureaucratic restrictions on their activity. In August police detained Samarkand-based journalist Toshpulat Rahmatullayev for taking photos at the Samarkand Extension Center of the Tashkent University for a story on university enrollment and admissions testing. Police interrogated Rahmatullayev and deleted the journalist’s photos from his camera before releasing him without charges. Uzbek Security Services arrested journalist Hayot Nasreddinov on October 20. Nasreddinov was a journalist and contributed as a blogger to RFE/RL’s Uzbek service, according to Shukhrat Babadjanov, a reporter with the broadcaster. In 2012-13, he worked as a freelancer for Moscow-based ferghana.ru, which published dozens of his articles. Nasreddinov was charged with attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists and senior editorial staff in state media organizations reported that some officials’ responsibilities included censorship. In many cases the government placed individuals as editors in chief with the expressed intent that they serve as the main censor for a particular media outlet. Continuing the past trend of moderate criticism of the government, online publications like Kommersant.uz and Nuz.uz have published critical stories on issues such as electricity outages, currency, trade, and the black market.

Government security services and other offices regularly directed publishers and broadcasters to propagate stories that discredited individuals and human rights activists. In April online news site UzMetronom, known as a placement site for deliberate government leaks, including from the security ministries, distributed reports intended to discredit human rights activist Elena Urlaeva.

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

In April a presidential decree established an “International Press Club” and directed ministers to begin engaging with the press. Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdulaziz Kamilov held a press conference July 5, during which he took questions and spoke on a range of issues for nearly two hours. Access to the press club is severely limited to predominantly state media representatives.

Libel/Slander Laws: The criminal and administrative codes impose significant fines for libel and defamation. The government used charges of libel, slander, and defamation to punish journalists, human rights activists, and others who criticized the president or the government. In February businessman Olim Sulaymanov created a Facebook video that accused a Prosecutor General’s Office official of freezing his business assets after he refused to pay what he said was a protection racket fee. Sulaymanov later appeared on a talk show to discuss the case. Following the talk show appearance, the Prosecutor’s Office filed a court motion against Sulaymanov, accusing him of libel. In April a Tashkent court sentenced Sulaymanov to three years in jail.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government generally allowed access to the internet, including social media sites. Internet service providers, allegedly at the government’s request, routinely blocked access to websites or certain pages of websites that the government considered objectionable, such as Fergananews.comOzodlik.org, and Asiaterra.info. The government blocked several domestic and international news websites and those operated by opposition political parties.

The media law defines websites as media outlets, requiring them to register with authorities and provide the names of their founder, chief editor, and staff members. Websites were not required to submit hard copies of publications to the government.

According to government statistics, approximately 39 percent of individuals in the country used the internet. Unofficial estimates, especially of internet access through mobile communications devices, were higher. Several active online forums allowed registered users to post comments and read discussions on a range of social problems. To become a registered user in these forums, individuals must provide personally identifiable information. It was not clear whether the government attempted to collect this information, although provisions of the Law on Information Technologies require internet cafe proprietors to log customers’ browser history.

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Although a decree prohibits cooperation between higher educational institutions and foreign entities without the explicit approval of the government, foreign institutions often were able to obtain such approval through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, especially for foreign-language projects. Some school and university administrations, however, continued to pressure teachers and students to refrain from participating in conferences sponsored by diplomatic missions.

Vanuatu

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Venezuela

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the combination of laws and regulations governing libel and media content as well as legal harassment, physical intimidation of individuals and the media, and executive influence on the judiciary resulted in significant repression of these freedoms. National and international groups, such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the UN Human Rights Committee, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, the Inter-American Press Association, Reporters without Borders, and the Committee to Protect Journalists, condemned government efforts throughout the year to restrict press freedom and create a climate of fear and self-censorship.

Freedom of Expression: The law makes insulting the president punishable by six to 30 months in prison without bail, with lesser penalties for insulting lower-ranking officials. Comments exposing another person to public contempt or hatred are punishable by prison sentences of one to three years and fines. PSUV officials threatened violence against opposition figures and supporters, in particular during the four months of antiregime protests that began on April 1. On October 2, SEBIN arrested Lenny Josefina Martinez Gonzalez, a worker at Pastor Oropeza hospital in the city of Barquisimeto in Lara State, who, according to the local human rights group Funpaz, photographed women giving birth while in the hospital waiting room. The photographs–indications of the medical crisis–were widely viewed on social media. As of year’s end, authorities had not charged her with crimes.

Press and Media Freedom: The law provides that inaccurate reporting that disturbs the public peace is punishable by prison terms of two to five years. The requirement that the media disseminate only “true” information was undefined and open to politically motivated interpretation. An August report issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) highlighted that the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) shut down 24 radio stations and ordered internet service providers to block certain digital outlets during the April-July protests.

The law prohibits all media from disseminating messages that incite or promote hate or intolerance for religious, political, gender-related, racial, or xenophobic reasons; incite, promote, or condone criminal acts; constitute war propaganda; foment anxiety in the population or affect public order; do not recognize legitimate government authorities; incite homicide; or incite or promote disobedience to the established legal order. Penalties range from fines to the revocation of licenses. The threat of nonrenewal of operating licenses systematically led to self-censorship on the part of several media outlets.

Despite such laws, President Maduro and the ruling PSUV used the nearly 600 government-owned or controlled media outlets to insult and intimidate the political opposition throughout the year. Maduro regularly referred to Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles as insane on live television, while PSUV first vice president and ANC member Diosdado Cabello continued to use his weekly television program to bully journalists and media outlets.

The law declares telecommunications a “public interest service,” thereby giving the government greater authority to regulate the content and structure of the radio, television, and audiovisual production sectors. The law provides that the government may suspend or revoke licenses when it judges such actions necessary in the interests of the nation, public order, or security. The law empowers the government to impose heavy fines and cancel broadcasts for violations of its norms; CONATEL oversees the law’s application. Minister of Communications and Information Ernesto Villegas highlighted this power during an August 30 interview, declaring that “operating licenses are not a right” and that the government may elect to deny them without providing justification.

The government continued legal actions against high-profile independent media outlets Tal CualEl NacionalEl Nuevo PaisLa Patilla, and Globovision. A court found the online newsource La Patilla responsible for moral damage and ordered it to pay the equivalent of $500,000 in bolivars to Diosdado Cabello. The remaining outlets were awaiting trial at the end of the year.

The government’s economic policies made it difficult for newspapers to access foreign currency, preventing many newspapers from purchasing critical supplies and equipment necessary for day-to-day business operations. Ultima Hora, a regional news outlet, and Tal Cual, a national newspaper, stopped printing in August and November, respectively, the latest nongovernment-owned media outlets to cease production due to lack of access to dollars to purchase newsprint from the government. Other sources, such as regional newspaper La Prensa, opted to print fewer pages or to print weekly rather than daily publications. The National Press Workers Union (SNTP) estimated that, of 115 print news outlets that operated in the country in 2013, 93 remained in operation.

The NGO Public Space reported 887 cases of violations of freedom of expression between January and September–a nearly three-fold increase over 2016. The most common violations were aggressions against journalists and censorship. State-owned and state-influenced media provided almost continuous progovernment programming. In addition, private and public radio and television stations were required to transmit mandatory nationwide broadcasts (“cadenas”) throughout the year, including a daily 15-minute news broadcast that provided reports and summaries of government achievements. According to the online tracking program Citizens Monitoring, run by the civil society network Legislative Monitor, between January and October the government implemented more than 160 hours of national cadenas featuring President Maduro, interrupting regular broadcasts. Both Maduro and other ruling-party officials utilized mandatory broadcast time to campaign for progovernment candidates. Opposition candidates generally did not have access to media broadcast time.

The law requires practicing journalists to have journalism degrees and be members of the National College of Journalists, and it prescribes jail terms of three to six months for those practicing the profession illegally. These requirements are waived for foreigners and opinion columnists.

Violence and Harassment: Senior national and state government leaders continued to harass and intimidate privately owned and opposition-oriented television stations, media outlets, and journalists by using threats, property seizures, administrative and criminal investigations, and prosecutions. Government officials, including the president, used government-controlled media outlets to accuse private media owners, directors, and reporters of fomenting antigovernment destabilization campaigns and coup attempts.

The Venezuelan Institute of Press and Society (IPYS) reported 539 violations and assaults on media offices, press equipment and tools, journalists, and media employees from January to August. The report also stated that IPYS recorded at least 280 cases of journalists affected by state-sponsored violence from January to August. On February 25, the Public Ministry charged Santiago Guevara, a University of Carabobo professor, with “betrayal of the homeland” after he published a series of editorials on the nation’s economic crisis.

According to IPYS, during the four months of antiregime protests, journalists reported 108 assaults against journalists by security forces, 40 injuries due to tear gas canisters, and 11 gunshot injuries. The August OHCHR report on the protests noted that authorities arrested an estimated 60 journalists, deleting their video footage before releasing them within a few hours, and conducted a smear campaign against journalists, including death threats, that caused a number of them to leave the country.

Government officials also harassed foreign journalists working in the country. On March 31, GNB officers attacked Elyangelica Gonzalez, a reporter for Univision Noticias and the Colombian-based station Caracol Radio, while she reported outside the Supreme Court.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In its 2016 report, IPYS noted the government’s preference for using legal proceedings, financial sanctions, and administrative actions against unfavorable news outlets instead of shutting them down outright. Members of the independent media stated they regularly engaged in self-censorship due to fear of government reprisals. This resulted in many journalists posting articles to their personal blogs and websites instead of publishing them in traditional media. The NGO Public Space reported 50 cases involving censorship as of September.

The government also exercised control over content through licensing and broadcasting requirements. CONATEL acted selectively on applications from private radio and television broadcasters for renewal of their broadcast frequencies. According to Nelson Belfort, former president of the Venezuelan Radio Chamber, and NGO reports, approximately 80 percent of radio stations were in “illegal” status throughout the country due to CONATEL having not renewed licenses for most radio stations since 2007.

On February 17, CONATEL banned the international news network CNN En Espanol, labeling its coverage “war propaganda” after the station broadcast a story about Venezuelan visa fraud allegations. On August 23, CONATEL forced two Colombian television stations, Caracol TV and RCN, off the air after they reported on former attorney general Luisa Ortega Diaz’s corruption allegations against President Maduro. On August 25, CONATEL shut the nationally broadcast radio stations 92.9 Tu FM and Magica 99.1 FM, immediately replacing them with progovernment outlets. According to SNTP statistics, using this method CONATEL closed 49 radio stations and six television stations through August.

The government controlled a large portion of the country’s businesses and paid for advertising only with government-owned or government-friendly media.

Libel/Slander Laws: Government officials engaged in reprisals against individuals who publicly expressed criticism of the president or government policy. In June President Maduro announced he would use slander laws to “defend his honor” in court against opposition leaders’ allegations he was responsible for protest-related deaths. As of December Maduro had not acted on these threats.

National Security: The law allows the government to suspend or revoke licenses when it determines such actions to be necessary in the interests of public order or security. The government exercised control over the press through the public entity known as the Strategic Center for Security and Protection of the Homeland (CESPPA), established in 2013, which is similar to the government entity Center for National Situational Studies (CESNA), established in 2010. CESNA and CESPPA have similar mandates and are responsible for “compiling, processing, analyzing, and classifying” both government-released and other public information with the objective of “protecting the interests and objectives of the state.”

During the year President Maduro renewed 11 times the “state of exception” he first invoked in January 2016, citing a continuing economic emergency, and granted himself the power to restrict rights otherwise guaranteed in the constitution. The 60-day emergency decree, which by law is renewable only once and requires National Assembly endorsement to be effective, allows the president to block any action he deems could “undermine national security” or could “obstruct the continuity of the implementation of economic measures for the urgent reactivation of the national economy.” The National Assembly continued systematically to refuse to ratify each renewal, and the Supreme Court annulled each refusal, reasoning that the assembly’s “contempt” status made its failure to endorse the renewal “unconstitutional.” According to Human Rights Watch, the “state of exception” negatively affected the right to freedom of association and expression.

Nongovernmental Impact: Widespread violence in the country made it difficult to determine whether attacks on journalists resulted from common criminal activity or whether criminals or others targeted members of the media.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted or disrupted access to the internet and censored online content. The executive branch exercised broad control over the internet through the state-run CONATEL. Free Access reported that CONATEL supported monitoring of private communications and persecution of internet users who expressed dissenting opinions online. According to media reports, users of social networks accused CONATEL of monitoring their online activity and passing identifying information to intelligence agencies, such as SEBIN. According to Free Access, CONATEL provided information to SEBIN, including internet protocol addresses, which assisted authorities in locating the users. Free Access cited arrests of Twitter users during the April-July protests.

The law puts the burden of filtering prohibited electronic messages on service providers and it allows CONATEL to order service providers to block access to websites that violate these norms and sanctions them with fines for distributing prohibited messages. In 2016 IPYS reported that local internet providers following CONATEL orders blocked at least 42 internet domains.

CONATEL’s director, Andres Eloy Mendez, appointed in October 2016, repeatedly declared in press statements that the government did not block websites, although officials ordered internet service providers to block certain digital outlets. Mendez reiterated the claims of his predecessor that CONATEL’s role was to enforce the law and prevent dissemination of illegal information or material unsuitable for children and adolescents. Nevertheless, the government continued to block internet sites that posted dollar- and euro-to-bolivar currency exchange rates differing from the government’s official rate. The government-owned internet service provider CANTV facilitated blockages. The government used Twitter hashtags to attain “trending” status for official propaganda and employed hundreds of employees to manage and disseminate official government accounts. At least 65 official government accounts used Twitter to promote the ruling PSUV party.

Intelligence agencies, which lacked independent oversight, conducted surveillance for political purposes. Courts relied on evidence obtained from anonymous “patriotas cooperantes” (cooperating patriots) to harass perceived opponents of the government, and senior government officials used personal information gathered by cooperating patriots to intimidate government critics and human rights defenders.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 60 percent of the population used the internet in 2016, the latest figure available.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were some government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. University leaders and students alleged the government retaliated against opposition-oriented autonomous universities by providing government subsidies significantly below the annual inflation rate to those universities. Autonomous universities, which are partially funded by the government, received considerably less than the amounts they requested. Furthermore, budgetary allocations were based on figures not adequately adjusted for inflation and covered expenses only through March. On September 26, the National University Council, the government regulating body for university education, relinquished its functions to the ANC, disregarding the law requiring university autonomy.

On August 9, University Education Minister Hugbel Roa announced that the “carnet de la patria,” a new government-issued social benefits card provided primarily to government supporters, would be required for enrollment in public universities, affecting approximately 305,000 students.

Vietnam

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Western Sahara

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Moroccan law and practice apply. The Moroccan constitution and Moroccan law generally provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, although they criminalize and restrict some freedom of expression in the press and social media–specifically criticism of Islam, of the institution of the monarchy, and of the government’s positions regarding territorial integrity and the Western Sahara. Authorities were sensitive to any reporting not in line with the state’s official position on the territory’s status, and they continued to expel, harass, or detain persons who wrote critically on the issue.

Freedom of Expression: Moroccan law criminalizes the criticism of Islam, of the legitimacy of the monarchy, of state institutions, of officials such as those in the military, and of the Moroccan government’s position regarding territorial integrity and the Western Sahara. Sahrawi media outlets and bloggers with opposing views to the government often practiced self-censorship on these issues.

For more information, see the Department of State’s 2017 Country Reports on Human Rights for Morocco.

Press and Media Freedom: Moroccan law and practice apply. Self-censorship and government restrictions remained serious hurdles to the development of a free, independent, and investigative press. NGOs asserted that authorities harassed some journalists by filing charges against them for activities outside of their profession and delaying prosecution of these charges indefinitely. A press code passed in 2016 provides greater protection for accredited journalists but does not cover commentators or bloggers without accreditation, who continue to face charges under the criminal code. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2017 Country Reports on Human Rights for Morocco.

The government of Morocco enforced strict procedures governing journalists’ meetings with NGO representatives and political activists. Foreign journalists needed, but did not always receive, approval from the Ministry of Communication before meeting with political activists.

Domestic and international media, including satellite television and POLISARIO-controlled television and radio from the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria, were available in the territory.

Moroccan government practices were the same as those in internationally recognized Morocco concerning violence and harassment, censorship or content restrictions, libel/slander, and national security issues. For more information on these subheadings, see the Department of State’s 2017 Country Reports on Human Rights for Morocco.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Moroccan law and practice apply. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2017 Country Reports on Human Rights for Morocco

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Moroccan law and practice apply. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2017 Country Reports on Human Rights for Morocco.

Yemen

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Although the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, “within the limits of the law,” the Press and Publications Law calls for journalists to uphold national unity and prohibits criticism of the head of state. Rebel actors did not respect the rights as provided, and the government was unable to enforce them.

Freedom of Expression: There were reports Houthi-Saleh rebels suppressed speech critical of them.

On December 2, Houthi rebels detained more than 41 media personnel, including staff from Yemen Today, a television station affiliated with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. All 41 were released on December 13. In addition, the national journalists’ syndicate reported that Houthis posted names of media personnel they deemed “hostile” at area checkpoints around the capital.

In February 2016 Houthi-Saleh rebels abducted the editor of al-Sahwa News, Abdullah al-Minefi, from his home in Dhamar; according to Reporters without Borders, he has not been released.

Press and Media Freedom: Prior to the outbreak of conflict, the transitional government approved legislation to regulate broadcasting and television channels. A number of domestic private stations operated under media production company permits, and several stations broadcast from abroad for domestic audiences.

On July 19, the United Nations reported the Saudi-led coalition blocked three BBC journalists from traveling on a UN aid flight to Sana’a.

In November the Saudi-led coalition prevented a CBS 60 Minutes crew from entering the country three times, once by ship and twice by air. Although the crew reported it had obtained visas from the Hadi government and Houthi rebels, the CBS crew was removed by order of the coalition.

Violence and Harassment: Houthi militias and forces loyal to Saleh were responsible for a campaign of violence and harassment against journalists, according to the Yemen Journalists Syndicate, an affiliate of the International Federation of Journalists. The government was unable to take any substantive steps to protect journalists from violence and harassment.

In multiple instances, Houthi-Saleh rebels went to the homes of activists, journalists, and political leaders opposed to the Houthis and used the threat of arrest and other means to intimidate perceived opponents and to silence dissent. According to HRW, authorities frequently compelled detainees to sign contracts promising not to affiliate themselves with groups their captors saw as opposed to Houthi movement.

The Yemen Journalists Syndicate reported freelance journalist Abdel-Raheem Mohsin was abducted on August 22 near the city of Taiz while covering the civil war. Mohsin’s family said gunmen in civilian clothes searched the journalist at a checkpoint in the al-Rahida District before taking him to an unknown location. At year’s end his whereabouts remained unknown.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: During the year the Houthi-controlled Ministry of Telecommunications and internet service providers reportedly systematically blocked websites and domains that authorities deemed critical of the Houthi agenda.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes criticism of the “person of the head of state;” the publication of “false information” that may spread “dissent and division among the people;” materials that may lead to “the spread of ideas contrary to the principles of the Yemeni revolution;” and “false stories intended to damage Arab and friendly countries or their relations.”

In October the Yemen Journalists Syndicate reported that 10 journalists detained by Houthis for two years would be tried before the State Security Court. The syndicate opposed the decision to prosecute the journalists in the security court, claiming it denied them the right of defense and did not provide minimum conditions for a fair trial.

Nongovernmental Impact: Houthi-Saleh rebels and AQAP significantly inhibited freedom of expression and members of the press through violence and harassment. The Houthi-Saleh rebels controlled several state ministries responsible for press and communications, including the Ministry of Telecommunications. In that capacity, they selected items for formerly government-run broadcast and print media and did not allow reports critical of themselves.

Houthi-Saleh rebels, progovernment popular resistance forces, and tribal militias were responsible for a range of abuses against media outlets. According to Reporters without Borders, more than 15 journalists remained captive by Houthi rebels through year’s end, and two journalists were killed in fighting. In April the Houthis sentenced journalist Yahya Abdelraqib al-Jubaihi to death, charged with spying for an enemy country. In September, Houthi forces released al-Jubaihi due to health concerns.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not have the capacity to uphold internet freedom. Censorship affected internet freedom, and there were notable cases of Houthi-Saleh rebel intrusion into cyberspace. The Houthi-controlled Public Telecommunications Corporation systematically blocked user access to websites and internet domains it deemed dangerous to the rebel actors’ political agenda.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 24.6 percent of the population used the internet in 2016, while 5.5 percent had internet access at home.

Media outlets reported that the mobile messaging applications WhatsApp, Youtube, and Twitter appeared to be blocked in both Houthi-controlled territory and areas held by the Hadi-led government. The Houthi-controlled Ministry of Telecommunications claimed sites were not blocked but rather were offline due to local disruptions to internet service and damage to telecommunications infrastructure due to the conflict.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The NSB maintained permanent offices on campuses, reflecting continued government concern about security and, in some cases, controversial speech. Party-affiliated officials at the Ministry of Higher Education and academic institutions reviewed prospective university professors and administrators for political acceptability before hiring them and commonly showed favoritism toward supporters of specific political parties. There were no reported instances of censored curriculums or sanctioned professors or students; however, after their takeover, Houthi and other actors’ incursions onto campuses and detentions of academics appeared designed to intimidate them as perceived opponents.

Zambia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Zimbabwe

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: