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China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

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

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

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

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

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

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

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

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

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

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

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

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

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

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

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

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

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

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

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

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

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

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

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

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

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

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

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

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

Elections and Political Participation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

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

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

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

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

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

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

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

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

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

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

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

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

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

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

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

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

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

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. There were no reports that officials investigated or punished those responsible for such killings.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

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

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

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

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

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

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

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

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

TIBETAN SELF-IMMOLATIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

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

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

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

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

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

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

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

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

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

There were numerous reports that the government committed arbitrary and unlawful killings.

Defector and refugee reports noted instances in which the government executed political prisoners, opponents of the government, repatriated defectors, government officials, and others accused of crimes. The law prescribes the death penalty for the most “serious” or “grave” cases of “antistate” or “antination” crimes, which included: participation in a coup or plotting to overthrow the state; acts of terrorism for an antistate purpose; treason, which includes defection or handing over of state secrets, broadly interpreted to include providing information about economic, social, and political developments routinely published elsewhere; suppressing the people’s movement for national liberation; and “treacherous destruction.” Additionally, the law allows for capital punishment in less serious crimes such as theft, destruction of military facilities and national assets, fraud, kidnapping, distribution of pornography, and trafficking in persons.

NGOs and press reports indicated that border guards had orders to shoot to kill individuals leaving the country without permission, and prison guards were under orders to shoot to kill those attempting to escape from political prison camps.

In August, the Republic of Korea (ROK or South Korea) press announced that DPRK authorities executed Kim Yong Jin, a 63-year-old vice premier for education, in July by firing squad. South Korean media reported that government officials executed Hwang Min, former agricultural minister, and another education ministry official, Ri Yong-jin, by means of an antiaircraft gun in July, on orders by Kim Jong Un. According to press reports, the state carried out 15 executions in the first four months of 2015 as part of a continuing purge of senior government officials. In April 2015 the NGO Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) published a report supported by satellite imagery of a public execution in the country using antiaircraft machine guns.

The state also subjected private citizens to public executions. In October, Kyodo News reported that the state held 64 public executions in the first nine months of the year.

b. Disappearance

NGO, think tank, and press reports indicated that the government was responsible for disappearances.

In September 2015 the DPRK announced it had completed its reinvestigation into the whereabouts of 12 Japanese citizens believed to have been abducted by the DPRK and had no new information to report. The DPRK suspended bilateral negotiations on the abductions issue in April 2015, citing Japan’s move to raise the issue in a UN Human Rights Council resolution.

ROK government and media reports noted that the DPRK also kidnapped other foreign nationals from locations abroad in the 1970s and 1980s. The DPRK continued to deny its involvement in the kidnappings. The ROK Ministry of Unification reported that an estimated 517 of its civilians, abducted or detained by DPRK authorities since the end of the Korean War, remained in the DPRK. South Korean NGOs estimated that during the Korean War the DPRK abducted 20,000 civilians who remained in the North or who had died.

HRNK’s Hidden Gulag IV: Gender Repression & Prisoner Disappearances reported that the state demolished Sorimchon/Kumchon-ri zone within Yodok political penal-labor camp (Camp 15) in South Hamkyung Province in late 2014. The whereabouts of the former prisoners of this section of the camp remained unknown.

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

The penal code prohibits torture or inhuman treatment, but many sources reported these practices continued. Numerous defector accounts and NGO reports described the use of torture by authorities in several detention facilities. Methods of torture and other abuse reportedly included severe beatings; electric shock; prolonged periods of exposure to the elements; humiliations such as public nakedness; confinement for up to several weeks in small “punishment cells” in which prisoners were unable to stand upright or lie down; being forced to kneel or sit immobilized for long periods; and being hung by the wrists or forced to stand up and sit down to the point of collapse. Mothers were in some cases reportedly forced to watch the infanticide of their newborn infants. Defectors continued to report many prisoners died from torture, disease, starvation, exposure to the elements, or a combination of these causes.

The 2016 White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea, published by the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU), a South Korean government-affiliated think tank, and the 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) report stated that officials had in some cases prohibited live births in prison and ordered forced abortions as recently as 2013. Detainees in re-education through labor camps reported the state forced them to perform difficult physical labor under harsh conditions (see section 7.b.).

The KINU white paper found that, in some cases of live birth, the prison guards killed the infant or left the baby to die, and it reported cases of guards sexually abusing or exploiting female prisoners.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

NGO, refugee, and press reports noted there were several types of prisons, detention centers, and camps, including forced labor camps and separate camps for political prisoners. NGO reports documented six types of detention facilities: kwanliso (political penal-labor camps), kyohwaso (correctional or re-education centers), kyoyangso (labor-reform centers), jipkyulso (collection centers for low-level criminals), rodong danryeondae (labor-training centers), and kuryujang or kamok (interrogation facilities or jails). According to the 2015 KINU white paper, the Ministry of State Security administered kwanliso camps and either it or the Ministry of People’s Security administered the other detention centers.

There were reportedly between 5,000 and 50,000 prisoners per kwanliso. Defectors claimed the kwanliso camps contained unmarked graves, barracks, worksites, and other prison facilities. NGOs reported the existence of five kwanliso facilities, including Kaecheon (Camp 14), Hwaseong (Camp 16), Pukchang (Camp 18), and Chongjin (Camp 25). During the year reports continued to indicate that areas of Yodok (Camp 15) in South Hamkyung Province were closed or operating at a reduced capacity.

Kwanliso camps are comprised of total control zones, where incarceration is for life, and “rerevolutionizing zones,” from which prisoners may be released. Reports indicated the state typically sent those sentenced to prison for nonpolitical crimes to re-education prisons where authorities subjected prisoners to intense forced labor. Those the state considered hostile to the government or who committed political crimes reportedly received indefinite sentencing terms in political prison camps. In many cases the state also detained all family members if one member was accused or arrested. The government continued to deny the existence of political prison camps.

Reports indicated that conditions in the prison camp and detention system were harsh and life threatening and that systematic and severe human rights abuse occurred. Defectors noted they did not expect many prisoners in political prison camps and the detention system to survive. Detainees and prisoners consistently reported violence and torture. Defectors described witnessing public executions in political prison camps. According to defectors prisoners received little to no food or medical care in some places of detention. Sanitation was poor, and former labor camp inmates reported they had no changes of clothing during their incarceration and were rarely able to bathe or wash their clothing. The South Korean and international press reported that the kyohwaso held populations of up to thousands of political prisoners, economic criminals, and ordinary criminals.

Both the kyo-hwa-so re-education camps and kwan-li-so prison camps host extremely brutal conditions, according to HRNK’s 2016 report North Korea: Kyo-hwa-so No. 12, Jongo-ri. The report noted that “the brutality affects both those convicted of actual offenses and those sentenced for essentially political offenses.”

According to the Hidden Gulag IV report, since late 2008 Jongo-ri (formerly referred to as Camp 12) in North Hamkyung Province was expanded to include a women’s annex. Jongno-ri’s women’s annex held approximately 1,000 women, most of whom the state imprisoned after repatriating them from China. Satellite imagery and defector testimony corroborated the existence of this women’s annex. Defector testimony also cited food rations below subsistence levels, forced labor, and high rates of death due to starvation at Jongno-ri.

According to HRNK’s 2016 report North Korea: Flooding at Kyo-hwa-so No. 12, Jongo-ri, the kyohwaso or re-education center No. 12, Jongo-ri is located approximately 300 miles northeast of Pyongyang and 15 miles south of Hoeryong City. The report estimated the prison population at Kyo-hwa-so No. 12 had ranged from 1,300 in the late 1990s to approximately 5,000 in recent years. The report highlighted the acute vulnerability of prisoners at this facility in northeastern North Korea, ravaged by heavy flooding as a result of Typhoon Lionrock. “This vulnerability has been exacerbated by the historically limited resources expended on civil infrastructure in this area by the central government in Pyongyang,” the report stated.

Physical Conditions: Estimates of the total number of prisoners and detainees in the prison and detention system ranged between 80,000 and 120,000. Physical abuse by prison guards was systematic. Anecdotal reports from the NGO Database Center for North Korean Human Rights and the 2014 COI report stated that in some prisons authorities held women in separate units from men and often subjected the women to sexual abuse. The COI report added, “Cases of rape are a direct consequence of the impunity and unchecked power that prison guards and other officials enjoy.”

There were no statistics available regarding deaths in custody, but defectors reported deaths were commonplace as the result of summary executions, torture, lack of adequate medical care, and starvation. The COI report cited “extremely high rate of deaths in custody,” due to starvation and neglect, arduous forced labor, disease, and executions. The 2016 KINU white paper said that the decrease in the number of inmates from previous years could be the result of numerous deaths from harsh circumstances rather than any change in government policy.

Defectors also report that in Camp 14, prisoners worked 12 hours a day during the summer and 10 hours a day during the winter, with one day off a month. The camps observed New Year’s Day and the birthdays of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. Children age 12 or older worked, and guards gave light duty to prisoners over 65 years of age. Prisoners provided supervision over other prisoners and worked even when they were sick. Prisoners who failed to meet work quotas reportedly faced reduced meals and violence. Those caught stealing faced arbitrary and serious violence.

NGO and press reports estimated there were between 182 and 490 detention facilities in the country.

By law the state dismisses criminal cases against a person under age 14. The state applies public education in case of a crime committed by a person above age 14 and under age 17, but little information was available regarding how the law is actually applied. Authorities often detained juveniles along with their families and reportedly subjected them to torture and abuse in detention facilities.

During the year the Database Center for North Korea Unified Human Rights indicated 953 cases of violations of the right to adequate food, highlighting these violations at various detention facilities. The data showed prisons had the highest level of these violations, with a percentage of 36.7 percent (350 cases), followed by investigation and detention facilities of the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of Public Security with 26.4 percent (252 cases), police holding camps with 14.7 percent (140 cases), labor training camps with 12.8 percent (122 cases), and political prison camps with 6.6 percent (63 cases).

Administration: No information on recordkeeping processes was publicly available. There was little evidence to suggest prisoners and detainees had reasonable access to visitors. In past years defectors reported that authorities subjected Christian inmates to harsher punishment if the prisoners made their faith public, but no information was available regarding religious observance. No information was available on whether prisoners or detainees could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship or request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions.

Independent Monitoring: There was no publicly available information on whether the government investigated or monitored prison and detention conditions. The 2015 HRNK Imagery Analysis of Camp 15 noted officials, especially those within the Korean People’s Army and the internal security organizations, clearly understand the importance of implementing camouflage, concealment, and deception procedures to mask their operations and intentions. The government did not allow the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the DPRK into the country to assess prison conditions. The government did not permit other human rights monitors to inspect prisons and detention facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but reports pointed out that the government did not observe these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The internal security apparatus includes the Ministries of People’s Security, State Security, and the Military Security Command. Impunity was pervasive. The security forces do not investigate possible security force abuses. The government did not take action to reform the security forces. These organizations all played a role in the surveillance of citizens, maintaining arresting power, and conducting special purpose nonmilitary investigations. A systematic and intentional overlap of powers and responsibilities existed between these organizations. Kim Jong Un continued to enforce this overlap to prevent any potential subordinate consolidation of power and assure that each unit provides a check and balance on the other.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Revisions to the criminal code and the criminal procedure code in 2004, 2005, and 2009 added shortened periods of detention during prosecution and trial, arrest by warrant, and prohibition of collecting evidence by forced confessions. Confirmation that the state applied these changes has not been verified.

Members of the security forces arrested and reportedly transported citizens suspected of committing political crimes to prison camps without trial. According to a South Korean NGO, beginning in 2008 the People’s Safety Agency received authorization to handle criminal cases directly without the approval of prosecutors. Prosecutorial corruption reportedly necessitated the change. An NGO reported that investigators could detain an individual for the purpose of investigation for up to two months. No functioning bail system or other alternatives for considering release pending trial exists.

There were no restrictions on the government’s ability to detain and imprison persons at will or to hold them incommunicado. Family members and other concerned persons reportedly found it virtually impossible to obtain information on charges against detained persons or the lengths of their sentences. Judicial review or appeals of detentions did not exist in law or practice. According to an opinion adopted in 2014 by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, family members have no recourse for petitioning for the release of detainees accused of political crimes, as the state may deem any such advocacy for political prisoners an act of treason against the state. No known information on a bail system and no information on detainees receiving a lawyer were available.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrests reportedly occurred.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: According to defectors there was no mechanism for persons to challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution states that courts are independent and that courts will carry out judicial proceedings in strict accordance with the law; however, an independent judiciary did not exist.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The MPS dispensed with trials in political cases and referred prisoners to the MSS for punishment. Little information was available on formal criminal justice procedures and practices, and outside access to the legal system was limited to trials for traffic violations and other minor offenses.

The constitution contains elaborate procedural protections, providing that cases should be public, except under circumstances stipulated by law. The constitution also states that the accused has the right to a defense, and when the government held trials, they reportedly assigned lawyers. Some reports noted a distinction between those accused of political, as opposed to nonpolitical, crimes and claimed that the government offered trials and lawyers only to the latter. The MSS conducted “pretrials” or preliminary examinations in all political cases but the court system conducted the trial. Some defectors testified that the MSS also conducted trials. There was no indication that independent, nongovernmental defense lawyers existed. According to the 2013 Hidden Gulag report, the state sent most inmates to prison camps without trial, without knowing the charges against them, and without having legal counsel. The 2010 Witness to Transformation study reported that only 13 percent of the 102 respondents surveyed whom the state had incarcerated in the country received a trial. There were no indications authorities respected the presumption of innocence. According to the UN COI report, “the vast majority of inmates are victims of arbitrary detention, since they are imprisoned without trial or on the basis of a trial that fails to respect the due process and fair trial guarantees set out in international law.”

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

While the total number of political prisoners and detainees remained unknown, the current year’s KINU white paper reported that the state detained between 80,000 and 120,000 in the kwanliso. Guards held political prisoners separately from other detainees. NGOs and the media reported that political prisoners were subject to harsher punishments and fewer protections than other prisoners and detainees. The government considered critics of the regime to be political criminals. The government did not permit access to persons by international humanitarian organizations or religious organizations resident in China. Reports from past years described political offenses as including attempting to defect to South Korea, sitting on newspapers bearing Kim Il-sung’s or Kim Jong-il’s picture, mentioning Kim Il-sung’s limited formal education, or defacing photographs of the Kims. The UN COI report noted that many “ordinary” prisoners are, in fact, political prisoners, “detained without a substantive reason compatible with international law.”

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

According to the constitution, “…citizens are entitled to submit complaints and petitions. The state shall fairly investigate and deal with complaints and petitions as fixed by law.” Under the Law on Complaint and Petition, citizens are entitled to submit complaints to stop encroachment upon their rights and interests or seek compensation for the encroached rights and interests. Reports noted that government officials did not respect these rights. Individuals and organizations do not have the ability to appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

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

The constitution provides for the inviolability of person and residence and the privacy of correspondence; however, the government did not respect these provisions. The regime subjected its citizens to rigid controls. The government reportedly relied upon a massive, multilevel system of informants to identify critics and potential troublemakers. Authorities sometimes subjected entire communities to security checks, entering homes without judicial authorization.

The government appeared to monitor correspondence, telephone conversations, e-mail, text messages, and other digital communications. Private telephone lines operated on a system that precluded making or receiving international calls; international telephone lines were available only under restricted circumstances.

The 2016 KINU white paper, citing South Korean press, estimated there were 3.8 million cell phone users at the end of 2015. Authorities strictly monitored mobile phone use. Press reports indicated that DPRK authorities attempted to jam cellular phone signals along the China-DPRK border to block the use of the Chinese cell network to make international phone calls. Authorities arrested those caught using such cell phones with Chinese SIM cards and required violators to pay a fine or face charges of espionage or other crimes with harsh punishments, including lengthy prison terms. Testimonies recorded by NGOs indicated that prisoners could avoid punishment through bribery of DPRK officials.

The Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK) is the key governing body in the country; with party membership dictated by social and family background and remaining the key determinant of social mobility. The government divided citizens into strict loyalty-based classes known as “songbun,” which determined access to employment, higher education, place of residence, medical facilities, certain stores, marriage prospects, and food rations.

Authorities placed citizens into one of 51 songbun categories based on the perceived loyalty of their family to the government.

Numerous reports noted that authorities practiced collective punishment. The state imprisoned entire families, including children, when one member of the family was accused of a crime. Collective punishment reportedly can extend to three generations.

NGOs reported the eviction of families from their places of residence without due process.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government prohibited the exercise of these rights.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: There were numerous instances of persons interrogated or arrested for saying something construed as negative towards the government.

The constitution provides for the right to petition, but the government did not respect this right. For example, when individuals submitted anonymous petitions or complaints about state administration, the Ministries of People’s Security and State Security sought to identify the authors and subject them to investigation and punishment.

Press and Media Freedoms: The government sought to control virtually all information. The government tightly controlled print media, broadcast media, book publishing, and online media. Independent media did not exist. The Propaganda and Agitation Department controls all media in the country. Within the department the Publication and Broadcasting Department controls all media content, including content used on television, in newspapers, and on the radio. The government carefully managed visits by foreigners, especially journalists. The Associated Press (AP) operated an all-format news bureau in Pyongyang, but international AP reporters were not resident in country. Numerous media sources reported that Agence France-Presse inaugurated its Pyongyang bureau on Sept 6. Government officials deported a foreign British Broadcasting Corporation journalist and his team, who received an invitation to cover the Workers Party Congress in May, after the government reportedly took offense at their reports highlighting aspects of life in Pyongyang.

Violence and Harassment: Domestic journalists had little freedom to investigate stories or report freely. During visits by foreign leaders, authorities permitted groups of foreign journalists to accompany official delegations and file reports. In all cases the state strictly monitored journalists. Government officials generally prevented journalists from talking to officials or to persons on the street.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Strict enforcement of domestic media censorship continued, with no toleration for deviation from the official government line. The government prohibited listening to foreign media broadcasts except by the political elite, and violators were subjected to severe punishment. Radios and television sets, unless altered, are set to receive only domestic programming; officials similarly altered radios obtained from abroad. Elite citizens and facilities for foreigners, such as hotels, had access to international television broadcasts via satellite. The government continued to attempt to jam all foreign radio broadcasts. Officials imprisoned and punished citizens for listening to foreign radio or watching foreign television broadcasts, and, in some cases, for simply owning radio or television sets able to receive nongovernment broadcasts.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Internet access for citizens was limited to high-ranking officials and other designated elites, including selected university students. A tightly controlled and regulated “intranet” was reportedly available to a slightly larger group of users, including an elite grade school; selected research institutions, universities, and factories; and a few individuals. The Korea Computer Center, which acts as the gatekeeper to the intranet, granted access only to information it deemed acceptable. The NGO Reporters Without Borders reported that some e-mail access existed through this internal network. Government employees sometimes had closely monitored access to the internet and had limited, closely monitored access to e-mail accounts.

In June 2015 press reported that foreign visitors in Pyongyang began receiving mobile alerts when they attempted to access Instagram, a social media app. Some experts speculated the state blocked the app in response to leaked photos of a fire in a luxury hotel in Pyongyang shared online through the app. In April North Korea formally announced it would block foreigners from visiting Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and South Korean websites. Foreign visitors reported Facebook and Twitter had been blocked for months prior to the announcement.

South Korean media reports indicated an increase in cyber hacking by North Korea during the year. Specifically, a South Korean website that focuses on North Korean issues, said, “To date, more than 50 defectors residing in South Korea have had their personal computers attacked by North Korean hackers.”

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and controlled artistic works. Curriculum was highly controlled by the state. The government severely restricted academic travel. The primary function of plays, movies, operas, children’s performances, and books was to buttress the cult of personality surrounding the Kim family and support the regime.

The state carried out systematic indoctrination through the mass media, schools, and worker and neighborhood associations. Indoctrination continued to involve mass marches, rallies, and staged performances, sometimes including hundreds of thousands of persons.

The government continued its attempt to limit foreign influence on its citizens. Listening to foreign radio and watching foreign films are illegal. Individuals accused of viewing or possessing foreign films were reportedly subjected to imprisonment and possibly execution. According to the 2016 KINU white paper, a 2015 survey revealed that defectors witnessed proclamations posted indicating that that those caught watching South Korean movies or listening to South Korean music would be sentenced to death, in accordance with instructions announced by the regime in 2013.

Based on defector interviews conducted in 2015, the independent consulting firm InterMedia estimated that as many as 29 percent of defectors listened to foreign radio broadcasts while inside North Korea and that approximately 92 percent of defectors who were interviewed had seen foreign DVDs in North Korea.

The government intensified its focus on preventing the import of South Korean popular culture, especially television dramas. According to media and NGO reports, in enforcing restrictions on foreign films, authorities authorized police to search homes for contraband DVDs. Daily NK reported that Kim Jong Un created a special police unit to restrict and control the flow of outside information into the country.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

While the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, the government did not respect this provision and continued to prohibit public meetings not previously authorized and not under government control.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government failed to respect this provision. There were no known organizations other than those created by the government. Professional associations existed primarily to facilitate government monitoring and control over organization members.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for the “freedom to reside in or travel to any place”; however, the government did not respect this right. The government continued to control internal travel carefully. The government did not cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons.

In-country Movement: The government continued to restrict freedom of movement for those lawfully within the state. Only members of a very small elite class and those with access to remittances from overseas reportedly had access to personal vehicles. A lack of infrastructure hampered movement, as did security checkpoints on main roads at entry and exit points from every town.

The government strictly controlled permission to reside in, or even to enter, Pyongyang, where food availability, housing, health, and general living conditions were much better than in the rest of the country. Foreign officials visiting the country observed checkpoints on the highway leading into Pyongyang.

Foreign Travel: The government also restricted foreign travel. The government limited issuance of exit visas for foreign travel to officials and trusted businesspersons, artists, athletes, academics, and workers. Short-term exit papers were available on a very limited basis for some residents to visit with relatives, for short-term work opportunities, or to engage in small-scale trade.

Exile: The government reportedly forced the internal exile of some citizens. In the past it forcibly resettled tens of thousands of persons from Pyongyang to the countryside. Sometimes this occurred as punishment for offenses and included those judged to be politically unreliable based on the social status of their family members.

Emigration and Repatriation: The government did not allow emigration, and reports stated that it continued severe, tight security on the border, dramatically limiting the flow of persons crossing into China without required permits. NGOs reported strict patrols and surveillance of residents of border areas and a crackdown on border guards who may have been aiding border crossers in return for bribes.

In September international press reported that China constructed a new facility to detain North Koreans without proper documentation. News reports in May 2015 stated that the DPRK had erected additional barbed-wire fencing on the North Korean side of the Tumen River.

The South Korean press reported that the government issued orders for guards to shoot to kill those attempting to leave without official sanction. NGOs reported that Kim Jong Un called for stricter punishments for those suspected of illegal border crossing. The law criminalizes defection and attempted defection, including the attempt to gain entry to a foreign diplomatic facility for the purpose of seeking political asylum. Individuals who cross the border with the purpose of defecting or seeking asylum in a third country are subject to a minimum of five years of “labor correction.” In “serious” cases the state subjects defectors or asylum seekers to indefinite terms of imprisonment and forced labor, confiscation of property, or death. Many would-be refugees returned involuntarily for foreign states received imprisonment under harsh conditions. Some sources indicated that authorities reserved particularly harsh treatment for those who had extensive contact with foreigners, including those with family members resettled in South Korea.

Past reports from defectors noted that the government differentiated between persons who crossed the border in search of food (who might be sentenced only to a few months of forced labor or in some cases merely issued a warning) and persons who crossed repeatedly for political purposes (who were sometimes sentenced to harsh punishment, including death). This included persons who had alleged contact with religious organizations based on the Chinese border. The law stipulates a sentence of up to two years of “labor correction” for the crime of illegally crossing the border.

The government subjected repatriated refugees to harsh punishments, including imprisonment. The government reportedly continued to enforce the policy that all border crossers be sent to prison or re-education centers.

On December 7, the ROK Unification Ministry said that the number of North Korean defectors coming to the ROK had increased 16.7 percent year-on-year, as more elites and overseas workers chose to flee their home country. According to the Unification Ministry, the total number of North Korean defectors resettled in the ROK exceeded 30,000. As of November, the number of North Koreans admitted during the year was expected to reach 1,400 by year’s end–the highest number since 2011. Observers attributed this increase to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s reign of terror and toughened sanctions on the North. According to South Korean media reports, the National Intelligence Service disclosed in October 2015 to the Intelligence Committee of the National Assembly that 46 members of the North Korean elite fled from North Korea in the past three years.

According to Seoul’s Ministry of Unification, North Korea’s second-highest diplomat at their embassy in London, Thae Yong Ho, defected to South Korea with his family in August. Media also widely reported that 13 North Korean restaurant workers defected from China to South Korea in April, one of the largest group defections in the past few years.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection for refugees. The government did not grant refugee status or asylum. The government had no known policy or provision for refugees or asylees and did not participate in international refugee fora.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Citizens do not have the ability to choose their government peacefully.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent national elections to select representatives to the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) occurred in 2014. These elections were neither free nor fair. The government openly monitored voting, resulting in a reported 100 percent participation rate and 100 percent approval of the preselected government candidates. Local elections on July 2015 were likewise neither free nor fair. The government reported a 99.97 percent turnout, with 100 percent approval for the government candidates.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government has created several “minority parties.” Lacking grassroots organizations, the parties existed only as rosters of officials with token representation in the SPA. The government regularly criticized the concept of free elections and competition among political parties as an “artifact of capitalist decay.”

Participation of Women and Minorities: Women constituted approximately 4.5 percent of the membership of the Central Committee of the WPK but held few key WPK leadership positions.

The country is racially and ethnically homogenous. There are officially no minorities.

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

There were no independent domestic organizations to monitor human rights conditions or comment on the status of such rights. The country reported that many organizations, including the Democratic Lawyers’ Association, General Association of Trade Unions, Agricultural Workers Union, and Democratic Women’s Union, engaged in human rights activities, but observers could not verify the activities of these organizations.

The international NGO community and numerous international experts continued to testify to the grave human rights situation in the country. The government decried international statements about human rights abuses in the country as politically motivated interference in internal affairs. The government asserted that criticism of its human rights record was an attempt by some countries to cover up their own abuses and that such hypocrisy undermined human rights principles.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government emphasized that it had ratified a number of UN human rights instruments, but it continued to refuse to cooperate with UN representatives. The government prevented the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK from visiting the country to carry out his mandate, which it continued to refuse to recognize.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government’s DPRK Association for Human Rights Studies denied the existence of any human rights violations.

Lebanon

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

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year. Islamist extremist groups, however, committed numerous unlawful killings.

The country was increasingly affected by the Syrian crisis, which further polarized its politics, paralyzed many state institutions, generated a massive humanitarian refugee crisis, depressed the economy, inflamed sectarian tensions, and degraded national security. The continued spillover of violence led to the unlawful deprivation of life throughout the country, particularly in Tripoli, Arsal, and the southern suburbs of Beirut, by nonstate actors, including gangs and terrorist organizations.

On June 27, eight suicide bombers attacked the predominantly Christian village of Qaa near the Syrian border, killing five and wounding at least 28 others. There was no official claim of responsibility.

In 2014 clashes erupted between army personnel and Islamist militants aligned with Da’esh and Nusra in Arsal. Nineteen Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) members and 40 to 45 Syrians and Lebanese died; 90 to 100 individuals were injured. Islamist militants took 29 LAF and Internal Security Forces (ISF) members hostage, executed four, released six, and kept the remainder prisoner. In December 2015 Nusra released 16 Lebanese service members in a prisoner exchange with the LAF; nine service members continued to be held captive by Da’esh.

In 2013 the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which operated based upon an agreement between the United Nations and the government, indicted Hassan Habib Merhi, a Hizballah member, as a fifth suspect in the 2005 killing of former prime minister Rafik Hariri and 22 other individuals. In 2011 the STL indicted four individuals, Mustafa Amine Badreddine, Hussein Hassan Oneissi, Salim Jamil Ayyash, and Assad Hassan Sabra, all of whom were Hizballah operatives suspected of collaborating in the 2005 killings. Due to the incidents’ similar nature and gravity, the STL also established jurisdiction over the 2005 killing of former communist party leader George Hawi and attacks on former ministers Elias Murr and Marwan Hamadeh. Government authorities, however, notified the STL that they were unable to detain or serve the accused with the indictments in that case. In 2014 the STL opened its first trial in the case of Ayyash and other defendants. During the year the government discreetly paid its dues to the STL, despite rumors that the government would forego paying to avoid provoking Hizballah.

b. Disappearance

There were no confirmed reports of politically motivated disappearances by the government during the year.

In December 2015 security forces freed Hannibal Qadhafi, the son of late Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi, in Baalbek, but it was unclear where or when he had been kidnapped. Media reported that his captors kidnapped him to obtain information about the fate of Imam Moussa Sadr, a prominent Shia cleric, who was last seen in Libya in 1978. At year’s end Qaddafi’s whereabouts were unknown.

Syrians who fled to Lebanon from civil war, including political activists and other refugees, risked being targeted, harassed, and arrested by Lebanese security services, as well as by others. Syrian opposition activists asserted that Syrian agents in Lebanon targeted them. They claimed they had to operate clandestinely for their protection. Additionally, retaliatory sectarian kidnappings occurred because of Da’esh’s and Nusra’s actions in Arsal.

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

The law does not specifically prohibit all forms of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, and there were reports security officials employed such practices. The penal code prohibits using acts of violence to obtain a confession or information about a crime, but the judiciary rarely investigated or prosecuted allegations of such acts. According to domestic and international human rights groups, security forces abused detainees and used torture to obtain confessions or encourage suspects to implicate other individuals.

Human rights organizations reported that torture occurred in certain police stations and in the Ministry of Defense’s detention facilities. The government denied the use of torture, although authorities acknowledged violent abuse sometimes occurred during preliminary investigations at police stations or military installations where suspects were interrogated without an attorney. Such abuse reportedly occurred in multiple units despite national laws prohibiting judges from accepting confessions extracted under duress.

Reports that the ISF threatened, mistreated, and tortured drug users, persons involved in prostitution, and LGBTI persons in their custody were common. The most common forms of abuse reported were blows from fists, boots, or implements, such as sticks, canes, and rulers. The ISF responded to similar claims in prior years and stated the reports defamed the organization and called for verification of unproven allegations, although evidence in some cases, including video evidence, proved the use of torture in some facilities.

Former prisoners, detainees, and reputable local human rights groups reported that methods of torture and abuse included continuous blindfolding, hanging detainees by wrists tied behind their backs, violent beatings, blows to the soles of the feet, electric shocks, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, immersion in cold water, extended periods of sleep deprivation, being forced to stand for extended periods, threats of violence against relatives, and deprivation of clothing, food, and toilet facilities. Allegations that the ISF specifically targeted the LGBTI community for abuse were common.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were harsh, and prisoners often lacked access to basic sanitation. In some prisons, such as the central prison in Roumieh, conditions were life threatening. Facilities were not adequately equipped for persons with disabilities.

Physical Conditions: As of August there were approximately 6,500 prisoners and detainees, including pretrial detainees and remanded prisoners, in facilities built to hold 3,500 inmates. Roumieh Prison, with a designed capacity of 1,500, held approximately 3,150 persons. Authorities often held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners. Authorities held men and women separately in similar conditions, and ISF statistics indicated that 158 minors and 296 women were incarcerated.

Sanitary conditions in overcrowded prisons were poor, and they worsened in Roumieh following a destructive riot in 2011. According to a government official, most prisons lacked adequate sanitation, ventilation, and lighting, and temperatures were not regulated consistently. Prisoners lacked consistent access to potable water (as do many Lebanese citizens). Roumieh prisoners often slept 10 in a room originally built to accommodate two prisoners. Basic medical care at Roumieh improved with better equipment and training, but staffing continued to be inadequate, and working conditions were poor. Additionally, the medical facilities were extremely overcrowded. According to ISF statistics, 13 prisoners died from natural causes during the year. Some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) complained of authorities’ negligence and failure to provide appropriate medical care to prisoners, which may have contributed to some of the deaths. The ISF reported that none died of police abuse and that there were no cases of rape in prisons during the year. On August 22, authorities fined a woman 11,000 Lebanese pounds ($7.33) for alleged slander against the army. She had claimed army officers raped her while in detention in 2013. Authorities detained the woman for a month in 2015 for the alleged slander against the army.

There were reports of female prisoners exchanging sex in return for “favors,” such as cigarettes, food, more comfortable conditions in their cells, or a more lenient police report.

Administration: Recordkeeping was not adequate. In many prisons authorities did not release inmates who completed their sentences due to poor recordkeeping. Some juveniles benefitted from alternative sentencing. Although there is a legal means to impose a sentence of probation or supervised release for adults in lieu of incarceration, authorities did not apply it. A person sentenced to imprisonment for more than six months may obtain a sentence reduction upon demonstrating that he had good behavior, that he does not pose a threat to himself or others, and that he met certain conditions depending on the category of crime and the release order. The Commission on the Reduction of Sentences considered sentence reduction requests. A chamber of the Court of Appeals, which made the final decision on whether to reduce a sentence, reviewed the commission’s recommendations.

There were no prison ombudsmen. Authorities did not implement a 2005 law establishing an ombudsman to serve on behalf of citizens. The ISF, however, posted signs in detention facilities stating detainees’ rights and had an inspection unit. The minister of interior assigned a general-rank official as the commander of the inspection unit and a colonel-rank official as the commander of the medical and human rights unit. The units were instructed to investigate every complaint. After completing an investigation, authorities transferred the case to the inspector general for action in the case of a disciplinary act or to a military investigative judge for additional investigation. If investigators found physical abuse, the military investigator assigned a medical team to confirm the abuse and the judge ruled at the conclusion of the review. There were no statistics available at year’s end regarding the number of complaints, investigations, and disciplinary or judicial actions taken.

Families of prisoners normally contacted the Ministry of Interior to report complaints, although prison directors could also initiate investigations. According to a government official, prison directors often protected officers under investigation.

The ISF’s Committee to Monitor Against the Use of Torture and Other Inhuman Practices in Prisons and Detention Centers conducted a minimum of one or two prison visits per week. The parliamentary human rights committee was responsible for monitoring the Ministry of Defense detention center.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison and detention conditions by local and international human rights groups and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and such monitoring took place. The ICRC regularly visited 23 prisons and detention centers.

Nongovernmental entities, such as Hizballah and Palestinian militias, also operated unofficial detention facilities, but no information about these facilities was available.

Improvements: The ISF reported improvements in Roumieh prison that included rehabilitating the jails in the juvenile’s building as well as rehabilitating the sewage system, installing new water tanks with a filtering system, completing the rehabilitation of the third floor of Block “D,” beginning rehabilitation of the second floor, rehabilitating the main entrance of the prison and installing new equipment, and beginning work on the new private security building. Authorities rehabilitated Zghorta, Halba, and Baalbak prisons and began rehabilitation of Douma prison. Authorities installed power generators in a number of prisons and renovated the entrance of the Qobbeh prison.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law requires judicial warrants before arrests except in cases of active pursuit. Nonetheless, the government arbitrarily arrested and detained persons.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The ISF, under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for law enforcement. The General Directorate for State Security, reporting to the prime minister, and the Directorate of General Security (DGS), under the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for border control. The LAF, under the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for external security but also may arrest and detain suspects on national security grounds. All of these organizations collected information on groups deemed possible threats to state security. Each security apparatus has its own internal mechanisms to investigate cases of abuse and misconduct. A 2012 ISF code of conduct defines the obligations of ISF members and the legal and ethical standards by which they must abide in performing their duties. Various security forces underwent training on the code. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces. Government security force officials, however, reportedly enjoyed a measure of implicit impunity due to the lack of publicly available information on the outcome of prosecutions. The government lacked mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There are internal complaint mechanisms within the security forces.

In accordance with UN Security Resolutions 425 and 426, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was established in 1978 to confirm the Israeli withdrawal from the southern region of the country, restore peace and security, and assist the government in restoring its authority over its territory. UN Security Resolution 1701 stated UNIFIL was to monitor (per UN resolutions) cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hizballah after their 2006 war, accompany the LAF in deploying in the south, assist in providing humanitarian access to civilians and safe return of displaced, and assist the government in securing its borders.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law generally requires a warrant for arrest and provides the right to a medical examination and referral to a prosecutor within 48 hours of arrest. If authorities hold a detainee longer than 48 hours without formal charges, the arrest is considered arbitrary, and authorities must release the detainee or request a formal extension. The code of criminal procedures provides that a person may be held in police custody for investigation for 48 hours, unless the investigation requires additional time, in which case the period of custody may be renewed for another 48 hours.

By law bail is available in all cases regardless of the charges, although the amounts required may be prohibitively high.

The code of criminal procedures also states that from the moment of arrest a suspect or the subject of a complaint has the right to contact a member of his family, his employer, an advocate of his choosing, an acquaintance, or an interpreter, and undergo a medical examination on the approval of the general prosecutor. It does not mention, however, whether a lawyer may attend preliminary questioning with the judicial police. In practical terms the lawyer may not attend the preliminary questioning with judicial police. Under the framework of the law, it is possible for a suspect to be held at a police station for hours before being granted the right to contact an attorney. If the suspect lacks the resources to obtain legal counsel, authorities must provide free legal aid. The law does not, however, require the judicial police to inform an individual who lacks legal counsel that one may be assigned through the Bar Association, whether in Beirut or Tripoli.

The law does not require authorities to inform individuals they have the right to remain silent. Many provisions of the law simply state that if the individual being questioned refuses to make a statement or remains silent, this should be recorded and that the detainee may not be “coerced to speak or to undergo questioning, on pain of nullity of their statements.”

The law states the period of detention for a misdemeanor may not exceed two months. This period may be extended by a maximum of two additional months. The initial period of custody may not exceed six months for a felony, but the detention may be renewed. Excluded from this protection are suspects accused of homicide or with a previous criminal conviction, drug crimes, endangerment of state security, violent crimes, and crimes involving terrorism.

Officials responsible for prolonged arrest may be prosecuted on charges of depriving personal freedom, but authorities rarely filed charges. The law requires authorities to inform detainees of the charges filed against them. A suspect caught in the act of committing a crime must be referred to an examining judge, who decides whether to issue an indictment or order the release of the suspect.

Authorities failed to observe many provisions of the law, and government security forces, as well as extralegal armed groups such as Hizballah, continued the practice of extrajudicial arrest and detention, including incommunicado detention. Additionally, the law permits military intelligence personnel to make arrests without warrants in cases involving military personnel or involving civilians suspected of espionage, treason, or weapons possession.

Arbitrary Arrest: According to local NGOs, cases of arbitrary detention continued; however, most victims chose not to report violations against them. NGOs reported that most cases involved vulnerable groups such as refugees, migrant workers, drug users, and LGBTI individuals. Civil society groups reported authorities frequently detained foreign nationals arbitrarily.

Pretrial Detention: As of December 2015, ISF reported 3,853 of the 6,502 persons in prison were in pretrial detention. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern about arbitrary pretrial detention without access to legal representation and refused to support construction of prisons until authorities resolved the serious problem of arbitrary pretrial detention. According to a study by the Lebanese Center for Human Rights, detainees spent one year on average in pretrial detention prior to sentencing. Individuals accused of murder spent on average 3.5 years in pretrial detention. Many Salafist prisoners remained in prolonged pretrial detention, including detainees from the Nahr el-Bared fighting in 2007.

State security forces and autonomous Palestinian security factions subjected Palestinian refugees to arbitrary arrest and detention.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Lawyers infrequently challenged the lawfulness of their client’s detention, despite a defendant’s rights to do so. As a result the defense mainly focused on presenting evidence and arguments to challenge the prosecutor’s verdict.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, authorities subjected the judiciary to political pressure, particularly in the appointment of key prosecutors and investigating magistrates. Influential politicians and intelligence officers intervened at times and used their influence and connections to protect supporters from prosecution. Persons involved in routine civil and criminal proceedings sometimes solicited the assistance of prominent individuals to influence the outcome of their cases.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Trials are generally public, but judges have the discretion to order a closed court session. Defendants have the right to be present at trial, to consult with an attorney in a timely manner, and to question witnesses against them. Defendants may present witnesses and evidence, and their attorneys have access to government-held evidence relevant to their cases. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt; they have the right of appeal. Defendants have the right to free interpretation; however, interpreters were rarely available.

The Military Court has jurisdiction over cases involving the military as well as those involving civilians accused of espionage, treason, weapons possession, and draft evasion. Civilians may be tried on security charges, and military personnel may be tried on civil charges. The Military Court has a permanent tribunal and a cassation tribunal. The latter hears appeals from the former. A civilian judge chairs the higher court. Defendants on trial under the military tribunal have the same procedural rights as defendants in ordinary courts. Human rights groups expressed concerns about the trial of civilians in military courts, the extent to which they were afforded full due process, and the lack of review of verdicts by ordinary courts.

Because of an agreement struck between the Lebanese government and late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Lebanese security forces do not enter Palestinian camps; they remain outside the entrance and check vehicles and identification. As a result the camps, particularly Ain el-Helweh, had the reputation of being lawless enclaves, and authorities stated that foreign and local jihadists found refuge within them.

The Palestinian factions that theoretically provided security in the camps often fought each other for control, and these groups generally controlled the justice systems in the camps. Governance varied greatly, with some camps under the control of joint Palestinian security forces, while local militia strongmen heavily influenced others. Palestinian groups in refugee camps operated an autonomous and arbitrary system of justice outside the control of the state. For example, local popular committees in the camps attempted to resolve disputes through informal mediation methods but occasionally transferred those accused of more serious offenses (for example, murder and terrorism) to state authorities for trial. Several Palestinian factions formed a joint security force to help maintain stability and security within the Ain el-Helweh camp, but Islamist groups increasingly challenged this force for control of the camp in 2015. Beginning in August a large number (reportedly more than 30) of extremist militants surrendered to the LAF outside Ain el-Helweh because of reported cooperation between the army and Palestinian factions within the camp.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent judiciary in civil matters, but plaintiffs seldom submitted civil lawsuits seeking damages for government human rights violations to it. During the year there were no examples of a civil court awarding a person compensation for such violations. There is no regional mechanism to appeal adverse domestic human rights decisions. The country has reservations on individual complaints under any human rights treaty, body, or special procedures. Appeals to international human rights bodies are accessible only after exhausting all domestic remedies.

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

The law prohibits such actions, but authorities frequently interfered with the privacy of persons regarded as enemies of the government. There were reports security services monitored private e-mail and other digital correspondence.

The law provides for the interception of telephone calls with prior authorization from the prime minister at the request of the minister of interior or minister of defense.

Militias and non-Lebanese forces operating outside the area of central government authority also frequently violated citizens’ privacy rights. Various nonstate actors, such as Hizballah, used informer networks and telephone monitoring to obtain information regarding their perceived adversaries.

LAF forces raiding Syrian refugee settlements caused destruction of physical property while making arrests and in some cases forced refugees to move their informal settlements away from LAF positions.

Personal status was legally handled by religious courts, which applied religious laws of the various confessions and occasionally interfered in family matters such as child custody in the case of divorce. Refugee birth registrations require families to register birth certificates with Lebanese ministries, which remained inaccessible because the ministries require proof of legal residence and legal marriage.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and press and stipulates that restrictions may be imposed only under exceptional circumstances. The government generally respected these rights, but there were some restrictions, particularly regarding political and social issues.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals were free to criticize the government but legally prohibited from publicly criticizing the president (a post that was vacant throughout the year) and foreign leaders. Authorities also hindered the expression of certain views.

On May 30, authorities arrested Nabil al-Halabi, a lawyer and human rights activist, over his Facebook posts criticizing government officials. In his Facebook posts, Halabi accused Interior Ministry officials of corruption and possible complicity with persons arrested by ISF agents on March 27 in connection with sex trafficking of Syrian women.

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media outlets were active and expressed a wide variety of views. The majority of outlets had political affiliations, which hampered their ability to operate freely in areas dominated by other political groups and affected their reporting. Local, sectarian, and foreign interest groups financed media outlets that reflected their views. The law restricts the freedom to issue, publish, and sell newspapers. Publishers must apply for and receive a license from the Ministry of Information in consultation with the press union.

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 also 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.

On March 8, the appeals panel of the STL reversed the contempt conviction of Karma Khayat, the deputy head of news of the television news station al-Jadeed, and upheld the acquittal of the station, in connection with the broadcast of information concerning the identity of confidential witnesses. The court also overturned a 10,000 euro ($11,000) fine Khayat was sentenced to pay.

On July 15, the STL found al-Akhbar newspaper and its editor in chief, Ibrahim al-Amin, guilty of contempt of court. Authorities had charged al-Amin and al-Akhbar’s parent company with contempt of court and obstruction of justice after the newspaper published photographs and personal details of 32 confidential witnesses set to appear before the tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Violence and Harassment: On April 1, protesters attacked and vandalized the Beirut offices of pan-Arab Ash-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper, citing their objection to a cartoon published by the newspaper that they claimed insulted the country. The offending cartoon depicted the Lebanese flag with the caption “The Lebanese State… April Fool’s.” The attackers also accused the journalists working in Ash-Sharq al-Awsat of being non-Lebanese. Leading to the attack, there was a significant social media campaign against the newspaper. Authorities apprehended all but one of the attackers but released them a few days later on bail. The court case was pending at year’s end.

On June 17 and 18, Ali al-Amine, the publisher of the Janoubia online portal, received threats via social media platforms by Hizballah supporters.

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 reviewed and censored all foreign newspapers, magazines, and books to determine admissibility into the country. 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.

The government’s strained political relations with certain Arab countries where major satellite television operators were based curtailed several Lebanese satellite channels’ ability to broadcast their content. For example, on April 6, Egyptian satellite provider Nilesat stopped broadcasting al-Manar to its subscribers, claiming the channel violated its contract by transmitting programs promoting sectarian division. During the same month, Nilesat announced it was withdrawing from the country and cancelling its uplinking satellite services due to issues related to the contract with the government. Their move affected the satellite broadcasts of all local Lebanese channels, obliging them to find other alternatives. Negotiations between the government and Nilesat over Nilesat’s services continued at year’s end.

On April 1, the Saudi-owned, Dubai-based al-Arabiya news channel announced that it had “restructured” its operations in the country and closed its offices in Beirut “due to the difficult circumstances and challenges on ground, and due to al-Arabiya’s concern for the safety of its own employees and those employed by its providers.” Al-Arabiya provided no further justification for the closure.

In November 2015 Saudi-based satellite communications operator Arabsat stopped broadcasting Beirut-based al-Mayadeen satellite channel and stopped broadcasting Beirut-based al-Manar satellite channel in December 2015. Media reported that authorities blocked these channels for their criticism of Saudi Arabia’s policies.

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 January 16, the criminal court decided to terminate the case of journalist Dima Sadek due to insufficient evidence. In November 2015 authorities summoned Sadek to appear before the criminal court, rather than the court of publications, on allegations of defamation and slander against Hizballah during a televised interview with Hizballah members.

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

The law does not restrict access to the internet. There was a perception among knowledgeable sources, however, that the government monitored e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and internet chat rooms where individuals and groups engaged in the expression of views. 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.

In the absence of laws governing online media and activities on the internet, the ISF’s Cyber Crimes Unit and other state agencies summoned journalists, bloggers, and activists to question them about tweets, Facebook posts, and blog posts critical of political figures.

Restrictions on freedom of speech concerning government officials applied to social media communications on Facebook and Twitter, 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. On February 2, the Cyber Crimes Unit summoned journalist Mohamad Alloush concerning his report about a case of corruption in public administration. On February 8, authorities raided the Saida residence of photographer Ali Khalifeh and later summoned him for interrogation for “distorting the image of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and disseminating it via social media.”

Internet access was available and widely used by the public. According to the Internet World Statistics, internet penetration was 75.9 percent 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. The Lebanese University, which is the country’s only public institution of higher learning, does not have such freedoms, particularly on the campuses that host students affiliated with the Shia Hizballah and Amal Movement.

Observers considered the university’s main campus in the area of Hadath as a stronghold for youth affiliated with the two influential Shia parties in the country. There were many incidents where students affiliated with these two parties silenced their political opponents, particularly civil society activists.

In February students from a civil society movement withdrew from student elections following pressure and harassment from Amal Movement. It was reported that Amal Movement students pressured the director of the School of Business and Economics to provide them the telephone numbers of the students in the civil society movement to ruin their electoral campaign. The director was attacked by Amal Movement students on February 15 because he rejected their request to provide personally identifiable information without authorization of the university’s president. Authorities suspended the student elections following this incident.

On June 16, Mohamad Fahes, a student affiliated with Hizballah, in the Lebanese University’s School of Sciences, posted statements on his Facebook page calling upon his fellow female students to refrain from wearing short skirts on campuses located in Hizballah areas, including the main campus and southern branches; he threatened to force what he called “the nude student” to put on more clothes. Although no physical action was reported, Fahes’ calls spurred anger among bloggers and social media activists. Many students denounced his calls, underscoring the students’ freedom of opinion and behavior.

The government censored films, plays, and other cultural events. The DGS reviewed all films and plays and prohibited those deemed offensive to religious or social sensibilities. 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. On July 15, NGO Legal Agenda publicized that the DGS banned three films–Carol by Todd Haynes, I Say Dust by Darine Hoteit, and My Name Is by Karl Haddad–because the films dealt with LBGTI issues and declared that these films aimed “to promote homosexuality.” The documentary In This Land Lay Graves of Mine by Reine Mitri was scheduled to be shown at the American University of Beirut on October 27, but the DGS banned it from both public and private screenings because of alleged sectarian content.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association with some conditions established by law, but the government sometimes restricted this right. Organizers are required to obtain a permit from the Interior Ministry three days prior to any demonstration. In previous years the ministry sometimes did not grant permits to groups that opposed government positions, but there were no known examples of this restriction being applied during the year.

Security forces occasionally intervened to disperse demonstrations, usually when clashes broke out between opposing protesters.

On August 16, protesters, including members of the Kataeb party students, blocked the entrance to the Bourj Hammoud landfill to prevent dump trucks from entering the site. Security forces deployed in the area and tried to convince them to open the road. The protesters remained in the road and forced the dump’s closure for a month. On September 11, the protesters suspended their actions. Security forces and demonstrators were both peaceful throughout the month-long protest.

In August 2015 police clashed with civil society activists from the “You Stink” movement over similar waste management issues. After the clashes authorities arrested many of the protesters involved in the violence and rioting. Ultimately, authorities opened three case files after the protests. Although the details of two of the cases were unknown and investigations were in progress, in the third case authorities charged 14 persons of suspected riot assembly. Authorities charged three of the 14 with attacking the ISF, and another three of the 14 were charged with destroying public property. As of November the case was still open, although none of the accused were in detention. The hearing for the case file was set for January 2017.

NGOs that advocated for women’s rights, particularly those focused on combating domestic violence with organized protests and media campaigns, were met with some interference by security forces.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association with some conditions established by law, and the government generally respected the law.

No prior authorization is required to form an association, but the Interior Ministry must be notified for it to be recognized as legal, and the ministry must verify that the organization respects public order, public morals, and state security. The ministry sometimes imposed additional inconsistent restrictions and requirements and withheld approval. In some cases the ministry sent notification of formation papers to the security forces to initiate inquiries on an organization’s founding members. Organizations must invite ministry representatives to any general assembly where members vote on bylaws, amendments, or positions on the board of directors. The ministry must then validate the vote or election. Failure to do so may result in the dissolution of the organization by a decree issued by the Council of Ministers.

The cabinet must license all political parties (see section 3).

Independent NGOs in areas under Hizballah’s sway faced harassment and intimidation, including social, political, and financial pressures. Hizballah reportedly paid youth who worked in “unacceptable” NGOs to leave the groups.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights for citizens but placed extensive limitations on the rights of Palestinian refugees and Syrian, Iraqi, and other refugee populations. As of September 1, UNHCR registered 1,033,513 Syrian refugees and, as of June 30, registered 21,873 refugees or asylum seekers from countries other than Syria, most of whom were from Iraq. The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) provided assistance to Palestinian refugees registered in Lebanon (while approximately 458,000 individuals registered refugees with UNRWA Lebanon, the estimated number of Palestinian refugees actually living in Lebanon was between 260,000 and 280,000. UNRWA also provided services to Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS) who fled to Lebanon because of the conflict in Syria and registered with UNRWA in Lebanon. PRS in Lebanon numbered 30,675, according to an UNRWA count completed in July.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Multiple NGOs and UNHCR shared reports of sexual harassment and exploitation of refugees by government employers and landlords, including paying workers below the minimum wage, working excessive hours, debt bondage, and pressuring families into early marriage for their daughters or nonconsensual sex.

The government lacked the capacity to provide adequate protection for refugees. Refugees regularly reported abuse by members of political parties and gangs, often without official action in response. Additionally, LAF raids on settlements often resulted in harassment and destruction of personal property.

According to UNHCR, domestic courts often sentenced Iraqi and African refugees registered with UNHCR to one month’s imprisonment and fines instead of deporting them for illegal entry. After serving their sentences, most refugees remained in detention unless they found employment sponsors and the DGS agreed to release them in coordination with UNHCR.

In-country Movement: The government maintained security checkpoints, primarily in military and other restricted areas. Hizballah also maintained checkpoints in certain Shia-majority areas. Government forces were usually unable to enforce the law in the predominantly Hizballah-controlled southern suburbs of Beirut and did not typically enter Palestinian refugee camps. According to UNRWA, Palestinian refugees registered with the Interior Ministry’s Directorate of Political and Refugee Affairs could travel from one area of the country to another. The directorate, however, had to approve the transfer of registration of residence for refugees who resided in camps. UNRWA stated the directorate generally approved such transfers.

Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR must pay a renewal fee of 300,000 Lebanese pounds ($200) for each person age 15 or above each 12 months if the person wishes to remain in the country lawfully as a refugee. Syrian refugees who arrived in the country after January 2015 must have entered with a Lebanese sponsor. In light of decreasing refugee resources, renewal fees were prohibitively expensive, and most refugees had difficulty affording the fees. In addition to the fee, refugees had to provide legal housing documents and a notarized pledge not to work in the first half of the year. In May authorities replaced the housing document by a registration certificate issued by UNHCR. In July authorities also replaced the pledge not to work with a pledge to abide by the country’s laws. With respect to the latter, this instruction was slowly and unevenly being implemented throughout the country. Due to the residency fee and, in some cases, failure to obtain a Lebanese sponsor, many refugees were unable to renew their legal documents, which significantly affected their freedom of movement owing to regular arrests at checkpoints. While authorities released most detainees within a few days, a few reported their treatment in detention and reasons for release. Some of the refugees met by embassy officers said authorities required them to pay fines before being released. By March 31, the United Nations’ joint household assessment of more than 100,000 refugee families indicated that 85 percent of refugee households had at least one member without legal status. A number of refugees reported that the UNCHR registration certificate was not sufficient to renew their residency, as authorities asked them to produce a Lebanese sponsor, which in turn led to heightened risks of exploitation and abuse. Syrian refugees who entered the country irregularly or lacked Syrian passports or national identity documents reportedly cannot obtain residency permits with either a sponsor or UNHCR registration.

Similarly, despite DGS announcements that PRS could renew their legal immigration status for three months upon payment of 300,000 Lebanese pounds ($200) per year, implementation was inconsistent and the cost prohibitively high for most PRS. At the end of October 2015, the DGS began issuing several circulars allowing free-of-charge three-month extensions of residency documents for PRS who entered the country legally, but many PRS reportedly did not approach the DGS due to fear of arrest and deportation. While “departure orders” for those without legal residency status in the country were not actively enforced, authorities issued departure orders, and detention of PRS without legal status remained a risk.

In September the DGS issued a new circular stating that residency was free for PRS who had been in the country for less than one year, and the 300,000 Lebanese pound ($200) per person fee for persons 15 years and older that must be renewed every six months was waived for the first year. Upon further discussion with the DGS, authorities informed UNRWA that free-of-charge residency visas would be available for a year following the date of the last renewal of their residency, while those who had not renewed their residency during the last year would have to pay the 300,000 Lebanese pound ($200) fees. Based on UNRWA’s field monitoring and legal assistance services, UNRWA observed inconsistency and discrepancy between this information and the policies DGS offices implemented across the country. Authorities asked the majority of PRS approaching DGS offices to pay the 300,000 Lebanese pound ($200) fees despite having renewed their residency visa within the past year.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

Fighting in 2007 destroyed the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, displacing 30,000 Palestinian refugees. As of July 31, UNRWA reported that 8,854 Palestinian refugees (2,193 families) returned to newly constructed apartments in Nahr el-Bared camp, while another 12,416 remained displaced. Many of the displaced resided in areas adjacent to the camp or in other areas of the country where UNRWA services were available. Officials anticipated that a further 2,224 residents could return to the rebuilt camp by April 2017.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the country is not a party to either the 1951 convention relating to the status of refugees or the 1967 protocol.

According to a study conducted by the American University of Beirut in 2015, 65 percent of Palestinian refugees in the country lived in poverty, compared to 90 percent of PRS. The study estimated unemployment at 23 and 52 percent for Palestinian refugees and PRS, respectively. Palestinian refugees were prohibited from accessing public health and education services or owning land and were barred from employment in many fields, making refugees dependent upon UNRWA as the sole provider of education, health care, and social services. A 2010 labor law revision expanded employment rights and removed some restrictions on Palestinian refugees; however, this law was not fully implemented, and Palestinians remained barred from working in most skilled professions, including almost all those that require membership in a professional association.

As of June 30, there were 1,033,513 Syrians refugees registered with UNHCR. This total did not include Syrian refugees who arrived in the country in 2015, as UNHCR Lebanon suspended new registration of Syrian refugees after January 2015 in accord with the government’s instructions. There were no formal refugee camps in the country for Syrians. Many Syrian refugees resided with host families, in unfinished buildings, or in temporary tent settlements. More than two-thirds of Syrian refugees lived in extreme poverty. A UN assessment of more than 4,000 refugee households found that an estimated 70 percent lived below the Lebanese extreme poverty line of 5,790 Lebanese pounds ($3.86) per day. According to the study, the refugees borrowed to cover even their most basic needs, including rent, food, and health care, putting nearly 90 percent of them in debt.

In January 2015 new government regulations banned the entry of all Syrian refugees unless they qualified for undefined “humanitarian exceptions.” During the year the government accepted Syrians seeking asylum only if they qualified under the “humanitarian exceptions” that the Ministry of Social Affairs reviewed on a case-by-case basis. These exceptions included unaccompanied and separated children, persons with disabilities, medical cases, and resettlement cases under extreme humanitarian criteria.

In 2014 authorities began restricting entry into the country for PRS. For PRS to enter from Syria, they must be in possession of an officially validated plane ticket and visa for travel to a third country or have a confirmed embassy appointment in Lebanon. Authorities generally granted PRS who have all the required documentation a 24-hour transit visa. UNRWA reported that the DGS issued some PRS departure orders despite their having paid the renewal fee. Legal status in Lebanon was critical for protection, as it ensured refugees could pass through checkpoints, including to and from camps, complete civil registration processes, and access and remain within the educational system.

There was also a limited influx of Iraqi refugees who entered the country seeking to escape violence from the fight against Da’esh. As of August there were 18,542 Iraqi refugees registered with UNHCR. As of June 30, UNHCR also registered 3,530 refugees or asylum seekers from Sudan and other countries.

Freedom of Movement: Authorities imposed curfews in a number of municipalities across the country, allegedly to improve security of all communities. Some international observers raised concerns that these measures may be discriminatory and excessive since authorities almost always enforced them on Syrian refugees only.

Employment: During the year authorities began requiring Syrian refugees who wished to obtain residency permits to pledge to abide by the country’s laws, under which Syrians may work only in agriculture, construction, and cleaning.

A 2010 amendment to the social security law created a special account to provide end-of-service indemnities or severance pay to Palestinian refugees who retired or resigned. These benefits were available only to Palestinians working in the legal labor market. Palestinians did not benefit from national sickness and maternity funds or the family allowances fund. UNRWA continued to bear the cost of any medical, maternity, or family health-care expenses (excluding worker’s compensation). The law provides for benefits only from 2010 onward. According to an American University of Beirut study, less than 3.3 percent of Palestinian refugees in country had an official employment contract by a public notary, which enables them to apply for a work permit.

Access to Basic Services: The government did not consider local integration of any refugees a viable solution. After Syrians and Palestinians, Iraqis were the third-largest group of refugees in the country.

The law considers UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees to be foreigners, and in several instances they experienced worse treatment than other foreign nationals. UNRWA has the sole mandate to provide health, education, social services, and emergency assistance to the 458,000 registered Palestinian refugees residing in the country. The amount of land allocated to the 12 official Palestinian refugee camps in the country has changed only marginally since 1948, despite a four-fold increase in the population. Consequently, most Palestinian refugees lived in overpopulated camps, some of which were heavily damaged during past conflicts. In accordance with agreements with the government, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) security committees provided security for refugees in the camps, with the exception of the Nahr el-Bared camp.

A comprehensive, multi-year plan to rebuild the Nahr el-Bared camp and surrounding communities in eight stages began in 2008 and was in process, but remaining reconstruction was not fully funded, and a shortfall of 2,066,097 Lebanese Pounds ($137 million) remained at year’s end. Of the 27,000 Palestinians originally displaced following the crisis, authorities expected approximately 22,000 to return.

A 2001 amendment to a 1969 decree barring persons explicitly excluded from resettling in the country from owning land and property was designed to exclude Palestinians from purchasing or inheriting property. Palestinians who owned and registered property prior to the 2001 law entering into force are able to bequeath it to their heirs, but individuals who were in the process of purchasing property in installments were unable to register the property.

Palestinian refugees residing in the country could not obtain citizenship and were not citizens of any other country. Palestinian refugee women married to Lebanese citizens were able to obtain citizenship after one year of marriage. According to Lebanese nationality law, the father transmits citizenship to children. Palestinian refugees, including children, had limited social and civil rights and no access to public health, education, or other social services. Children of Palestinian refugees faced discrimination in birth registration, and many had to leave school at an early age to earn an income.

Palestinians who fled Syria to Lebanon since 2011 received limited basic support from UNRWA, including food aid, cash assistance, and winter assistance. Authorities permitted their children to enroll in UNRWA schools and access UNRWA health clinics. UNRWA’s verification exercise in late summer found that there were approximately 30,000 PRS recorded with the agency, which reflected a decrease of more than 10,000 PRS in the country over the previous 12 months.

The Ministry of Education and Higher Education facilitated the enrollment of more than 157,000 Syrian students in public schools in the 2015-16 academic year, and enrollment continued at year’s end. Donor funding was available to support 200,000 children to enroll; however, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimated there were approximately 379,000 school-age Syrian refugee children (ages five to 17). Donor funding to UN agencies covered school-related expenses, such as school fees, books, and uniforms. Syrian refugees had access to many government and private health centers and local clinics for primary care services, and UN agencies and NGOs funded the majority of associated costs. Syrian refugees had access to a limited number of UNHCR-contracted hospitals for emergency care.

Iraqi refugees had access to both the public and private education systems. UNHCR reported that more than 600 Iraqi children registered in public schools, and it provided grants to the children’s families to help defray the costs associated with attending school. Iraqi refugees also had access to the primary health-care system. UNHCR, through NGOs, provided secondary health care.

Temporary Protection: The country is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention and does not recognize refugees in Lebanon. Authorities termed Syrians “displaced.” While the government consistently reaffirmed its commitment to the principle of nonrefoulement with respect to Syrians, this commitment does not apply to refugees and asylum seekers from other countries, who remained at concrete risk of forced repatriation, particularly those without resettlement prospects.

According to UNHCR, authorities detained 226 refugees and non-Syrian asylum seekers through August, of whom 148 remained in detention at the end of the year. Through August the DGS deported eight persons despite UNHCR’s interventions.

UNHCR continued to intervene with authorities to request the release of persons of concern who were detained either beyond their sentence or for illegal entry or presence.

STATELESS PERSONS

Citizenship is derived exclusively from the father, resulting in statelessness for children of a citizen mother and a noncitizen father when registration under the father’s nationality is not possible. This discrimination in the nationality law particularly affected Palestinians and increasingly Syrians from female-headed households. Additionally, some children born to Lebanese fathers may not have had their births registered due to a lack of understanding of the regulations or administrative obstacles. The problem was compounded since nonnational status was a hereditary circumstance that stateless persons pass to their children. There were no official statistics on the size of the stateless population.

Approximately three thousand Palestinian refugees were not registered with UNRWA or the government. Also known as undocumented Palestinians, most of these individuals moved to the country after the expulsion of the PLO from Jordan in 1971. Palestinians faced restrictions on movement and lacked access to fundamental rights under the law. Undocumented Palestinians, who were not registered in other fields, were not necessarily eligible for the full range of services provided by UNRWA. Nonetheless, in most cases UNRWA provided primary health care, education, and vocational training services to undocumented Palestinians. The majority of undocumented Palestinians were men, many of them married to UNRWA-registered refugees or Lebanese citizen women, who could not transmit refugee status or citizenship to their husbands or children.

The Directorate of Political and Refugee Affairs continued to extend late registration to Palestinian refugee children under age 10. It previously was the directorate’s policy to deny late birth registration to Palestinian refugee children who were above age two. Children between age 10 and 20 were registered only after the following were completed a DNA test, an investigation by the DGS, and the approval of the directorate.

Approximately 1,000 to 1,500 of an estimated 100,000 Kurds living in the country lacked citizenship, despite decades of family presence in the country. Most were descendants of migrants and refugees who left Turkey and Syria during World War I but were denied citizenship to preserve the country’s sectarian balance. The government issued a naturalization decree in 1994, but high costs and other obstacles prevented many individuals from acquiring official status. Some individuals who received official status had their citizenship revoked in 2011, because of a presidential decree. Others held an “ID under consideration” document without date or place of birth.

Stateless persons lacked official identity documents that would permit them to travel abroad and could face difficulties traveling internally, including detention for not carrying identity documents. They had limited access to the regular employment market and no access to many professions. Additionally, they could not access public schools or public health-care facilities, register marriages or births, and own or inherit property.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Although the law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections conducted by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, lack of government control over parts of the country, defects in the electoral process, prolonged extension of parliament’s mandate, and corruption in public office significantly restricted this ability. The president and parliament nominate the prime minister, who, with the president, chooses the cabinet.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers concluded that the 2009 parliamentary elections were generally free and fair, with minor irregularities, such as instances of vote buying. The NGO Lebanese Transparency Association reported its monitors witnessed election fraud through cash donations on election day in many electoral districts. In 2013 parliament postponed legislative elections to November 2014 and later rescheduled them for June 2017.

Municipal elections were held on May 8, 15, 22, and 29, and constituted the first nationwide elections since the 2010 municipal elections. Although the elections were largely free and fair, observers present at some polling centers witnessed irregularities including party agents present inside polling stations, no official preprinted ballots, instances of campaigning by party agents around and inside the polling center and polling stations, and electoral bribery.

Political Parties and Political Participation: All major political parties and numerous smaller ones were almost exclusively based on confessional affiliation, and parliamentary seats were allotted on a sectarian basis.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process; however, there were significant cultural barriers to women’s participation in politics. Prior to 2004 no woman held a cabinet position, and there were only four female ministers since then. During the year one woman served in the cabinet. Only four of 128 members of parliament were women, and all were close relatives of previous male members. With a few notable exceptions, leadership of political parties effectively excluded women, limiting their opportunities for high office.

Minorities participated in politics to some extent. Regardless of the number of its adherents, every government-recognized religion, except Coptic Christianity, Ismaili Islam, and Judaism, was allocated at least one seat in parliament. Three parliamentarians representing minorities (one Syriac Orthodox Christian and two Alawites) were elected in the 2009 elections. None of the minority parliamentarians were women. These groups also held high positions in government and the LAF. Since refugees are not citizens, they have no political rights. An estimated 17 Palestinian factions operated in the country, generally organized around prominent individuals. Most Palestinians lived in refugee camps that one or more factions controlled. Palestinian refugee leaders were not elected, but there were popular committees that met regularly with UNRWA and visitors.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally were not responsive to these groups’ views, and there was limited or no accountability for human rights violations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The parliamentary Committee on Human Rights struggled to advance legislative proposals to make legal changes to guide ministries in protecting specific human rights or, for example, improving prison conditions. The Ministry of Interior has a human rights department to enhance and raise awareness about human right issues within the ISF, train police officers on human right standards, and monitor and improve prison conditions. The ministry staffed the department with two officers, two sergeants, and an information technology specialist, in addition to the department’s head. The department was not adequately resourced. Its leadership maintained high standards of professionalism, but due to the integrated structure, the department’s independence could not be assured.

In 2014 the ISF launched a revised complaint mechanism allowing citizens to track complaints and receive notification of investigation results. Citizens may file formal complaints against any ISF officer in person at a police station, through a lawyer, by mail, or online through the ISF website. At the time a complaint is filed, the filer receives a tracking number that may be used to check the status of the complaint throughout the investigation. The complaint mechanism provides the ISF the ability to notify those filing complaints of the results of its investigation.

The LAF has a human rights unit that engaged in human rights training through the Department of Defense’s Defense Institute of International Legal Studies and other organizations. The unit worked to ensure the LAF operated in accordance with major international human rights conventions and coordinated human rights training in LAF training academies. The LAF human rights unit also worked with international NGOs to coordinate human rights training and policies and requested the creation of legal advisor positions to embed with LAF combat units and advise commanders on human rights and international law during operations. The unit also has responsibility for coordinating the LAF’s efforts to combat antitrafficking in persons. The LAF also recently responded to requests for information on alleged human rights allegations by opening new investigations and provided updated information on those investigations.

Macedonia

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The law prohibits such practices, but there were reports that police abused detainees and prisoners and used excessive force. During the first six months of the year, the Ministry of Interior’s Sector for Internal Control and Professional Standards Unit reported receiving 38 complaints against police officers for use of excessive force. It took disciplinary action against two police officers for those offenses. From January through September, the Ombudsman’s Office received 96 complaints against police for unlawful or excessive use of force, 10 of which were for torture and mistreatment while performing official duties.

In July, six of 37 suspects accused of participating in the May 2015 armed clashes with police in Kumanovo that left 18 persons dead asked the court for medical assistance after claiming police brutality during their transport from detention facilities to the court. Lawyers for the suspects requested an indefinite postponement of the trial, claiming, “The torture of the defendants is evident and it has been happening from the first day they were arrested until the last hearing.” The court informed the suspects’ lawyers that a medical report confirmed the physical abuse of two defendants and recognized minor injuries. On July 20, former minister of interior Mitko Chavkov claimed that the Ministry of Interior investigated and tested the evidence several times, concluding there were no facts that supported claims of torture. As of year’s end, no police officers had been charged with torturing or abusing the defendants, despite repeated complaints and calls for action by defense counsel and the ombudsman. On December 26, the Ministry of the Interior announced it would investigate the allegations of abuse and the Skopje Public Prosecution Office confirmed an investigation was underway.

During the first six months of the year, the judiciary acted on 22 cases related to torture, out of which there were eight convictions–all resulting in probation, with none of the defendants serving prison sentences. The judiciary also tried 56 cases related to harassment and mistreatment while performing official duties, out of which there were 17 convictions–one resulting in a six-month prison sentence and 16 resulting in probation. The Basic Public Prosecution Office received 32 allegations of torture during this period but investigated and filed charges in only seven of them. Similarly, it received 138 complaints of harassment and mistreatment while performing official duties, investigating 30 of those allegations and filing charges in 22.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The country’s prisons and detention centers for both sexes failed to meet international standards. Insufficient staffing, high rates of overcrowding, and inadequate training of prison guards and personnel remained problems at all facilities.

Physical Conditions: The country had 14 penitentiaries–11 prisons and three juvenile correctional homes. Seven of the prisons also housed pretrial detainees. The prisons were designed to hold 2,036 adult inmates, 43 juveniles, and 450 pretrial detainees. As of October 3, the prison system held a total of 3,346 individuals–3,043 adult inmates, including women, 278 pretrial detainees, and 25 minors.

As of August, there were seven deaths reported in prisons and detention facilities. All of these individuals reportedly died of natural causes.

According to the Ombudsman’s Office, poor conditions have given rise to what it called the “inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners and detainees.”

The ombudsman’s annual report identified overcrowding in correctional institutions as a core problem that gave rise to many additional challenges. These secondary problems included inadequate housing conditions for inmates, insufficient and substandard health care, difficult conditions for personal and general hygiene in establishments, and poor sanitation. Insufficient staffing and inadequate training of prison guards and other personnel continued to be problems at all facilities.

Administration: Authorities considered recordkeeping at prisons adequate but not always timely. Prisoners and detainees could not submit complaints without fear of retribution.

In general, the Ombudsman found that correctional authorities’ investigations into allegations of mistreatment and abuse of prisoners were ineffective. Most offenders continued to abuse with impunity and when criminal charges were filed, the cases were not handled promptly or efficiently. As of September, the Department for Enforcement of Sanctions received a total of 16 notifications of the use of force against inmates by prison police. In one case, the department found that the use of force was unjustified. The ombudsman also opened an investigation in a case of a child sent to the juvenile correctional house in Veles who had been raped by other inmates, following allegations that correctional authorities did not report the case and tried to cover it up.

Independent Monitoring: The law allows physicians, diplomatic representatives, and representatives from the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and the International Committee of the Red Cross access to pretrial detainees with the approval of the investigative judge. The government usually only granted independent humanitarian organizations, such as the country’s Helsinki Committee, access to convicted prisoners upon the prisoners’ requests.

The ombudsman regularly visited the country’s prisons and investigated all credible allegations of problematic conditions, though on many occasions the ombudsman’s staff were turned away because prison administrators were on vacation or on medical leave.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government sometimes did not observe these prohibitions. Government statistics indicated that prosecutors requested detention orders in approximately 5 percent of all cases. Although it was within the confines of the law, detention was selectively applied to support the government’s political goals and positions. Civil society activists claimed that courts indiscriminately granted almost all detention requests submitted by the Basic Public Prosecution Office, which they alleged the government influenced, particularly in high-profile cases involving government opponents, although those requests often failed to provide adequate justification as required by law.

There were notable examples of selective arrests and detentions during the “colorful revolution” protests, which began in response to President Ivanov’s April 12 pardoning decision. At the start of the protests, police arrested participants for acts of vandalism and injuries to police. When counterprotests in the town of Bitola by supporters of the progovernment Civil Movement for the Defense of Macedonia (GDOM) resulted in similar acts of vandalism and injuries to police, there were no reports of arrests.

On April 13, police injured several individuals during arrests of 13 student supporters of the “colorful revolution.” The arrested students were shuttled between police stations, faced delays in going before a prosecutor and a judge, and were denied medical assistance and access to attorneys for up to 12 hours beyond the legal 12-hour maximum. The police charged them with “participation in a mob that commits a criminal offense” for ransacking the president’s public office in central Skopje, smashing windows, damaging works of art, and breaking and setting fire to office furniture. Of the 13 persons arrested, three were formally charged while 10 faced misdemeanor penalties. The three remained under house arrest while their trials were postponed several times due to delays in the government providing specific charges. In late May, the three pleaded guilty to causing approximately 522,000 denars ($9,030) in damages and received suspended sentences.

Participants in GDOM’s counterprotests damaged public property in Bitola and harassed journalists and police officers. No members of GDOM, however, were arrested. In Bitola, opposition SDSM municipal council member Blagojce Kotevski criticized a September report on public order that cited damage by “colorful revolution” supporters but not by GDOM. Kotevski criticized police for not responding to GDOM supporters damaging the SDSM party headquarters and party advertisements during the protests. He also noted that Dushko Ilievski, a supporter of the colorful revolution, was arrested for injuring a police officer, but no similar action was taken against GDOM members when an officer was injured during a GDOM protest.

Activists claimed that the government selectively arrested members of civil society organizations to intimidate them and discourage their participation in protests. In June authorities twice arrested Pavle Bogoevski, a former member of the civil society organization the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in the Republic of Macedonia, for participating in colorful revolution activities. Bogoevski was first arrested on June 19 for attempting to display a banner critical of the government near where the ruling party, VMRO-DPMNE, was celebrating its anniversary. On June 27, he was again arrested following a protest for allegedly not producing his national identification card. Bogoevski was released shortly after each arrest and later charged with “participation in a mob that commits a criminal offense” for throwing paint on the Ministry of Culture building on April 18. Bogoevski’s trial was postponed three times since its October 4 start date. Initially, it was postponed because the Basic Public Prosecution Office did not provide the exact amount of damages to the Ministry of Culture building. Bogoevski’s attorney requested the second postponement on November 14 after being presented with a 378,000-denar ($6,540) damage assessment prepared by experts at the Forensics Institute. The trial was scheduled to begin on December 21 but was postponed to January 30, 2017.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The army is responsible for external security and reports to the Ministry of Defense. The national police maintain internal security, including migration and border enforcement, and report to the Ministry of the Interior. Civilian authorities did not address gaps in oversight over law enforcement personnel, particularly in the Ministry of Interior’s counterintelligence division, which, without legal authorization, allegedly intercepted the communications of more than 20,000 individuals over a multiyear period (see section 1.f.). Both the Ministry of Interior and the Ombudsman’s Office received numerous complaints of unlawful or excessive use of force while performing official duties (see section 1.c.). There were also reports of impunity involving the police forces. International observers, embassies, and local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) cited corruption, lack of transparency, and political pressure within the ministry as hindering efforts to fight crime, particularly organized crime.

In addition to investigating alleged police mistreatment, the Interior Ministry’s professional standards unit conducted all internal investigations into allegations of other forms of police misconduct. The unit has authority to impose administrative sanctions, such as temporary suspension from work, during the course of its investigations, but cannot take disciplinary measures, which require a ruling from a disciplinary commission. The unit also cannot impose more serious criminal sanctions, which require court action. During the first half of the year, the unit initiated disciplinary action against 110 police personnel and filed 10 criminal charges against Interior Ministry employees for criminal acts, including “abuse of official position,” “deceit,” and “mistreatment in performing a duty.”

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The criminal procedure code requires that a judge issue warrants for arrest and detention of suspects based on evidence, and police generally followed this requirement. The law states that prosecutors must arraign a detainee within 24 hours of arrest. A pretrial procedure judge, at the request of a prosecutor, may order detention of suspects for up to 72 hours before arraignment. Police generally adhered to these procedures. Authorities generally informed detainees promptly of the charges against them. Detention prior to indictment may last a maximum of 180 days. Following indictment, pretrial detention may last a maximum of two years.

In the majority of cases, the courts adhered to the law for pretrial detention procedures. The selectivity and lack of transparency courts used when evaluating requests for pretrial detention or detention during trials were problematic. According to court sources, between 2012 and 2016, the Basic Court Skopje I, the country’s primary criminal court, granted 99 percent of pretrial detention requests by the Organized Crime and Corruption Prosecutor’s Office. At the same time, the courts denied the majority of similar requests for detention and other precautionary measures submitted by the Special Prosecutor’s Office. Only four of 23 pretrial detention requests by the Special Prosecutor’s Office were granted. One of those requests was dropped following President Ivanov’s controversial pardons on April 12, while the other three were reduced to house arrest, two of which were not extended while the third was extended and later abolished on appeal. The courts also rejected 18 requests from the Special Prosecutor’s Office for precautionary measures, including house arrest and passport seizure. In addition, the courts sometimes failed to provide appropriate justification for prolonging, substituting, or terminating pretrial detention.

There is an operating bail system. The law allows defendants to communicate with an attorney of their choice, but authorities did not always inform detainees properly of this right and did not always allow them to consult with an attorney prior to arraignment. Indigent detainees have the right to a state-provided attorney, and authorities generally respected this right. Judges usually granted permission for attorneys to visit their clients in detention. Police reportedly called suspects and witnesses to police stations for “informative talks” without notifying them of their rights and without the presence of legal counsel. Authorities did not practice incommunicado detention, but sometimes held suspects under house arrest.

Between April and July, several leading members of the major antigovernment protests were charged with “participation in a mob that commits a criminal offense.” Although their pretrial detention was set at eight days in accordance with the law, detention was extended in 30-day blocks for several suspects in those cases. For example, Zdravko Saveski and Vladimir Kunovski of the political party Levica (“Left”) were arrested on April 25 after being summoned to the Prolet police station for questioning. Saveski and Kunovski were released from nearly two months of house arrest on June 10. According to prosecutors, Saveski and Kunovski were photographed on video vandalizing President Ivanov’s public office in central Skopje on April 13. They were subsequently placed under house arrest. The court granted the defense attorneys’ motion to lift their house arrest on June 10 and ordered Saveski and Kunovski to surrender their passports as precautionary measures to prevent risk of flight. On July 6, the court returned Saveski’s and Kunovski’s passports, but two months later the Ministry of Interior prevented Saveski from traveling abroad, claiming the Ministry had not received official court notification abolishing their travel ban. The court originally scheduled their trial for September 15, but the trial was postponed several times because the trial judge had not received the exact amount of damages they caused to the president’s office. Their trials remained pending at year’s end.

Detainees’ Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Arrested suspects, their attorneys, or close family members can petition the court to decide the lawfulness of their detention or obtain court-ordered release as well as to obtain compensation for persons unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for “autonomous and independent” courts, supported by an independent and autonomous Judicial Council. The judiciary failed to demonstrate independence and impartiality, however, with judges subject to political influence and corruption. The outcomes of many judicial actions appeared predetermined, particularly in cases where the defendants held views or took actions in opposition to the government. Inadequate funding of the judiciary continued to hamper court operations and effectiveness. A number of judicial officials accused the government of using its budgetary authority to exert control over the judiciary.

According to the ombudsman’s annual report for 2015, the second greatest number of citizen complaints (19.3 percent of the total) received by the ombudsman concerned the judicial system. The report stated that citizens complained about long trials, bias, selective justice, and undue pressure on judges. A significant portion of court budgets reportedly went to paying damages for violations of citizens’ right to trial within a reasonable time. The report indicated that court decisions were sometimes considerably delayed due to administrative deficiencies or judges exceeding the legally prescribed deadlines for issuing written judgments. Preliminary investigations by the Ombudsman’s Office revealed that the situation has worsened during the year.

In a report released in June 2015, the European Commission’s Senior Expert’s Group stated, “several sources” reported “that there is an atmosphere of pressure and insecurity within the judiciary. Many judges believed that promotion within the ranks of the judiciary was reserved for those whose decisions favor the political establishment.” The report also noted that, although there were strict rules regulating the assignment of cases to judges that were implemented through an electronic case management system, there was a perception that the rules were not always respected and that there were ways to circumvent the electronic system. In its annual enlargement progress report, the European Commission noted allegations of direct interference by judicial authorities in the use of the Automated Court Case Management Information System to assign judges to handle specific procedures initiated by the Special Prosecutor.

In one example of politicization of judicial appointments, in early September the Judicial Council selected 28 new judges, many of whom were seen as loyalists of the ruling party, VMRO-DPMNE to serve on the Supreme Court, the Administrative Court, the Skopje, Bitola, and Stip Courts of Appeals, and several trial courts, including the two largest criminal and civil trial courts in Skopje. Legal experts and analysts claimed that VMRO-DPMNE loyalists dominated the Judicial Council and that the party politically influenced the appointments. Experts stated that the selection of ruling party loyalists so close to early parliamentary elections served both to shore up electoral support and to pack the courts should the Special Prosecutor’s Office bring charges against party members. The Union of the Administrative and Court Services’ Employees also stated that among those promoted by the Judicial Council were judges who intimidated union members during the May-July court service staff strike by threatening them with disciplinary fines or termination of employment. According to the union, this correlation created the perception that the judges’ promotions were rewards for their service during the strike.

During the year, a number of judges publicly expressed concern that political manipulation of judicial appointments had become more blatant, especially in cases from the Special Prosecutor’s Office. In late April, Basic Court Skopje I president judge Vladimir Panchevski appointed two new judges to the court’s Organized Crime and Corruption Trial Department under what many political and legal analysts described as suspicious circumstances, as neither of them had sufficient time on the bench or judicial experience to justify their appointment. Both of these judges were assigned cases filed by the Special Prosecutor’s Office, which unsuccessfully sought their recusal due to perceived conflicts of interest (see Section 4).

Intercepted communications released by the opposition SDSM party in February 2015 allegedly revealed inappropriate influence over the judiciary by the executive branch (see section 1.f.). Multiple recorded conversations concerned executive branch representatives influencing the judicial appointment process, and judges obtaining their positions through bribery. For example, Judge Lidija Tupanchevska Petrovska, one of the two judges assigned to try the first indictments filed by the Special Prosecutor’s Office, was mentioned in one of the illegally wiretapped conversations as allegedly procuring her judicial appointment by purchasing expensive jewelry for Supreme Court president Lidija Nedelkova.

The June 2015 report of the European Commission’s Senior Experts Group raised concerns about the fairness of the conviction of Zvonko Kostovski, a defendant in the so-called “coup” case. Kostovski, a counterintelligence officer in the Ministry of Interior, pleaded guilty to espionage and illegal interception of communications and was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. Kostovski claimed he wiretapped compromising conversations for opposition SDSM party leader Zoran Zaev in order to blackmail former prime minister Nikola Gruevski into including SDSM in the government. In its report, the Senior Experts Group expressed concern that it was impossible to know to what extent the facts supported the plea and whether the light sentence the judge conferred may have been a reward for participating in a cover-up of the involvement of others. In October, the Special Prosecutor’s Office requested an extraordinary review by the Supreme Court into Kostovski’s plea bargain. The Supreme Court ruling was pending at year’s end.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair trial, although political interference in the work and appointment of the judiciary frequently undermined this right.

In July 2015, a new law took effect that contains updated sentencing guidelines designed to address inconsistent sentencing among different courts. During the year, legal analysts expressed concern that the new law seriously hampered judicial discretion to decide sentences according to the facts in individual cases and provided too much power to the prosecutors to influence sentences.

The law presumes defendants innocent until proven guilty. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges (with free interpretation as necessary), but authorities did not always respect this right. Although trials were generally open to the public, they were subject to frequent delays.

The law grants defendants and their attorneys access to government-held evidence. In some cases, however, defense attorneys alleged they did not receive the prosecution’s evidence in a timely manner, hampering their ability to defend their clients. The lawyer for multiple suspects in the “Kumanovo trial,” a highly public and controversial case stemming from a shootout in May 2015 that left 10 armed men and eight police officers dead, publicly complained that he has not been provided access to critical evidence held by the prosecution.

Defense attorneys and human rights activists claimed that closing significant portions of high-profile trials to the public to protect the confidentiality of certain categories of witnesses and of evidence obtained via court-ordered wiretaps reduced transparency and contributed to declining public confidence in the courts, especially among the ethnic Albanian population. The defense in the Kumanovo trial, most of which was held behind closed doors, repeatedly raised such concerns.

For certain criminal and civil cases, judicial panels of three to five individuals, led by a professional judge, are used. Authorities did not always grant defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants may question witnesses and present evidence on their own behalf. Authorities may not compel defendants to testify or confess guilt. Both the prosecution and defendants have the right to appeal verdicts.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

During the year, there were allegations that the government prosecuted and imprisoned persons for political reasons.

On April 12, Serbian authorities arrested controversial journalist Zoran Bozinovski and approved his extradition to Macedonia on an Interpol arrest warrant accusing him of criminal association, espionage, and extortion amid allegations that he was part of a spy ring working for a foreign government. Bozinovski had reportedly moved to Serbia out of concern for his safety after posting articles critical of the government, the VMRO-DPMNE ruling party, and former prime minister Nikola Gruevski. In 2013 Serbian authorities had arrested and released him.

On July 18, the Public Prosecutor for Organized Crime and Corruption filed a new indictment against Bozinovski. His scheduled trial was subsequently postponed after the presiding judge asked to be replaced. On September 14, Bozinovski began a hunger strike, refusing food and water; he was reported to be receiving intravenous treatments twice a day. Bozinovski’s defense counsel and the ombudsman stated they did not learn about the hunger strike until September 22. He reportedly told his defense counsel that he was protesting the six-month delay of his trial and that he was prepared to die in jail. On September 28, Bozinovski ended his hunger strike when the court announced his trial would continue on October 19. The Association of Journalists in Macedonia (AJM) and the European Federation of Journalists called for his release. Bozinovski’s trial began on November 10 and was still in progress at year’s end.

In November a court suspended indefinitely the so-called “coup” case trial, which stemmed from the unauthorized intercepted communications recorded by the government’s intelligence services between 2008 and 2015. Judge Ljubinka Bashevska, chair of the five-member judicial panel overseeing trial, cited the failure of two newly appointed jurors to secure mandatory security clearances. In the case, opposition leader Zoran Zaev and four other defendants were charged with espionage and violence against state officials in connection with the illegal wiretapping scandal. The trial has been postponed multiple times, including when the court decided not to summon former prime minister and current VMRO-DPMNE party leader Nikola Gruevski to the trial, despite the fact he was the sole witness against Zaev.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens had access to courts to bring lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations. Individuals may file human rights cases in the criminal, civil, or administrative courts, and the Constitutional Court, depending upon the type of human rights violation in question and the perpetrator of the alleged violation. Individuals also may appeal adverse decisions. The law provides the right to timely adjudication of cases and a legal basis for appealing excessive judicial delays to the Supreme Court. The government generally complied with civil decisions of domestic courts. Individuals may appeal cases involving alleged state violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg after exhausting all domestic legal options.

The ombudsman’s 2015 annual report noted continuing problems regarding the right to trial in a reasonable time. According to the report, protracted civil and administrative court cases, as well as insufficient civil enforcement practices, resulted in violations of citizens’ rights.

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

The law prohibits such actions, although there were reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions during the year.

The government continued to deal with the repercussions of revelations of a widespread, illegal wiretapping campaign allegedly carried out over multiple years inside the headquarters of the Administration for Security and Counterintelligence that was first reported by opposition SDSM in February 2015. In its June 2015 report, the European Commission’s Senior Experts’ Group described as “worrying” the failure of the Directorate for Personal Data Protection, the agency responsible for overseeing the government’s handling of personal information, to be more actively engaged in investigating the illegal wiretapping scandal. Specifically, the group criticized the directorate’s idleness in responding to the “apparent lack of data protection, the potential improper and uncontrolled registration of telephone numbers as well as the invasion of the right to privacy through potentially unauthorized surveillance.”

In May the ruling coalition passed, via an expedited procedure, amendments to the Law on the Protection of Privacy that prohibit the possession, processing, and publishing of any content, including wiretapped conversations, that violates the right to privacy with regard to personal or family life. The amendments, scheduled to enter into force in July 2017, also prohibit the use of such materials in election campaigns or for other political purposes.

Lustration–the process of publicly identifying individuals who collaborated with the secret services during the communist era and prohibiting them from holding public office and receiving other government benefits–remained a point of political contention. In August 2015, the parliament adopted a law terminating lustration and preventing the Lustration Commission from opening any new cases after August 2015. The law gave the commission one year to work on cases it had already initiated.

One prominent lustration case involved Trendafil Ivanovski, former president of the Constitutional Court and the first person to undergo lustration proceedings. In January the European Court of Human Rights ruled that lustration proceedings against Ivanovski violated the right to respect for private and family life under the European Convention on Human Rights. As part of the decision, the state was required to pay Ivanovski damages of 5,350 euros. By year’s end, the Administrative Court annulled at least 40 lustration decisions for fair trial violations, opening the possibility for the affected persons to seek damages from the state.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but government pressure on the media continued to be a problem. There were multiple claims that the government selectively prosecuted opposition and media figures and interfered in defamation cases initiated by high-ranking government officials. International media watchdog Reporters Without Borders noted a decline in media freedom during the year, particularly with respect to the government’s allocation of state advertising resources in order to exercise control over the media. International human rights organization Freedom House shared similar observations, characterizing the media landscape as “not free.”

Many members of the media community, including the AJM, frequently accused the government of failing to respect freedom of speech and the press. In a series of media monitoring reports early in the year, the Macedonian Democracy Watch program of the Institute for Communications Studies stated that four of the five national television broadcast outlets (Sitel, Kanal 5, Alfa, and MTV 1) synchronized their reporting to benefit VMRO-DPMNE. They did so by highlighting the party’s projects and achievements in their reporting and supporting the party’s attacks against the Special Prosecutor’s Office. The monitoring reports also noted a high incidence of cases of editorial convergence between the four broadcast outlets, which they alleged indicated a coordination of messaging supporting the ruling party’s agenda.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law prohibits speech that incites national, religious, or ethnic hatred and provides penalties for violations. Individuals may criticize the government publicly or privately. Although most government advertising was suspended in summer 2015, there were reports that the government attempted to impede media criticism by directing political advertising purchases toward progovernment outlets.

On July 20, an agreement between the country’s four largest political parties established a five-member Ad Hoc Committee for Elections Media Monitoring to monitor compliance with media provisions of the electoral code. In September the committee determined that the public service broadcaster Macedonian Radio Television (MRT) had violated the electoral code by broadcasting government advertisements between September 2 and September 5 that amounted to free political advertising for the ruling party. The advertisements promoted various government programs, including in employment, education, and entertainment. In response to the committee’s determination, the Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Media Services initiated misdemeanor infringement proceedings against MRT, asking the Administrative Court to issue a warning, the lowest penalty available.

At the end of September, the ad hoc committee voted to initiate misdemeanor criminal proceedings against the television stations Sitel and TV Nova for unbalanced reporting in favor of VMRO-DPMNE, in violation of the electoral code. VMRO-DPMNE members of the committee and the progovernment Macedonian Association of Journalists criticized the decision, claiming the methodology used was based on subjective analysis and could lead to censorship.

Press and Media Freedoms: Individuals or organizations that appeared close to the government owned most of the national media outlets. According to the AJM’s June Summary of the Media Situation in Macedonia report, an estimated 200 media outlets competed in a small, distorted market where their financial survival depended on their ability to align themselves with the governing parties and politically connected large businesses. A limited number of independent media voices actively expressed a variety of views without explicit restriction. Media outlets and reporting continued to be divided along ethnic and political lines. Laws that restrict speech inciting national, religious, or ethnic hatred also cover print and broadcast media, publication of books, and online newspapers and journals.

Many national media outlets rarely criticized the government. As the government has traditionally been one of the largest purchasers of advertising in the country, many media outlets remained financially dependent on its spending and therefore subject to pressure to avoid criticizing it. In its 2015 enlargement progress report, the European Commission noted that government advertising provided the largest single source of funding for media outlets and had a major influence on the media market at both the national and local level. There were credible reports the government abused its market power in this manner. In summer 2015, the government suspended state spending on official advertising, although the measure did not extend to all public institutions or to private institutions affiliated with VMRO-DPMNE. The government has not disclosed relevant data on official government advertising since 2014, including funds spent, the content of the advertisements, the recipients of advertising expenditures, or the criteria for awarding advertising contracts to broadcasters.

According to a June 2015 report by the European Commission Senior Experts’ Group, the media environment deprived journalists of their ability to perform professionally and without fear. Media experts reported that a chilling effect dominated the media environment, as intimidation, absence of good labor conditions for journalists, and financial instability for media companies made them vulnerable to government pressure and reliant on government advertising. Experts reported an environment of fear surrounding the media that encouraged self-censorship. In response to serious concerns over selective reporting and lack of editorial independence on the part of the public service broadcaster MRT, the leaders of the four largest political parties on July 20 agreed that the opposition party SDSM would nominate the chief editor of the news service on MRT’s first channel, MTV 1, to serve until the end of election day, December 11.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists reported pressure to adopt progovernment viewpoints or risk losing their jobs. Several journalists reported threats and intimidation directed against them, allegedly including by government officials.

In June the Administrative Court annulled the March 2015 Lustration Commission decision naming the editor in chief of the independent weekly newspaper Fokus, Jadranka Kostova, as a collaborator of the former secret services during the 1990s, when she worked as a journalist for MRT. As in a number of other cases, the Administrative Court found that Kostova’s right to a fair hearing before the commission was violated because she was not granted her right to defense. The original Lustration Commission ruling banned her from running for or holding public office. Kostova claimed she was selectively targeted for lustration as revenge for Fokus’ criticism of the government.

Santa Argirova, the opposition-nominated interim editor in chief of the news program on MTV 1 during the pre-election period, reported constant pressure from government supporters since the four largest political parties agreed to her appointment on August 31. On September 20, the progovernment internet portal Republika published a full and unedited version of the previous evening’s interview of Special Prosecutor Katica Janeva on MTV 1, which appeared to cast Janeva in a poor light. Republika claimed to have received the tape anonymously. The board of MRT blamed Argirova for the disparities between the edited and unedited version, claiming that she acted without the necessary preparedness, professionalism, or permission from the board to produce and broadcast the interview. Argirova stated that Republika’s release of the unedited version violated professional media ethics and threatened the integrity of the media, and she asked the public service broadcaster to conduct an inquiry into the incident to ensure a similar situation did not happen again.

In June the AJM released a report, The Cases of Violations of Rights of Journalists and the Reactions of Institutions in Macedonia. The report highlighted over 30 separate incidents of violent behavior by representatives of public institutions against journalists. These incidents ranged from physical assaults to death threats to the confiscation/destruction of media equipment.

During the year, in numerous incidents members of the press and media were physically assaulted or denied the ability to report on protests. For example, on April 21 and 22, supporters of the progovernment Civil Movement for the Defense of Macedonia assaulted a cameraman and a reporter reporting live during a protest against Bitola Mayor Vladimir Taleski. Police intervened to stop the April 22 attack, but did not arrest or charge the perpetrators. On April 17, a group of antigovernment protesters ransacked and vandalized the offices of Radio Free Macedonia.

In Stip, Kanal 77 journalist Vanja Micevska reported GDOM members harassed and threatened hers when she attempted to cover one of its protests in early May. She reported the incident to police who, despite showing her press credentials, instructed her to leave the city.

In addition to acts of violence and harassment, there were credible reports that journalist encountered other obstructions as they attempted to inform the public of breaking news events. For example, on April 4, the mayor ordered a journalist from Berovo to leave the Municipal Council session on which he was reporting. The same journalist reported damage to his car following his dismissal from the session.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were reports that the government pressured journalists into self-censorship. Journalists reported far greater official interference when covering topics sensitive to the government. Privately owned media claimed they routinely received calls from authorities at the highest levels of government dictating how and what to report with regard to political issues.

Libel/Slander Laws: Persons found guilty of defamation, libel, and slander were subject to fines according to a schedule based on nonmaterial damage. Some editors and media owners expressed concern that the steep fines would promote further self-censorship. There were also claims that the government used the statute as a tool to target political opponents.

According to the AJM, as of October, there were approximately 35 defamation cases involving journalists pending before the courts. The association previously reported that 39 defamation lawsuits involving journalists were filed between October 2014 and October 2015. A total of eight such cases were adjudicated in 2016, with the court dismissing seven cases and partially upholding the plaintiff’s claim in the eighth. Information about pending cases from previous years was incomplete.

In October the ethnic Albanian junior coalition partner, DUI, pressed charges against the daily newspaper Lajm and its chief editor, Isen Saliu, “for insinuations of crime committed by the plaintiff while the party was in coalition with VMRO-DPMNE.” The party requested damages of 25,000 euros ($27,500) for a front-page article on February 3 under the headline, “Don’t Be Like DUI.” According to party officials, the article was libelous of the party. The case was still pending at year’s end.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. There were no official reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. In the wake of the 2015 wiretapping scandal, however, there was widespread public sentiment that the government was monitoring internet traffic on a regular basis. This belief prompted many citizens to use messaging applications that offer end-to-end encryption, including Viber, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Telegram. The State Statistical Office estimated that 69.4 percent of households had access to the internet in the first quarter of the year, up from 68 percent in 2014.

In January the Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Media Services adopted a methodology for monitoring election coverage on television and the radio, but not on internet portals, a gap criticized by television and radio stations. The agency stated that, although the electoral code passed in November 2015 put it in charge of monitoring internet portals, nowhere in that law, or any other law, was there a definition of “internet portal” or a description of the scope of such portals subject to monitoring. It also asserted that there was no official registry of internet portals in the country that would enable it to identify which portals would be subject to monitoring. In August the agency again declined to include internet portals in its monitoring methodology, citing a continuing lack of clarity on which portals should be monitored. The agency also stated that it could not find examples of monitoring of internet portals by other regulatory bodies across Europe. Several media associations, including the AJM, the Independent Union of Journalists and Media Workers, and the Council for Ethics in the Media, expressed the view that regulation of internet portals would discourage freedom of opinion and extend the ability of the government to influence and control the media. The final methodology approved by the agency in August omitted internet portal monitoring.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. There were incidents, however, in which members of VMRO-DPMNE intervened in institutions of higher learning for allegedly political reasons.

On June 30, members of the student parliament at Sts. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje, accompanied by persons identified as nonstudents and members of VMRO-DPMNE forcibly entered the faculty of law to interfere with elections for a new student parliament president. The individuals took the ballot boxes and locked themselves in the offices of the student parliament contrary to the association’s statutes requiring the ballots be counted in the polling places. Members of the police Rapid Deployment Unit arrived in armored vehicles and used force to block protesters from an informal student organization, Student Plenum, and allow other members of the student parliament to arrive with other ballot boxes. Police blocked the entrance to the student parliament’s offices for the rest of the night, during which time there were several other violent confrontations, including physical assaults and removals. Early in the morning of July 1, the student parliament announced a winner and claimed a turnout of 5,264 student voters, although turnout estimates by monitors from the Student Plenum were much lower. In early July, the university held an emergency session and established a committee to review the election; there was no information that the committee had met by year’s end.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The law provides for the freedom of assembly. While the government mostly respected this right, some cases of government interference were reported.

The most significant protests during the year were organized by the civil activist movement #Protestiram following President Ivanov’s controversial April 12 decision to pardon 56 individuals connected to the illegal wiretapping scandal. During these protests, later dubbed the “colorful revolution,” police impeded some protestors from exercising their right to freedom of assembly and there were some instances of clashes between police and protestors, resulting in injuries on both sides. Police called in for questioning or detained several of protesters, including members of the country’s Helsinki Committee (see section 1.d.).

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Thousands of migrants continued to transit the country up until March 7, when authorities closed the country’s southern border with Greece to halt the flow of migrants, shutting down the “western Balkan migrant route.” As of the end of November, authorities intercepted and returned to Greece more than 35,000 migrants attempting to illegally enter the country, while more than 150 migrants and refugees remained stranded at the northern and southern border crossings with Serbia and Greece, respectively.

During the year, police were accused of using force to push back migrants and asylum seekers attempting to cross the country’s border with Greece. According to NGOs and international media accounts, on April 10, police used water cannons, stun grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets against a group of 500 migrants gathered at the border with Greece after numerous migrants attempted to scale the border fence dividing the countries and several individuals threw rocks at the police. Police allegedly crossed the border into Greece to pursue this group of migrants. According to Doctors without Borders, they treated 300 individuals after the clashes, including 10 who reported they were beaten by police, 40 who were injured by rubber bullets, and 200 who had breathing difficulties after being teargassed. The government acknowledged that security forces, together with police officers of several EU member states, deployed to the southern border to assist with the migration and refugee crisis and that they used tear gas to disperse a violent mob of over 3,000 migrants, but it denied they used any other riot control measures or physical force against the migrants.

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

Foreign Travel: The constitution provides for freedom of movement and the government may only restrict it when necessary to protect national security, criminal investigations, or public health.

During the year, the ombudsman and the Helsinki Committee received some complaints, especially from Romani individuals, that state authorities denied their freedom of movement solely based on their ethnic, racial, and/or religious profile, although the number of complaints was lower than in previous years. According to authorities, in response to an EU request to reduce the number of asylum seekers arriving in the EU from the country, the Ministry of Interior continued to implement a border management strategy to limit the exit of potential “false asylum seekers.” The strategy included a media campaign, sanctions on travel agencies that served potential asylum seekers, and profiling at border crossings. As part of this effort, border authorities denied exit to several persons, mostly Roma, whom authorities suspected would seek asylum in the EU. In early November, the Minister of Interior acknowledged there were 41 cases before the courts alleging discrimination against Roma by immigration authorities. He subsequently issued directives to immigration authorities to stop the practice of interfering with the freedom of movement of Romani citizens at border crossings.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The government reported that 183 persons remained displaced from the 2001 internal conflict, 27 of whom lived in collective centers and 156 with host families.

An August 6, torrential rain followed by floods and landslides took the lives of 22 persons and forced more than a hundred from their homes in Skopje and Tetovo, the majority of whom remained internally displaced. Of these, 35 were sheltered in collective housing in Skopje, and approximately as many resided with relatives. Local media reported claims from individuals from both Skopje and Tetovo that the government did not distribute aid swiftly or efficiently. Some alleged that authorities showed no urgency in providing relief in predominantly ethnic Albanian areas.

IDPs received basic assistance, mostly from the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, but had few opportunities for work due to the country’s high unemployment rate (officially 24 percent in the second quarter of the year).

During the year, the government encouraged IDPs to return to their original homes in areas authorities considered safe. Some IDPs continued to assert that the government did not provide adequate support for the return process. Some Romani IDPs faced additional challenges because they were unable to document their tenancy at properties where they had previously resided.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR reported, however, that the mechanism for adjudicating refugee status failed to provide basic procedural guarantees and proper determinations as prescribed in the law. The government continued rejecting most asylum applications, mainly on the grounds that the applicant posed a threat to national security.

Between January 1 and early March, the Ministry of Interior closed the country’s land borders to aliens who did not possess valid refugee registration documents from Greece or who were not nationals of Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria. At midnight on March 7, authorities effectively closed the border to anyone who did not possess a valid passport and legal authorization to enter the country. On April 4 the government passed, without debate, amendments to the Law on Asylum and Temporary Protection providing legal grounds for the closure and making it virtually impossible for anyone entering the country by land to request asylum in the country.

According to the government, between January and November security forces intercepted over 35,000 persons attempting to cross the southern border with Greece illegally. The number of attempted illegal entries into the country decreased after late August, as border police reported intercepting an average of 18 irregular migrants per day. Rather than conducting interviews with each intercepted migrant to assess them for human trafficking or asylum claims, border police summarily return the interdicted individuals back to Greece through the nearest border crossing point, sometimes using physical force. Although vastly fewer in number, asylum seekers from other countries with active conflicts, such as Libya and Yemen, were denied entry. UNHCR stated that these “push-backs” violated the 1951 Refugee Convention as well as Protocol 4 to the European Convention on Human Rights. The government issued identity documents to recognized refugees and persons under subsidiary protection, but authorities frequently delayed or failed to issue identification documents to new asylum seekers.

As required by law, the government typically provides applicants for asylum with a residence, free legal services, basic health services and insurance, social protection, the right to seek employment, and education. Once asylum seekers received refugee status, they have the same rights as citizens, although they cannot vote, establish a political party, or serve in the military.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: On April 4, the government adopted a law that broadened the concept of a “safe third country” to include any member state of the EU, NATO, or the European Free Trade Area, effectively precluding any migrant entering the country by land from countries other than Kosovo and Serbia from seeking asylum. The government did not consult UNHCR on the changes to the asylum law and ignored UNHCR’s expression of concern and its request to delay implementation of the amendments.

Durable Solutions: As of December, only 68 of the approximately 35,000 asylum seekers transiting the country were recognized as refugees. No individuals from the 1999 conflict in Kosovo had returned to Kosovo, while 102 awaited return. UNHCR continued to assist rejected asylum seekers from Kosovo, whom the government allowed to stay in the country. The government issued them provisional identification documents to secure their access to services. The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy provided integrated, durable solutions with the support of UNHCR for approximately 600 refugees who had applied for integration into the country.

Temporary Protection: The government provides subsidiary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees, although it had not provided it to any persons during the first nine months of the year.

STATELESS PERSONS

Some habitual residents were legally stateless, in spite of fulfilling one or more criteria for citizenship. As of June, UNHCR reported there were 641 persons in the country under its statelessness mandate. UNHCR worked with the authorities to resolve the situation of an additional estimated 273 of those persons, primarily Roma, who lacked civil registration and documentation. Children born in the country to stateless persons are themselves considered nationals and have access to birth registration and certification.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The July 20 agreement negotiated by the country’s four largest political parties–VMRO-DPMNE, SDSM, DUI, and DPA–included provisions to improve the election process by cleaning the national voters’ registry, leveling the media playing field before elections, and establishing an interim technical government prior to elections. While the four largest political parties assessed that all of the provisions were implemented, many observers noted that they were implemented with varying levels of effectiveness.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent national elections were the December parliamentary elections, which had a record high turnout and only minor confirmed irregularities. According to the preliminary OSCE/ODIHR report, although the State Election Commission struggled with the preparations for elections, election day was generally well administered and orderly. While ODIHR found that fundamental freedoms were generally respected, and candidates were able to campaign freely, it noted that the elections took place “in an environment characterized by a lack of public trust in institutions and the political establishment, and allegations of voter coercion.” According to ODIHR, the elections failed to meet some important OSCE commitments for a democratic electoral process, including voter intimidation, widespread pressure on civil servants, vote buying, coercion, and misuse of administrative resources.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There are few restrictions on forming or joining political parties, which are subject to the same laws as ordinary citizens. During the year, the ruling coalition dominated and manipulated the media (see section 2.a.). While membership in a political party is not mandatory, there is an active patronage system in the country whereby parties confer special benefits and advantages on their members. During the year, there were widespread reports that whether a candidate was a member of a party of the ruling coalition influenced civil service hiring decisions, including for teachers and police recruits. During the precampaign period before the cancelled early parliamentary elections in April and June, NGOs reported numerous examples of the blurring of state and party activities, including the misuse of government resources for campaign purposes. For example, former prime minister and current VMRO-DPMNE leader Nikola Gruevski promoted and announced government projects after resigning his position in January, although he no longer held a position in the government.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and women and minorities did participate. The law requires gender diversity in each political party’s candidate list, and no more than two-thirds of a party’s candidates may be the same gender. Men dominated leadership ranks in political parties, with the notable exceptions of SDSM and DUI, both of which included women as party vice presidents, and the Democratic Renewal of Macedonia party, headed by Liljana Popovska.

Ethnic Albanians and other ethnic minorities continued to complain of inequitable representation within government and of discriminatory practices excluding them from political participation, such as selective withholding of security clearances.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were often willing to listen to these groups but were also often unresponsive to their views. There were reports that in late December tax authorities launched inspections of several human rights organizations.

Just before the December 11 elections, the Public Revenue Office targeted for systematic audits NGOs affiliated with the civil society-led “We Decide,” “We Deserve Better,” and “The Citizens of Macedonia” campaigns to help monitor and ensure free and fair elections. The Public Revenue Office conducted the audits in the weeks following the elections. The audits coincided with former prime minister and VMRO-DPMNE leader Nikola Gruevski’s call for the “de-Soros-isation” of the country, an allusion to ending international donor support to NGOs. The opposition party SDSM later revealed that 42 individual members of the opposition who had openly criticized Gruevski and the previous government were also subject to audits and investigations. Critics of the audits, including the ombudsman, called them a “witch hunt” and urged public institutions not to serve the interests of the political parties or their members.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government worked with several organizations under the umbrella of the United Nations, including the UN Children’s Fund, the UN Development Program, and UNHCR, as well as other international organizations focusing on financial, health, migration and refugee, and security issues.

In April, following the parliament’s amendments to the Law on Asylum and Temporary Protection, UNHCR sent the government a letter requesting that it withdraw the amendments, as they violated the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol to that convention by essentially denying any refugees entering the country by means other than air transportation the ability to apply for asylum. UNHCR also requested a greater role in the government’s border management efforts to ensure that refugees attempting to enter the country would be properly screened for eligibility to apply for asylum, identification of harmful medical conditions, and identification of potential victims of trafficking in persons. As of year’s end, the government had not responded to the requests.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman worked to protect citizens against infringement of their rights by public institutions, reduce discrimination against minority communities and persons with disabilities, promote equitable representation in public life, and address children’s rights. The government did not ensure adequate resources for the ombudsman’s office or give the ombudsman control over his budget.

In August parliament approved a draft law amending the Law on the Ombudsman with the goal of harmonizing that law with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Paris principles relating to the status of national institutions. While the government asserted that the amendments would promote human rights, pluralism, and the rule of law as well as strengthen the mandate and independence of the ombudsman, the opposition described the reforms as cosmetic and incapable of identifying and punishing misconduct within state institutions.

The Interministerial Body for Human Rights, chaired by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki, examined problems related to the promotion of human rights and freedoms under the international human rights conventions adopted by the country.

The country’s seven-member Commission for Protection from Discrimination has a mandate to review discrimination complaints, issue recommendations, and promote the implementation of the antidiscrimination law. The commission does not have the power to punish offenders, and was located in an office inaccessible to persons with physical disabilities. Unlike the ombudsman, the commission reviewed complaints from both the public and private sectors, although the public at large continued to be largely unaware of the commission’s existence. Citizens not satisfied with the outcome of complaints may seek redress in court, which may accept the written opinion of the commission as evidence.

Mongolia

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The law prohibits such practices. Nevertheless, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that the use of unnecessary force and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of some prisoners and detainees, as well as torture, particularly to obtain confessions, were problems.

According to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), individuals refused to pursue criminal charges in 21 of 25 complaints of the use of force, pressure, or torture by a public official, police officer, or investigator reported to the National Police Agency (NPA) in the first eight months of the year. Two of the four remaining complaints were transferred to another jurisdiction, one was dismissed, and one remained under investigation as of September. The NPA also received 24 complaints of the use of force against the health or body of an individual by a public official, police officer, or investigator. Of these, 15 remained under investigation, and six had been handed over to the Prosecutor General’s Office as of September. The NPA reported that prisoners and detainees submitted 16 of the aforementioned complaints of abuse in the first half of the year.

The NHRC, NGOs, and defense attorneys reported that, in an attempt to coerce or intimidate detainees, authorities sometimes threatened detainees’ families, transferred detainees repeatedly, or placed them in detention centers distant from their homes and families, making access to legal counsel and visits by family members difficult. Human rights NGOs reported obstacles to gathering evidence of torture or abuse. While many prisons and detention facilities had cameras for monitoring questioning, for example, equipment was often reported inoperable at the time of reported abuses.

Local police are responsible for investigating allegations of abuse and torture. The NHRC and NGOs expressed concerns about possible conflicts of interest in cases involving alleged police abuse or torture, which could undermine public confidence in investigations.

Legal professionals and NGOs cited numerous other barriers to holding alleged abusers accountable. For example, only police detectives and investigators can be tried under the criminal code’s principal article for prosecuting official abuse or torture. This article, moreover, covers only physical abuse and does not include psychological abuse or threats against suspects or their families. Although law enforcement officials can be held liable for intentional infliction of severe bodily injury, prosecutions of this crime were rare. The law states that prohibited acts do not constitute a crime when committed in accordance with an order by a superior in the course of duty. The law provides that the person who gave an illegal order is criminally liable for the harm caused, but prosecutions were rare. According to Amnesty International, prosecutors, and judges, the law effectively provides immunity to law enforcement officials allegedly engaged in coercing confessions at the behest of investigators or prosecutors. According to the NHRC, authorities sometimes abandoned complaints alleging psychological torture either for lack of evidence or because the degree of injury could not be determined. Moreover, witnesses were generally themselves detainees or prisoners and were under great pressure not to testify, including by threats against family and threats of additional charges with longer potential sentences.

As of September the NPA reported two complaints of rape by a public official. The NPA did not accept one as a criminal case; the other remained under investigation at year’s end.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

According to NGO reporting, conditions remained poor and in some cases harsh in some prisons and pretrial detention centers administered by the General Executive Agency of Court Decisions (GEACD) as well as in a GEACD-administered detention facility for individuals awaiting deportation, despite improvements in recent years.

Physical Conditions: Men and women were held in separate facilities under similar conditions. Authorities assigned male prisoners a security level based on the severity of their crimes and housed them in a prison of the corresponding security level. There was a single prison for women with separate facilities for different security levels, as well as a facility for prisoners with infant children. There were separate facilities for pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners.

While the GEACD’s 24 prisons and 28 pretrial detention centers were generally not overcrowded, NGOs and government officials reported that insufficient medical care, clothing, bedding, food, water quality, heating, lighting, ventilation, sanitary facilities, and accommodations for persons with disabilities were often problems in older prisons and pretrial detention centers. These problems were often worse in rural areas. New or newly renovated facilities generally had better conditions. Conditions in police-operated detoxification centers were often poor.

The GEACD reported three deaths in prisons and no deaths in pretrial detention facilities as of September. Unlike in previous years, there were no cases of tuberculosis contracted in prisons, according to the MOJ. Correctional officials routinely released terminally ill patients shortly before death, which the Prison Fellowship of Mongolia alleged led to misleadingly low prisoner death statistics.

Administration: There is no ombudsman’s office to respond to prisoner complaints. The Prosecutor General’s Office monitors prison and detention center conditions. The law permits prisoners and detainees to submit uncensored complaints to judicial authorities and to request investigation of prison conditions. The Prosecutor General’s Office and the NHRC conducted multiple scheduled, unplanned, and complaint-based inspections of prisons, pretrial detention centers, and police detention centers. Inspections resulted in guidance to improve conditions that might violate human rights or demands to correct human rights violations that occurred.

Independent Monitoring: The government allowed access by independent nongovernmental observers and the NHRC, but access was generally limited to low- and medium-security facilities, and authorities sometimes limited the areas observers were allowed to see.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law provides that no person shall be arrested, detained, or deprived of liberty except by specified procedures, and most government agencies generally observed these prohibitions. The General Intelligence Agency (GIA), however, on occasion detained suspects for questioning without charge.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The NPA and the General Authority for Border Protection, which operate under the Ministry of Justice, are principally responsible for internal security. The GIA, whose civilian head reports to the prime minister, assists the aforementioned forces with internal security as well as foreign intelligence collection and operations.

The armed forces, which report to the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for national defense but also assist internal security forces in providing domestic emergency assistance and disaster relief.

Civilian authorities generally maintained control over both internal and external security forces, but mechanisms to investigate allegations of police abuses remained inadequate. Instances of police abuse of undetained suspects were reported. Through September the NPA reported seven complaints of physical attacks by police against citizens that resulted in criminal cases. In such cases the officer was released from duty when charges were filed. As of September, no cases had been resolved.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

An evidence-based, prosecutor-approved warrant is generally required to arrest a suspect on criminal grounds. Within 72 hours of an arrest, a prosecutor must present a request stating the grounds and reasons for the arrest to a judge, who must decide within 48 hours whether to prolong the detention or release the suspect. The arresting authority must notify a suspect’s family within 24 hours of an arrest. A “pressing circumstances” exception in the law allows police to arrest suspects without a warrant. Examples of exceptions include finding a suspect at a crime, hot pursuit of a fleeing suspect, reasonable suspicion of involvement in a grave crime, and unavailability of a judge. In such cases, a prosecutor must approve the arrest within 24 hours, and a judge must approve the arrest within the normal 48-hour period. If 72 hours pass after an arrest and a judge has not made a decision, police must release the suspect. Upon release, authorities must inform the suspect of the reasons for the arrest and detention.

Although the law clearly defines the grounds on which police may detain a suspect, the grounds for release are not clear; according to the NHRC, this sometimes resulted in long-term, legally permitted detentions of up to 30 months.

The NHRC reported that investigative agencies occasionally detained suspects without judicial authorization and sometimes secretly when conducting investigations and that police tended to detain such suspects despite the availability of other methods of restraint, including bail (with the approval of a prosecutor), another person’s personal guarantee, a signed note in which the suspect pledges not to depart, and military surveillance. The personal guarantee system allows relatives to vouch for an accused family member (unlike bail, the system does not involve pledged security in exchange for release). This system is available for all types of crimes, although it was usually applied to those accused of less serious offenses.

Despite these problems, authorities generally charged and informed detainees of the charges promptly, and informed them of their right to counsel. Maximum pretrial detention with a court order is 24 months, with an additional six months allowed for particularly serious charges such as murder. Detainees generally had prompt access to family members, although repeated transfers or detention in remote locations could undercut this right.

A detainee has the right to an attorney during pretrial detention and all subsequent stages of the legal process, including after sentencing. If a defendant does not engage an attorney, the government must appoint one if the defendant suffers from a physical or mental disability that would hinder self-defense, is a minor, does not have command of the Mongolian language, may be subject to the death penalty, or has a conflict of interest with existing defense counsel or other defendants. Indigent status is not a factor. Detainees were reportedly more aware of their right to legal counsel than in the past, but misperceptions limited their use of this right. For example, detainees were frequently unaware that they were able to exercise this right from the start of the legal process and frequently did not assert it unless and until their cases reached trial. In addition, in some cases repeated transfers or detention in remote locations made access to legal counsel difficult.

Arbitrary Arrest: GIA agents arrested B. Bulgan, the widow of slain democracy leader S. Zorig, in November 2015 on suspicion of involvement in her husband’s 1998 murder and briefly held her incommunicado at an undisclosed location before transferring her to the Tuv Province detention center, where she was reportedly kept in solitary confinement. During her detention, authorities responded to multiple inquiries from government, press, and other organizations by claiming that her case involved “national security” details requiring non-standard detention procedures. Authorities never charged Bulgan, yet only released her in September. Three other suspects in the Zorig case remained in prison or pretrial detention as of November, again without being notified of the charges against them.

Pretrial Detention: The UN Committee against Torture expressed concern in an August statement at reports of widespread use of pretrial detention, including beyond legal limits. The committee expressed concern at reports indicating that more than 12 percent of arrested persons were detained for more than 12 months, and 3 percent were detained for more than 30 months.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law provides persons who have been arrested or detained the ability to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention. Persons may pursue compensation and damages, if found to have been unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary but NGOs and private businesses reported that corruption and outside influence continued. Courts rarely entered not guilty verdicts or dismissed criminal charges over the objection of prosecutors, even in those instances in which full trials had produced no substantial evidence of guilt. Courts often returned criminal cases to prosecutors when acquittal appeared more appropriate. As a result, some serious criminal cases cycled for years without resolution between prosecutors and the courts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to be informed of the charges against them (with interpretation as necessary, including sign language interpretation, provided for free unless a court decides to recover procedural expenses from a defendant found guilty). The law also extends to all defendants the right to a fair, public trial without undue delay; to be present at their trial in the court of first instance (but not during appeals); to communicate with an attorney of their choice (or one provided at public expense); to receive adequate time to prepare a defense; to have access to government-held evidence; to confront witnesses; to present one’s own witnesses and evidence; to not be compelled to testify or confess guilt; and to appeal. NGOs and observers reported that authorities observed these rights imperfectly and bribery of judges, prosecutors, and expert witnesses sometimes contributed to unwarranted convictions, dismissals, or reductions of sentences.

Procedural due process errors and inconsistencies often plagued trials. Although the number of government-provided defense lawyers was adequate, their quality and experience were uneven, so that many defendants lacked adequate legal representation. Judges often relied on confessions with little corroborating evidence. Additionally, NGOs reported witness intimidation by government authorities and law enforcement officers, limited public access to trials (often due to lack of space), and an overall lack of transparency in courts’ decision-making processes.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Administrative and judicial remedies are available for alleged human rights violations. Corruption, outside influence, and lack of enforcement of court orders were problems in the civil judicial system.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

While no such cases occurred as of September, in the past semi-nomadic herders reported that some private and government-owned mining interests interfered with their access to traditional pasturelands. Because the herders lacked documentation, they were at a disadvantage when seeking compensation. Some mining companies provided voluntary resettlement and financial compensation.

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

The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and press, although the government imposed some content restrictions, and journalists practiced self-censorship on occasion.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Communications Regulatory Commission (CRC) regulations on digital content and television and radio service impose content restrictions in broad terms with limited definition of restricted content. The government appoints members of the CRC, which grants television and radio broadcast licenses without public consultation. This, along with a lack of transparency during the license-tendering process, inhibited fair competition in accessing broadcast frequencies and benefited those with political connections.

Press representatives stated that they at times practiced self-censorship to avoid government or political party harassment.

Libel/Slander Laws: Press representatives often faced libel complaints by government authorities and private persons or organizations. The law places the burden of proof on the defendant in libel and slander cases, and both defamation and insult are criminal offenses. By law “spreading libel to the public by means of mass media” is punishable by a fine of up to 150 times the minimum wage or six months’ imprisonment. The revised May 2016 election law imposes further limits during campaign periods, stating that “defamation and dissemination of false information through press and social media” could result in a six-month suspension of a media organization’s license.

INTERNET FREEDOM

By law individuals and groups may engage in the peaceful expression of views on the internet. The government, however, restricted internet content in some cases. It maintained a (formerly public) list of blocked websites and added sites to the list for alleged violations of relevant laws and regulations, including those relating to intellectual property.

A CRC regulation places broad content restrictions on obscenities and inappropriate content without defining objectionable content explicitly. The regulation requires websites with heavy traffic to use filtering software that makes the internet protocol addresses of those commenting or sharing content publicly visible.

Beyond CRC regulations, there were also cases of apparent government interference with online expression on websites or by internet users who had posted stories or opinions that criticized or reflected negatively on government officials or electoral candidates. On June 14, for instance, the CRC, acting on a recommendation by the Authority for Fair Competition and Consumer Protection (AFCCP), blocked access to 11 websites for alleged defamation of a parliamentary candidate. Two days later, after consultation with website representatives, the AFCCP withdrew its recommendation, and the CRC unblocked the websites.

Internet access was widely available to the country’s urban population and increasingly available in rural areas.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right. The Ulaanbaatar city government, however, banned public entertainment and sporting events from June 28-30, immediately before and after the parliamentary elections, for the stated purpose of preserving public order. The city government also prohibited civil society organizations, political parties, and individuals from organizing demonstrations and protests on Ulaanbaatar’s central square and in other public areas from July 1-17 to ensure public order and foreign guests’ safety during the July 11-13 Naadam festival and the July 15-16 Asia-Europe Meeting Summit.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

Foreign Travel: The law allows immigration officials, courts, the General Executive Agency for Court Decisions (GEACD), and several other entities to ask that departure from the country be prevented for a variety of reasons, including civil disputes, pending criminal investigations, and immigration violations, although only the Prosecutor General’s Office can impose an exit ban. The law does not require an arrest warrant or official determination that charges are warranted; a complaint by an aggrieved party is sufficient to deny exit. Authorities do not allow individuals under exit bans to leave until the disputes leading to the bans are resolved administratively or by court decision, and bans may remain in place for years.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The constitution provides for granting asylum, but the law does not provide for granting refugee status. The government has established an informal system for providing limited protections to foreign nationals resident in the country while UNHCR adjudicates their refugee claims. A 2010 law establishes deportation criteria and permits the Agency for Foreign Citizens and Naturalization (the country’s immigration agency) to deport asylum seekers.

Employment: The law does not afford a specific legal status to refugees and asylum seekers; by default, therefore, they were usually treated as irregular migrants and were not issued work permits.

Access to Basic Services: Because the law does not provide for refugee status, would-be refugees generally did not have government-provided access to basic services such as health care and education. Refugees and asylum seekers could access private medical facilities with UNHCR support.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent national elections were 2016 parliamentary elections and the 2013 presidential election. An Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) election observer mission assessed voting positively, although the secrecy of the vote was not always ensured. The missions concluded that the elections were characterized by competitive campaigns conducted in an environment that respected fundamental freedoms, although restrictive media-related provisions limited information available to voters. The OSCE noted that the May 2016 change from a mixed electoral system to a solely majoritarian one resulted in profound population differences among constituencies in the parliamentary elections, which is inconsistent with the principle of equality of the vote. The OSCE further noted that the elimination of out-of-country voting prior to the parliamentary elections effectively disenfranchised 150,000 citizens living abroad.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or minorities in government and politics. Cultural practices, such as holding property in a husband’s name, at times affected women’s ability to obtain loans needed to finance electoral campaigns (see section 6).

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The NHRC is responsible for monitoring human rights abuses, initiating and reviewing policy changes, and coordinating with human rights NGOs. The NHRC consists of three senior civil servants nominated by the president, the Supreme Court, and parliament for six-year terms, and is funded by parliament. Officials reported that the government budget covered wages and administrative expenses, but did not provide sufficient funding for inspection, training, and public awareness activities, prompting the NHRC to seek external funding sources. The NHRC consistently supported politically contentious human rights issues, such as LGBTI rights.

There was considerable collaboration between the government and civil society in discussing human rights problems. NGOs and international organizations noted that government officials had become much more open to including NGOs in the legal drafting process and in the preparation of official reports on social and human rights problems.

Montenegro

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

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

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

There was an increase in the number of killings and attempted killings between organized criminal groups. During the first nine months of the year, there were eight deaths and 12 attempted homicides related to organized crime. There were five each in the same period of 2015.

Authorities continued to pursue war crimes cases involving several individuals, primarily low- and mid-level police and military officers, for their alleged actions during the Balkan conflicts of 1991-99. According to Supreme State Prosecutor Ivica Stankovic, the Special State Prosecutor’s Office was screening seven criminal war crimes cases. These included four older cases: Morinj, Bukovica, Deportation, and Kaluderski laz. The prosecution reviewed the older cases to determine if sufficient grounds existed to reopen proceedings and indict additional suspects.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such abusive practices. Internal investigations by a variety of institutions significantly reduced, but did not eliminate inappropriate treatment of detainees by police officers and prison guards. The government prosecuted police officers and prison guards accused of overstepping their authority.

Leading human rights organizations and the government ombudsman’s office strongly criticized the Special Antiterrorist Unit (SAJ) and prosecution for not pursuing more cases of human rights violations, most notably the beating of the president of the Professional Boxing Association, Milorad Martinovic, during a protest by the opposition coalition Democratic Front in October 2015. After the ombudsman’s office filed a criminal complaint against the SAJ commander Radosav Ljeskovic, the Podgorica basic prosecutor charged Ljeskovic on June 1 with being an accessory after the fact for concealing evidence about who beat Martinovic. On June 30, the interior minister suspended Ljeskovic pending resolution of the criminal case against him.

In March the Danilovgrad Basic Court found nine Spuz prison inmates guilty of attacking and injuring five guards during a brawl in January 2015. Another trial of 10 prison guards for beating 13 prisoners during the same brawl was still pending as of December.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) noted that a number of police officers found responsible for violating rules of service, including cases of excessive use of force, remained on duty.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and pretrial detention facilities were generally poor and dilapidated, with some prison units overcrowded.

Physical Conditions: The NGO Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR) reported that some prison facilities remained grossly overcrowded and prisoners had difficulties accessing quality health care.

The law provides for health care services for all detainees, but NGOs reported that prisoners who were addicted to drugs, had mental disabilities, or had other special needs were unable to obtain adequate treatment. The YIHR noted a shortage of doctors in the prison system, and the NGO Juventas urged the Ministry of Justice to provide facilities for prisoners with mental disabilities or drug addiction.

Podgorica prison was still not fully accessible to persons with disabilities, although the YIHR noted in its June report that prison officials did install some ramps at its facilities.

The press reported two hunger strikes during the first nine months of the year.

Administration: Authorities permitted both visitors and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities and the ombudsman, generally without censorship, and to request investigations of credible allegations of substandard conditions. Authorities often investigated such problems, but they usually did so only in reaction to media campaigns or upon the ombudsman’s recommendation.

Police did not release information on the state of prison recordkeeping.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits to prisons by independent nongovernmental observers, including human rights groups and the media. Even when monitors visited on short notice, prison authorities allowed them to speak with the prisoners without the presence of a guard.

Improvements: Improvements in the physical facilities, staffing levels, and training for guards continued throughout the year. Overcrowding in the temporary detention prison in Podgorica significantly diminished.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government usually observed these prohibitions. Nevertheless, police compensated numerous persons during the year for unwarranted detention.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police Force, which includes the Border Police, is responsible for maintaining law and order. It operated under the supervision of the Ministry of the Interior and was generally effective. The Agency for National Security (ANB) is responsible for intelligence and counterintelligence activities.

Impunity remained a problem in the security forces. NGOs cited corruption, lack of transparency, and the ruling political parties’ influence over prosecutors and officials of the Ministry of Interior as obstacles to greater effectiveness. There was also a widespread view that personal connections influenced the enforcement of laws. Low salaries sometimes contributed to corruption and unprofessional behavior by police officers.

Human rights observers continued to express concern over the low number of prosecutions of security force personnel accused of human rights abuses. The prosecutor’s office, which is responsible for investigating such abuses, seldom challenged a police finding that use of force was reasonable. Human rights observers claimed citizens were reluctant to report police misconduct due to fear of reprisal. Watchdog groups alleged that the continuing police practice of filing countercharges against individuals who reported police abuse discouraged citizens from reporting it and influenced other police officers to cover up responsibility for violations. In cases where courts determined police used unreasonable force, sentences were usually lenient.

With foreign assistance the government provided training to police and security forces aimed at reducing abuse and corruption and promoting respect for human rights. The Institute Alternativa, an NGO, stated that the Office for Internal Control of Police Operations continued to lack sufficient legal authority to implement its responsibilities fully.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Arrests require a judicial ruling or a “reasonable suspicion by the police that the suspect committed an offense.” Police generally made arrests using warrants issued by judges and based on sufficient evidence. Police and prosecutors may detain suspects for up to 72 hours before bringing them before a judge and charging them. The law prohibits excessive delay in filing formal charges against suspects and in conducting investigations, but delays sometimes occurred. At arraignment judges make an initial determination about the legality of the detention, and arraignment generally occurred within the prescribed period.

Courts increasingly used bail. Judges could also release defendants without bail and limit their movements, impose reporting requirements upon them, or retain their passports or other documents to prevent their flight. The law permits a detainee to have an attorney present during police questioning and court proceedings, and detainees generally had prompt access to a lawyer. Although legal assistance was supposed to be available for persons in need, there were financial constraints on the government’s provision of assistance. Authorities must immediately inform the detainee’s family, common-law partner, or responsible social institution of an arrest, and they usually did so. There were no reports that authorities held detainees incommunicado.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police continued to summon both witnesses and suspects to police stations for “informational talks” and often used this practice to curb hooliganism during soccer matches or to reduce participation in opposition political rallies. This practice usually neither involved holding suspects longer than the six hours allowed by the law nor typically resulted in charges.

Pretrial Detention: Courts frequently ordered the detention of criminal defendants pending trial. The law sets the initial length of pretrial detention at 30 days but permits prosecutors to increase it by five months. When combined with extensions granted by trial judges, authorities could detain a defendant legally for up to three years from arrest through completion of the trial or sentencing. The average detention lasted between 90 and 120 days. Authorities stated that pretrial detainees on average accounted for 30 percent of the prison population. Police often relied on prolonged pretrial detention as an aid to investigate crimes. The backlog of criminal cases in the courts also contributed to prolonged detention. The courts continued to reduce this backlog gradually.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: A defendant has the right to appeal his detention. A defendant also has the right to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and to obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. This appeal goes to the nontrial panel of the court for decision within 48 hours.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but some NGOs, international organizations, and legal experts asserted that political pressure and corruption influenced prosecutors and judges. The process of appointing judges and prosecutors remained somewhat politicized. To reduce political influence over the process, the government amended the constitution and relevant legislation, and created a new prosecutorial council to select prosecutors, which includes election of a Special State Prosecutor who opened several high-level corruption cases during the year. Inadequate funding and a lack of resources and organization continued to hamper the effectiveness of the courts. The government also expanded the capabilities of the Office of the Special Prosecutor with a larger staff and secures electronic communication between all the prosecutorial offices. The Ministry of Justice adopted amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code to improve the efficiency of criminal proceedings. For example, plea bargaining, now available for all crimes except war crimes and those related to terrorism, led to the successful conclusion of a number of corruption cases.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair public trial. By law defendants are presumed innocent. Authorities are required to inform detained persons of the grounds for their detention. Defendants have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants have the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay and to be present at their trial. Courts may close certain sessions during testimony of government-protected or other sensitive witnesses. Authorities also close juvenile trials. Defendants have the right to consult an attorney in a timely manner in pretrial and trial proceedings. The law requires authorities to provide an attorney at public expense when a defendant is a person with disabilities or is already in detention, destitute, facing a charge carrying a possible sentence of more than 10 years, being tried in absentia, or engaged in a plea-bargaining process. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to access government-held evidence relevant to their cases if it does not imperil the investigation, national security, or witness protection. Defendants have the rights to confront prosecution witnesses, present their own witnesses and evidence, and remain silent. Both the defense and the prosecution have the right of appeal. These rights extend to all defendants.

While the judiciary endeavored to hold criminal trials publicly, it often did not do so due to a shortage of proper facilities. The shortage also affected the timeliness of trials. Systemic weaknesses, such as political influence and prolonged procedures, diminished public confidence in the efficiency and impartiality of the judiciary.

Courts may try defendants in absentia but by law must repeat the trial if the convicted individuals are later apprehended.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary in civil matters, and citizens had access to courts to bring lawsuits seeking damages for violations of constitutionally recognized human rights. Although parties brought suits alleging human rights violations and at times prevailed, perceptions that the system was subject to nepotism, corruption, and political influence led to widespread public distrust. According to NGOs, courts in most cases either rejected civil cases involving claims of human rights violations or proceeded on them slowly. When domestic courts made decisions pertaining to human rights, the government generally complied with them.

Upon exhausting all other available effective legal remedies, citizens may appeal perceived violations of human rights to the Constitutional Court. A large number of cases filed with the court involved such complaints. The Constitutional Court has the authority to review all alleged constitutional and human rights violations. If it finds a violation, it vacates the lower court’s decision and refers the case to an appropriate court or other authority to rectify the abuse.

There were also administrative remedies for violations of constitutionally protected human rights. In cases of police abuses, citizens could address complaints to the Council for Civilian Control of Police Operations, which may then make recommendations for action to the chief of police or the interior minister. In 2015 the ombudsman’s office also received and acted upon a number of complaints, including about the work of courts, the performance of the prosecution, and police conduct. The office was empowered to act in certain individual cases.

Once national remedies are exhausted, individuals, regardless of citizenship, may appeal cases alleging government violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

A large number of restitution claims for private and religious properties confiscated during the communist era remained unresolved. Both private individuals and organizations, such as the Serbian Orthodox Church, criticized the government for delays in addressing this problem.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions without court approval or legal necessity and prohibit police from searching a residence or conducting undercover or monitoring operations without a warrant. There were no reports that the government failed to respect these requirements for conducting physical and property searches.

The law requires the ANB and police to obtain court authorization for wiretaps. Human rights activists continued to claim that authorities engaged in illegal wiretapping and surveillance, but external judicial and parliamentary oversight bodies, including the opposition-controlled inspector general, did not report any violations of the law.

The media gave extensive coverage to what they described as a failure of authorities to provide information on how they treated data collected by secret surveillance but not used in criminal cases. Opposition politicians criticized police for keeping 500 persons under secret surveillance in 2015 without filing criminal charges.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, but the government maintained some restrictions.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law criminalizes the incitement of hatred and intolerance on national, racial, and religious grounds and prescribes punishment of six months to 10 years in jail.

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media generally expressed a wide variety of political and social views, including through articles and programs critical of the authorities. A report by the NGO Center for Civic Education warned that selective and nontransparent public funding through advertising was “exerting an undue influence on the media market.” According to the NGO, such funding was provided to reward media outlets favorable to the government and withheld from media that questioned official policies or practices. On December 22, the center reported that the government placed 78 percent of its 2015 newspaper advertising in the previously government-owned, low-circulation newspaper Pobjeda. In their respective categories, the progovernment public broadcaster Radio and Television of Montenegro (RTCG) with 53 percent, and the privately owned but progovernment news website Portal Analitikawith 73 percent also received the most advertising and other support funds from government agencies.

In December 2015 the Montenegro Media Institute issued a report which found that opaque ownership continued to be a problem. The report also warned about ineffective measures to prevent illegal media monopolies and a lack of transparency in how public institutions advertise in media outlets. The institute described these shortcomings as serious threats to the functioning and integrity of the entire media sector.

Despite the adoption of an upgraded journalistic code of ethics in 2015 by major media groups/outlets, deep divisions between progovernment and pro-opposition media prevented the establishment of a functional and unified self-regulation mechanism for journalists.

In its 2016 Montenegro Report, published on November 9, the European Commission found no further progress during the year in the area of freedom of expression. “The effectiveness of media self-regulation is hampered by the fact that it is split into different forms, reflecting divisions within the media community,” the report noted.

The independent station TV Vijesti blamed unfair media conditions, government economic pressure, and selective prosecution for its failure to make regular tax payments and contributions to the government budget. In 2014 Vijesti’s publishing company, Daily Press, sued Pink M Television and the formerly government-owned newspaper Pobjeda for 660,000 euros ($726,000) in compensation for losses allegedly suffered because of their efforts to discredit Vijesti. On February 25, the Commercial Court ruled that it had no jurisdiction in this case and forwarded it to the basic court.

Violence and Harassment: There were no physical assaults on journalists during the year, although media reported alleged threats and attacks on the property of media representatives, especially journalists working for pro-opposition or independent media outlets. The NGO Human Rights Action (HRA) noted 27 attacks on journalists and the media since 2014. On November 2, the HRA reported that most of the reported incidents were attacks on property, not individual journalists. The independent and pro-opposition media reportedly experienced political and economic pressure. On September 7, a group of protestors stoned the premises of the progovernment Pink M Television. Many attacks from previous years remained unsolved or lacked court decisions.

On October 27, the Podgorica High Court began the trial against investigative journalist Jovo Martinovic and 13 other persons, indicted for allegedly participating in a drug trafficking ring. The reporter pled not guilty, insisting that his contacts with the other defendants were purely linked to his work as a journalist. Numerous international and local human rights/journalists’ organizations criticized the duration of Martinovic’s pretrial detention and urged authorities to ensure a fair trial.

On April 12, the Appellate Court once again upheld the High Court of Podgorica’s decision to sentence Damir Mandic to 19 years in prison as an accomplice in the 2004 killing of Dusko Jovanovic, editor in chief of the newspaper Dan. Other possible perpetrators and masterminds of the killing remained unknown. On June 30, the government offered a one million euro ($1.1 million) reward for information leading to the arrest of Jovanovic’s killer.

The government reestablished a commission to follow investigations into attacks and threats against journalists and the media. Like its predecessor commission, which existed between 2013 and 2015, the commission failed to advance the investigations. Nikola Markovic, the commission’s chairman and deputy editor-in-chief of Dan, alleged that authorities obstructed the commissions’ work by not allowing their members access to relevant data. On July 20, parliament also created an ad hoc committee to oversee investigations of the attacks on journalists and the media. The committee held several meetings before the October 16 parliamentary elections.

Censorship and Content Restrictions: Independent and pro-opposition media complained about unfair treatment and economic pressure from government ministries and agencies. The Center for Civic Education claimed that selective and nontransparent distribution of public funds to media created an unfair media environment and was a form of so-called “soft censorship.” Government opponents continued to claim that the ruling political structures controlled the country’s public radio and television broadcaster, RTCG, and that its broadcasts favored the ruling Party of Democratic Socialists (DPS) and its satellite parties. Early in the year, opposition parties included a change to RTCG’s editorial team as a precondition to joining the unity government to prepare conditions for free and fair elections. While the government publicly rejected the opposition demand, on April 15, the director of the television section of the RTCG and two other news program editors resigned. According to the public broadcaster’s governing body, the RTCG Council, an interim editorial team in charge of the television section through late October, provided more balanced reporting. On November 30, the Council removed the RTCG director general from office for inappropriately cancelling the public advertisement for the appointment of a new public television director, and suspension of some programs and mismanagement. The majority of the council members ruled that the removed director general acted in favor of the ruling DPS, and appointed an RTCG journalist/editor as a caretaker. The ousted director general filed a complaint with the competent court against the council’s decision, claiming to be a victim of various political and interest groups. Progovernment tabloids accused the council members of colluding with opposition parties.

Some media outlets demonstrated a willingness to criticize the government. Lack of training and unprofessional journalistic behavior, combined with political and economic interference and low salaries for journalists, contributed at times to biased coverage.

Libel/Slander Laws: There is no criminal libel law, but media outlets faced libel charges in civil proceedings. During the year the Basic Court Podgorica held a few hearings but made no decision about the lawsuit of Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic’s sister Ana Kolarevic against the daily Dan. In 2015 Kolarevic sued Dan for defamation because of repeated reporting about her alleged involvement in a bribery scheme related to the privatization of the government-owned telecommunications company. Kolarevic had previously won three similar cases against DanVijesti, and Monitor, and each outlet had to pay 5,000 euros ($5,500) in damages.

Progovernment tabloids continued to wage campaigns against individuals and organizations critical of the government. In one such case, Tea Gorjanc Prelevic, executive director of Human Rights Action, sued Pink M Television for defamation, and, on May 17, Podgorica’s basic court ruled in her favor and fined Pink M 1,000 euros ($1,100).

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government normally did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. During the October 16 parliamentary elections, the Agency for Electronic Communications and Postal Services temporarily blocked two social media sites, Viber and WhatsApp, claiming that both sites were inundated with spam texts and hate speech. There were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

The Agency for Electronic Communications and Postal Services estimated internet penetration during the year to be approximately 65 percent.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for the freedom of assembly. The government usually respected this right, but on several occasions the Ministry of Interior denied permits to workers and LGBTI groups wishing to assemble and express their grievances. Public gatherings within 164 feet of government buildings are prohibited. After the Constitutional Court found in 2014 that some provisions of the old law on assembly violated the constitution’s freedom of assembly provisions, parliament passed a new law on assembly during the year.

Police asserted that they prohibited gatherings that would disturb public peace and order and interfere with traffic. In some cases authorities offered protesters other locations for their demonstrations. In a few cases, when protesters assembled without authorization or failed to obey police orders to disperse, police detained them for questioning and charged them with misdemeanors.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for the freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

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

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)

The Ministry of Interior reported that, as of September 30, a total of 12,346 IDPs legally resided in the country. Of these, 10,930 received permanent resident status, and 442 received temporary resident status, with fewer than 1,000 applications still pending. Those who received temporary resident status needed additional assistance with their applications to acquire permanent residence. Authorities rejected 399 applications to receive the foreigner with permanent residence status. An additional 1,200 persons acquired citizenship. Officials stated the remaining refugees that did not apply to change their status either left the country or passed away. Approximately 250 minors who were not yet registered did not have any right of residence.

Those whose applications for the status of foreigner with permanent residence were pending with the Ministry of Interior continued to hold legal status of displaced (DPs) or IDPs. Some persons who were entitled to apply faced difficulties in obtaining the required documentation, particularly in regularizing previously unregistered births or paying the fees required to procure documents.

The governments of Montenegro and Kosovo, with UNHCR and OSCE support, organized mobile teams to assist displaced Roma and Balkan Egyptians in the Konik camp in Podgorica and elsewhere in obtaining personal documents. This program assisted approximately 50 persons (out of an estimated 1,300 in need) to obtain Kosovo passports during the first seven months of the year. New changes in the law created a judicial process for establishing the date and place of birth of persons born outside the hospital system. The new process facilitated the registration of births of those born in Montenegro, especially Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptian children. UNHCR voiced concern about an estimated 300 persons who were born outside the Kosovo or Montenegrin hospital systems, whose births were not registered, and for whom mobile teams could not establish verifiable identity documentation.

Conditions for IDPs and DPs from the Yugoslav wars varied. Access to employment, health care, and social services was sometimes limited due to a language barrier, insufficient integration programs, lack of documentation, or unclear or inconsistent administrative procedures. According to UNHCR many remained vulnerable and in need of assistance.

A number of IDPs continued to live in substandard dwellings and struggled to pay rent for private accommodation or feared eviction from illegally occupied facilities known as informal collective centers. Approximately 2,000 persons with DP or IDP status remained in barely habitable privatized facilities. As many as 1,800 Roma from Kosovo remained in a settlement in Berane and in two camps in Podgorica, while approximately 250 Kosovo-Serbs continued to live in substandard collective housing in Berane. The government and international donors continued to assist camp residents, and additional housing units were under construction under the regional housing program.

To assist both refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and IDPs from Kosovo, the government continued to implement its 2016-2017 national strategy for finding durable solutions for DPs and IDPs during the year.

Together with Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the country is a party to a regional housing program, facilitated by international donors, which worked to provide durable solutions for up to 6,000 DPs and IDPs. Through the program, authorities completed construction of 62 apartments in Niksic and started the construction of 120 housing units in Konik and Podgorica, as well as an elderly home in Pljevlja with the capacity of 68 beds. The tender procedure for the construction of 94 apartments in Berane was finalized and construction slated to start at the beginning of 2017. In addition the program’s Assembly of Donors approved the delivery of 50 houses nation-wide and the purchase of 36 apartments for refugees in Herceg Novi.

Restricted access to employment pushed many DPs into gray market activities. Poor economic prospects particularly affected Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptians from Kosovo as well as the aging Kosovo-Serb population in the Berane area, who continued to form the most marginalized and vulnerable segment of the DP and refugee population.

Although the law gives permanent foreign residents the same rights as citizens with the exception of the right to vote, their access to employment, education, property ownership, and specialized medical care was sometimes limited due to the difficulty of obtaining documentation.

The government continued to encourage DPs and IDPs to return to their places of origin, but repatriation slowed to a trickle due to the preference of many IDPs and DPs to remain due to fear of reprisals in their countries of origin or a lack of resources. During the first eight months of the year, 19 IDPs voluntarily returned to Kosovo.

Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government established a system for providing protection to refugees. Authorities required that migrants apply for asylum before they could be admitted. After fulfilling the requirement that they apply for asylum, they could remain in the country until authorities adjudicated their applications. Almost all “asylum seekers” were migrants in transit through the country to EU countries; the average stay in the country was six days.

Durable Solutions: A path to citizenship is available, but requires evidence that the applicant had renounced the citizenship of his or her country of origin.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. As of the end of the year, six persons received subsidiary protection.

Stateless Persons

UNHCR reported that there were 3,262 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2015. The government has laws and procedures that afford the opportunity to gain nationality. The most common problem confronting them, especially Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptians born in the country or in Kosovo, was a lack of personal documentation, specifically birth and civil registration documents.

The 2011 census identified 4,312 persons who claimed to be without any citizenship. Of those, 3,471 claimed to be born in the country. In a two-month drive during 2015, the government registered 486 persons who applied for this status, but the Ministry of Interior recognized only seven as stateless persons. By the end of the year, the ministry issued temporary travel documents to one stateless person.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The elections on October 16 were held under a substantially revised legal framework. The new provisions included the allocation of mandates to minority lists, voter registrations and identifications on election day, candidate registration, including the representation of women in parliament, campaign finance, and the composition and competences of election administration.

In its preliminary report on October 17, the OSCE/ODIHR observation mission noted that the elections were conducted in a competitive environment and fundamental freedoms were generally respected. The election day proceeded in a calm and orderly manner, with few cases of procedural irregularities.

After the elections the opposition parties disputed election results at the national level, but accepted the election results in four local elections, two of which were won by opposition parties. The opposition parties claimed numerous irregularities, including the announcement of a thwarted attack of the parliament building on election day, hampered the election process and as a result, they continued to boycott parliament in protest. As a condition for ending their boycott, the opposition demanded new elections no later than presidential elections in April 2018.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Membership in a ruling coalition party reportedly conferred advantages in civil service hiring and in the private sector. In May, prior to the elections, the opposition parties with the government formed a “Government of Electoral Confidence” in which opposition representatives were provided five ministerial positions and one deputy prime ministerial slot. On July 29, parliament reestablished a Committee for Monitoring Implementation of the Electoral Law with the aim of restoring confidence in the electoral process.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women in the political process, and women and minorities did participate. All minority groups had representatives in parliament except the Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptians, who remained unrepresented in spite of a law that provides representation to minority groups that win less than 3 percent of the vote or constitute less than 15 percent of the population. The law also provides for positive discrimination in the allocation of electoral seats at the municipal level for minorities constituting from 1.5 to 15 percent of population. There were no political representatives of Roma, Ashkali, or Balkan Egyptians at the municipal level (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were usually cooperative and responsive to the views of international groups, but some domestic NGOs assessed cooperation as only nominal while others reported it to be uneven.

According to some NGOs, the government, through opaque discretionary funding, played an active role in deciding which NGOs would receive assistance and which would not. The Office for Cooperation with NGOs, the principal mechanism for providing assistance, remained underdeveloped and understaffed. During 2013-15, the government allocated 9.2 million euros ($10.1 million) for NGO funding.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The protector of human rights and freedoms serves as the ombudsman to prevent torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, as well as discrimination. The Office of the Protector of Human Rights may investigate alleged government human rights violations and inspect such institutions as prisons and pretrial detention centers without prior notification. It may access all documents, irrespective of their level of secrecy, relating to detainees or convicts and talk to prisoners or detainees without presence of officials. The office may not act upon complaints about judicial proceedings in process, except when the complaint involves delays, obvious procedural violations, or failure to carry out court decisions. The ombudsman may propose new laws, ask the Constitutional Court to determine whether a law violates the constitution or treaty obligations, evaluate particular human rights problems upon request of a competent body, address general problems that are important for the protection and promotion of human rights and freedoms, and cooperate with other organizations and institutions dealing with human rights and freedoms. Upon finding a violation of human rights by a government agency, the ombudsman may request remedial measures, including dismissal of the violator, and evaluate how well the agency implemented the remedial measures. Failure to comply with the ombudsman’s request for corrective action within a defined period is punishable by fines of 500 to 2,500 euros ($550 to $2,750). The government and the courts generally implemented the ombudsman’s recommendations, although often with delays. The ombudsman operated without government or party interference and enjoyed cooperation with NGOs.

In January, four years after its founding, the government dissolved the Antidiscrimination Council without any explanation or public consultation.

Parliament has an 11-member Standing Committee for Human Rights and Freedoms. Many observers continued to perceive its contribution as insignificant and criticized its apparent sole focus on how international and European institutions assessed the country.

Some NGOs criticized the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights for passivity.

Morocco

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

There were no reported cases of politically motivated disappearance during the year.

Regarding unresolved cases of disappearance dating to the 1970s and 1980s, the National Council on Human Rights (CNDH), a publicly funded national human rights institution that operates independently, continued to investigate claims of enforced and involuntary disappearance from previous years. When warranted the CNDH recommended reparations in the form of money, health care, employment, or vocational training to victims (or victims’ families) of forced disappearance. In the last several years, the government shifted its focus from outstanding and new individual claims to community reparation projects. The CNDH continued to receive and investigate reparation claims throughout the year. According to the CNDH, there were six cases unresolved as of October and four cases presented by families before the courts. (For more information on reparation claims in Western Sahara, see the Department of State’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights for Western Sahara.)

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

The constitution and the law prohibit such practices, and the government denied it used torture. The law defines torture and stipulates that all government officials or members of security forces who “make use of violence against others without legitimate motive, or incite others to do the same, during the course of their duties shall be punished in accordance with the seriousness of the violence.” A 2006 amendment to the law provides a legal definition of torture in addition to setting punishments for instances of torture according to their severity. The government also enacted measures designed to eliminate torture. For example, in November 2014 the government deposited its ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture with the United Nations–with the CNDH filling the role of investigative organ for the prevention of torture. Reports of torture have declined over the last several years, although government institutions and NGOs such as Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) continued to receive reports about the mistreatment of individuals in official custody. The UN Human Rights Committee monitoring implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights final observations on the country’s sixth periodic report issued December 1 noted that the government has taken steps to combat torture and mistreatment and that there was a “marked reduction” in such practices since its 2004 report. The committee remained concerned by continued allegations of torture and mistreatment by government agents, in particular on persons suspected of terrorism or threats to national security or territorial integrity.

Reporting in previous years alleged more frequent use of torture. A May 2015 report by AI claimed that between 2010 and 2014, security forces routinely inflicted beatings, asphyxiation, stress positions, simulated drowning, and psychological and sexual violence to “extract confessions to crimes, silence activists, and crush dissent.” Since the AI interviews, the government has undertaken reform efforts, including widespread human rights training for security and justice sector officials. In June 2015 Minister of Justice Mustapha Ramid publicly announced that torture would not be tolerated, and that any public official implicated in torture would face imprisonment.

In the event of an accusation of torture, the law requires judges to refer a detainee to a forensic medical expert when the detainee or lawyer requests it or if judges notice suspicious physical marks on a detainee. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, human rights NGOs, and media documented cases of authorities’ failure to implement provisions of the antitorture law, including failure to conduct medical examinations when detainees allege torture. Following the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur for Torture’s 2013 report, the Ministries of Justice, Prison Administration, and National Police each issued notices to their officials to respect the prohibition against maltreatment and torture, reminding them of the obligation to conduct medical examinations in all cases where there are allegations or suspicions of torture. Since January 2015 the Ministry of Justice has organized a series of human rights trainings for judges, including on the prevention of torture. In June the Ministry of Justice issued a notice to courts instructing them to implement the recommendation from the Special Rapporteur to visit local jail and detention facilities at least twice per month.

During the year the CNDH reported that it received 34 complaints alleging torture in internationally recognized Morocco, a 56 percent decrease from the previous year. After investigating all 34 allegations, the CNDH substantiated four allegations, one instance each in Khouribga, Tetouan, Toulal 2, and Sale 1 prisons. The CNDH referred one case (Sale 1) to the public prosecutor’s office, while two other cases were opened by detainees’ lawyers (Khouribga and Tetouan). In the case of Toulal 2, the CNDH was unable to obtain sufficient evidence to refer the case to the prosecutor and, instead, submitted recommendations to the Prison Administration (DGAPR). Regarding the four cases referred by the CNDH to the public prosecutor in 2015, the cases remained in the judicial system at year’s end. The DGAPR indicated that it referred one prison official to the judicial system for causing injury to a detainee during the year.

In 2015 the government investigated 42 public officials for torture or abuse. Of those officials 19 remained under investigation, three cases before the courts, and 20 completed the judicial process at year’s end. For example, on June 7, courts sentenced five gendarmes to sentences between five and 10 years for murder and falsifying evidence in relation to the death of an individual in custody in September 2015. According to a Ministry of Interior statement regarding the death, which was shared with media, they abused the individual during his arrest, and he died during transfer to a hospital. Three prison officials who were referred to the courts in September 2015 for abuse of detainees received sentences of four months’ detention and fines of 500 dirhams ($50.20) in March. They have appealed the decision. The government prosecuted 14 police officers in relation to the death of a detainee in custody in August 2015. On November 30, eight of the officials were convicted of torture and “use of violence against a detainee in a fragile psychological state resulting in unintentional death,” while a ninth official was convicted of failure to report a felony. Five other officers were acquitted. The nine received sentences ranging from one to 10 years in addition to fines of 150,000 dirhams ($15,625) each.

During the year, according to United Nations data, there were six allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse made against Moroccan peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping operations in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Three of the alleged incidents occurred during the year, one in 2015, and two in 2014. According to the United Nations, five of these allegations were being investigated jointly by the United Nations and the government, and one was pending investigation. Investigations were completed on four allegations reported in previous years. One claim of sexual abuse was substantiated, and three abuse and exploitation claims were determined to be unsubstantiated allegations after joint UN-government investigations.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions improved during the year, but in some cases did not meet international standards.

Physical Conditions: The Moroccan Observatory of Prisons continued to report that some prisons were overcrowded and failed to meet local and international standards. The DGAPR indicated that overcrowding had decreased with the opening of 26 new prisons in the past three years, including three during the year. DGAPR statistics indicate that the average space allocated per detainee increased from 18.8 square feet in 2015 to 20.3 square feet during the year, due to the opening of the new prisons. These 26 new prisons represent approximately 35 percent of the country’s prisons, and were built to international standards. In the new prisons, pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners were held separately. As construction on each new prison was completed, older prisons were closed, and inmates were moved to the new locations. Older prisons remained overcrowded, resulting in authorities frequently holding pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners together. According to government sources and NGOs, prison overcrowding was due in large part to an underutilized system of bail or provisional release, a severe backlog in cases, and lack of judicial discretion to reduce the length of prison sentences for specific crimes. Government sources stated that a further complication was that administrative requirements prevented prison authorities from transferring individuals in pretrial detention to facilities outside the jurisdiction where their trials were to take place. As of September authorities released 45,071 individuals on bail. In 2015 authorities released 65,065 individuals on bail.

The law provides for the separation of minors. In all prisons, officials identify youthful offenders into two categories, and they are held separately from other categories: minors under 18, and youthful offenders from 18 to 20 years old. Authorities held a number of minors with adults, particularly in pretrial detention in ordinary prisons and police stations, due to shortage of juvenile prison facilities. DGAPR has four dedicated juvenile “centers for reform and education,” but maintains separate, dedicated youth detention areas in all prisons for minors. As of September 30, minors under 18 years old represented 2.7 percent of the overall prison population (2,131 minors of a prison population of 78,875). The government reported that in cases where a juvenile court judge ruled that their detention was necessary, minors less than 14 years old were detained separately from minors 15 to 18 years old. HRW stated that in one case involving two minors arrested October 27 on suspicion of same-sex sexual conduct, authorities held the minors with adult prisoners, and the minors allegedly were subjected to threats and harassment.

While there was less overcrowding in the women’s sections of facilities, according to a CNDH study early this year, conditions in women’s sections often did not meet the 2010 United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Noncustodial Measures for Women Offenders. The study noted that health facilities were generally located in the men’s sections, restricting access for female prisoners, and that vocational training opportunities were limited for women. The study also noted that female prisoners faced discrimination from staff, including medical staff, on the basis of their gender. As of September 30, there were 1,815 female prisoners, in a total population of 78,875 (2.3 percent of prison population), according to DGAPR data.

Local NGOs asserted that prison facilities did not provide adequate access to health care and did not accommodate the needs of prisoners with disabilities, although government sources stated that each prisoner received an average of six consultations with a medical professional per year and that all care was provided free of charge. According to DGAPR 2015 statistics, there was one doctor for every 675 inmates and one nurse for every 135 inmates. The government reported that 129 inmates died during the year, 19 in the prisons and 110 in a hospital. Of these deaths, 124 were from natural causes or medical conditions, four were from suicide, and one from accidental electrocution. Local human rights NGOs could not confirm these numbers.

On April 15, activist Brahim Saika died days after reporting to the prosecutor’s office, and his family claimed that officers at the Guelmim police station had mistreated him following his April 1 arrest and that he had begun a hunger strike in protest. Saika reportedly was arrested as he sought to join a protest and was charged with insulting and assaulting police officers and insulting a public institution.

The prosecutor ordered an investigation by the judicial police to determine the conditions and circumstances of Saika’s death, in addition to an autopsy, which established the cause of death as natural and due to a microbial infection, noting that the hunger strike may have contributed to the death. The medical exam revealed no traces of torture or mistreatment on Saika’s body. The judicial police of the Royal Gendarmerie and the National Police conducted separate investigations before determining that there was no torture committed, and the death was a medical event unrelated to torture or abuse. CNDH was also notified of the complaint and conducted an investigation, and found the claims to be unsubstantiated. Following a request of the family lawyers, however, another autopsy took place on April 22, concluding that the death was “secondary to a septic infection in the context of hunger strike.” There was no independent autopsy completed despite the family’s request.

According to information provided by the CNDH, in response to domestic and international interest in the case, the prosecutor ordered an investigation by the judicial police to determine the conditions and circumstances of death, in addition to an autopsy, which established the cause of death as natural and due to a microbial infection.

DGAPR provides food to inmates at no cost, and since 2015 a private company provided higher quality options than were previously available. Prison commissaries stock fresh fruit and vegetables for purchase, and families were permitted to bring food baskets once per week. NGOs frequently cited cases where prisoners protested the conditions of their detention with hunger strikes, According to AI prisoners launched hunger strikes to protest harsh conditions, including poor hygiene and sanitation, inadequate nutrition and healthcare, severe overcrowding, and detention far from their families, as well as limited visiting rights and access to education.

Some human rights activists have asserted the prison administration reserved harsher treatment for Islamists who challenged the king’s religious authority and those accused of “questioning the territorial integrity of the country.” The UN special rapporteur’s 2013 report on torture, however, stated, “The majority of the victims examined in the prisons visited denied ever being subjected to any kind of torture or degrading treatment inside prison establishments. Also, the allegations received usually pointed to a small number of staff committing these violations–the majority of the penitentiary staff is not involved in such violations.” There have been no visits or reports from the rapporteur since 2013. DGAPR denied that any prisoners received differential treatment, and asserts that all prisoners were treated equally in accordance with the Prison Act.

Administration: Prison administration recordkeeping was adequate. Authorities did not implement alternatives to imprisonment for nonviolent offenders.

While authorities generally permitted relatives and friends to visit prisoners, there were reports that the authorities denied visiting privileges in some instances.

The CNDH and DGAPR investigated allegations of inhuman conditions. The CNDH and the DGAPR effectively served the function of an ombudsman, and a system of “letterboxes” continued to operate in prisons to facilitate prisoners’ right to submit complaints regarding their imprisonment. Detainees could submit complaints without censorship. Complaints were brought to the DGAPR Delegate General’s Office for processing, as well as to the CNDH.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted some NGOs with a human rights mandate to conduct unaccompanied monitoring visits. Government policy permitted NGOs that provided social, educational, or religious services to prisoners to enter prison facilities, and prison authorities reported that NGOs conducted 673 prison visits during the first nine months of the year, in addition to 127 regular prison monitoring visits conducted by the CNDH. According to DGAPR statistics, parliamentarians, media, and religious, judicial, and other government authorities conducted more than 3,000 prison visits during the year.

Improvements: To alleviate overcrowding government authorities reported opening three new detention facilities during the year. The government reported increasing the number of vocational and educational training programs it administers in prisons. The Mohammed VI Foundation for the Reinsertion of Prisoners provided educational and professional training to inmates on the verge of release, providing job-skills training, literacy, and education through university level.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. Observers indicated that police did not always respect these provisions or consistently observe due process. According to local NGOs and associations, police sometimes arrested persons without warrants, held detainees beyond the statutory deadline to charge them, and failed to identify themselves when making arrests.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The security apparatus includes several police and paramilitary organizations with overlapping authority. The National Police (Direction Generale de la Surete Nationale–DGSN) manages internal law enforcement and reports to the Ministry of Interior. The Auxiliary Forces also report to the Ministry of Interior and support gendarmes and police. The Royal Gendarmerie, which reports to the Administration of National Defense, is responsible for law enforcement in rural regions and on national highways. The judicial police (investigative) branches of both the Royal Gendarmerie and the National Police report to the royal prosecutor and have the power to arrest individuals. The Department of Royal Security is a branch of the National Police that provides protection for the king and royal family members. The Directorate General of Territorial Surveillance (Direction Generale de la Surveillance Territoriale–DGST) has intelligence gathering responsibilities, without arrest powers, and reports to the Ministry of Interior.

Civilian authorities failed at times to maintain effective control over the security forces, and there were reports of abuses and impunity. Systemic and pervasive corruption undermined law enforcement and the effectiveness of the judicial system.

Impunity was widespread in the absence of effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. International and domestic human rights organizations claimed that authorities dismissed many complaints of abuse and relied only on police versions of events.

Authorities investigated some low-level incidents of alleged abuse and corruption. The judicial police investigate allegations, including those against security forces, and advise the court of their findings. While authorities suspended some individuals accused of human rights abuses, they did not systematically prosecute or sentence security personnel who committed human rights abuses. Cases often languished in the investigatory or trial phases. In 2015 courts investigated and found guilty of corruption 16 members of the Royal Gendarmerie who were sentenced to prison terms and fines, while 14 others were acquitted and returned to duty. As of October courts have investigated 21 members of the Gendarmerie for corruption, with one conviction resulting in a two-month prison sentence, two acquittals, and 18 were in the judicial process.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police may arrest an individual after a general prosecutor issues an oral or written warrant. The law provides for access to a lawyer in the first 24 hours after arrest in ordinary criminal cases, but authorities did not consistently respect that provision. The law permits authorities to deny defendants’ access to counsel or family members during the initial 96 hours of detention under terrorism-related laws or during the initial 24 hours of detention for other charges, with an optional extension of 12 hours with the approval of the Prosecutor’s Office. Reports of abuse generally referred to these initial detention periods, when police interrogated detainees.

The law states “in the case of a flagrant offense, the Judicial Police Officer has the right to keep the suspect in detention for 48 hours. If strong and corroborated evidence is raised against this person, [the officer] can keep them in custody for a maximum of three days with the written authorization of the prosecutor.” For normal crimes authorities can extend this 48-hour period twice, for up to six days in detention. Under terrorism-related laws, a prosecutor may renew the initial detention by written authorization for a total detention time of 12 days. According to the Antiterrorism Act, there is no right to a lawyer during this time except for a half-hour monitored visit at the midpoint of the 12-day period. Observers widely perceived the 2015 law on counterterrorism as consistent with international standards.

NGO sources stated that some judges were reticent to use alternative sentences permitted under the law, such as provisional release. The law does not require written authorization for release from detention. In some instances judges released defendants on their own recognizance. A bail system exists; the deposit may be in the form of property or as a sum of money paid to court in an effort to persuade the judge to release a suspect. The amount of the deposit is left to the discretion of the judge, who decides the amount of the deposit depending on the offense. Bail may be requested at any time before the judgment. According to the law, all defendants have the right to attorneys; if a defendant cannot afford private counsel, authorities must provide a court-appointed attorney when the criminal penalty exceeds five years in prison. Authorities did not always provide effective counsel.

In ordinary criminal cases, the law requires police to notify a detainee’s next of kin of the arrest immediately after the above-mentioned period of incommunicado detention, unless arresting authorities applied for and received an extension from a magistrate. Police did not consistently abide by this provision. Because authorities sometimes delayed notifying the family, authorities did not inform lawyers promptly of the date of arrest, and they were not able to monitor compliance with detention limits and treatment of the detainee. Under a separate military code, military authorities may detain members of the military without a warrant or public trial.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces often arrested groups of individuals, took them to a police station, questioned them for several hours, and released them without charge. Under the penal code, any public official who orders an arbitrary detention is punishable by demotion and, if it is done in a private interest, by imprisonment of 10 years to life. An official who neglects to refer a claim or observation of arbitrary or illegal detention to his superiors is punishable by demotion. There was no available information that these provisions were applied this year.

While in previous years, authorities have been accused of arresting undocumented migrants, detaining them, and escorting them to the borders or otherwise expelling them without an opportunity to exercise their legal rights, UNCHR and NGOs noted that there were no such reports this year.

Pretrial Detention: Although the government claimed that authorities generally brought accused persons to trial within two months, prosecutors may request as many as five additional two-month extensions of pretrial detention. Pretrial detentions can last as long as one year, and there were reports that authorities routinely held detainees beyond the one-year limit. Government officials attributed these delays to the large backlog of cases in the justice system. The Foreign Ministry stated that a variety of factors contributed to this backlog: a lack of resources devoted to the justice system, both human and infrastructure; the lack of plea bargaining as an option for prosecutors, lengthening the amount of time to process cases on average; and the scant use of mediation and other out-of-court settlement mechanisms allowed by law. The government reported that as of September 30, 43.1 percent of detainees were in pretrial detention. In some cases detainees received a sentence shorter than the time they spent in pretrial detention.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution states that “No one may be detained, arrested, prosecuted, or sentenced outside of the cases and forms prescribed by the law,” and gives the right to compensation in cases of judicial error. Individuals have the right to challenge the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and request compensation by submitting a complaint to the court. If the complaint is unsubstantiated, the accused has the right to file for damages against the accuser.

Amnesty: The king continued to exercise his ability to grant pardons to those convicted of crimes. The decision-making process for granting royal pardons was not publicly available; however, the committee took into account health, social situation, participation in rehabilitation and reintegration programs, and degree of behavioral improvement when making its decisions. Certain individuals were not eligible for pardons, including those who had previously benefitted from a pardon and those convicted of certain serious crimes. Individuals who benefitted from pardons were not subject to arbitrary re-arrest during the year.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and, in previous years, government officials, NGOs, and lawyers widely acknowledged that corruption and extrajudicial influence weakened judicial independence. During the year the government established the Supreme Judicial Council, a new government body that provides authority for judges to manage the courts and judicial affairs, designed to supplant management by the Ministry of Justice. While the government stated its aim of creating the council was to improve judicial independence, the council was not fully functional at year’s end, and its effect on judicial independence was not clear. The outcomes of trials in which the government had a strong political stake, such as those touching on Islam as it related to political life and national security, the monarchy, and the Western Sahara, appeared predetermined.

In February a disciplinary panel of the Higher Judicial Council dismissed Judge Mohamed El-Haini, following allegations referred by the Ministry of Justice that he had “violated the duty of discretion” and “expressed opinions of a political nature.” The allegations stemmed from his criticisms on social media of the draft laws on the Higher Judicial Council and on the Statute for Judges. The Higher Judicial Council’s decision is not subject to appeal. A panel suspended another judge, Amal Homani, for six months on similar grounds.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair public trial with the right of appeal, but this did not always occur, especially for those protesting the incorporation of Western Sahara into the country. The law presumes that defendants are innocent. After an initial investigation period in which the order of a prosecutor can detain individuals, defendants are informed promptly of their charges before their trial. Trials are conducted in Arabic, and foreigners have the right to request interpretation if they do not speak Arabic.

Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and to timely consultation with an attorney. In practical terms authorities often denied lawyers timely access to their clients and, in the majority of cases, lawyers met their clients only at the first hearing before the judge. Authorities are required to provide attorneys in cases where the potential sentence is greater than five years, if the defendant is unable to afford one. Publicly provided defense attorneys were often poorly paid and often were neither properly trained in matters pertaining to juveniles nor provided to defendants in a timely fashion. This practice often resulted in inadequate representation. Many NGOs provided attorneys for minors, who frequently did not have the means to pay. Such resources were limited and specific to larger cities. By law defendants in criminal and human rights cases have access to government evidence against them, but judges sometimes prevented or delayed access. The law permits defense attorneys to question witnesses. Despite the provisions of the law, some judges reportedly denied defense requests to question witnesses or to present mitigating witnesses or evidence.

The law forbids judges from admitting confessions made under duress. NGOs reported that the judicial system often relied on confessions for the prosecution of criminal cases, and authorities pressured investigators to obtain a confession from a suspect in order for prosecution to proceed. HRW and local NGOs charged that judges, at their discretion, decided cases based on forced confessions. NGOs alleged this occurred frequently in cases against Sahrawis or individuals accused of terrorism. According to the authorities, police sometimes used claims regarding detainees’ statements in place of defendants’ confessions when there was a possible question of duress. The country is moving away from a confession-based system to an evidenced-based system. In August the government opened 18 evidence preservation centers throughout the country to preserve the chain of custody of evidence, supporting its change to evidenced-based prosecutions. More than 18,000 police have been trained in recently established evidence collection and preservation procedures to maintain proper chain of custody of evidence in support of evidence-based prosecutions. Police are working with the courts to demonstrate the new evidence preservation rooms to judges to increase their confidence in evidence presented at trials.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The law does not define or recognize the concept of a political prisoner. The government did not consider any of its prisoners to be political prisoners and stated that it had charged or convicted all individuals in prison under criminal law. Human rights groups, however, refuted this allegation, especially concerning activists advocating Western Sahara’s independence.

On July 27, the Court of Cassation granted a new trial before civilian courts for the 22 Gdeim Izik prisoners arrested during the 2010 dismantling of the Gdeim Izik Camp and subsequent violence in Laayoune. Previously convicted in military courts, many NGOs considered the group to be political prisoners. The protesters, 21 of whom remain imprisoned, had been convicted largely on the basis of “confessions” which they alleged had been extracted under torture. Their allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in custody were not investigated. The trial began on December 26; but it was adjourned to January 23, 2017.

Criminal law covers nonviolent advocacy and dissent, such as insulting police in songs or “defaming Morocco’s sacred values” by denouncing the king and regime during a public demonstration. Additionally, NGOs, including the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), and Sahrawi organizations asserted that the government imprisoned persons for political activities or beliefs under the cover of criminal charges.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Although individuals have access to civil courts for lawsuits relating to human rights violations and filed lawsuits, such lawsuits were frequently unsuccessful due to the courts’ lack of independence on politically sensitive cases, or lack of impartiality stemming from extrajudicial influence and corruption. There are administrative as well as judicial remedies for alleged wrongs. Authorities sometimes failed to respect court orders.

A National Ombudsman’s Office (Mediator Institution) helped to resolve civil matters that did not clear the threshold to merit involvement of the judiciary; it gradually expanded the scope of its activities and subjected complaints to in-depth investigation. Authorities retransmitted to the CNDH for resolution cases specifically related to allegations of human rights abuses against authorities. The CNDH continued to be a conduit through which citizens expressed complaints regarding human rights abuses and violations.

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

The constitution states an individual’s home is inviolable and that a search may take place only with a search warrant; however, authorities at times entered homes without judicial authorization, monitored without legal process personal movement and private communications–including e-mail, text messaging, or other digital communications intended to remain private–and employed informers.

An April 2015 report by Privacy International, based on interviews in 2014 with citizen journalists who covered topics sensitive to the government, recounted incidents of alleged harassment, such as unannounced visits by state officials to the families of the individuals and allegations that their personal computers, websites, and work locations were hacked or tapped.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law generally provide for freedom of speech and press, although they criminalize and restrict some freedom of expression in the press and social media–specifically criticism of Islam, the institution of the monarchy, and the government’s official position regarding territorial integrity and claim to 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 new press code passed in July. There have been no reports of prosecution, however, since the passage of the new press code.

Government-provided figures for the year showed that six journalists or media outlets faced charges for breaches of the national press code, and no journalists are facing charges under the penal code. Seven other journalists or media outlets are facing charges under laws other than the press or penal code. Of the 13 current cases, one was initiated by the government, with the remainder initiated by private citizens, including libel complaints. 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 and the press and social media.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law criminalizes the criticism of Islam, the institution of the monarchy, state institutions, officials such as those in the military, and the government’s official position regarding territorial integrity and claim to Western Sahara, and the government actively prosecuted persons who did so.

On January 21, authorities charged journalist and human rights activist, Ali Anouzla, with “undermining national territorial integrity” as a result of comments he made in November 2015 to a German newspaper, which quoted him referring to the “occupied territories” of Western Sahara. Anouzla maintained that he referred to the territory only as “Sahara” and that the paper misquoted him. Several weeks later the paper corrected its translation to use only “Sahara.” Subsequently, on May 24, the authorities dropped these charges against Anouzla. At year’s end, however, there was no information to confirm charges had been dropped against Anouzla for “supporting,” “inciting,” and “advocating” terrorism in relation to a 2013 article that linked to a video critical of the king. Trial dates in previous years on these charges were repeatedly postponed.

Press and Media Freedoms: In July parliament passed a new press code that limits punishments for journalistic infractions to fines. The antiterrorism law and the penal code, however, include provisions that permit the government to jail and impose financial penalties on journalists and publishers who violate restrictions related to defamation, libel, and insults. Authorities may impose prison sentences on those convicted of libel. Consequently, self-censorship remained prevalent. Authorities filed charges of libel and other violations of the criminal code against specific journalists, with prosecution of these charges indefinitely delayed.

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

In 2015 officials targeted members of the Moroccan Association for Investigative Journalism (AMJI). Authorities detained and questioned several members, including Hicham Mansouri, Maati Monjib, and Hisham Almiraat. On October 26, the trial of the seven AMJI members was postponed to January 2017. At year’s end, the individuals remained at liberty but still under investigation although not yet charged.

On June 20, the court of first instance in Casablanca sentenced Hamid El Mahdaoui, editor of a news website, to a four-month suspended prison sentence and 10,000 dirham ($1,000) fine for defamation over a report on the minister of justice’s travel expenses.

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.

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 this year noted that there is an “atmosphere of fear among journalists” that has 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. The government claimed that it did not censure, suspend, revoke, or confiscate any registered print, online, television, or radio media outlets from January 2015 to September.

On April 3, a foreign television crew was arrested while filming a report for French station “Canal+” on homosexual activity in the country. Authorities expelled the journalists for working without authorization; the journalists stated that they did not ask for authorization because the subject of their reporting was too sensitive and would not have been approved.

Libel/Slander Laws: Authorities filed charges of libel and other violations of the criminal code against journalists. The new press code includes provisions that permit the government to impose financial penalties on journalists and publishers who violate restrictions related to defamation, libel, and insults. Government statistics indicated 47 cases of defamation, libel, or blasphemy during the year. A court may impose a prison sentence if an individual is unable or unwilling to pay the fine.

National Security: The antiterrorism law provides for the arrest of journalists and filtering websites deemed to “disrupt public order by intimidation, terror, or violence”; however, there were no examples of authorities’ use of this provision of the law during the year.

Actions to Expand Press Freedom: In February and July, parliament approved a new press code that provides for freedom of the press and electronic media. The new press code, updated from the 2003 version, replaces prison sentences with fines for violations and provides legal protection for the confidentiality of sources. The press code, however, does not prevent journalists from being charged under the penal code or criminal law if their reporting criticizes Islam, the institution of the monarchy, or the government’s official position regarding territorial integrity and claim to Western Sahara.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, but it did apply laws governing and restricting public speech and the press to the internet. The new press code stipulates that online journalism is equivalent to print journalism. According to Freedom House’s current Freedom on the Net report, the government did not block or filter any websites during the year, although laws on combatting terrorism permit filtering websites.

In January the government announced the blockage of voice over internet protocol technology, such as Skype, FaceTime, and Google Voice; however, the government did not block the associated messaging capabilities and the voice services remained available via VPNs. The government indicated that it blocked the services because they did not have proper operating licenses for the country. There was widespread belief among the public and domestic NGOs that blocking these services was not an attempt to limit freedom of speech, but in response to complaints from telecommunications companies that the services were reducing their profits. Shortly following the publication of a Brookings report, citing economic losses of $320 million due to the ban, the government dismissed the head of the National Telecommunications Regulatory Agency, and the ban was lifted in November.

According to a 2015 World Bank estimate, 57 percent of the population used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

By law the government has the right to criminalize presentations or debate questioning the legitimacy of Islam, 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.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

Legally, groups of more than three persons require authorization from the Ministry of Interior to assemble publicly. Some NGOs complained that authorities did not apply the approval process consistently and have claimed that the government used administrative delays and other methods to suppress or discourage unwanted peaceful assembly. In the absence of authorization, authorities disbanded meetings organized by groups ranging from reformers to student teachers, sometimes with excessive force.

According to HRW’s, World Report 2016, police allowed many protests demanding political reform and protesting government actions, but on some occasions, they dispersed protestors or prevented demonstrations from occurring.

On January 7, police responded violently to teacher trainees demonstrating peacefully in Inezgane and other cities against new decrees to reduce their stipends and access to employment. According to witnesses police used rubber batons and shields to beat protesters without prior warning to protesters to disperse. Over 150 protesters were injured, including 100 in Inezgane, some with fractures and injuries to the face and head, according to AMDH.

In February, as a result of public outcry against police actions in the January student-teacher protests, the Ministry of Interior launched a training program on nonviolent dispersal of demonstrations and management of peaceful protests in response to complaints about police brutality. Although protests by student teachers continued sporadically into September, police intervention was infrequent after January.

Authorities authorized small public protests on politically sensitive subjects occasionally during the year. For example, in June the Ministry of Interior granted permission for a group of atheist and non-Muslim citizens to protest in front of parliament against an article in the penal code relating to fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The protest proceeded and was not dispersed.

A number of civil society contacts reported instances when private event spaces abruptly cancelled bookings, citing official pressure not to allow “controversial” activities on their premises.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of association, although the government sometimes restricted this freedom. The government prohibited or failed to recognize some political opposition groups by deeming them unqualified for NGO status. The government denied official recognition to NGOs that it considered advocates against Islam as the state religion, the monarchy, or territorial integrity.

Authorities obstructed the registration of a number of associations perceived to be critical of the authorities by refusing to accept registration applications or to deliver receipts confirming the lodging of applications.

In June the Spanish NGO International Institute for Non-Violent Action (NOVACT) decided to close its office after the government denied entry to two members of its staff. In May 2015 the government expelled a representative of NOVACT. NOVACT had operated in the country since 2012 (see section 5).

In September 2015 the government requested that HRW suspend its activities in the country. The suspension remained in effect at year’s end.

In June 2015 authorities detained and expelled AI research staff. AI engaged in a dialogue with the authorities to resolve obstacles to access; however, some restrictions remained on research as of the end of October.

The Ministry of the Interior required NGOs to register in order to be recognized as a legal entity, but there was no comprehensive national register publicly available. A prospective organization must submit its objectives, bylaws, address, and photocopies of members’ identification cards to the ministry. The ministry issues a receipt to the organization that signifies formal approval. If the organization does not receive a receipt within 60 days, it is not formally registered. Unregistered organizations could not access government funds or legally accept contributions.

Several organizations the government chose not to recognize functioned without the receipts, and the government tolerated their activities. The National Federation of Amazigh Associations, an organization supporting the inclusion of the Amazigh population in public life, reported that two Amazigh organizations were denied registration this year. Despite a December 2015 court ruling that the Ministry of Interior had acted inappropriately in refusing to receive a petition by the Moroccan AMDH to renew their permit to operate a local branch in Temara, the organization continued to report difficulties in renewing registrations in multiple locations in the country even after court decisions in their favor.

On November 7, authorities informed historian Maati Monjib that the administrative court in Rabat ruled that the Ministry of Interior had acted inappropriately in refusing to register his NGO Freedom Now. The court ordered the ministry to pay a fine and grant Freedom Now’s registration request.

Authorities continued to monitor Justice and Charity Organization activities.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Refugees and asylum seekers, as well as migrants, were particularly vulnerable to abuse; however, in contrast to previous years, following the 2014 migrant regularization program, there were fewer reports of mass arrests and brutalization by security forces of sub-Saharan migrants and of abuse by criminal gangs involved in human trafficking. There were reports of government authorities arresting or detaining migrants, particularly around the Spanish enclave cities of Melilla and Ceuta, and forcibly relocating them to other cities in the country (see section 1.d.).

In-country Movement: The law provides for freedom of internal movement. Authorities generally respected this right.

Exile: While the law provides for forced exile, there were no instances of forced exile during the year.

Emigration and Repatriation: The government encouraged the return of Sahrawi refugees from Algeria and elsewhere if they acknowledged the government’s authority over Western Sahara. The government continued to make travel documents available to Sahrawis, and there were no reported cases of authorities preventing Sahrawis from traveling out of the country. On August 22, media reported that authorities prevented Salem Bachir, also known as Salem Hamda or M’Hamed Salem Hamda Birouk, the POLISARIO “Ambassador” to Argentina, from entering the territory at the airport in Laayoune. According to authorities, they prevented Bachir’s entry in the interest of public security.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. The government also provided funding to humanitarian organizations to provide social services to migrants, including refugees. As of October 31, UNHCR registered 1,151 Syrians. UNHCR referred cases meeting the criteria for refugee recognition to the government’s interministerial Commission in Charge of Hearings for Asylum Seekers within the Bureau of Refugees and Stateless Persons, and 70 non-Syrian individuals were granted status as of the end of November. The government continued to grant status to UNHCR-recognized refugees and temporary status to registered Syrians. According to UNHCR statistics, since 2013 the Commission in Charge of Hearings for Asylum Seekers has recognized as refugees 696 non-Syrians referred by UNHCR.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee status. The government has historically deferred to UNHCR as the sole agency in the country entitled to perform refugee status determinations and verify asylum cases. The government recognizes two types of asylum status: refugees designated according to the UNHCR statute and the “exceptional regularization of persons in irregular situation.” In 2015 the government continued to provide “exceptional regularization” to Syrians seeking international protection.

On December 15, the government launched the second phase of its migrant regularization program to provide legal status to migrants in exceptional circumstances. This program, similar to the 2014 campaign, will grant legal status to foreign spouses and children of citizens and other legal residents of the country, as well as individuals with at least five years of residence in the country, a valid work contract, or chronic illness.

Access to Basic Services: Recognized refugees were able to gain access to health care and education services. Asylum seekers were, however, often unable to access the national health care system and continued to have little access to the judicial system until recognized as refugees. Registered refugees and regularized migrants have the right to work.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides for, and citizens participated in, regular, free elections based on universal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot providing for the free expression of the will of the people for parliament’s Chamber of Representatives and municipal and regional councils. Regional and professional bodies indirectly elected members of parliament’s less powerful Chamber of Counselors.

The king may dissolve parliament in consultation with the head of government (prime minister) and can rule by decree. The king presides over the Council of Ministers, the supreme decision-making body, except in cases when he delegates that authority to the head of government. The king presides over the Supreme Security Council and the Ulema Council (Council of Senior Religious Scholars).

As head of state, the king appoints the head of government. The constitution obliges the king to choose the head of government from the party with the most elected seats in the Chamber of Representatives. The constitution authorizes the head of government to nominate all government ministers, although the king must approve these nominations. Royal advisors work in coordinating roles with respective government ministries.

A national referendum, the results of which require the king’s approval, or a bill submitted by the king that receives two-thirds majority approval from both legislative chambers can amend the constitution.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On October 7, the country held direct elections for the Chamber of Representatives (lower house of parliament), during which the Party of Justice and Development (PJD) won the most seats. As stipulated by the constitution, the King tasked PJD, as the party with the most seats in the newly elected chamber, to form a governing coalition and nominate new ministers.

The CNDH was the leading institution monitoring the election. The Electoral Accreditation Commission, presided over by the CNDH with the participation of the Interministerial Delegation for Human Rights (DIDH), the Central Authority for the Prevention of Corruption (ICPC), and 32 domestic associations accredited 4,365 domestic observers. An additional 316 international observers took part in election monitoring. The major political parties and the vast majority of the domestic observers considered the elections free, fair, and transparent. Most international observers considered them credible elections in which voters were able to choose freely and deemed the process free of systemic irregularities.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties faced fewer government-imposed restrictions under the 2011 Constitution. The Ministry of Interior applied laws that made it easier for political parties to register. A political party may not legally challenge Islam as the state religion, the institution of the monarchy, or the country’s territorial integrity. The law prohibits basing a party on a religious, ethnic, or regional identity.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Female politicians featured prominently in media on a variety of matters, but authorities largely excluded them from senior decision-making positions. The elections increased participation of women in the Chamber of Representatives from 17 percent to 21 percent. Voters elected a record number of women in the October 7 elections, although very few subsequently won leadership positions as ministers or parliamentary committee presidents.

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

Groups investigated and published findings on human rights cases; however, the government’s responsiveness to, cooperation with, and restrictions on domestic and international human rights organizations varied, depending on its evaluation of the political orientation of the organization and the sensitivity of the issues.

On January 26, according to reports, authorities expelled Andrea Nusse, the country director for Friedrich Naumann Foundation, a German NGO promoting human rights, rule of law, and democracy. Nusse had been country director for the foundation for the past three years. According to the organization, this action was taken because the organization awarded an international human rights award to government critic, Ali Anouzla. Authorities asserted that Nusse’s residency expired in August 2015, she left the country of her own accord in December 2015, and returned briefly in January to take care of her personal affairs. She was never the subject of an expulsion order.

On June 29, the International Institute for Nonviolent Action (NOVACT), a Spain-based NGO, decided to close its office citing government pressure since June 2015, including refusal to register the organization and expulsion or refusal of entry for its staff members. The organization claims that its difficulties were related to its support for rights for the LGBTI community. The government stated that the registration and entry refusals were due to improperly filed paperwork.

Following disputes between AI and governmental authorities in 2015, AI held a series of exchanges with the government during the year, but the issue of permitting international researchers to travel to the country remained unresolved by September. In late September, AI was prevented from holding its annual youth camp as scheduled. The Ministry of Interior claimed that it requested the postponement of the camp due to the electoral period. At the end of the year, AI had still not held the annual camp.

The government ordered HRW to suspend activities in 2015. In March, HRW met with the government but was informed that the suspension remained in place until further notice. Through September, HRW has been unable to conduct activities in the country. Nevertheless, HRW researchers have been able to engage with the government electronically and continue to publish limited information on the situation in the country.

The government recognized several domestic human rights NGOs with national coverage. The Moroccan Organization for Human Rights and the AMDH were the largest domestic human rights organizations.

During the year activists and NGOs reported continuing restrictions on their activities in the country. According to the AMDH, authorities prohibited 111 of its scheduled activities between June 2014 and June. Many activists reported that rather than banning activities outright, the government allegedly resorted to restricting the use of public spaces and conference rooms, as well as informing the proprietors of private spaces that certain activities should not be welcome. Organizations claimed that government officials told them their events were cancelled for failing to follow required procedures for public meetings, although the organizations say they submitted the necessary paperwork except in cases where they believed the law does not require it. Some unrecognized NGOs that did not cooperate officially with the government still shared information informally with both the government and government-affiliated organizations.

During the year the government occasionally met with and responded to inquiries and recommendations from NGOs.

Government Human Rights Bodies: There are three governmental human rights entities.

The CNDH is a national human rights institution established by the constitution that operates independently from the elected government. It is publicly funded and operates in conformity with the Principles of Paris according to the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, which recognized it in November 2015 as a “class A national human rights institution” within the UN framework. It served as the principal advisory body to the king and government on human rights. The council filled the role of a national human rights monitoring mechanism for preventing torture, in keeping with the government’s international obligations. Additionally, the CNDH produced reports during the year criticizing current and former government practices in the domains of freedom of expression and assembly as well as women’s rights and published guides on political rights for youth activists and journalists. In 2014 the CNDH established the National Human Rights Training Institute (INFDH), which partners with international organizations to provide training to civil society, media, law enforcement, medical personnel, educators, and legal practitioners. Between January and November, the INFDH provided 39 training sessions on election observation, discrimination, human rights in the workplace, and the investigation and prevention of torture.

The Mediator Institution acted as a more general ombudsman. It considered allegations of governmental injustices and had the power to carry out inquiries and investigations, propose disciplinary action, or refer cases to the public prosecutor.

The mission of the DIDH is to promote the protection of human rights across all ministries, serve as a government interlocutor with domestic and international NGOs, and interact with relevant UN bodies regarding international human rights obligations. The DIDH has the primary responsibility for coordinating government responses to UN bodies on adherence to treaty obligations.

Mozambique

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

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

There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Most reports named security forces, particularly the National Police (PRM), as the perpetrators. The pattern of unidentified PRM officers killing unarmed civilians for minor infractions of the law (or sometimes no violation) continued throughout the country.

For example, in February an unidentified PRM officer in Beira shot and killed Cristovao Marcos Inoque, an auto rickshaw driver, because the officer thought Inoque was filming him drinking a beer on the job. In another incident local media reported unknown men, believed to be members of a government-sanctioned “death squad,” abducted Gabriel Mateus, a local Renamo activist in Muxungue, Inhambane Province, on July 18. Residents found his body (which reportedly exhibited signs of torture) approximately two weeks later.

The high-profile 2015 killing of constitutional law professor Gilles Cistac remained unsolved. Cistac’s death was widely considered politically motivated.

See section 1.g. for arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life and other unlawful or politically motivated killings related to internal conflict.

b. Disappearance

There were several reports of politically motivated disappearances due to the internal conflict (see section 1.g.).

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices; however, there were credible allegations of torture during the year (see Prison and Detention Center Conditions below and section 1.g.).

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Some prisons in and around Maputo generally met international standards; however, prison conditions remained harsh and potentially life threatening in most areas due to gross overcrowding and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: Government officials and civil society organizations continued to highlight overcrowding, juvenile prisoners in adult facilities, and convicted and untried prisoners sharing cells as serious problems. In September 2015 the national ombudsman called conditions in prisons and jails he visited in the northern city of Nampula “appalling.” Local media reported in October 2015 that Maputo Central Prison held 2,500 prisoners despite its designed capacity for only 800.

The National Prisons Directorate’s (SERNAP) director of health stated there were 51 deaths in all prisons in the first quarter of the year. Twenty-five of these prisoners died from HIV/AIDS, while 21 died of “other pathologies.” SERNAP did not provide a cause of death for the remaining five. In April, SERNAP told local media that its statistics showed an estimated 20 percent of the approximately 15,000 prisoners were HIV-positive, compared with an estimated 11 percent of the country’s total population.

Few prisons had health-care facilities or the ability to transport prisoners to outside facilities. Almost all prisons dated from the colonial era before 1975, leaving many in an advanced state of dilapidation. In April the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) noted problems continued with the physical condition of prisons and overcrowding. In 2015 the PGR also noted problems with hygiene, food, medical assistance, and legal counseling.

Administration: In April prisoners at Mieze Open Provincial Penitentiary in Cabo Delgado Province accused certain guards of beating them with whips and dunking them in water tanks during a visit by the attorney general. The attorney general promised to investigate these allegations as well as allegations of prisoners being held in “preventive detention” beyond the legal maximum; however, the PGR did not release any findings. The LDH reported that record keeping improved compared with previous years. The PGR continued to note problems regarding prisoners held after completing their sentences or in excess of the maximum preventive detention period due to bureaucratic delays. No formal system specific to prisons existed for receiving or tracking complaints; however, prisoners were free to contact the PGR, national ombudsman, or NGOs with complaints.

Independent Monitoring: International and domestic human rights groups had access to prisoners at the discretion of the Ministry of Justice, Constitutional, and Religious Affairs and the Ministry of the Interior, and permission to visit prisoners was generally granted. The LDH and the National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH) had a high degree of access to prisons run by the Ministry of Justice due to written agreements. NGOs continued to have difficulty visiting detention facilities run by the Ministry of the Interior, particularly its detention facilities in police stations.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government, with some exceptions, generally observed these prohibitions. Renamo accused government security forces of arbitrarily arresting its members multiple times. In one case, in February PRM officers broke into the house of Manuel Fortunato, a Renamo parliamentarian in the Sofala Provincial Assembly, in the middle of the night. They took him to the local police station for questioning regarding the attempted assassination of Renamo General Secretary Manuel Bissopo a month earlier. Inacio Dina, spokesperson for the PRM’s General Command, later said “something went wrong” in Fortunato’s detention.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Investigative Police (PIC), the PRM, and the Rapid Intervention Units (UIR) are responsible for internal security and report to the Ministry of the Interior. The Border Security Force also reports to the Interior Ministry and is responsible for protecting the country’s international borders and for carrying out police duties within 24 miles of borders. An additional security body, the State Intelligence and Security Service, reports directly to the president and is responsible for intelligence operations. The Casa Militar (Presidential Guard) provides security for the president, and the Force for the Protection of High-Level Individuals provides security for other senior level officials at the national and provincial levels. The Mozambique Armed Defense Forces (FADM), consisting of the air force, army, and navy, are responsible for internal and external security and report to the Ministry of National Defense. The Estado Maior (General Staff) of the FADM plans all military operations. The president is commander in chief of the FADM. All of these forces are jointly referred to as the Defense and Security Forces.

Civilian authorities maintained control over the PIC, the PRM, UIR, and the Border Security Force with some exceptions; however, government mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption remained lacking. Multiple cases of arbitrary deprivation of life, disappearance, and arbitrary arrest demonstrated that impunity for perpetrators in the security forces remained widespread. Mozambican refugees who fled to Malawi in the first half of the year alleged abuses by security forces, including extrajudicial killings, beatings, rape, and destruction of property. Atanasio Mtumuke, the minister of defense, denied that security forces committed any abuses. The government pledged to investigate the allegations and make public its findings but did not release any report. It remained difficult to obtain information on security personnel accused of wrongdoing or any disciplinary or legal action taken against them. Police leadership acknowledged corruption was a problem.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires a judge or prosecutor to first issue an arrest warrant unless a person is caught in the act of committing a crime. By law the maximum length of investigative detention is 48 hours without a warrant or six months with a warrant, during which time a detainee has the right to judicial review of the case. An individual may be detained another 90 days while the PIC continues its investigation. A person accused of a crime carrying a potential maximum sentence of more than eight years may be detained up to an additional 84 days without being charged formally. A court may approve two more 84-day periods of detention without charge while police complete their investigation. The detainee must be released if no charges are brought within the prescribed period for investigation. Authorities generally did not detain individuals without judicial authorization. The law provides for citizens’ right to access the courts and the right to legal representation, regardless of ability to pay for such services. Indigent defendants, however, frequently had no legal representation due to a shortage of legal professionals. There were no reports of suspects held incommunicado or under house arrest.

The bail system remained poorly defined.

Prisoners, their families, and NGOs complained prison officials demanded bribes to release prisoners who had already completed their sentences.

Pretrial Detention: Long pretrial detention continued to be a serious problem, due in part to an inadequate number of judges and prosecutors and poor communication among authorities. The PGR reported that 35 percent of prisoners nationwide were pretrial detainees in 2015, an increase from LDH’s estimate of 31 percent in 2014. There were no reliable estimates of the average period of pretrial detention; however, some prisoners were held more than a year beyond the maximum investigative detention period.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release if found to have been unlawfully detained. The law does not make any provisions for compensation in cases of unlawful detention. Many detainees were not able to take advantage of this right due to their inability to hire a lawyer and scarce resources for public defenders.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary; however, some civil society groups continued to assert the executive branch and ruling Frelimo party exerted influence on an understaffed and inadequately trained judiciary. In one case a provincial court convicted Saide Amido, the mayor of Lichinga, Niassa Province and a member of Frelimo, of corruption and abuse of power on May 24 and sentenced him to 18 months in jail. The court immediately converted the sentence into a 200,000 meticais ($2,790) fine. Amido returned to work on May 30. Comments on social media after his sentencing questioned the court’s impartiality, given his political affiliation.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Courts presume accused persons innocent, and the law provides the right to legal counsel and appeal. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial. Defendants enjoy the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice, and the law specifically provides for public defenders for all defendants, although this did not always happen in practice. While defendants have adequate time to prepare a defense, they often did not have adequate facilities to do so.

By law only judges or lawyers may confront or question witnesses. A defendant may present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf and have access to government-held evidence. The government upheld such rights during the year. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants also have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. The law extends the above rights to all defendants; the government did not deny any persons these rights.

Persons accused of crimes against the government, including treason or threatening national security, go to trial publicly in regular civilian courts under standard criminal judicial procedures. Members of the media and the general public attended trials throughout the year. A judge may order a trial closed to the media in the interest of national security, to protect the privacy of the plaintiff in a sexual assault case, or to prevent interested parties outside the court from destroying evidence.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Unlike in previous years, there were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

While the law provides for an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, some citizens believed the judiciary was subject to political interference. Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. By law citizens have access to courts, the Office of the Ombudsperson, the CNDH, and the Bar Association to submit lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. The country is a signatory to the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the court); however, the country has not recognized the court’s competency to receive cases from NGOs and individuals. In theory individuals and organizations can appeal adverse domestic decisions to the court.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions; however, there were reports the government at times failed to respect the privacy of personal communications. There were reports that government authorities entered homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization. Some civil society activists alleged government intelligence services and ruling party activists continued to monitor telephone calls and e-mails without warrants, conduct surveillance of their offices, follow opposition members, use informants, and disrupt opposition party activities in certain areas.

The Assembly of the Republic (parliament) passed legislation in March explicitly stating that a criminal investigation judge is the only legal authority who can authorize a wiretap. Many individuals reported the government unofficially required Frelimo party membership to obtain or retain government employment, obtain loans, and receive business licenses.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected this right; however, the government did not always effectively protect nor respect these freedoms. Academics, journalists, opposition party officials, and civil society reported an atmosphere of intimidation and fear that continued to restrict freedom of speech and press. Allegations included the use of threatening messages via text and Facebook, physical confrontations, and widely circulated “WhatsApp” messages targeting anyone critical of the government. The abduction and shooting of independent journalist Jose Jaime Macuane (see Violence and Harassment) caused particular concern.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: There were no official restrictions on the ability of individuals to criticize the government or restriction on the discussion of matters of general public interest; however, police imposed de facto restrictions on free speech and expression throughout the year. Opposition and civil society complained they could not freely criticize the government without fear of reprisal, particularly since the March 2015 murder of prominent jurist Gilles Cistac remained unsolved. Multiple civil society figures, including LDH President Mabota, received anonymous threatening text messages after criticizing the government. One academic said the local head of Frelimo visited his mother and threatened her. At least one academic temporarily left the country after receiving such messages.

On March 18, PRM officials arrested Eva Anadon Moreno, a Spanish citizen who worked with various women’s empowerment groups and had lived in the country for six years, for her part in a “street action” organized by women’s rights umbrella group Forum Mulher (Women’s Forum). The protest was intended to draw attention to gender-based violence in schools across the country. The PRM released Anadon several hours after her arrest. Immigration officials later visited her at her apartment the night of March 29 and asked her to accompany them to their headquarters. Instead, they took her to Maputo’s international airport where they detained her overnight. Immigration officials deported Anadon on a commercial flight to South Africa the following day. She did not receive a hearing or a chance to appeal her deportation.

Press and Media Freedoms: The government exerted substantial pressure on all forms of media. The NGO Selekani reported that media outlets and journalists frequently self-censored to avoid government retaliation. In May, Isaque Chande, the minister of justice, constitutional, and religious affairs, threatened to trigger “accountability mechanisms” against the Portuguese news agency Lusa for publishing local residents’ allegations of a mass grave containing 120 bodies in Sofala Province. The government denied the existence of any mass graves, and security forces kept journalists away from the alleged location.

Violence and Harassment: In May unidentified gunmen posing as police officers abducted journalist Jose Jaime Macuane outside his home in Maputo and drove him to a rural area in Maputo Province. They told him they had orders to cripple him and shot him four times in the legs. Macuane was a cohost of the political talk show Pontos de vista (“Points of View”) on STV, an independent television station. Local media speculated that he was targeted for criticizing the government. In response to the shooting, Tomas Viera Mario, chair of the country’s Higher Mass Media Council, said journalists were “facing a serious assault against human rights.” The government did not criticize the shooting.

In June, PIC officers questioned Joao Chamusse and Egidio Placido, manager and editor in chief, respectively, of the print weekly newspaper Zambeze, for several hours regarding their sources after they published an article. The article claimed that Renamo fighters killed an unknown number of Zimbabwean soldiers who were on a combat mission in the central part of the country.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were no official government guidelines for media. Media officials reported the government’s Information Office convened regular editorial board meetings to coordinate and direct news content released by state-controlled media. Some journalists reported pressure to self-censor. Some media officials stated critical reporting could result in cancellation of government and ruling party advertising contracts. The largest advertising revenue streams for local media came from ministries and state-controlled businesses. Selekani noted the government asserted its control over state-owned media by giving media outlets their annual budgets in small increments, with the amounts determined by how faithfully articles hewed to official positions.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict access to the internet or censor online content. Members of civil society reported government intelligence agents monitored e-mail and used false names to infiltrate social network discussion groups. Local internet freedom advocates believed the intelligence service monitored online content critical of the government. Government officials expressed interest in discovering the identity of “Unay Cambuma,” a pro-Renamo person or group that published Facebook posts critical of the government and that appeared to have intimate knowledge of government operations.

According to the World Bank, 6 percent of persons in the country used the internet during the year.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events; however, certain academics reported self-censorship. Despite the law providing for separation of party and state, primary school teachers in Gaza Province reportedly included Frelimo party propaganda in their curriculum.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly; nevertheless, the government did not always respect this right. By law protest organizers do not require government “authorization” to peacefully protest; however, protest organizers must notify local authorities of their intent in writing at least four business days beforehand. The government used alleged errors in protest organizers’ notification documents to disallow protests. For example, on May 14, organizations sent Maputo Mayor David Simango a letter to notify their intent to organize a march against recently revealed (109 billion meticais) $1.5 billion in “hidden” sovereign guarantees for loans to state-owned enterprises contracted by the previous administration. Simango replied that the march could not take place as planned since he could not determine if the letter’s signatories represented the organizations they claimed to. Unknown assailants abducted and beat Joao Massango, protest spokesperson and president of the Earth Ecologists Movement Party, shortly after the Mayor’s Office received the notification.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. The Ministry of Justice, Constitutional, and Religious Affairs did not act on LAMBDA’s (the country’s only LGBTI advocacy NGO) registration request, which was pending since 2008. The registration process usually takes less than two months. Civil society leaders and some diplomatic missions continued to urge Justice Minister Chande to act on LAMBDA’s application and to treat all registration applications fairly. Minister Chande and other government officials cited the country’s culture and religious sentiments as reasons the ministry had not acted.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government generally cooperated with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. There were exceptions: for example, in April local authorities arbitrarily arrested and detained a Congolese refugee living at the Maratane refugee camp in Nampula. Officials accused him of involvement in the vandalism of a health center in September 2015 despite the fact he was nowhere near the health center at the time. Authorities eventually released him.

In-country Movement: In February the government introduced convoys with armed police escorts on three stretches of highway in Sofala and Manica to protect civilian vehicles from Renamo attacks. Renamo ambushes on civilian vehicles in Manica, Sofala, and Zambezia significantly diminished persons’ ability to move freely throughout the country. In March several bus companies in Nampula announced they were cancelling service to Maputo due to the attacks.

Refugees must formally request authorization to move outside the geographic region of their registration. The government usually authorized these requests, with the exception of requests to move to the city of Maputo.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

By law only persons in an official internally displaced persons (IDPs) camp are considered internally displaced. In August, Lusa reported that the National Institute for Disaster Management (INGC) recognized 2,372 IDPs and established camps for persons fleeing food insecurity due to drought in Manica. INGC Director for Prevention and Migration Ana Christina acknowledged that some of the IDPs in these camps fled the conflict between the government and Renamo. Additionally, Deutsche Welle reported in June that more than 500 families who fled the village of Pembe (Inhambane Province) in January 2014 due to fighting between government forces and Renamo remained internally displaced. The local government created a resettlement area approximately 16 miles away to house the families.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Durable Solutions: The government continued to work closely with UNHCR to implement a local integration program for refugees at the Maratane Camp in Nampula Province. UNHCR referred a limited number of refugees for third country resettlement.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Domestic and international observers noted voting-day procedures during the most recent presidential and national legislative elections in October 2014 were generally orderly but lacked transparency during vote tabulation. Some domestic and foreign observers and local civil society organizations criticized irregularities, including delays in observer credentialing, excessive numbers of invalid votes, and inor