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Cambodia

Executive Summary

Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliamentary government. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party won all 125 National Assembly seats in the 2018 national election, having banned the main opposition party in 2017, turning the country into a de facto one-party state. The prime minister since 1985, Hun Sen, continued in office. International observers, including foreign governments and international and domestic nongovernmental organizations, criticized the election as neither free nor fair and not representative of the will of the people.

The Cambodian National Police maintain internal security. The Royal Cambodian Armed Forces are responsible for external security and also have some domestic security responsibilities. The National Police report to the Ministry of Interior, while the armed forces report to the Ministry of National Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces, which at times threatened force against opponents of Prime Minister Hun Sen and were generally perceived as an armed wing of the ruling party. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; arbitrary detention by the government; political prisoners and detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary interference in the private lives of citizens, including pervasive electronic media surveillance; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence and threats of violence, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, criminal libel laws, and censorship; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious restrictions on political participation; serious and pervasive government corruption, including in the judiciary; serious government restrictions on or harassment of domestic or international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; and the worst forms of child labor, including forced or compulsory child labor.

A pervasive culture of impunity continued. There were credible reports that government officials, including police, committed abuses and acts of corruption with impunity, and in most cases the government took little or no action. Government officials and their family members were generally immune to prosecution.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

In contrast with 2020, there were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. On January 13, the Battambang Provincial Court sentenced two military police officers, Sar Bunsoeung and Chhoy Ratana, to four and seven years in prison, respectively, and ordered them to pay between 20 and 30 million riels ($4,900 and $7,400) in compensation to the family for the January 2020 death of Tuy Sros, who died in police custody after being arrested in a land dispute in Banteay Meanchey Province. Two witnesses reported that military police beat Tuy and refused to provide medical treatment. By law those who commit “torture and the act of cruelty with aggravating circumstances” may be sentenced to between 10 and 20 years in prison. The victims’ family appealed the sentence seeking stronger punishment; there were no reports of progress on the appeal as of October.

b. Disappearance

In contrast with 2020, there were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

On June 4, the one-year anniversary of Thai prodemocracy activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit’s disappearance, local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) released a statement calling the Cambodian government’s investigation a failure and a violation of international human rights obligations. Wanchalearm’s sister called on the Cambodian government to identify those responsible and bring them to justice.

Eyewitnesses reported that in June 2020 several armed men abducted Wanchalearm outside his Phnom Penh apartment. Authorities initially denied an abduction had taken place, claiming that official records showed Wanchalearm had left the country three years earlier. A representative of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva raised concerns that the incident “may now comprise an enforced disappearance.” In March the Cambodian government responded to the UN’s Committee on Enforced Disappearances, claiming that Wanchalearm was not on the list of residents in the apartment where the alleged abduction took place, that the vehicle seen in security camera footage of the alleged abduction was not registered, that three individuals who lived near the apartment said they had not witnessed any abduction, and that authorities could not find any further evidence from the security camera footage.

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

The constitution prohibits such practices; however, beatings and other forms of physical mistreatment of police detainees and prison inmates reportedly continued during the year.

NGOs and detainees reported that military and police officials used physical and psychological abuse and occasionally severely beat criminal detainees, particularly during interrogation. On April 3, local police in Battambang Province took Pich Theareth into custody for allegedly murdering his wife. Police later announced that Pich died of a heart attack a few hours after his arrest. Pich’s relatives alleged that he was beaten to death and posted photographs of his bruised body on social media and filed a complaint against police. On June 16, the National Antitorture Committee determined that Pich’s death was caused by “excessive torture” and requested that the National Police investigate the case. An NGO reported in September that the National Police had not filed any charges against the police officers involved.

Although the law requires police, prosecutors, and judges to investigate all complaints, including those of police abuse, in practice there was impunity for government officials and their family members for human rights abuses. Judges and prosecutors rarely conducted independent investigations. Although the law allows for investigations into accusations of government abuse, cases were pursued only when there was a public outcry or when they drew the prime minister’s attention. If abuse cases came to trial, presiding judges usually passed down verdicts based only on written reports from police and witness testimony. In general police received little professional training on protecting or respecting human rights.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions remained harsh and in many cases life threatening.

Physical Conditions: Gross overcrowding was a problem. According to the Ministry of Interior, as of July authorities held an estimated 39,000 prisoners and detainees, including 2,571 women, in 29 prisons designed to hold a maximum of 11,000 prisoners. The ministry reported the government’s “war on drugs” had exacerbated overcrowding, as approximately 22,000 of the prisoners and detainees were held for drug trafficking crimes.

In most prisons there was no separation of adult and juvenile prisoners (including children living with incarcerated mothers) or of persons convicted of serious crimes, minor offenses, or in pretrial detention. According to a local NGO, as of July prisons held at least 25 pregnant women and 74 children living with their mothers. Between January and June, the General Department of Prisons reported there were at least 120 deaths in custody.

Allowances for food and other necessities were inadequate in many cases. Family members often provided these, at least in part, and sometimes had to pay a bribe to do so. Observers continued to report that authorities misappropriated allowances for prisoners’ food, exacerbating malnutrition and disease. Authorities did not provide updated figures on access to clean water; as of 2016, 18 of 29 prisons provided clean water. Prisons did not have adequate facilities for persons with mental or physical disabilities. NGOs also alleged prison authorities gave preferential treatment, including increased access to visitors, transfers to better cells, and permission to leave cells during the day, to prisoners whose families paid bribes, while greater restrictions, such as stricter surveillance and denial of gifts from visitors, were placed on human rights defenders and political prisoners. According to a local NGO, prison gangs sometimes violently attacked other prisoners. NGOs reported significant drug use by prisoners, made possible by bribing guards.

The country had 11 government, three private, and four NGO-run inpatient drug rehabilitation centers. Most observers agreed most “patients” in such facilities were involuntarily detained, committed by police or family members without due process. According to the National Authority for Combating Drugs, no detainee was younger than age 18. The authority reported that from January to March, 9,267 drug users received treatment in these centers. Observers noted employees at the centers frequently controlled detainees with physical restraints and subjected them to intense physical exercise. Violence committed by other drug patients was also common. In January, Moy Somnang died at a hospital after he was beaten by other patients. A police officer reported that the “boss” of a criminal network operating at the facility ordered others to beat and torture Moy soon after he arrived at the center.

After COVID-19 began spreading widely throughout the country due to an outbreak in February, officials severely limited access to prisons for family members, attorneys, consular officials, and other outside representatives. Lawyers defending detained labor leader Rong Chhun were not able to communicate with their client and did not know whether Chhun was sick or had been vaccinated until a prosecutor informed attendees in an open court hearing on June 8. There were some reports of COVID-19 spreading uncontrolled through overcrowded detention facilities before the government vaccinated most of the prison population. As of November the government maintained strict restrictions on outside visitation. According to prison officials, as of September the government had provided COVID-19 vaccinations to more than 90 percent of prisoners and detainees throughout the country.

Administration: There were no prison ombudsmen or other government advocates for prisoners. Prisoners could submit complaints about alleged abuse to judicial authorities through lawyers, but a large number of prisoners and detainees could not afford legal representation. The government stated it investigated complaints and monitored prison and detention center conditions through the General Department of Prisons, which reportedly produces internal biannual reports on prison management. The prison department, however, did not release any reports despite frequent requests from civil society organizations.

Before COVID-19 pandemic protocols were put in place in February, authorities routinely allowed prisoners and detainees access to visitors, although human rights organizations confirmed families sometimes had to bribe prison officials to visit prisoners. There were credible reports officials demanded bribes before allowing prisoners to attend trials or appeal hearings, before releasing inmates who had served their full terms of imprisonment, or before allowing inmates to exit their cells.

Independent Monitoring: The government allowed, subject to preconditions and restrictions, international and domestic human rights groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to visit prisons and provide human rights training to prison guards, although COVID-19 policies affected attempts to arrange visits. Some NGOs reported limited cooperation from local authorities who, for example, generally made it difficult to gain access to pretrial detainees.

The Ministry of Interior required lawyers, human rights monitors, and other visitors to obtain permission prior to visiting prisoners (often from multiple government agencies), and sometimes the government required NGOs to sign a formal memorandum of understanding delineating their roles during prison visits. The government largely halted prison visits after COVID-19 began spreading widely throughout the country in February. Although some local independent monitoring groups were able to meet privately with prisoners, others were not. A local human rights NGO that provides medical care to prisoners reported the government refused requests to visit convicted prisoners who were members of an opposition political party. Another NGO reported the government accused it of harboring political bias and using its visits to embolden political prisoners. Representatives of the UN human rights commissioner reported they were usually able to visit prisons and hold private meetings when interviewing a particular prisoner of interest.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and limits pretrial detention to a maximum of 18 months; however, the government did not always respect these prohibitions.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires police to obtain a warrant from an investigating judge prior to making an arrest, unless police apprehend a suspect while in the act of committing a crime. The law allows police to take a person into custody and conduct an investigation for 48 hours, excluding weekends and government holidays, before they must file charges or release a suspect. In felony cases of exceptional circumstances prescribed by law, police may detain a suspect for an additional 24 hours with the approval of a prosecutor. Nevertheless, authorities routinely held persons for extended periods before charging them.

There was a bail system, but many prisoners, especially those without legal representation, had no opportunity to seek release on bail. Authorities routinely denied bail in politically sensitive cases, leading to lengthy pretrial detention before trial begins.

Arbitrary Arrest: As of August observers recorded at least 68 arbitrary arrests, including 14 political activists, 21 journalists, 10 environmental activists, and four land rights activists. The actual number of arbitrary arrests and detentions was likely higher, since victims in rural areas may not have filed complaints due to the difficulty of traveling to human rights NGO offices or because of concern for their family’s security. Authorities took no legal or disciplinary action against persons responsible for illegal detentions.

In February, Ministry of Environment officers arrested and arbitrarily detained five environmental activists for investigating illegal logging, according to Amnesty International. They were released three days later.

Former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Kem Sokha continued to be held under house arrest arbitrarily and well beyond the legal limit. Following Sokha’s 2017 arrest and after 26 months in pretrial detention, in 2019 the government partially lifted judicial restrictions, effectively releasing him from house arrest, but not allowing him to travel abroad or engage in political activity. The charges of treason against him were pending as of December.

Pretrial Detention: As of July the Ministry of Interior reported holding 13,549 pretrial detainees, approximately one-third of all prisoners. Government officials stated that prolonged detentions were frequently the result of the limited capacity of the court system. The law allows for a maximum pretrial detention of six months for misdemeanors and 18 months for felonies, but NGOs reported authorities held some accused in pretrial detention for longer than those legal maximums. In cases of “incitement,” a charge commonly levied against political and environmental activists, no individuals were granted bail, according to reports; every known “incitement” suspect was held in pretrial detention until the end of their trial, almost always beyond the statutory minimum sentence of six months. In some cases the period spent in pretrial detention was longer than the minimum sentence for the crime detainees were to be tried for. Authorities occasionally held pretrial detainees without legal representation. Under the law police may arrest and detain accused persons for a maximum of 24 hours before allowing them access to legal counsel, but authorities routinely held prisoners incommunicado for several days before granting them access to a lawyer or family members.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The government made significant progress clearing a backlog of court cases and long delays in obtaining judicial rulings, which had interfered with the right to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of detention. On June 29, the Ministry of Justice reported that it had expedited and resolved 96 percent of approximately 40,000 backlogged criminal cases after a year-long effort.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the government did not respect judicial independence, exerting extensive control over the courts. Court decisions were often subject to political influence. Judicial officials, up to and including the chief of the Supreme Court, often simultaneously held positions in the ruling party, and observers alleged only those with ties to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) or the executive received judicial appointments. Corruption among judges, prosecutors, and court officials was widespread. The judicial branch was inefficient and could not assure due process. At times the outcome of trials appeared predetermined.

The government significantly increased the use of arbitrary charges of “incitement” over the last two years, using the law to charge criminally political opposition leaders and their supporters, labor and environmental activists, and citizens who make politically sensitive comments, including social media posts about the border with Vietnam, the government’s COVID-19 response, relations with China, and unflattering comments about senior government officials. The law criminalizes the “direct incitement to commit a felony or disturb social security,” a vague standard commonly used to suppress and punish peaceful political speech and dissent. By the end of 2020, the government reportedly filed at least 200 cases of incitement, up from approximately 40 in 2019 and no more than 20 in previous years. This included a mass filing of incitement charges against approximately 120 individuals in November 2020, most of whom were associated with the opposition CNRP. There was no report that anyone had ever been acquitted of an incitement charge; individuals with a criminal record may not hold public office until the king grants clemency after a request from the prime minister.

In the long-suspended treason trial of former political opposition leader Kem Sokha, the government gave conflicting statements, at times insisting the court was acting independently, while at other times insisting the trial would last for “years,” or that the outcome would depend on other factors, such as the EU’s partial withdrawal of trade benefits.

Observers alleged the Bar Association of Cambodia heavily favored admission of CPP-aligned members at the expense of nonaligned and opposition attorneys and at times admitted unqualified individuals to the bar solely due to their political affiliation. Analysts revealed that many applicants to the bar paid high bribes for admittance.

A shortage of judges and courtrooms continued to delay many cases. NGOs also believed court officials focused on cases that might benefit them financially. Court delays or corrupt practices often allowed accused persons to escape prosecution. There were widespread allegations that rich or powerful defendants, including members of the security forces, often paid victims and authorities to drop criminal charges. These allegations were supported by NGO reports and instances of rich defendants appearing free in public after their high-profile arrests were reported in media without further coverage of court proceedings or final outcomes of the cases. Authorities sometimes urged victims or their families to accept financial restitution in exchange for dropping criminal charges or for failing to appear as witnesses.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial; however, the judiciary rarely enforced this right.

Defendants are by law required to be informed promptly of the charges against them, be presumed innocent, and have the right of appeal, but they often resorted to bribery rather than rely on the judicial process. Trials are not always public and frequently face delays. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and consult with an attorney, confront and question witnesses against them, and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. The law, however, allows trials in absentia, and courts at times convicted suspects in absentia with no defense representation. In felony cases, if a defendant cannot afford an attorney, the law requires the court to provide the defendant with free legal representation; however, the judiciary was not always able to provide legal counsel, and most defendants sought assistance from NGOs, pro bono representation, or “voluntarily” proceeded without legal representation. In the absence of a required defense attorney in a felony case, trial courts routinely adjourned cases until defendants could secure legal representation, a process that often took months. Trials were typically perfunctory, and extensive cross-examination usually did not take place. NGOs reported that sworn written statements from witnesses and the accused in many cases constituted the only evidence presented at trials. The courts offered free interpretation.

There was a critical shortage of trained lawyers, particularly outside the capital. The right to a fair public trial often was denied de facto for persons without means to secure counsel.

Authorities sometimes allegedly coerced confessions through beatings or threats or forced defendants to sign written confessions without informing them of the contents. Courts accepted forced confessions as evidence in trial despite legal prohibitions against doing so. According to a human rights NGO’s random sample of 148 appeals court proceedings in the first half of the year, eight individuals reported that judicial police had used torture or violence to force them to confess during their investigations. For years NGOs reported that fewer than half of all known defendants were present at their appeals because of difficulties traveling to the capital from other parts of the country.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

As of October a local human rights NGO estimated that authorities held nearly 30 political prisoners and detainees.

In January a Phnom Penh court found prominent labor leader Rong Chhun guilty of “incitement to commit a felony” and sentenced him to the maximum punishment of two years’ imprisonment. The court also ordered him and two codefendants to pay the Cambodian Boundary Commission up to 400 million riels ($100,000) in restitution. Chhun was arrested in July 2020 after he visited the border with Vietnam and spoke to the press about concerns over border demarcation. Chhun was subsequently released on probation after an appeals court suspended a portion of his sentence in November.

In December the court in charge of the treason case against CNRP leader Kem Sokha set a trial date of January 19, 2022.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

Extraterritorial Killing, Kidnapping, Forced Returns, or Other Violence or Threats of Violence: According to Human Rights Watch, Cambodian refugees hiding in Bangkok reported escalating levels of surveillance and threats by unidentified persons whom they believed were under the direction of Cambodian government officials. In October the prime minister publicly called for a UNHCR-registered CNRP activist living in Thailand to be “eliminated” and urged police to search for him, including searching “abroad.” In November the government of Thailand refouled three Cambodian opposition activists who were UNHCR-registered refugees. They were immediately arrested upon arrival in Cambodia.

Efforts to Control Mobility: Some government critics and opposition politicians were in self-imposed foreign exile. In some cases the government subsequently took steps to block exiles’ return, including revoking their Cambodian passports.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The country has a system in place for hearing civil cases, and citizens are entitled to bring lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations. Some administrative and judicial remedies were available. NGOs reported, however, that public distrust in the judicial system due to corruption and political control deterred many from filing lawsuits and that authorities often did not enforce court orders.

Property Seizure and Restitution

The land law states that any person who peacefully possessed private or state land (excluding public lands, such as parks) or inhabited state buildings without contest for five years prior to the 2001 promulgation of a law on restitution has the right to apply for a definitive title to that property. Most citizens, however, lacked the knowledge and means to obtain formal documentation of ownership.

Provincial and district land offices continued to follow pre-2001 land registration procedures, which did not include accurate land surveys or opportunities for public comment. Land speculation in the absence of clear title fueled disputes in every province and increased tensions between poor rural communities and speculators. Some urban communities faced forced eviction to make way for commercial development projects.

Authorities continued to force inhabitants to relocate from disputed land, although the number of cases declined in recent years. On September 12, police arrested more than 30 displaced rice farmers and villagers protesting being forcibly removed from their land with inadequate compensation to make way for Phnom Penh’s new international airport and surrounding development. On September 20, thousands of displaced villagers from three provinces blocked the road to the Land Ministry, demanding the government’s help in resolving land disputes. Some persons also used the threat of legal action or eviction to intimidate poor and vulnerable persons into selling their land at below-market values. As of July a local NGO reported 49 new cases of land grabbing and forced evictions. Another human rights NGO investigated 31 new cases of land grabbing as of June, affecting 2,659 families across the country.

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

Although the law provides for the privacy of residences and correspondence and prohibits illegal searches, NGOs reported police routinely conducted searches and seizures without warrants. The government continued to leak personal correspondence and recordings of telephone calls by opposition and civil society leaders to government-aligned media. On June 24, police arrested Kak Sovanchay, a 16-year-old boy reportedly with autism, for allegedly “insulting the government” in posts he made in a private chat group on the social media app Telegram that related to his father, a jailed CNRP official. Kak was convicted and later released on probation after an appeals court suspended a portion of his sentence in November.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The April 2020 state of emergency law, which the prime minister claimed was necessary because of the COVID-19 pandemic, allows the government to ban or limit freedoms of travel, assembly, and information distribution and the ability to leave one’s home during a declared emergency. NGOs and UN experts condemned the law, arguing that it lacked an effective oversight mechanism and could be used to infringe on the rights of the people. As of November the government had not declared a state of emergency under this law.

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media. In 2017, however, the government began carrying out a sustained campaign to eliminate independent news media and dissenting voices in the country and increasingly restrict free expression; many individuals and institutions reported widespread self-censorship.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Although the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government did not respect this right. In a survey covering the nine months to January, 64 percent of NGOs and 28 percent of trade unions stated they believed they were free to assemble peacefully.

The law requires advance notification for protests, marches, or demonstrations, although authorities inconsistently enforced this requirement. One provision requires five days’ notice for most peaceful demonstrations, while another requires 12 hours’ notice for impromptu gatherings on private property or protests at designated venues and limits such gatherings to 200 persons. By law provincial or municipal governments issue demonstration permits at their discretion. Lower-level government officials, particularly in Phnom Penh, generally denied requests unless the national government specifically authorized the gatherings. All levels of government routinely denied permits to groups critical of the ruling party. Authorities cited the need for stability and public security – terms left undefined in the law and therefore subject to wide interpretation – as reasons for denying permits.

In May a court sentenced Long Kunthea and several of her associates to 18 months’ imprisonment for “incitement” for planning a peaceful, one-person demonstration aimed at raising concerns about environmental matters and urban development. Long and her associates had planned to post a video of the demonstration online. In November an appeals court suspended their sentences and placed them on probation.

In August, Neth Savoeun, the National Police chief and nephew of Prime Minister Hun Sen, appointed Dy Vichea, deputy commissioner of the National Police and the prime minister’s son-in-law, as the head of a working group publicly tasked with searching for individuals who were “inciting other villagers to protest in land disputes.” NGOs and land activists condemned the working group, arguing that its purpose was to crack down on land rights activists.

There were credible reports the government prevented associations and NGOs from organizing human rights-related events and meetings; those NGOs failed to receive permission from local authorities. Government authorities occasionally cited the law to break up meetings and training programs deemed hostile to the government.

Despite these restrictions, media reported on unauthorized public protests related to a variety of matters, including land and labor disputes and demands to release political prisoners. Since the July 2020 arrest of union leader Rong Chhun, authorities on multiple occasions forcibly dispersed protesters demanding his release, leading to at least four injuries. In October a court sentenced 10 youth activists from the Khmer Thavrak group to 14- or 15-month prison terms and a two-million-riel ($490) fine each for joining peaceful protests in August and September 2020 calling for Rong’s release.

In June approximately 100 soldiers fired on land rights protesters in Kandal Province; one demonstrator was shot in the shoulder but survived.

On July 10, the fifth anniversary of the death of prominent government critic Kem Ley, authorities banned any gathering at the Caltex gas station where he was shot, citing COVID-19 health protocols. Thousands gathered at the station in previous years to commemorate Kem Ley on the anniversary of his killing.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government continued to restrict it, targeting specifically groups it believed could be involved in political dissent. The law requires all associations and NGOs to register and to be politically neutral, which restricts the right to association and those organizations’ right to free expression.

Vague provisions in several laws prohibiting any activity that may “jeopardize peace, stability, and public order” or harm “national security, national unity, traditions, and the culture of Cambodian society” created a substantial risk of arbitrary and politicized restriction of the right of association. According to critics, the laws on associations and trade unions establish heavily bureaucratic, multistep registration processes that lack both transparency and administrative safeguards, thereby reinforcing legal and political objections to registering groups. Laws on reporting activities and finances, including the disclosure of all successful funding proposals, financial or grant agreements, and bank accounts also impose burdensome obligations that allow officials to restrict or close organizations for petty or arbitrary reasons. Some NGOs and unions complained that police carefully monitored their activities and intimidated participants by sending uniformed or plainclothes police to observe their meetings and training sessions.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government restricted the movement of persons into and out of certain “red zones” in several cities at various points throughout the year to prevent the spread of COVID-19, reportedly causing significant cash and supply shortages. On April 29, more than 100 Phnom Penh residents protested severe restrictions in the red zones, pointing to acute food shortages.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. In August, at the request of an international NGO, Prime Minister Hun Sen agreed to accept up to 300 Afghan refugees for temporary stays in Cambodia until they could be resettled to a third country. On November 16, an initial group of 15 Afghan refugees arrived.

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 system, however, is not equally accessible to all refugees and asylum seekers and is not transparent. Asylum seekers who enter the country without documentation or overstay their visas are vulnerable to deportation. The government does not grant resident status or a resident “book” to refugees, only a “refugee card.”

Freedom of Movement: Authorities restricted the movement of refugees. For example, local authorities require Montagnards who have been granted refugee status to stay confined to their temporary homes, aside from shopping trips for groceries and other essential items. As of December the government had made no announcement about restrictions on Afghan refugees awaiting resettlement in the country.

Employment: The law allows refugees to work and operate a business. Refugees, however, are generally not provided with resident status or resident books, making it difficult to exercise these rights.

Access to Basic Services: The government’s refusal to grant resident status and resident books to refugees limited their access to basic services.

g. Stateless Persons

The country had habitual residents who were de facto stateless. According to UNHCR, there were an estimated 57,450 stateless persons in the country as of the end of 2019, primarily ethnic Vietnamese. On June 2, Phnom Penh authorities ordered 700 families living in boats or floating houses along the Tonle Sap River, most of whom were ethnic Vietnamese and had long lived in the area, to dismantle their homes and depart the vicinity immediately. The government did not effectively implement laws or policies to provide such persons the opportunity to acquire or document their Cambodian nationality (see section 6, Children). According to an NGO, individuals without proof of nationality often did not have access to formal employment, education, marriage registration, the courts, or the right to own land.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Although the constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, in practice there was no such ability. By law the government may dissolve parties and ban individuals from party leadership positions and political life more broadly. The law also bars parties from using any audio, visual, or written material from a convicted criminal.

As of September, 29 of the 118 CNRP officials barred from political activity after the Supreme Court disbanded the party in 2017 had applied for political rehabilitation. Authorities restored the political rights of 26 individuals and rejected three applications. Prime Minister Hun Sen stated in August that he would not restore any politician’s political rights unless he was “pleased.” Local experts and opposition party members complained the “rehabilitation” process was arbitrary, created a false appearance of wrongdoing on the part of the banned politicians, and allowed the prime minister to choose his own political opponents. The CPP dominated all levels of government from districts and provincial councils to the National Assembly.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent national election occurred in 2018. Although 20 political parties participated, the largest opposition party, the CNRP, was excluded. Of the 19 non-CPP parties that competed in the election, political rights groups claimed that 16 were CPP proxies.

Although campaign laws require news outlets to give equal coverage to each party participating in an election, there was no evidence of the law’s enforcement during the 2018 election; news outlets gave significantly greater coverage to the CPP than to other parties. In view of the decline in independent media outlets, government-controlled news outlets provided most content and coverage prior to the election. This was particularly the case in rural areas, where voters had less access to independent media.

Approximately 600,000 ballots cast in 2018 were deemed invalid, compared with an estimated 100,000 in the previous election. Observers argued this was a sign of protest; in view of the pressure to vote and the absence of the CNRP from the ballot, many voters chose to spoil their ballots intentionally rather than vote for a party. According to government figures, 83 percent of registered voters went to the polls. The ruling CPP won all 125 seats in the National Assembly. Government statistics could not be verified due to a lack of independent observers.

Most independent analysts considered the entire election process seriously flawed. Most diplomatic missions to the country declined to serve as official observers in the election. Major nonstate election observation bodies, including the Carter Center and the Asian Network for Free Elections, also decided against monitoring the election after determining the election lacked basic credibility. The National Election Committee accused the international community of bias, arguing the international community supported it only when the CNRP was on the ballot. Although nominally independent, the government installed closed-circuit television cameras in the committee offices, enabling it to observe the committee’s proceedings.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Excepting the CPP and several small progovernment parties, independent political parties suffered from a wide range of legalized discrimination, selective enforcement of the law, intimidation, and biased media coverage. These factors contributed significantly to the CPP’s effective monopolization of political power. Membership in the CPP was a prerequisite for many government positions.

In September 2020 Prime Minister Hun Sen reportedly stated that CNRP leader Kem Sokha’s case may not be resolved until 2024.

In April, Kak Sovanchhay, the teenage child of an imprisoned former opposition party official, was struck in the head by a brick thrown by two men on a motorbike, putting him in critical condition. The offenders were not located. Kak Sovanchhay was later arrested and charged with “incitement,” a misdemeanor punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment. Kak, who reportedly had autism, received no treatment or any special accommodation in detention or during his trial.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of ethnic minorities in the political process, but cultural practices that relegate women to second-class status – epitomized by the Chbab Srey, a traditional code of conduct for women dating to the 14th century – limited women’s role in politics and government. Despite repeated vows by the CPP to increase female representation, only 19 women were elected to the National Assembly in the 2018 national election, down from 25 in 2013. The 2017 local elections saw participation for the first time of the Cambodia Indigenous People’s Democracy Party; the party also participated in the 2018 parliamentary elections.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. The National Council Against Corruption and its Anticorruption Unit are authorized by law to receive and investigate corruption complaints. The unit, however, did not collaborate frequently with civil society and was considered ineffective in combating official corruption. Instead, it focused on investigations of opposition figures, leading to a widespread perception that it served the interests of the ruling CPP. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: The Anticorruption Unit has never investigated a high-level member of the ruling party, despite widespread allegations of corruption at senior levels of the party and government. For example, in June activists renewed allegations against National Assembly member and former provincial governor Prak Chan for involvement in the illegal smuggling of timber to Vietnam after his name was put forward as a candidate for the National Election Committee, but authorities took no action against him. In August the unit arrested two individuals for impersonating government officials, but otherwise had not arrested anyone since 2016 when it arrested five employees of a prominent human rights NGO and an opposition party member serving as commune chief. Similarly only one financial disclosure statement was ever unsealed, that of then National Assembly vice president and opposition CNRP president Kem Sokha.

Corruption was endemic throughout society and government. There were reports police, prosecutors, investigating judges, and presiding judges took bribes from owners of both legal and illegal businesses.

Civil servants must seek clearance and permission from supervisors before responding to legislative inquiries about corruption allegations.

Citizens frequently and publicly complained about corruption. Meager salaries contributed to “survival corruption” among low-level public servants, while a culture of impunity enabled corruption to flourish among senior officials. In January, Le Changsangvath, head of the Banteay Meanchey provincial health department, was accused of soliciting a 60-million-riel ($15,000) bribe. Instead of investigating, the Ministry of Health dismissed the allegation and claimed that those who made the complaint were trying to provoke social chaos. On October 25, police surrounded the house of Kong Kheang, an official from the ruling CPP, who had accused Land Management Minister Chea Sophara of demanding bribes from lower officials in exchange for their position promotions in the party and in the government. Police threatened him and his family. In July the government granted 425 acres of land (designated as state forest) to real estate tycoon (and former government official) Leng Pheaktra (commonly known as Leng Navatra).

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

There were multiple reports of a lack of official cooperation with human rights investigations and in some cases, intimidation of investigators by government officials.

Approximately 25 human rights NGOs operated in the country. A further 100 NGOs’ work involved some human rights concerns, but only a few actively organized training programs or investigated abuses.

Human rights defenders faced increasing repression. On September 18, Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly ordered the arrest of political commentator Seng Sary, accusing him of joining the opposition party to create a revolution; the prime minister withdrew his order two days later, stating he had listened to Seng’s explanations and found them “reasonable.”

Defenders were detained without bail before trial and pending verdict.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: Although the government generally permitted visits by UN representatives with human rights responsibilities, authorities generally restricted access to opposition officials, including Kem Sokha. On September 23, Prime Minister Hun Sen met via videoconference with Vitit Muntarbhorn, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia. Government spokespersons regularly chastised UN representatives publicly for their remarks on a variety of human rights concerns.

Government Human Rights Bodies: There were three government human rights bodies: a Committee for the Protection of Human Rights and Reception of Complaints in both the Senate and National Assembly; and the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, which reported to the prime minister’s cabinet. The Cambodian Human Rights Committee submitted government reports for international human rights review processes, such as the Universal Periodic Review, and issued responses to reports by international organizations and government bodies, but it did not conduct independent human rights investigations. Credible human rights NGOs considered the government committees of limited efficacy and criticized their role in vocally justifying the government crackdown on civil society and the opposition.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, which was established to investigate and prosecute leaders of the former Khmer Rouge regime who were most responsible for the atrocities committed between 1975 and 1979, continued operations. The chambers are a hybrid tribunal, with both domestic and international jurists and staff, governed by both domestic law and an agreement between the government and the United Nations. All investigations have officially ended, no new investigations were opened during the year, and no prosecutions were conducted in the trial chamber. Appeals and some preprosecution proceedings continued.

On August 16, the chambers’ Supreme Court heard an appeal in a case against Khieu Samphan, the Khmer Rouge head of state in the 1970s. In 2018 the chambers sentenced Khieu to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, and genocide. Two separate cases, those of Khmer Rouge naval commander Meas Muth and Khmer Rouge official Yim Tith, remained under consideration before the chambers. As of September international jurists continued to advocate that the two defendants be brought to trial for similar charges, while Cambodian jurists continued to advocate for dismissal. As of November, the Pretrial Chamber had yet to resolve these disputes.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape and domestic violence were significant problems. The law, which does not specify the sex of a victim, criminalizes rape and “indecent assault.” Rape is punishable by five to 30 years’ imprisonment. Spousal rape is not specifically mentioned in the law, but the underlying conduct may be prosecuted as “rape,” “causing injury,” or “indecent assault.” Charges for rape were rare. The law criminalizes domestic violence and assigns penalties ranging from one to 15 years’ imprisonment.

Rape and domestic violence were likely underreported due to fear of reprisal, social stigma, discrimination, and distrust of police and the judiciary. Women comprised a small proportion of judicial officials, which likely contributed to underreporting of rape and domestic abuse. NGOs reported authorities inadequately enforced domestic violence law and avoided involvement in domestic disputes.

Rape and domestic violence sometimes led to death. Most observers believed neither authorities nor the public generally regarded domestic violence as a criminal offense.

In one example, Heng Sear, a wealthy businessman with connections to the government, was accused of sexual assault by university student and former beauty pageant contestant Mean Pich Rita who, after refusing Heng’s advances, was arrested in May for allegedly stealing his cell phone. She was quickly released after a public outcry, but police took no action against Heng.

The Ministries of Information and Women’s Affairs implemented a code of conduct for media reporting on violence against women, which bans publication of a survivor’s personal identifiable information, photographs of victims, depictions of a woman’s death or injury, depictions of nudity, and the use of certain offensive or disparaging words against women.

Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment, imposing penalties of six days’ to three months’ imprisonment and modest fines. Workplace sexual harassment was believed to be widespread.

As of September no legal action had been taken against Ouk Kosal, the former police chief of Kampong Thom Province. In July 2020 four female police officers submitted a letter to Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Sar Kheng reporting that Kosal sexually assaulted them. The letter stated they had reported the abuse on multiple occasions since 2018, but the case had not progressed. National Police chief Neth Savoeun stated that police did not take action because they “wanted to protect the dignity of the women.”

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Cultural barriers played a significant role in limiting women’s access to contraceptives. Unmarried, sexually active persons were often too shy or embarrassed to ask for contraceptives at health centers, clinics, and pharmacies.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services to survivors of sexual violence, including emergency contraception.

According to the country’s 2019 census, the maternal mortality rate was 141 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared with 178 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015. Major factors influencing high maternal mortality rates included shortages of adequate health facilities, medications, and skilled birth attendants.

Discrimination: The constitution and law provide for equal rights for women and men, including equal pay for equal work and equal status in marriage. The government did not effectively enforce the law. For the most part, women had equal property rights, the same legal right as men to initiate divorce proceedings, and equal access to education, but cultural traditions and greater parenting responsibilities than men limited the ability of women to reach senior positions in business and government or participate in the workforce.

The government expected women to dress and comport themselves according to “Khmer traditions.” In March a female police officer was forced to apologize for a Facebook post showing her nursing her baby while in uniform, leading to an outcry from civil society groups and some government officials, who came to the woman’s defense. On June 5, authorities arrested a woman selling lotions online for “ruining women’s honor” and accused her of using inappropriate and sexual words during an online promotion of her product.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution grants equality before the law and offers the same rights to all citizens regardless of their race, sex, language, religious belief, political tendency, birth origin, social status, wealth, or other status. The law criminalizes discrimination and violence if due to “membership in a particular ethnicity, nationality, race, or religion.”

Experts noted an increase in negative attitudes toward Chinese nationals in the country, in part due to links with criminal activity, particularly in Sihanoukville. Newspapers reported stories of crimes committed by Chinese residents and business owners (mostly against fellow Chinese nationals), including murder, shootings, armed robbery, gang violence, kidnapping, trafficking in persons, extortion, counterfeiting, pornography, drunk driving, and drug possession. On August 21, authorities arrested more than 100 Chinese nationals for suspected drug trafficking.

Hundreds of ethnic Vietnamese fishing families living along the Tonle Sap River were forced to relocate their floating homes in June after government officials ordered them to vacate the area, despite some families reportedly having lived there for generations. The government did not recognize the citizenship of some ethnic Vietnamese, leaving them stateless. Some of the families attempted to move their floating homes into Vietnam via the Mekong River but their movements were prevented at the border.

Children

Birth Registration: By law children born to one or two ethnic Khmer parents are citizens. A child derives citizenship by birth to a mother and father who are not ethnic Khmer if both parents were born and living legally in the country or if either parent acquired citizenship through other legal means. Ethnic minorities are considered citizens by law. The Ministry of Interior administered the birth registration system, but not all births were registered immediately, primarily due to lack of public awareness of the importance of registering births and corruption in local government.

Failure to register births resulted in discrimination, including the denial of public services. Children of ethnic minorities and stateless persons were disproportionately unlikely to be registered. NGOs that serve disenfranchised communities reported authorities often denied access to education and health care services for children without birth registration. NGOs stated such persons, when adults, were also often unable to gain employment, own property, vote, or access the legal system.

Education: Education was free, but not compulsory, through grade nine. Many children left school to help their families in subsistence agriculture or work in other activities. Others began school at a late age or did not attend school at all. The government did not deny girls equal access to education, but families with limited resources often gave priority to boys, especially in rural areas. According to international organization reports, enrollment dropped significantly for girls after primary school in urban areas, while secondary school enrollment for boys dropped significantly in rural areas.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was common, and legal action against perpetrators was rare, according to observers. According to UNICEF’s Violence Against Children Report in 2020, approximately half of the children in the country had experienced extreme violence. As of July a local human rights NGO had investigated 94 abuses involving 106 children – 99 girls and seven boys. Almost 90 percent were either cases of rape or attempted rape.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for both men and women is 18; however, children as young as 16 may marry with parental permission.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual intercourse with a person younger than 15 is illegal. The government continued to raid brothels to identify and remove child sex trafficking victims, although the majority of child sex trafficking was clandestine, occurring in beer gardens, massage parlors, beauty salons, karaoke bars, other retail spaces, and noncommercial sites. Police investigated child sex trafficking in brothels or when victims filed complaints directly but did not typically pursue more complicated cases, for example those involving online sexual exploitation. According to a 2020 NGO report, 15 percent of children in the country reported having been contacted by strangers on social media, and 2 percent reported having been asked to share intimate pictures or videos, or to perform inappropriate acts. The Cambodia National Council for Children launched a five-year action plan in July aimed at improving several areas of public policy and coordination, “including strengthening measures to prevent exploitation” and to rehabilitate victims. Undercover investigation techniques were generally not used in trafficking investigations, which impeded officials’ ability to hold child sex traffickers accountable.

The country remained a destination for child sex tourism. The government used the law to prosecute both sex tourists and citizens for the sexual exploitation of children. The law provides penalties ranging from two to 20 years in prison for commercial sexual exploitation of children. The law also prohibits the production and possession of child pornography.

Local human rights organizations and local experts were concerned regarding the government’s failure to punish appropriately foreign residents and tourists who purchase or otherwise engage in sex with children. Endemic corruption at all levels of government severely limited investigations and prosecutions of child sex traffickers, and the government took no action to investigate or prosecute complicit officials.

Displaced Children: Displaced children represented a serious problem. The government offered limited, inadequate services to street children at a single rehabilitation center in Phnom Penh. In 2017 a local NGO estimated there were 1,200 to 1,500 displaced street children in Phnom Penh with no relationship to their families and 15,000 to 20,000 children who worked on the streets but returned to families in the evenings.

Institutionalized Children: NGOs and other observers alleged many private orphanages were mismanaged and populated by sham orphans to lure donations from foreigners. From 36,000 to 49,000 children lived in residential care institutions or orphanages, according to UNICEF and research conducted by Columbia University in 2018. Approximately 80 percent of these children had at least one living parent. The study also found that residential care resulted in lower developmental and health outcomes for children and put them at higher risk for future exploitation. There were no state-supported or -operated orphanages or other child protection programs that provided safe alternatives for children.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

A small Jewish foreign resident community lived in Phnom Penh. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination, neglect, exploitation, or abandonment of persons with physical or intellectual disabilities, but it was not effectively enforced. The law does not address access to transport. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth has overall responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, although the law assigns specific tasks to other ministries, including the Ministries of Health, Education, Public Works and Transport, and National Defense.

Persons with disabilities faced significant societal discrimination and economic disadvantages, especially in obtaining skilled employment. According to a 2019 NGO survey of more than 4,300 persons with disabilities, at least 60 percent lived below the poverty line, compared with 25 percent in the general population.

Children with limited physical disabilities attended regular schools. According to a Ministry of Education report in 2019, there were 60,284 students with disabilities throughout the country. The ministry worked to train teachers on how to integrate students with disabilities into classes with students who did not have disabilities. Children with more significant disabilities attended separate schools sponsored by NGOs in Phnom Penh; education for students with more significant disabilities was not available outside of Phnom Penh. A local NGO reported that at least 60 percent of children with disabilities did not attend school. Although there are no legal limits on the rights of persons with disabilities to vote or participate in civic affairs, the government made no concerted effort to assist their civic engagement.

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

No law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct, nor was there official discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons. Societal discrimination persisted, however, particularly in rural areas.

LGBTQI+ persons generally had limited job opportunities due to discrimination and exclusion. LGBTQI+ persons were occasionally harassed or bullied for their work in the entertainment and commercial sex sectors.

A local LGBTQI+ rights organization reported incidents of violence or abuse against LGBTQI+ persons, including domestic violence by family members. Stigma or intimidation may have inhibited further reporting of incidents. Police did not prioritize investigations into LGBTQI+-related complaints.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law broadly provides for the right of private-sector workers to form and join independent trade unions of their own choice, to bargain collectively, and to strike. The law excludes certain categories of workers from joining unions, puts significant restrictions on the right to organize, limits the right to strike, facilitates government intervention in internal union affairs, permits the government as well as third parties to seek the dissolution of trade unions, and imposes minor penalties on employers for unfair labor practices. The government failed to enforce applicable laws effectively. Penalties for antiunion discrimination in hiring and dismissing employees were commensurate with penalties for other types of discrimination.

Civil servants, teachers, workers employed by state-owned enterprises, and workers in the banking, health-care, and informal sectors may form only “associations,” not trade unions, affording them fewer worker protections than unionized trades. The law also restricts illiterate workers from holding union leadership.

Reports of severe restrictions on union formation were common. In 2020 the country registered 210 new unions, down from 375 unions registered in 2019. Independent union leaders noted that a small number of unions were active, and that an estimated 10 percent could be considered independent. Some employers reportedly refused to sign notification letters to recognize unions officially or to renew contracts with short-term employees who joined unions. Most workers in the formal manufacturing sector were on short-term contracts. Unions noted short-term contracts allowed employers to dismiss union organizers by failing to renew their contract. Employers and local government officials often refused to provide necessary paperwork for unions to register. Some employers took advantage of the prolonged registration process to terminate elected union officials prior to the unions’ formal registration, making them ineligible to serve as union officers and further retarding the registration process.

Onerous registration requirements amounted to a requirement for prior authorization for union formation. Union registration requirements include filing charters, listing officials and their immediate families, and providing banking details to the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training. Labor activists reported many banks refused to open accounts for unregistered unions, although unions are unable by law to register until they provide banking details. Provincial-level labor authorities reportedly stalled registration applications indefinitely by requesting more materials or resubmissions due to minor errors late in the 30-day application cycle, although anecdotal evidence suggested this practice had decreased, particularly for garment- and footwear-sector unions. The law forbids unregistered unions from operating.

Workers reported various other obstacles while trying to exercise their right to freedom of association. There were reports of government harassment of independent labor leaders, including the use of spurious legal charges. Several prominent labor leaders associated with the opposition or independent unions had charges pending against them or were under court supervision.

Several unions reported increased union-busting activity amid the sharp economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, according to union leaders at the Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Sihanoukville airports, the Cambodia Airport Management Service stopped negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with the International Airport Independent Employees Union due to COVID-19 and then suspended workers unilaterally in all airports, without consulting the union. In April, NagaWorld, the country’s largest casino, notified the casino workers’ union that it would dismiss 1,329 employees; it had fired 956 workers as of August. NagaWorld union representatives accused the company of using the pandemic as a pretext to get rid of union leaders and members specifically, noting that while union members represented approximately 50 percent of the company’s total of 8,000 employees, they made up nearly 83 percent of those expected to be dismissed. According to Solidarity Center, from January to August, 140 legal cases were brought against unions and workers in the garment industry, a sharp increase from previous years.

While workers enjoy the right to conduct strikes, the legal requirements for doing so are cumbersome. The law stipulates that workers may strike only after meeting several requirements, including the successful registration of a union; the failure of other methods of dispute resolution (such as conciliation, mediation, and arbitration); the completion of a 60-day waiting period following the emergence of the dispute; a secret-ballot vote of the absolute majority of union members; and seven days’ advance notice to the employer and the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training. Strikers may be criminally charged if they block entrances or roads or engage in any other behavior interpreted by local authorities as harmful to public order. A court may issue an injunction against the strike and require the restart of negotiations with employers.

There were credible reports of workers dismissed on spurious grounds after organizing or participating in strikes. Unions initiated most strikes without meeting all the requirements stated above, making them technically illegal, according to Better Factories Cambodia. Participating in an illegal strike, however, is not in itself a legally acceptable reason for dismissal. In some cases employers failed to renew the short-term contracts of union activists; in others they pressured union personnel or strikers to accept compensation and quit. Government-sponsored remedies for these dismissals were generally ineffective.

The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training’s Strike Demonstration Resolution Committee reported that unions held 49 strikes and demonstrations involving 35,500 workers during the first half of the year, compared with 92 strikes and demonstrations involving 50,700 workers during the same period in 2020. Observers attributed the decline to widespread factory closures and restrictions due to the increased spread of COVID-19 beginning in late February. Most of the strikes concerned unpaid wages and denial of benefits following factory closures due to the sharp economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the year the government restricted workers’ right to assemble. Authorities turned down most union requests for rally permits on the grounds that social distancing would be difficult or impossible during such events. Unions complained that police prevented them from marching and broke up such activities before marchers could reach their destination.

Union leaders and observers expressed concerns that new laws enacted during the pandemic could further curtail workers’ rights to association and assembly. There was a decrease in union gatherings and other activities in the first half of the year, according to a report by local rights groups, partly due to restrictions amid widespread community transmission of COVID-19.

The resolution of labor disputes was inconsistent. Unions reported progress in “minority” unions’ ability to represent workers in collective disputes. From January to August the Arbitration Council heard 22 labor disputes, compared with 47 in the same period in 2020, with a council official noting that this decrease was due in part to widespread factory closures since February after an outbreak of COVID-19 and continued community transmission since then. The official stated the decline was also due to the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training classifying more disputes as “individual” instead of “collective,” making them ineligible for referral to the council, which hears only “collective” disputes. Labor disputes that are designated “individual” disputes may be brought before the courts, although the judicial system was neither impartial nor transparent. There is no specialized labor court.

The law places significant, detailed reporting responsibilities on labor unions, such as a requirement to submit annual financial statements, including, under some circumstances, independently audited statements. Union representatives feared many local chapters would not be able to meet the requirements, and unions that fail to meet these requirements face fines.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, and while there were penalties for employing forced labor or hiring individuals to work off debts (a maximum of one month’s jail time or a fine), they were not commensurate with penalties for analogous serious crimes such as kidnapping (at least one year of imprisonment).

Media reported on organized Chinese criminal gangs trafficking Chinese and other foreign citizens into Cambodia to work as forced labor in online gambling and online fraud operations; multiple police raids on such operations freed suspected trafficking victims. Some NGOs reported that migrant workers were trafficked to work in Chinese-run and other construction sites in Cambodia. There was evidence that employers, particularly those operating brick kilns, were violating the law prohibiting forced or bonded labor. Brick kiln proprietors subjected many of the more than 10,000 persons living at these kilns, including children, to multigenerational debt-based coercion, either by buying off their preexisting loans or by requiring them to take out new loans as a condition of employment.

Although the government made efforts to highlight the problem of forced labor, the extent to which these efforts were effective remained unclear.

Debt remained an important driver of forced labor. According to a joint report by two human rights groups, 3.6 million households had loans from microfinance lenders totaling $11.8 billion in 2020. The report revealed that the average microloan was approximately 17,400 riels ($4,280) – more than the annual income of 95 percent of the country’s residents. The report added that some workers had taken out new loans to repay existing debt. The Cambodia Microfinance Association and Association of Banks in Cambodia disputed the report’s findings. Children were also at risk of forced labor (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor and establishes 15 as the minimum age for most employment and 18 as the minimum age for hazardous work. Although the law prohibits work by children younger than 15, it does not apply to children outside of formal employment relationships. The law permits children between ages 12 and 15 to engage in “light work” that is not hazardous to their health and does not affect school attendance; an implementing regulation provides an exhaustive list of activities considered “heavy work.” These include agriculture, brickmaking, fishing, tobacco, and cassava production. The law limits most work by children between ages 12 and 15 to a maximum of four hours on school days and seven hours on other days and prohibits work between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

Ministry of Labor regulations define household work and set the minimum age for it at 18. The regulation, however, does not specify rights or a minimum age for household workers employed by relatives.

The law stipulates fines for persons convicted of violating the country’s child labor provisions, but such sanctions were rarely imposed. The penalties for employing child labor were not commensurate with penalties for analogous serious crimes such as kidnapping, except for employing children in working conditions that affected a child’s health or physical development, which carries a two- to five-year prison sentence (10 years if the working conditions cause a child’s death).

Child labor inspections were concentrated in Phnom Penh and provincial formal-sector factories producing goods for export rather than in rural areas where the majority of child laborers worked. Inadequate training also limited local authorities’ ability to enforce child labor regulations, especially in rural areas and high-risk sectors. The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training reported that its labor inspectorate lacked the resources and mandate to conduct inspections in hospitality and nightlife establishments and at construction sites.

Children were vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor, including in agriculture, brickmaking, and commercial sex (see also section 6, Children). Poor access to basic education and the absence of compulsory education contributed to children’s vulnerability to exploitation. Children from impoverished families were at risk because some affluent households reportedly used humanitarian pretenses to hire children as domestic workers who were then subjected to abuse and exploitation. Children were also forced to beg; several NGOs reported such street work had increased due to economic pressures caused by the pandemic.

Children worked with their parents on rubber, cassava, cashew, and banana plantations, according to a union active in the agriculture sector.

Between 2019 and 2020, the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training inspected 486 brick kilns and stated it found no child labor or debt bondages. A 2019 census by independent researchers, however, recorded at least 638 cases of child labor at kilns in addition to debt bondage at 464 kilns. Inspectors often provided kiln owners with advance notice of inspections.

Rising debt during the pandemic contributed to child labor, including the “worst forms,” because some families pressured to repay debt forced their children to leave school to work.

See also the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, sex, disability, religion, political opinion, birth, social origin, HIV-positive status, or union membership. The law does not explicitly prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, or communicable disease status. The constitution stipulates that citizens of either sex shall receive equal pay for equal work.

The government generally did not enforce these laws. Penalties for employment discrimination include fines and administrative remedies.

Harassment of women was widespread. Penalties for sexual harassment (six days to three months in jail plus a fine by law) were not commensurate with those in laws related to civil rights. A 2020 Better Factories Cambodia report stated that sexual harassment had been reduced at export-oriented garment factories over the last three years, which researchers attributed to factory participation in the Better Factories program. The report also noted survey results showing that 7 percent of women reported having things being thrown at them, and 18 percent of women reported someone at the factory tried to have a sexual relationship with them.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The minimum wage covers only the garment and footwear sector. It was more than the official estimate for the poverty income level.

The law provides for a standard legal workweek of 48 hours, not to exceed eight hours per day. The law establishes a rate of 130 percent of daytime wages for nightshift work and 150 percent for overtime, which increases to 200 percent if overtime occurs at night, on Sunday, or on a holiday. Employees may work a maximum two hours of overtime per day. The law states that all overtime must be voluntary and provides for paid annual holidays. Workers in marine and air transportation are not entitled to social security and pension benefits and are exempt from limitations on work hours prescribed by law.

Workers reported overtime was often excessive and sometimes mandatory; many complained that employers forced them to work 12-hour days, although the legal limit is 10, including overtime. Workers often faced dismissal, fines, or loss of premium pay if they refused to work overtime.

The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training is responsible for enforcing labor laws, but the government did not do so effectively. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions, but penalties were seldom assessed and were insufficient to address problems. Penalties for violating laws on minimum wage (six days’ to one month’s imprisonment) and overtime (a fine of 31 to 60 times the prevailing daily base wage) were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud (six months’ to three years’ imprisonment).

The government met the International Labor Organization (ILO) standard for the number of inspectors in a less developed country but enforced standards selectively due to poorly trained staff, lack of necessary equipment, and corruption. Ministry officials admitted their inability to carry out thorough inspections of working hours and stated they relied upon Better Factories Cambodia to do such inspections in export-oriented garment factories. Outside the export garment industry, working-hour regulations were rarely, if ever, enforced. The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training put a partial moratorium on all inspections in February due to a COVID-19 outbreak and widespread community transmission, including in factories.

Workers and labor organizations raised concerns that short-term contracts (locally known as fixed-duration contracts) allowed firms, especially in the garment sector, to avoid wage and legal requirements. Fixed-duration contracts also allowed employers greater freedom to dismiss union organizers and pregnant women simply by failing to renew their contracts. The law limits such contracts to a maximum of two years, but more recent directives allow employers to extend this period to up to four years. The Arbitration Council and the ILO disputed this interpretation of the law, noting that after 24 months an employee should be offered a permanent “unlimited duration contract” (also see section 7.a.). Forced overtime remained a problem in factories making products for export. Unions and workers reported some factory managers fired workers who refused to work overtime.

Occupational Safety and Health: By law workplace health and safety standards must be adequate to provide for workers’ well-being. Labor inspectors assess fines according to a complex formula based on the severity and duration of the infraction as well as the number of workers affected. Labor Ministry inspectors are empowered to conduct unannounced visits and assess fines on the spot, without the cooperation of police.

The number of inspectors met ILO standards for a less developed country but was insufficient to enforce the law effectively. Government inspection of construction worksites was insufficient. Penalties for violating occupational safety and health laws (typically a fine of 30 to 120 times the prevailing daily base wage) were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud (six months’ to three years’ imprisonment).

Compliance with safety and health standards continued to be a problem in the garment export sector due largely to improper company policies, procedures, and poorly defined supervisory roles and responsibilities.

Work-related injuries and health difficulties remained problems, although the latest available statistics showed some improvement. More than 15,000 workers were injured in 2020, a 23.7 percent drop from 2019, according to the National Social Security Fund.

Informal Sector: The country had a substantial number of informal workers. Estimates varied, but 19 percent of the nearly 9.2 million-strong workforce enjoyed social protection under the National Social Security Fund, with the remaining 81 percent therefore meeting a common definition of informal workers. Such workers dominated the agricultural sector. These workers were not covered by wage, hour, and occupational safety and health laws and inspections. In addition most construction companies and brick factories operated informally, and workers in those sectors were not entitled to the minimum wage, lacked insurance, and worked weekends and holidays with few days off. Most brick-factory workers did not have access to the free medical care provided by the National Social Security Fund because the factories were not registered.

In July the government increased social protections, including direct cash payments, for some informal workers due to the economic hardships created by the pandemic.

China (Includes Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibet)

Read A Section: China

Hong Kong | Macau | Tibet

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

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

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 Armed Police continue to be under the dual authority of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the Central Military Commission. The People’s Liberation Army is primarily responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. Local jurisdictions also frequently use civilian municipal security forces, known as “urban management” officials, to enforce administrative measures. Civilian authorities maintained effective control of the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed serious and pervasive abuses.

Genocide and crimes against humanity occurred during the year against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang. These crimes were continuing and included: the arbitrary imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty of more than one million civilians; forced sterilization, coerced abortions, and more restrictive application of the country’s birth control policies; rape; torture of a large number of those arbitrarily detained; forced labor; and draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention conditions; arbitrary detention by the government, including the mass detention of more than one million Uyghurs and members of other predominantly Muslim minority groups in extrajudicial internment camps and an additional two million subjected to daytime-only “re-education” training; political prisoners; politically motivated reprisal against individuals outside the country; the lack of an independent judiciary and Communist Party control over the judicial and legal system; arbitrary interference with privacy including pervasive and intrusive technical surveillance and monitoring; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including physical attacks on and criminal prosecution of journalists, lawyers, writers, bloggers, dissidents, petitioners, and others as well as their family members; serious restrictions on internet freedom, including site blocking; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws that apply to foreign and domestic nongovernmental organizations; severe restrictions and suppression of religious freedom; substantial restrictions on freedom of movement; refoulement of asylum seekers to North Korea, where they have a well founded fear of persecution, including torture and sexual violence; the inability of citizens to choose their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious restrictions on political participation; serious acts of government corruption; forced sterilization and coerced abortions; trafficking in persons, including forced labor; violence targeting members of national, racial, and ethnic minority groups; severe restrictions on labor rights, including a ban on workers organizing or joining unions of their own choosing; and child labor.

Government officials and the security services often committed human rights abuses with impunity. Authorities often announced investigations following cases of reported killings by police but did not announce results or findings of police malfeasance or disciplinary action. Enforcement of laws on corruption was inconsistent and not transparent, and corruption was rampant.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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. In many instances few or no details were available. In an April 21 report, Amnesty International declared the country executed potentially thousands of individuals in 2020.

In Xinjiang there were reports of custodial deaths related to detentions in the internment camps. There were multiple reports from Uyghur family members who discovered their relatives had died while in internment camps or within weeks of their release. In January, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported the 82-year-old Uyghur poet Haji Mirzahid Kerimi died in prison while serving an 11-year sentence for writing books that were later blacklisted. According to RFA, Kerimi was arrested in 2017 as part of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) campaign to censor “dangerous” literature. RFA also reported Kurbanjan Abdukerim died in February shortly after his release from an internment camp. During the three years of his detainment, Abdukerim family reported he had lost more than 100 pounds and that the cause of his death was unknown.

b. Disappearance

Disappearances through multiple means continued at a nationwide, systemic scale.

The primary means by which authorities disappeared individuals for sustained periods of time is known as “Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location” (RSDL). RSDL codifies in law the longstanding practice of the detention and removal from the public eye of individuals the state deems a risk to national security or intends to use as hostages. The primary disappearance mechanism for public functionaries is known as liuzhi. Per numerous reports, individuals disappeared by RSDL and liuzhi were subject to numerous abuses including but not limited to physical and psychological abuse, humiliation, rape, torture, starvation, isolation, and forced confessions.

The government conducted mass arbitrary detention of Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim and ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) alleged these detentions amounted to enforced disappearance, since families were often not provided information concerning the length or location of the detention.

Amnesty International reported in April that Ekpar Asat, also known as Aikebaier Aisaiti, a Uyghur journalist and entrepreneur, had been held in solitary confinement since 2019 in Aksu Prefecture. He was reportedly detained in Xinjiang in 2016 shortly after participating in a program in the United States and subsequently sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.

In July officials at Tongji University in Shanghai confirmed that Uyghur research scientist Tursunjan Nurmamat had been detained after Nurmamat suddenly went silent on social media in April. Further details on Nurmamat’s case and whereabouts were unknown.

Professional tennis player Peng Shuai disappeared from public view for approximately three weeks after her November 2 accusation on social media that former Politburo Standing Committee member and vice premier Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her. Her reappearance, via what appeared to be tightly controlled and staged video clips, raised concerns that authorities were controlling her movement and speech (see section 6, Women).

Former lawyer Tang Jitian, a long-time advocate for Chinese citizens, has been held incommunicado since December 10, reportedly in connection with his plans to attend Human Rights Day events in Beijing. Subsequently there were reports that authorities had sent a video to his former wife telling his family to remain quiet.

In 2020, four citizen journalists disappeared from public view after authorities in Wuhan took them into custody. Chen Qiushi, Li Zehua (who was released after two months in April 2020), Zhang Zhan, and Fang Bin had interviewed health-care professionals and citizens and later publicized their accounts on social media during the initial COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdown in Wuhan. Media reported November 24 that Fang Bin was in custody in Wuhan, the first news of his location since his arrest in February 2020. On September 30, Chen Qiushi appeared on social media but said he could not talk about what happened to him. In November according to reports from her family and lawyer in media, Zhang Zhan, who had been sentenced in December 2020 to four years’ imprisonment, remained in detention and has been on an intermittent hunger strike.

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. Many activists who were involved in the 1989 demonstrations and their family members continued to suffer official harassment. The government made no efforts to prevent, investigate, or punish such harassment.

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. The law excludes evidence obtained through illegal means, including coerced confessions, in certain categories of criminal cases. There were credible reports that authorities routinely ignored prohibitions against torture, especially in politically sensitive cases.

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

Zhang Zhan, sentenced to four years’ imprisonment in December 2020 for her activities as a citizen journalist during the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, was not allowed family visits by Shanghai prison authorities. When Zhang went on a hunger strike, prison officials force-fed her, tying and chaining her arms, torso, and feet.

In August after 21 months in detention, human rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi was indicted. Ding was detained in 2019 on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power” for participating in a meeting in Xiamen, Fujian Province, to organize civil society activities and peaceful resistance to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rule. Ding’s wife posted on Twitter that Ding was tortured in a detention center in Beijing, including being subjected to sleep deprivation tactics such as shining a spotlight on him 24 hours per day.

On March 22, Zhang Wuzhou was sentenced to two years and nine months in prison for “obstructing official duty, provoking quarrels and stirring up trouble.” Following her arrest in June 2020, Zhang was tortured in the Qingxin District Detention Center in Qingyuan (Guangdong Province), according to her lawyer’s July 2020 account as reported by Radio Free Asia. Zhang said that detention center authorities handcuffed her, made her wear heavy foot shackles, and placed her in a cell where other inmates beat her. The Qingyuan Public Security Bureau detained Zhang on charges of “provoking quarrels and stirring up troubles” two days after she held banners at Guangzhou Baiyun Mountains to mark the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre.

As of November human rights activist and lawyer Yu Wensheng remained in a Nanjing prison serving a four-year sentence. In April he was treated in a hospital for nerve damage from an unknown incident suffered in prison. He was convicted in June 2020 for “inciting subversion of state power” and was held incommunicado for 18 months before and after his conviction. Yu reported he was repeatedly sprayed with pepper spray and was forced into a stress position for an extended period.

As of November human rights lawyer Chang Weiping, who was reportedly tortured while in RSDL, was still in pretrial detention. Chang, known for his successful representation of HIV and AIDS discrimination cases, was detained in October 2020 after posting a video to YouTube detailing torture he suffered during a January 2020 round of RSDL.

In December 2020 Niu Tengyu was sentenced to a 14-year jail term by the Maonan District People’s Court in Guangdong for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” “violating others’ privacy,” and “running an illegal business” in a case that has been linked to the leak of the personal information of President Xi’s daughter. According to RFA, Niu’s lawyers alleged that prior to the trial, Niu was stripped, suspended from the ceiling, and his genitals burned with a lighter. They also alleged he was beaten so badly that he lost use of his right hand.

Members of the minority Uyghur ethnic group reported systematic torture and other degrading treatment by law enforcement officers and officials working within the penal system and the internment camps. Survivors stated that authorities subjected individuals in custody to electric shock, waterboarding, beatings, rape, forced sterilization, forced prostitution, stress positions, forced administration of unknown medication, and cold cells (see section 6, Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination). In an October report on CNN, a former PRC police detective now living in Europe who had multiple tours of duty in Xinjiang confirmed many of these specific allegations in what he described as a systematic campaign of torture.

In March, Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy released a comprehensive assessment of the PRC’s actions in Xinjiang to examine “whether China bears State responsibility for breaches of Article II of the Genocide Convention, in particular, whether China is committing genocide against the Uyghurs as defined by Article II of the Convention.” The report included contributions of more than 30 scholars and researchers and found that the PRC has implemented a campaign designed to eliminate Uyghurs, in whole or in part. The report stated, “[h]igh-level officials gave orders to ‘round up everyone who should be rounded up,’ ‘wipe them out completely,’ ‘break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections and break their origins.’” The report noted the PRC has also pursued a “dual systematic campaign of forcibly sterilizing Uyghur women of childbearing age and interning Uyghur men of child-bearing years, preventing the regenerative capacity of the group.”

In June, Amnesty International released a report that documented the accounts of more than 50 former detainees regarding the torture, mistreatment, and violence inflicted on them in camps in Xinjiang. The report detailed the systematic use of detainment and “re-education” centers to target Uyghurs and members of other ethnic minorities living in Xinjiang. The report concluded, “according to the evidence Amnesty International has gathered, corroborated by other reliable sources, members of the predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang have been subjected to an attack meeting all the contextual elements of crimes against humanity.” Further, it elaborated on violence and detention stating, “Amnesty International believes the evidence it has collected provides a factual basis for the conclusion that the Chinese government has committed at least the following crimes against humanity: imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law; torture; and persecution.”

The treatment and abuse of detainees under the liuzhi detention system, which operates outside the judicial system as a legal tool for the government and the CCP to investigate corruption and other offenses, featured custodial treatment such as extended solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, beatings, and forced standing or sitting in uncomfortable positions for hours and sometimes days, according to press reports.

The law states psychiatric treatment and hospitalization should be “on a voluntary basis,” but the law also allows 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 institution.

Official media reported the Ministry of Public Security directly administered 23 psychiatric hospitals for the criminally insane.  While many of those committed to mental health facilities were convicted of murder and other violent crimes, there were also reports of activists, religious or spiritual adherents, and petitioners involuntarily subjected to psychiatric treatment for political reasons.  Public security officials may commit individuals to psychiatric facilities and force treatment for “conditions” that have no basis in psychiatry.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces, including the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of State Security, and the Ministry of Justice, which manages the prison system.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in penal institutions for both political prisoners and criminal offenders were generally harsh and often life threatening or 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 when allowed to receive them. 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.

The lack of adequate, timely medical care for prisoners remained a serious problem, despite official assurances prisoners have the right to prompt medical treatment. Prison authorities at times withheld medical treatment from political prisoners. Multiple NGOs and news agencies reported detainees at “re-education” centers or long-term extrajudicial detention centers became seriously ill or died.

Political prisoners were sometimes 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. In some cases authorities did not allow dissidents to receive supplemental food, medicine, and warm clothing from relatives.

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

In Xinjiang authorities expanded internment camps for Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other Muslims. Buzzfeed reported in July that the map of detention centers “neatly fits the geography of counties and prefectures across Xinjiang, with a camp and detention center in most counties and a prison or two per prefecture.” The report estimated that the government had built enough detention space to hold up to 1.01 million individuals. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Xinjiang Data Project satellite analysis indicated that Xinjiang has 385 detention centers. In some cases authorities used repurposed schools, factories, and prisons to hold detainees. The Associated Press reported in October that authorities have closed or repurposed the makeshift detention centers found in cities, but in their place have built larger detention centers outside the cities. According to Human Rights Watch, these camps focused on “military-style discipline and pervasive political indoctrination of the detainees.” Detainees reported pervasive physical abuse and torture in the camps and overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.

In July the Associated Press estimated one detention center in Dabancheng, Xinjiang could hold 10,000 persons. Associated Press reported that during a tour of the facility it observed detainees “in uniform rows with their legs crossed in lotus position and their backs ramrod straight” where they watched videos of CCP propaganda. In October, CNN interviewed a former Chinese police officer who served multiple tours in Xinjiang and was directly involved in the severe physical mistreatment and violence undertaken against Uyghurs and other ethnic minority communities. The officer stated, “We took (them) all forcibly overnight. If there were hundreds of people in one county in this area, then you had to arrest these hundreds of people.” During interrogations, police officers would “kick them, beat them (until they’re) bruised and swollen, … Until they kneel on the floor crying.” “Interrogation” methods included shackling persons to a metal or wooden “tiger chair” (rendering them immobile), sexual violence against men and women, electrocutions, and waterboarding. The source said inmates were forced to stay awake for days and denied food and water. The former police officer stated that 150,000 police officers had been recruited to participate in the province-wide “strike hard” campaign and that there were arrest quotas they had to meet. Authorities accused detainees of terror offenses, but the source said he believed “none” of the hundreds of prisoners he was involved in arresting had committed a crime.

Administration: The law states 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 observed. While authorities occasionally investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions, their results were not documented in a publicly accessible manner. Authorities denied many prisoners and detainees reasonable access to visitors and correspondence with family members. Some family members did not know the whereabouts of their relatives in custody. Authorities also prevented many prisoners and detainees from engaging in religious practices or gaining access to religious materials.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities considered information about prisons and various other types of administrative and extralegal detention facilities to be a state secret, and the government did not permit independent monitoring.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Arbitrary arrest and detention remained systemic. 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. Lawyers, human rights activists, journalists, religious leaders and adherents, and former political prisoners and their family members continued to be targeted for arbitrary detention or arrest. (See section 1.b., Disappearance, for a description of RSDL and liuzhi.)

The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government generally did not observe this requirement.

There were allegations of detainee abuse and torture in the official detention system, known as liuzhi, of the National Supervisory Commission-Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (NSC-CCDI; see section 4). Liuzhi detainees are held incommunicado and have no recourse to appeal their detention. While detainee abuse is proscribed by the law, the mechanism for detainees to report abuse was unclear.

On March 14, Li Qiaochu was arrested for her human rights advocacy and involvement with fellow activists involved in the nationwide crackdown of lawyers and activists who participated in 2019 meetings in Xiamen, Fujian. Her first visit with her lawyer was on August 27, who reported that her mental health had deteriorated. At year’s end she was still detained in Shandong Province on suspicion of “subverting state power.”

On October 1, more than 170 Uyghurs in Hotan, Xinjiang, were detained by the National Security Agency of Hotan on the country’s national day, according to Radio Free Asia. They were accused of displaying feelings of resistance to the country during flag-raising activities. Among those detained were at least 40 women and 19 minors.

On September 19, journalist Sophia Huang and activist Wang Jianbing were detained in Guangzhou, according to the rights group Weiquanwang (Rights Protection Network). Huang had planned to leave China via Hong Kong on September 20 for the United Kingdom, where she intended to pursue graduate studies. Media reported that both were being held incommunicado under RSDL on suspicion of “incitement to subvert state power.” As of year’s end they remained detained in Guangzhou, and no one was allowed to see the pair.

In September, PRC authorities released Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor from detention in China and allowed them to return to Canada, shortly following the release by Canadian authorities of Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou. Kovrig and Spavor had been detained since December 2018, after the arrest in Canada of Meng. For months the two Canadian citizens were held in RSDL before being charged with a crime and were denied access to lawyers and consular services. Another Canadian, Robert Schellenberg, remained in detention as his sentence was reviewed. After Meng’s arrest, Schellenberg’s sentence for drug-smuggling crimes was increased from 15 years’ imprisonment to a death sentence.

There were no statistics available for the number of individuals in the liuzhi detention system nationwide. Several provinces, however, publicized these numbers, including Heilongjiang with 376 and Jilin with 275 detained, both in 2020. One provincial official heading the liuzhi detention system stated suspects averaged 42.5 days in detention before being transferred into the criminal justice system.

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

The law stipulates detainees be allowed to meet with defense counsel before criminal charges are filed, although lengthy detention without access to lawyers before charges were filed were common. The criminal procedure law requires a court to provide a lawyer to a defendant who has not already retained one; is blind, deaf, mute, or mentally ill; is a minor; or 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. Lawyers reported significant difficulties meeting their clients in detention centers, especially in cases considered politically sensitive. According to the South China Morning Post, a new legal aid law introduced in August that will enter into force in 2022 stipulates that legal consultation, the drafting of legal documents, representation in cases, labor arbitration and mediation will be paid for by legal aid centers set up central and local government.

Criminal defendants are entitled to apply for bail (also translated as “a guarantor pending trial”) while awaiting trial, but the system did not 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 criminal procedure law limits this exception to cases involving state security or terrorism, but public security officials have broad discretion to interpret these provisions.

Under certain circumstances the law allows for residential surveillance in the detainee’s home, rather than detention in a formal facility. With the approval of the next-higher-level authorities, officials also may place a suspect under “residential surveillance at a designated location” for up to six months when they suspect crimes of endangering state security, terrorism, or serious bribery and believe surveillance at the suspect’s home would impede the investigation. Authorities may also prevent defense lawyers from meeting with suspects in these categories of cases. Human rights organizations and detainees reported the practice of residential surveillance at a designated location left detainees at a high risk for torture, since being neither at home nor in a monitored detention facility reduced opportunities for oversight of detainee treatment and mechanisms for appeal.

Authorities used administrative detention to intimidate political and religious advocates 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 activists and religious adherents, particularly Falun Gong practitioners. The maximum stay in compulsory drug rehabilitation centers is two years, including commonly a six-month stay in a detoxification center. The government maintained similar rehabilitation centers for those charged with prostitution or with soliciting prostitution.

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, as well as what constitutes a state secret, remained poorly 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 advocates. It was 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, commercial activity, and government activity. 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 authorities arrested or detained lawyers, religious leaders or adherents, petitioners, and other rights advocates for lengthy periods, only to have the charges later dismissed for lack of evidence. Authorities subjected many of these citizens to extralegal house arrest, denial of travel rights, or administrative detention in different types of extralegal detention 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, annual plenary sessions of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, and sensitive anniversaries in Tibetan areas and Xinjiang. Security agents took some of those not placed under house arrest to remote areas on so-called vacations.

In March activist Chen Jianfang, detained in Shanghai since 2019, was tried for “inciting subversion of state power.” A verdict was not announced following the trial, and Chen remained in detention. After Chen fired her court-appointed lawyer, she was not allowed to meet with a replacement lawyer.

In May, Wang Aizhong, a leader of the “Southern Street Movement” which advocates for the freedom of political expression, was detained by Guangzhou police under suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” and then formally arrested in July. According to the NGO Chinese Human Rights Defenders, authorities told Wang’s wife he was arrested for his social media posts and for giving foreign media interviews.

On June 4, Gao Heng was arrested by Guangzhou police for posting on social media a picture of himself holding a sign commemorating the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre. Gao last met with a lawyer in prison in July pending his trial. No details of what he has been charged with or his current status have been publicly released.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention could last longer than one year. Defendants in “sensitive cases” reported being subjected to prolonged pretrial detention. From 2015 to 2018, authorities held many of the “709” detainees (referring to the government crackdown on human rights lawyers that began on July 9, 2015) and their defense attorneys in pretrial detention for more than a year without access to their families or their lawyers. Statistics were not published or made publicly available, but lengthy pretrial detentions were especially common in cases of political prisoners.

At year’s end Beijing-based lawyer Li Yuhan, who defended human rights lawyers during the “709” crackdown, remained in detention at the Shenyang Detention Center; she has been held since 2017 and charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” On July 12, Li met with her lawyer who reported that Li was urged to confess to her “crimes”; she refused. On October 21, her case went to trial, but no verdict was rendered. Due to Li’s poor health, her attorney submitted multiple requests to Shenyang authorities to release Li on medical parole, but the request was repeatedly denied.

As of September 8, the Ganjingzi District Court in Dalian City had not tried Ren Haifei, a Falun Gong practitioner held without trial and without charges since June 2020. Ren was arrested without a warrant, hospitalized for severe injuries suffered after his initial arrest, and remanded to the Dalian Yaojia detention center after release from the hospital where he has remained. Ren Haifei was previously incarcerated from 2001 to 2008 for his Falun Gong beliefs and for participating in peaceful protests related to the government’s treatment of other Falun Gong practitioners. Ren’s trial was first scheduled for July; however, authorities postponed the trial, citing COVID-19 concerns.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law states the courts shall exercise judicial power independently, without interference from administrative organs, social organizations, and individuals, the judiciary did not 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 have 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 to establish guilt before their criminal trial proceedings began. In some cases these confessions were likely a precondition for release. NGOs asserted such statements were likely coerced, perhaps by torture, and some detainees who confessed recanted upon release and confirmed their confessions had been coerced. No provision in the law allows the pretrial broadcast of confessions by criminal suspects.

In February, United Kingdom media regulator Ofcom cancelled the broadcast license of China Global Television Network, the international news channel of China Central Television, for having insufficient editorial independence from the PRC government and the CCP. In July 2020 Ofcom found in its formal investigation that China Global Television Network broadcast in 2013 and 2014 a confession forced from a British private investigator imprisoned in China. “Judicial independence” remained one of the subjects the CCP reportedly ordered university professors not to discuss (see section 2.a., Academic Freedom and Cultural Events).

Trial Procedures

Although the 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.

Courts often punished defendants who refused to acknowledge guilt with harsher sentences than those who confessed. The appeals process rarely reversed convictions, and it failed to provide sufficient avenues for review. Remedies for violations of defendants’ rights were inadequate.

Regulations of the Supreme People’s Court required trials to be open to the public, except in cases involving state secrets, privacy issues, minors, or – if requested by 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 a defendant’s access to defense counsel. Court regulations stipulate that foreigners with valid identification should be allowed to observe trials under the same criteria as citizens, but in practice foreigners were permitted to attend court proceedings only by invitation. As in past years, authorities barred foreign diplomats and journalists from attending several trials. In some instances authorities reclassified trials as “state secrets” cases or otherwise closed them to the public.

Regulations require the release of court judgments online and stipulate court officials should release judgments, except those involving state secrets and juvenile suspects, within seven days of their adoption. Courts did not post all judgments. They had wide discretion not to post if they found posting the judgment could be considered “inappropriate.” Many political cases did not have judgments posted.

Individuals facing administrative detention do not have the right to seek legal counsel. Criminal defendants are eligible for legal assistance, but the vast majority of criminal defendants went to trial without a lawyer.

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 annual 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.

Despite the government’s stated efforts to improve lawyers’ access to their clients, in 2017 the head of the All-China Lawyers Association told China Youth Daily that defense attorneys had taken part in less than 30 percent of criminal cases. In particular, human rights lawyers reported authorities did not permit them to defend certain clients or threatened them with punishment if they chose to do so. On November 21, China Change reported that more than 40 lawyers lost their license due to their human rights work since 2016. Some lawyers declined to represent defendants in politically sensitive cases, and such defendants frequently found it difficult to find an attorney. In some instances authorities prevented defendant-selected attorneys from taking the case and instead appointed their own attorney.

The government suspended or revoked the business licenses or law licenses of numerous lawyers 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 October the association issued new guidelines that banned lawyers from speaking about cases publicly, including organizing press conferences and petitions, publishing open letters, or engaging in any public advocacy work.

Other government tactics to intimidate or otherwise pressure human rights lawyers included unlawful detention, vague “investigations” of legal offices, disbarment, harassment, physical intimidation, and denial of access to evidence and to clients.

On February 2, media reported that Ren Quanniu, a human rights lawyer based in Zhengzhou who represented activists and journalists, learned the Henan Provincial Judicial Department had revoked his license. In March judicial authorities in Zhengzhou informed the Henan Guidao Law Firm where Ren worked that it must shut down. Media further reported that in early July municipal authorities had blacklisted Ren and prohibited him from starting his own legal consultancy business.

In October the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice revoked Lin Qilei’s legal license on the basis that the law firm to which Lin belonged had been deregistered, despite multiple attempts by Lin to apply for registration. Lin’s firm, Beijing Ruikai Law Firm, had handled many cases on behalf of religious adherents and prodemocracy supporters.

On December 16, the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice revoked Liang Xiaojun’s legal license, citing his social media posts that were critical of Marxism and referred to the Falun Gong as a religion. Liang represented many human rights defenders, activists, and other disbarred lawyers during his legal career.

The law governing the legal profession criminalizes attorneys’ actions that “insult, defame, or threaten judicial officers,” “do not heed the court’s admonition,” or “severely disrupt courtroom order.” The law also criminalizes disclosing client or case information to media outlets or using protests, media, or other means to influence court decisions. Violators face fines and up to three years in prison.

Regulations also stipulate 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, had limited time to review evidence, and were not allowed to communicate with defendants during trials. In contravention of the law, 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. Observers noted trials were predominantly conducted in Mandarin Chinese, even in non-Mandarin-speaking 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 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.

Under the law lawyers are assigned to convicted prisoners on death row who cannot afford one during the review of their sentences.

In December 2020 the Shenzhen Yantian District People’s Court sentenced 10 Hong Kong activists to prison terms between seven months and three years for illegal border crossing. After the activists were captured by PRC authorities in August 2020, they were held incommunicado. Lawyers hired by their families were barred from meeting with the activists; the court only allowed state-appointed lawyers to be present during the closed-door trial.

In July, three members of the antidiscrimination NGO Changsha Funeng – Cheng Yuan, Liu Yongze, and Wu Gejianxiong, also known as the “Changsha Three” – were sentenced in a secret trial to two to five years in prison. Despite a legal requirement to do so, the sentences were not made public, and the families were informed through informal channels. Changsha Funeng had assisted in litigating cases to end discrimination against persons with disabilities and carriers of HIV and hepatitis B. Cheng Yuan had also worked on antitorture programs, litigation to end the country’s one-child policy, and reform for household registration laws.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

Government officials continued to deny holding any political prisoners, asserting persons were detained not for their political or religious views but because they had violated the law. Authorities, however, continued to imprison citizens for reasons related to politics and religion. Human rights organizations estimated 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. Government security forces continued to harass and intimidate former political prisoners and their family members.

In January media reported that family members of detained lawyer Chang Weiping experienced harassment. After the family protested in front of the Gaoxin branch of the Baoji Municipal Public Security Bureau, Chang’s parents were summoned for multiple rounds of interrogation. They found a closed-circuit television camera installed outside their home and had their mobile phones confiscated. Chang’s wife, Chen Zijuan, was visited by authorities multiple times, during which authorities warned her not to conduct public advocacy for her husband and pressured her to delete her social media posts regarding her husband.

On August 25, the South China Morning Post reported on the broad use of the crime “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” against journalists, activists, lawyers, and ordinary citizens to suppress free speech. In August, two activists, Chen Mei and Cai Wei, were convicted of the crime after archiving censored internet materials related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Authorities granted political prisoners early release at lower rates than other prisoners. Thousands of persons were serving sentences for political and religious offenses, including for “endangering state security” and carrying out “cult activities.” The government neither reviewed the cases of those charged before 1997 with counterrevolution and hooliganism nor released persons imprisoned for nonviolent offenses under repealed provisions.

Many political prisoners remained either in prison or under other forms of detention after release at year’s end, including writer Yang Maodong (pen name: Guo Feixiong); Uyghur scholars Ilham Tohti, Rahile Dawut, and Hushtar Isa, brother of Uyghur World Congress president Dolkun Isa; Tibetan Dorje Tashi; activists Wang Bingzhang, Chen Jianfang, and Huang Qi; Taiwan prodemocracy activist Lee Ming-Che; pastors Zhang Shaojie and Wang Yi; Falun Gong practitioner Bian Lichao; Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Shanghai Thaddeus Ma Daqin; rights lawyers Xia Lin, Gao Zhisheng, Xu Zhiyong, Li Yuhan, and Yu Wensheng; blogger Wu Gan; citizen journalist Zhang Zhan; Shanghai labor activist Jiang Cunde; and others.

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 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 regarding the cases of their relatives. Authorities barred certain members of the rights community from meeting with visiting dignitaries.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion: Reports continued throughout the year regarding PRC pressure on Xinjiang-based relatives of persons located outside China who spoke publicly about the detentions and abusive policies underway inside Xinjiang. In June 2020 Kazakhstan media reported that Kazakh authorities temporarily detained Aqiqat Qaliolla and Zhenis Zarqyn for their protests in front of the PRC embassy regarding lost family members in Xinjiang “re-education” camps. In February, RFA reported based on official sources that Bakihaji Helil was sentenced in 2017 to nine years in prison after returning early from his religion studies at al-Azhar University in Egypt following Xinjiang authorities’ harassment of his family.

PRC media and authorities continued to harass and defame women who spoke about rape and sexual abuse in Xinjiang internment camps. Qelbinur Sedik, a Xinjiang camp teacher who fled China and now lives abroad, was repeatedly targeted by PRC media and received direct video messages from local Xinjiang police threatening reprisal against her family members still in Xinjiang. The BBC reported that Xinjiang police used social media to threaten Uyghurs living in Europe.

PRC state media also released videos of Xinjiang-based ethnic and religious minorities to discredit their overseas relatives’ accounts to foreign media. The persons in the videos urged their foreign-based family members to stop “spreading rumors” about Xinjiang. The overseas relatives said they had lost communication with their Xinjiang relatives until the videos were released.

In February, Hong Kong Free Press reported the PRC used “proof-of-life” videos to dispute or undermine claims of several foreign citizens about the disappearance and treatment of their relatives in China. For example the PRC published a video of Memet Tohti Atawulla’s brother who had disappeared during the PRC’s crackdown in Xinjiang. The PRC filmed the family of Sayragul Sauytbay, who since leaving China in 2018 has publicly criticized the PRC’s treatment of Kazakh persons and other Muslims in China, accusing Sayragul of “theft, deception, child abuse, and sexual immorality.” Similarly, Hong Kong Free Press reported “Kuzzat Altay’s father disowns him on camera” and “Zumrat Dawut’s brother suggests that her father’s death was due to her political activism.”

In March, Reuters reported PRC officials used press conferences to attack women abroad who provided eyewitness accounts of their experiences in Xinjiang internment camps. The report quoted a Xinjiang official publicly claiming, “Everyone knows about her inferior character. She’s lazy and likes comfort, her private life is chaotic, her neighbors say that she committed adultery while in China.” In May, Reuters reported PRC officials routinely harassed young Uyghur activists living abroad. Uyghurs faced threats from PRC hackers, intimidating phone calls, and bullying on social media.

Misuse of International Law-enforcement Tools: There were credible reports the PRC attempted to misuse international law enforcement tools for politically motivated purposes as a reprisal against specific individuals located outside the country. On July 20, according to the Associated Press, Moroccan authorities arrested Uyghur activist Yidiresi Aishan in Casablanca based on an Interpol red notice (a request from a government for a person’s arrest). The South China Morning Post reported on August 2 that Interpol had rescinded the red notice for Aishan after advocacy groups raised concerns that the red notice system was being used to repatriate Uyghur dissidents back to China. Aishan had previously lived in Turkey where he was an active member of the Uyghur diaspora and an outspoken critic of the PRC. Aishan was still detained in Morocco at year’s end.

The NSC-CCDI led the PRC’s transnational fugitive recovery efforts, Operations Fox Hunt and Sky Net. Although these efforts ostensibly targeted economic crimes, media reported they were sometimes politically motivated and targeted dissidents who lived overseas. On February 24, state-sponsored CGTN reported that through “Sky Net 2021,” a total of 1,421 fugitives, including 28 red notice fugitives, were brought back to China in 2020.

Efforts to Control Mobility: The government pressured foreign countries to repatriate or deny visas to Uyghurs who had left China. COVID-19 measures, such as checkpoints, health-app restrictions, and COVID-19-related lockdowns restricted individuals’ freedom of movement.

In November lawyer Xie Yang attempted to visit imprisoned citizen journalist Zhang Zhan’s family but was warned by two police officers to not go. Shortly after, his COVID-19 health verification mobile phone app went from green to red, which effectively restricted his movement.

Bilateral Pressure: There were credible reports that for politically motivated purposes the PRC attempted to exert bilateral pressure on other countries aimed at having those countries take adverse action against specific individuals. In Kazakhstan, media reported that Kazakh authorities temporarily detained at least 10 protesters at the PRC embassy who were demanding the release of family members being held in Xinjiang “re-education” camps. In February a court in Kazakhstan sentenced Baibolat Kunbolatuly to 10 days in jail for staging protests outside the Chinese consulate to demand answers about his brother’s detention in Xinjiang. According to RFA on October 1 (the PRC’s national day), Kazakh police detained eight ethnic Kazakh protesters in Nur-Sultan who were demanding the release of relatives being held in Xinjiang.

On June 30, the Chinese Embassy in France sent a letter to the editorial office of French youth newspaper Mon Quotidien condemning its article regarding forced labor in Xinjiang. According to Radio Free Asia, the Chinese Embassy also circulated a petition calling for the withdrawal of the article.

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

The law states the “freedom and privacy of correspondence of citizens are protected by law,” but authorities often did not respect the privacy of citizens. A new civil code entered into force on January 1, introducing articles on the right to privacy and personal information protection. 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. There continued to be reports of cases of forced entry by police officers.

Authorities routinely monitored telephone calls, text messages, faxes, email, instant messaging, social media apps, and other digital communications intended to remain private, particularly of political activists. Authorities 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 in the country.

According to Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch, a website focusing on human rights in China, Lin Xiaohua began appealing the bribery conviction of his older brother Lin Xiaonan, the former mayor of Fu’an City, Fujian Province, who in April was sentenced to 10 years and six months in prison. In June 2020 Xiaohua tried to send petition letters and case files to the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, the Supreme People’s Court, and the National Commission of Supervision-CCP Central Discipline Inspection Commission, but the post office opened all the letters then refused to deliver them. In July 2020 the Xiamen Culture and Tourism Administration confiscated the letters and files, stating they were “illegal publications.”

According to Freedom House, rapid advances in surveillance technology – including artificial intelligence, facial recognition, and intrusive surveillance apps – coupled with growing police access to user data helped facilitate the prosecution of prominent dissidents as well as ordinary users. A Carnegie Endowment report in 2019 noted the country was a major worldwide supplier of artificial-intelligence surveillance technology, such as facial recognition systems, surveillance cameras, and smart policing technology.

According to media reports, the Ministry of Public Security used tens of millions of surveillance cameras throughout the country to monitor the general public. Human rights groups stated authorities increasingly relied on the cameras and other forms of surveillance to monitor and intimidate political dissidents, religious leaders and adherents, Tibetans, and Uyghurs. These included facial recognition and “gait recognition” video surveillance, allowing police not only to monitor a situation but also to quickly identify individuals in crowds. In May the BBC reported Chinese technology companies had developed artificial intelligence, surveillance, and other technological capabilities to help police identify members of ethnic minorities, especially Uyghurs. The media sources cited public-facing websites, company documents, and programming language from firms such as Huawei, Megvii, and Hikvision related to their development of a “Uyghur alarm” that could alert police automatically. Huawei denied its products were designed to identify ethnic groups. The monitoring and disruption of telephone and internet communications were particularly widespread in Xinjiang and Tibetan areas. The government installed surveillance cameras in monasteries in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan areas outside the TAR (see Special Annex, Tibet). The law allows security agencies to cut communication networks during “major security incidents.” Government entities collected genetic data from residents in Xinjiang with unclear protections for sensitive health data.

According to Human Rights Watch, the Ministry of State Security partnered with information technology firms to operate a “mass automated voice recognition and monitoring system,” similar to ones already in use in Xinjiang and Anhui, to help solve criminal cases. According to one company involved, the system monitored Mandarin Chinese and certain minority languages, including Tibetan and Uyghur. In many cases other biometric data such as fingerprints and DNA profiles were being stored as well. This database included information obtained not just from criminals and criminal suspects but also from entire populations of migrant workers and all Uyghurs applying for passports. Some Xinjiang internment camp survivors reported that they were subjected to coerced comprehensive health screenings including blood and DNA testing upon entering the internment camps. There were also reports from former detainees that authorities forced Uyghur detainees to undergo medical examinations of thoracic and abdominal organs.

Forced relocation because of urban development continued in some locations. Protests over relocation terms or compensation were common, and authorities prosecuted some protest leaders. 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, a lack of effective government oversight or media scrutiny of local officials’ involvement in property transactions, and 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.

Government authorities also could interfere in families’ living arrangements when a family member was involved in perceived sensitive political activities.

The government at various levels and jurisdictions continued to implement two distinct types of social credit systems. The first, the corporate social credit system, is intended to track and prevent corporate malfeasance. The second, the personal social credit system, is implemented differently depending on geographic location.

Although the government’s goal was to create a unified government social credit system, there continued to be dozens of disparate social credit systems, operated distinctly at the local, provincial, and the national government levels, as well as separate “private” social credit systems operated by several technology companies. These systems collected vast amounts of data from companies and individuals in an effort to address deficiencies in “social trust,” strengthen access to financial credit instruments, and reduce corruption. These agencies often collected information on academic records, traffic violations, social media presence, friendships, adherence to birth control regulations, employment performance, consumption habits, and other topics. For example, there were reports individuals were not allowed to ride public transportation for periods of time because they allegedly had not paid for train tickets.

Industry and business experts commented that in its present state, the social credit system was not used to target companies or individuals for their political or religious beliefs, noting the country already possessed other tools outside the social credit system to target companies and individuals. The collection of vast amounts of personal data combined with the prospect of a future universal and unified social credit system, however, could allow authorities to control further the population’s behaviors.

In a separate use of social media for censorship, human rights activists reported authorities questioned them regarding their participation in human rights-related chat groups, including on WeChat and WhatsApp. Authorities monitored the groups to identify activists, which led to users’ increased self-censorship on WeChat as well as several separate arrests of chat group administrators.

The government continued to use the “double-linked household” system in Xinjiang developed through many years of use in Tibet. This system divides towns and neighborhoods into units of 10 households each, with the households in each unit instructed to watch over each other and report on “security issues” and poverty problems to the government, thus turning average citizens into informers. In Xinjiang the government also continued to require Uyghur families to accept government “home stays,” in which officials or volunteers forcibly lived in Uyghurs’ homes and monitored families’ observance of religion for signs of “extremism.” Those who exhibited behaviors the government considered to be signs of “extremism,” such as praying, possessing religious texts, or abstaining from alcohol or tobacco, could be detained in “re-education camps.”

The government restricted the right to have children (see section 6, Women).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution states citizens “enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.” Authorities limited and did not respect these rights, however, especially when their exercise conflicted with CCP interests. Authorities continued to impose ever-tighter control of all print, broadcast, electronic, and social media and regularly used them to propagate government views and CCP ideology. Authorities censored and manipulated the press, social media, and the internet, particularly around sensitive anniversaries and topics such as public health.

Freedom of Expression: Citizens could discuss specific policies but often avoided discussing broader political issues, leaders, or “sensitive” topics for fear of official punishment. Authorities routinely took harsh action against citizens who questioned the legitimacy of the CCP or criticized President Xi’s leadership. Some independent think tanks, study groups, and seminars reported pressure to cancel sessions on sensitive topics. Many others confirmed authorities regularly warned them against meeting with foreign reporters or diplomats, and to avoid participating in diplomatic receptions or public programs organized by foreign entities.

Those who made politically sensitive comments in public speeches, academic discussions, or remarks to media, or who posted sensitive comments online, remained subject to punitive measures, as did members of their family. In addition an increase in electronic surveillance in public spaces, coupled with the movement of many citizens’ routine interactions to the digital space, signified the government was monitoring an increasing percentage of daily life. Conversations in groups or peer-to-peer on social media platforms and via messaging applications were subject to censorship, monitoring, and action from authorities. An increasing threat of peer-to-peer observation and possible referral to authorities further eroded freedom of speech.

The popular communication app WeChat remained heavily censored. Posts regarding sensitive topics such as PRC politics disappeared when sent to or from a China-registered account. Authorities continued to use the app to monitor political dissidents and other critics, some of whom were detained by police or sentenced to prison for their communications. Chinese citizens moving abroad who continued to use an account created in China were still subject to censorship.

On June 5, Gao Heng, a Christian, was detained by authorities for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” after taking a picture of himself on the Guangzhou Metro holding a small sign that read “June 4th: Pray for the Country.”

On July 6, multiple WeChat accounts run by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) societies at several universities were closed, with past posts scrubbed and replaced with a notice stating “All content has been blocked and the use of the account has been stopped” for violations of unspecified social media regulations.

On July 23, veteran petitioner Li Yufeng went on trial at the Jiaozuo City Central Station People’s Court on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Li was detained in 2019 after she accompanied a friend to Beijing to file a petition at the Supreme People’s Court.

Prominent poet Wang Zang and his wife Wang Li remained in detention on the charge of “inciting subversion of state power.” Wang Zang, taken from his home in May 2020, and Wang Liqin, detained in June 2020, were indicted by the Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture People’s Procuratorate in September 2020. Police “evidence” against Wang Zang included his poetry, performance art, and views expressed on social media.

In October veteran journalist Luo Changping and a social media user identified by the surname Zuo were detained for making critical comments online regarding The Battle of Changjin Lake, a state-sponsored film set during the Korean War. Since the new code took effect in March, reports indicated that the law has been used at least 15 times to punish those who questioned the party’s version of history.

Authorities arrested or detained countless citizens for “spreading fake news,” “illegal information dissemination,” or “spreading rumors online.” These claims ranged from sharing political views or promoting religious extremism to sharing factual reports on public health concerns, including COVID-19.

This trend was especially stark in Xinjiang, where the government ran a multifaceted system of physical and cyber controls to stop individuals from expressing themselves or practicing their religion or traditional beliefs. Beyond the region’s expansive system of internment camps, the government and the CCP operated a system to limit in-person and online speech. In Xinjiang police regularly stopped Muslims and members of non-Han ethnic minorities and demanded to review their cell phones for any evidence of communication deemed inappropriate.

During the year the government extensively used mobile phone apps, cameras, and other electronics to monitor all speech and movement. Authorities in Xinjiang employed a comprehensive database that tracked the movements, mobile app usage, and even electricity and gasoline consumption of inhabitants in the region.

The government also sought to limit criticism of their Xinjiang policies even outside the country, disrupting academic discussions and intimidating human rights advocates across the world. Government officials in Xinjiang detained the relatives of several overseas activists. In February the government blocked Clubhouse, a foreign software platform designed to promote open conversations, after only a few days of operation. Before Clubhouse was blocked, Chinese citizens had participated in discussions concerning topics the PRC considers sensitive, including Xinjiang and Taiwan.

Numerous ethnic Uyghurs and Kazakhs living overseas were intimidated into silence by threats from government officials against members of their family who lived in China, threats sometimes delivered in China to the relatives, and sometimes delivered by Chinese government officials in the foreign country. (See section 1.e., Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country.)

The government restricted the expression of views it found objectionable, even when those expressions occurred abroad. Online, the government expanded attempts to control the global dissemination of information while also exporting its methods of electronic information control to other nations’ governments. During the year there was a rise in reports of journalists in foreign countries and ethnic Chinese living abroad experiencing harassment by Chinese government agents due to their criticisms of PRC politics. This included criticisms posted on platforms such as Twitter that were blocked within China.

The government sought to limit freedom of expression in online gaming platforms. The popular Chinese-made online game Genshin Impact continued to censor the words “Taiwan” and “Hong Kong” among others in its in-game chat program. Users noted the program’s censorship covered all users, regardless of the country of citizenship or where the game was being played.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The CCP and government continued to maintain ultimate authority over all published, online, and 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 they not be reported at all. The government’s propaganda department issued daily guidance on what topics should be promoted in all media outlets and how those topics should be covered. Chinese reporters working for private media companies confirmed increased pressure to conform to government requirements on story selection and content.

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) directly manages internet content, including online news media, and promotes CCP propaganda. A CCP propaganda department deputy minister ran the organization’s day-to-day operations. It enjoyed broad authority in regulating online media practices and played a large role in regulating and shaping information dissemination online.

The CCP continued to monitor and control the use of non-Mandarin languages in all media within the country. Since January 1, Mongolian-language content, previously broadcast on state media, was replaced with Chinese cultural programs that promote a “strong sense of Chinese nationality common identity.”

All books and magazines continued to require state-issued publication numbers, which were expensive and often difficult to obtain. Nearly all print and broadcast media as well as book publishers were affiliated with the CCP or the government. There were a small number of print publications with some private ownership interest but no privately owned television or radio stations. The CCP directed the domestic media to refrain from reporting on certain subjects, and traditional broadcast programming required government approval.

Journalists operated in an environment tightly controlled by the government. Only journalists with official government accreditation were allowed to publish news in print or online. The CCP constantly monitored all forms of journalist output, including printed news, television reporting, and online news, including livestreaming. Journalists and editors self-censored to stay within the lines dictated by the CCP, and they faced increasingly serious penalties for crossing those lines, which could be opaque. While the country’s increasingly internet-literate population demanded interesting stories told with the latest technologies, government authorities asserted control over technologies such as livestreaming and continued to pressure digital outlets and social media platforms.

Because the CCP did not consider internet news companies “official” media, they were subject to debilitating regulations and barred from reporting on potentially “sensitive” stories.

Violence and Harassment: The government frequently impeded the work of the press, including citizen journalists. Journalists reported being subjected to physical attack, harassment, monitoring, 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.

Family members of journalists based overseas also faced harassment, and in some cases detention, as retaliation for the reporting of their relatives abroad. Dozens of Uyghur relatives of overseas-based journalists working for Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur Service remained disappeared or detained in Xinjiang. In March, RFA reported that authorities had detained two brothers of Uyghur Service editor Eset Sulaiman since 2018.

Restrictions on domestic and foreign journalists by central and local CCP propaganda departments increased significantly.

Journalists faced the threat of demotion or dismissal for publishing views that challenged the government. In many cases potential sources refused to meet with journalists due to actual or feared government pressure. The scope of censorship was vast, with several Chinese journalists noting “an atmosphere of debilitating paranoia.” For example long-standing journalist contacts continued to decline off-the-record conversations, even concerning nonsensitive topics. So-called taboo topics included not only Tibet, Taiwan, and corruption, but also natural disasters and the #MeToo movement.

During the year authorities imprisoned numerous journalists working in traditional and new media. The government also silenced numerous independent journalists by quarantining them under the guise of pandemic response. Reporters Without Borders, in a report released on December 7, tallied at least 127 journalists (professional and nonprofessional) detained in the country. Of these, 71 – or more than one-half the journalists imprisoned – were Uyghur.

On January 7, investigative journalist Li Xinde, who founded and ran the China Public Watchdog Network anticorruption website, was convicted of “illegal business activity” and received a five-year prison sentence. He was initially detained in 2019 after publishing on his website a report that a court in Tianjin had wrongfully convicted a businessman.

On January 8, former journalist Zhang Jialong was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment by the Nanming District Court in Guiyang City on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Zhang, while a journalist with Tencent, met with then secretary of state John Kerry in 2014 and asked him to “tear down this great firewall that blocks the Internet.”

On May 11, citizen journalists Chen Mei and Cai Wei were put on trial at Beijing’s Chaoyang District Court, after more than a year in detention, on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” The two volunteered for a website archive, Terminus 2049, that documented censored COVID-19 outbreak information, among other topics. On August 13, Chen and Cai were convicted on the “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” charge but were then released on August 15 for time served.

A CCP organization in Henan Province issued a call on social media to confront a BBC journalist covering flooding in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China cited the incident as an example of the “growing hostility against foreign media in China,” thanks to rising Chinese nationalism sometimes “directly encouraged by Chinese officials and official entities.”

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China’s annual report on media freedoms, released in March, found that authorities and the CCP used “all arms of state power” – including surveillance systems introduced to curb COVID-19 – to harass and intimidate journalists, their Chinese colleagues, and those whom the foreign press sought to interview. For the third consecutive year, not a single correspondent said that working conditions improved.

The survey reported 88 percent of correspondents had requests for interviews declined because subjects needed prior permission to speak to a foreign journalist or because they were not permitted to speak to foreign journalists at all, an increase from 76 percent in 2019. Nearly 40 percent of correspondents said they were aware of sources being harassed, detained, called in, or questioned for interacting with a foreign journalist, an increase from 25 percent in 2019. Nearly one-half the correspondents said the fear of digital or in-person surveillance regularly affected their ability to adequately interview and communicate with sources or carry out their reporting. Almost 60 percent said their Chinese colleagues were subject to intimidation, compared with 44 percent in 2019.

Authorities used the visa renewal process to challenge journalists and force additional foreign reporters out of the country.  A Reporters Without Borders report released December 7 tallied 18 foreign reporters who were forced to leave the country in 2020 due to surveillance and visa blackmail.

In March, BBC journalist John Sudworth left the country following threats of legal action, obstruction, and intimidation. A state-sponsored propaganda campaign targeted the BBC and Sudworth to discredit them and push back against international criticism regarding issues such as Xinjiang and Hong Kong. According to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the government’s targeting of the BBC began after the BBC published a report detailing allegations of systematic rape in internment camps where Muslims were detained in Xinjiang.

Local employees working for foreign press outlets reported increased harassment and intimidation, in addition to authorities’ continued tight enforcement of restrictions on these employees. Foreign news bureaus are prohibited by law from directly hiring Chinese citizens as employees and must rely on personnel hired by the Personnel Service Corporation, a subordinate unit of the Diplomatic Service Bureau affiliated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The code of conduct threatens dismissal and loss of accreditation for those citizen employees who engage in independent reporting. It instructs them to provide their employers with information that projects “a good image of the country.” Multiple foreign outlets reported a continuing inability to hire the number of local staff members that they wished, saying authorities continued to impose an unofficial cap of one local researcher per foreign correspondent from media outlets out of favor with authorities. Some outlets even reported trouble getting the Diplomatic Service Bureau’s permission to hire a single local researcher per correspondent. New staff were wary of taking on responsibilities that might be considered politically sensitive, limiting their portfolios and contributions.

Government harassment of foreign journalists was particularly aggressive in Xinjiang. According to the 2020 Foreign Correspondents’ Club report, all foreign reporters who traveled to Xinjiang were openly followed, denied access to public places, and were asked or forced to delete photographs and other data from devices. Reporters documented cases of staged traffic accidents, road blockages, hotel closures, and cyberattacks. They reported constant surveillance while they worked in Xinjiang, with government agents stepping in to block access to some areas, intimidating local inhabitants from talking to the journalists, and stopping the journalists – sometimes many times per day – to seize their cameras and force them to erase pictures. Reporters noted local contacts warned them any resident seen talking to foreigners would almost certainly be detained, interrogated, or sent to a “re-education camp.”

Government officials also sought to suppress journalism outside their borders.  While in past years these efforts largely focused on Chinese-language media, during the year additional reports emerged of attempts to suppress media critical of China regardless of language or location.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Regulations 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.

According to Freedom House, on February 5, the China Association of Performing Arts (an industry association under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism) released new restrictions that required performances to promote the “party line,” not “undermine national unity,” nor “endanger national security.” Performers who violated the rules would face suspensions or a permanent ban from the industry.

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

The CCP Central Propaganda Department ordered media outlets to adhere strictly to the information provided by official departments. Directives warned against reporting on issues related to COVID-19 outbreaks, the official response, and international inquiries, as well as party and official reputation, health and safety in general, and foreign affairs.

The government sought to exercise complete control over public and private commentary regarding the COVID-19 outbreak, undermining local and international efforts to report on the virus’s spread. COVID-19 information on Chinese social media was closely guarded from the outbreak’s earliest manifestation. Popular livestreaming and messaging platforms WeChat and YY continued censorship protocols, including on words related to the virus causing COVID-19, SARS, and potential disease vectors.

In the run-up to the 100th anniversary of the CCP’s founding on July 1, the government sought to tighten control over how citizens discuss history on the country’s heavily censored internet, releasing legal amendments stipulating that persons who “insult, slander or infringe upon” the memory of the country’s national heroes and martyrs faced jail time of up to three years.

In April the CAC vowed to crack down on “historical nihilists” and launched a hotline for internet users to report “illegal” comments that “distorted” the CCP’s historical achievements and attacked the country’s leadership. The tip line allowed individuals to report fellow citizens who “distort” the party’s history, attack its leadership and policies, defame national heroes, and “deny the excellence of advanced socialist culture” online.

Also in April authorities in Jiangsu Province detained a 19-year-old man after he made “insulting” comments online regarding Japan’s 1937 occupation of Nanjing.

In early May a regulatory official reported authorities had dealt with a large number of accounts deemed to be propagating “historical nihilism” and that they directed online platforms to clean up more than two million posts the CAC deemed illegal.

Some private companies censored content without explicit orders from authorities. In late March streaming platforms in the country began to censor the logos and symbols of brands such as Adidas that adorn items worn by contestants performing dance, singing, and standup-comedy routines, following a feud between the government and international companies that said they would avoid using cotton produced in Xinjiang. Although government officials may not have ordered the shows to obscure the brands, the video streaming sites apparently felt pressured or obliged to publicly distance themselves from Western brands involved in the feud.

In May, Chinese video platforms censored a Friends reunion television special, removing appearances by music stars Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and the K-pop group BTS, all of whom had previously engaged in activity that reportedly angered the Chinese government.

The government increased efforts to screen out unsanctioned information and align online content with the state’s agenda. In August the CCP’s Central Propaganda Department, along with the state-backed bodies for state-approved artists and authors, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and State Administration of Radio and Television, as well as the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles and Chinese Writers Association, issued policy guidelines urging better “culture and art reviews,” partly by limiting the role of algorithms in content distribution. Under the guidelines, all domestic content creators and distributors are told to “adhere to the correct direction, strengthen Marxist literary theory and criticism, and pay attention to the social effects of literary criticism … and not to contribute to the spread of low, vulgar and pandering content or quasi-entertainment content.”

Citizen journalists faced an increasingly difficult climate, with the CAC and other authorities seeking to strengthen control over content published through social media, including “self-media” accounts. Also known as “we-media,” these accounts are typically blogs operated independently on social media without official backing from established outlets. Self-media had become one of the biggest emerging trends, with a report by the State Information Center noting that in 2020 online media accounted for 80 percent of the country’s media market. The tightened restrictions online had the effect of further clamping down on self-employed reporters, who also could not be accredited by the National Press and Publication Administration, which administers tests and grants the licenses required for citizens to work in the profession. Unaccredited reporters can face legal fallout or even criminal charges. The campaign to clean up self-media accounts also targeted social media trending charts, push notifications, and short-video platforms. The CAC was also exploring measures to control the distribution of information across all internet platforms to end “disruption to the order of internet broadcasts.”

In January the National Press and Publication Administration announced that it had made it a priority to stop reporters from running their own self­media accounts, as part of its annual review of journalists’ accreditation.

In February the CAC implemented new rules on managing public internet accounts, the first change since 2017. The rules specified the type of content platforms should ban, including those deemed to be engaged in fabricating information, inciting extreme emotions, plagiarism, cyberbullying, blackmailing, and artificially inflating the number of clicks. This represented a fresh crackdown on “fake news” and other online activities perceived to be harmful. The new rules to “protect the security of content and maintain a healthy cyberspace” aimed to curb independent reporting and reposting of information considered illegal while promoting government-sanctioned stories.

The new rules also broadened the definition of harmful online information. In addition to information that authorities considered to endanger national security, leak state secrets, or subvert state power, the new rules banned online information that “disrupts financial market order.” False information regarding disasters, epidemics, emergencies, and food and drug safety was also banned. On top of possible criminal charges and other punishments, websites spreading such information could be shut down, and individuals working for such sites could be held liable and subject to heavy fines.

In July the government launched a campaign to crack down on “fake news” and clean up online content. The CCP’s Central Propaganda Department announced the campaign would target “illegal news activities” by news organizations and staff, internet platforms and public accounts, as well as unaccredited social organizations and individuals.

Control over public depictions of President Xi was severe, with censors aggressively shutting down any depiction that varied from official media storylines. Censors continued to block images of the Winnie the Pooh cartoon character on social media because internet users used it to represent Xi. Social media posts did not allow comments related to Xi Jinping and other prominent Chinese leaders.

Domestic films were subject to government censorship. The CCP continued to call for films to highlight Chinese culture and values and promote the country’s successful growth. On October 9, former news editor and journalist Luo Chang Ping was detained in Hainan for a post on Weibo critical of a film’s depiction of the country’s role in the Korean War on suspicion of “impeaching the reputation of heroes and martyrs.”

Foreign movies shown in the country were also subject to censorship. The scheduled PRC release of Nomadland, a foreign movie directed by China-born filmmaker Chloe Zhao, was postponed following a controversy concerning comments Zhao made in 2013 regarding censorship in China; many online mentions of Nomadland were censored by authorities.

In October, Chinese broadcaster Tencent blocked Boston Celtics (National Basketball Association) games from its platform after a member of the team, Enes Kanter, posted social media posts critical of the PRC’s policies in Tibet.

Newscasts from overseas news outlets, largely restricted to hotels and foreign residence compounds, were subject to censorship. Individual issues of foreign newspapers and magazines were occasionally banned when they contained articles deemed too sensitive. Articles on sensitive topics were removed from international magazines. Television newscasts were often blacked out during segments on sensitive subjects. For example in February, authorities banned the BBC World News television channel in apparent retaliation after the United Kingdom revoked the license of the state-owned Chinese broadcaster CGTN.

Government regulations restrict and limit public access to foreign television shows, which are banned during primetime, and local streamers had to limit the foreign portion of their program libraries to less than 30 percent.

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. Newspapers, periodicals, books, audio and video recordings, or electronic publications may not be printed or distributed without the approval of central authorities and relevant provincial publishing authorities. Individuals who attempted to publish without government approval faced imprisonment, fines, confiscation of their books, and other punishment. The CCP also exerted control over the publishing industry by preemptively classifying certain topics as state secrets.

Government rules ban the sale of foreign publications without an import permit. This includes sales on online shopping platforms, which are banned from offering “overseas publications,” including books, movies, and games that do not already have government approval.  The ban also applies to services related to publications.

New rules from the Ministry of Education went into effect April 1, banning from libraries books that favored the “West” at the expense of China. Nikkei Asia reported that the order would impact 240 million primary and secondary school students and also require students to begin studying “Xi Jinping Thought.” According to Nikkei Asia, books that conveyed political, economic, and cultural ideas from democratic nations could be banned.

Libel/Slander Laws: By law defamation can be punished by up to three years’ imprisonment; truth is not a defense.

In February police in the Shapingba District of Chongqing issued a criminal detention warrant for a 19-year-old Chinese citizen living overseas in connection for his posts on the Sina Weibo microblogging platform. Police claimed the blogger posted a comment defaming People’s Liberation Army (PLA) martyrs that had a “severe negative social impact.” Official state media reported that at least six other Chinese domestic internet users had been under criminal or administrative detention for “stirring up trouble” by publishing defamatory comments concerning PLA martyrs on social media platforms.

In May at least seven citizens were detained for “defaming” Yuan Longping, revered as the “Father of Hybrid Rice” in China, who died on May 22. Media reports noted that local police had responded to complaints of insulting remarks regarding Yuan on social media and determined the posts had caused a “seriously bad” impact on the society. Five of the detained faced criminal investigations; two were detained under administrative procedures. Sina Weibo announced on May 24 that it would permanently close the accounts of 64 users who were found to have spread insults and attacks on Yuan.

In October a woman identified in court only by her last name, Xu, was sentenced to seven months in prison for violating a newly amended criminal code that makes “impeaching the reputation of heroes and martyrs” a crime. Xu had mocked online some internet users who had imagined themselves as Dong Cunrui, a war hero who died during China’s civil war in 1949.

National Security: Authorities often justified restrictions on expression on national security protection grounds. Government leaders cited the threat of terrorism to justify restricting freedom of expression by Muslims and other religious minorities. These justifications were a baseline rationale for restrictions on press movements, publications, and other forms of repression of expression.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

While the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government severely restricted this right. The law stipulates 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. For example police in Huizhou continued to hold human rights activist Xiao Yuhui, detained in July 2020 after repeating a WeChat post calling for individuals to save Hong Kong.

Citizens throughout the country continued to gather publicly to protest evictions, forced relocations, and inadequate compensation, often resulting in conflict with authorities or formal charges. Media reported thousands of protests took place during the year across the country. Although peaceful protests are legal, public security officials rarely granted permits to demonstrate. Despite restrictions, many demonstrations occurred, but authorities quickly broke up those motivated by broad political or social grievances, sometimes with excessive force.

In August, Ding Jiaxi and Xu Zhiyong were indicted on charges of subversion after two rounds of investigation by the Linyi Municipal Public Security Bureau and 21 months in detention. Ding and Xu were arrested in December 2019 after they met earlier that month in Xiamen, Fujian, to organize civil society and plan nonviolent social movements in the country. They were charged with “incitement to subvert state power” and “subversion of state power;” the latter crime carries a minimum 10-year prison sentence. Authorities continued to deny the families and their lawyers access to Xu and Ding.

Concerts, sports events, exercise classes, and other meetings of more than 200 persons require approval from public security authorities. Mass-gathering events were canceled during the year due to COVID-19 controls.

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. Propaganda targeted NGOs, smearing them for any affiliation with foreign governments.

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 charity law and a host of related regulations. Domestic NGOs could register in one of three categories: as a social group, a social organization, or a foundation. All domestic NGOs are 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 and sponsorship included burdensome reporting requirements. All organizations are required to report their sources of funding, including foreign funding.

All domestic NGOs are supposed to have a CCP cell, although implementation was not consistent. According to authorities, these CCP cells were to “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.” Authorities are to 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.”

The law requires foreign NGOs to register with the Ministry of Public Security and to find a state-sanctioned sponsor for their operations or for one-time activities. NGOs that fail to comply face possible civil or criminal penalties. The law provides no appeal process for NGOs denied registration, and it stipulates NGOs found to have violated certain provisions could be banned from operating in the country. The law also states domestic groups cooperating with unregistered foreign NGOs will be punished and possibly banned.

Some international NGOs reported it was more difficult to work with local partners, including universities, government agencies, and other domestic NGOs, as the NGO law codified the CCP’s perception that foreign NGOs were a “national security” threat. Many government agencies still 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, left many business organizations and alumni associations uncertain whether they fell within 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. According to the Ministry of Public Security, as of November 2, approximately 622 foreign NGO representative offices had registered under the Foreign NGO Management Law, with more than one-half of those focusing on industry or trade promotion activities.

According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, by the end of the year, there were more than 900,000 registered social organizations, public institutions, and foundations. Many experts believed the actual number of domestic NGOs to be much higher. 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, foreign NGOs must maintain a representative office in the country to receive funds, or to use the bank account of a domestic NGO when conducting temporary activities. By law foreign NGOs are prohibited from using any other method to send and receive funds, 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 prohibit organizations from conducting political or religious activities, and organizations that did not comply faced criminal penalties.

Authorities continued to restrict, evict, and investigate 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.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

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

The government, often preemptively, harassed and intimidated individuals and their family members by denying them permission to travel, both internationally and domestically, keeping them under house arrest or submitting them to “forced travel” during politically significant holidays.

In-country Movement: Authorities continued to maintain tight restrictions on freedom of movement, particularly to curtail the movement of individuals deemed politically sensitive before key anniversaries, or during foreign country national days, visits by foreign dignitaries, or major political events, as well as to forestall demonstrations. Uyghurs faced draconian restrictions on movement within Xinjiang and outside the region. Although the use of “domestic passports” that called for local official approval before traveling to another area was discontinued in 2016, authorities still made identification checks for individuals entering or leaving cities and on public roads. In Xinjiang, security officials operated checkpoints managing entry into public places, including markets and mosques, that required Uyghurs to scan their national identity card, undergo a facial recognition check, and put baggage through airport-style security screening. Such restrictions were not applied to Han Chinese in these areas.

The government operated a national household registration system (hukou) and maintained restrictions on the freedom to change one’s workplace or residence, although many provinces and localities eased restrictions. While many rural residents migrated to the cities, where per capita disposable income was approximately three times the rural per capita income, they often could not change their official residence or workplace within the country. Most cities had annual quotas for the number of new temporary residence permits they could issue, 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 provincial capitals, but outside those cities many provinces removed or lowered barriers to move from a rural area to an urban one.

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 Peoples Republic of China on 2019 National Economic and Social Development, published in February 2020 by the National Bureau of Statistics of China, 280 million individuals lived outside the jurisdiction of their household registration. Migrant workers and their families faced numerous obstacles regarding 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.

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 controlled emigration and foreign travel. Government employees and retirees, especially from the military, faced foreign travel restrictions. The government denied passport applications or used 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 activists were at times prevented from exiting the country. Authorities also blocked the travel of some family members of activists, including foreign family members.

Border officials and police sometimes cited threats to “national security” as the reason for refusing permission to leave the country, although often authorities provided no reason for such exit bans. Authorities stopped most such persons at the airport at the time of their attempted travel.

Most citizens could obtain passports, although individuals the government deemed potential political threats, including religious leaders, political dissidents, petitioners, as well as their family members and members of ethnic minorities, routinely reported being refused passports or otherwise being prevented from traveling overseas.

Disbarred lawyers, rights activists, and families of “709” lawyers faced difficulties applying for passports or were barred from leaving the country. For example disbarred human rights lawyers Wang Yu (also a 709 lawyer) and Tang Jitian remained under exit bans. Yang Maodong, whose pen name is Guo Feixiong, was banned from boarding a flight out of Shanghai in January, was denied authorization to travel abroad throughout the year, and was detained by authorities in December. Family members of some 709 lawyers, such as Li Heping and Wang Quanzhang, had passport applications denied.

Uyghurs, particularly those residing in Xinjiang, reported great difficulty in getting passport applications approved. They were frequently denied passports to travel abroad. Since 2016 authorities ordered Xinjiang residents to turn in their passports or told residents no new passports were available. Foreign national family members of Uyghur activists living overseas were also denied visas to enter the country, in part due to COVID-19 travel restrictions although restrictions predated the pandemic. Authorities refused to renew passports for Uyghurs living abroad.

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 in previous years authorities allowed some dissidents living abroad to return, dissidents released on medical parole and allowed to leave the country often were effectively exiled. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities greatly reduced the total number of travelers who could enter the country, including citizens.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Although it restricted access to border areas, the government regularly cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which maintained an office in Beijing.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of refugee or asylum status. The government did not have a system for providing protection to refugees but generally recognized UNHCR-registered refugees in China. Asylum applicants and refugees remained in the country without access to education or social services and were subject to deportation at any time.

UNHCR reported that officials continued to restrict UNHCR access to border areas. Authorities sometimes detained and prosecuted citizens who assisted North Korean refugees and asylum seekers, as well as those who facilitated illegal border crossings.

Refoulement: 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, where such migrants would face harsh punishments including torture, forced abortions, forced labor, sexual violence, or death. Entries of such migrants were reduced during the year due to border closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of July advocacy organizations believed PRC authorities detained 1,170 North Koreans, the majority of whom were refugees and asylum seekers. In July, PRC authorities forcibly returned approximately 50 North Korean refugees, resuming forcible repatriations which had been on hold since early 2020 after the North Korean government shut its borders due to COVID-19.

North Koreans detained by PRC authorities faced forcible repatriation unless they could pay bribes to secure their release. Family members wanting to prevent forced returns of their North Korean relatives were required to pay fees to Chinese authorities, purportedly to cover expenses incurred while in detention. While detained North Koreans were occasionally released, they were rarely given the necessary permissions for safe passage to a third country.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees generally did not have access to public health care, public education, or other social services due to lack of legal status.

Durable Solutions: The government largely cooperated with UNHCR when dealing with the local settlement in China of Han Chinese or members of 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.

g. Stateless Persons

According to international media reports, as many as 30,000 children born to North Korean women in China, most of whom were trafficked and married to Chinese spouses, had not been registered because their North Korean parent was undocumented, leaving the children de facto stateless. These children 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. Chinese fathers reportedly sometimes did not register their children to avoid exposing the illegal status of their North Korean partners.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution states, “all power in the People’s Republic of China belongs to the people” and the organs through which citizens 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 running in local elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2018 the NPC’s 2,980 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 consists 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. 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 2019 statistics, almost all the country’s more than 600,000 villages had implemented direct elections by ordinary citizens for members of local subgovernmental organizations known as village committees. The direct election of officials remained narrow in scope and was 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.

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 own 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.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Official statements asserted “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 only allowed to operate under the direction of the CCP United Front Work Department.

No laws or regulations specifically govern the formation of political parties. The China Democracy Party remained banned, and the government continued to monitor, detain, and imprison its current and former members. China Democracy Party founder Qin Yongmin, detained with his wife Zhao Suli in 2015, has been in Hubei’s Qianjiang Prison since 2018 for “subversion of state power.”

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: Women and members of minority groups held few positions of significant influence in the government or CCP structure. Among the 2,987 appointed delegates to the 13th NPC in 2018, 742 (25 percent) were women. Following the 19th Party Congress in 2017, one member of the CCP Central Committee’s 25-member Politburo was a woman. There were no women in the Politburo Standing Committee.

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 438 delegates from 55 ethnic minorities were members of the 13th NPC, accounting for 16 percent of the total number of delegates. All of the country’s officially recognized minority groups were represented. The 19th Party Congress elected 15 members of ethnic minority groups as members of the 202-person Central Committee. There was no ethnic minority member of the Politburo, and only one ethnic minority member 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. An ethnic Mongolian woman, Wang Lixia, served as chair of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, equivalent to a provincial governor. An ethnic Hui woman, Xian Hui, served as chair of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. An ethnic Bai woman, Shen Yiqin, served as party secretary of Guizhou Province.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Transparency International’s analysis indicated corruption remained a significant problem in the country. There were numerous reports of government corruption – and subsequent trials and sentences – during the year.

By law the NSC-CCDI is a government and CCP body charged with rooting out corruption and discipline inspection (enforcing conformity). Its investigations may target any public official, including police, judges, and prosecutors; the commission can investigate and detain individuals connected to targeted public officials. The NSC-CCDI is vested with powers of the state and may conduct investigations against any employee who performs a public duty; that includes doctors, academics, and employees of state-owned enterprises. There were credible reports that the NSC-CCDI investigations and detentions by liuzhi were sometimes politically motivated. According to Safeguard Defenders’ analysis of NSC-CCDI official documents of a select few provinces, in those provinces the NSC-CCDI placed at least 5,909 individuals into liuzhi since its creation in 2018. Nationwide, Safeguard Defenders estimated that 52,000 individuals were placed into liuzhi since 2018.

Corruption: In numerous cases government prosecutors investigated public officials and leaders of state-owned enterprises, who generally held high CCP ranks, for corruption.

While the tightly controlled state media apparatus publicized some notable corruption investigations, in general very few details were made public regarding the process by which CCP and government officials were investigated for corruption. Observers also said that corruption charges were often a pretext for purging political rivals.

In October the NSC-CCDI detained former vice ministers of public security, Fu Zhenghua and Sun Lijun. The South China Morning Post reported that Fu Zhenghua was being held for “serious violations” of party discipline. Sun Lijun was expelled from the CCP and faced trial for “serious violation of discipline rules and law.” According to state media, Sun accepted bribes and gifts and misused his position to “achieve his political objectives.” The South China Morning Post reported in August that the NSC-CCDI was investigating Peng Bo, a former deputy chief of the CAC, for accepting bribes and expelled him from the party. Published accusations that Peng strayed from CCP plans regarding the “propaganda struggle over the internet,” “sought benefits from internet companies,” “resisted investigations by the party and engaged in superstitious activities,” and violated the “eight-point requirements on frugal living, visited private clubs frequently and accepted invitations to extravagant banquets and dinners” may indicate that corruption was not the primary reason for the investigation into Peng.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

The government sought to maintain control over civil society groups, halt the emergence of independent NGOs, and hinder activities of civil society and human rights groups. The government frequently harassed independent domestic NGOs and in many cases 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 or 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 all official NGOs were required to have a government agency sponsor.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government remained reluctant to accept criticism of its human rights record by other nations or international organizations. The government sharply limited the visits of UN experts to the country and rarely provided substantive answers to queries by UN human rights bodies. A dozen requests for visits to the country by UN experts remained outstanding.

The government used its membership on the UN Economic and Social Council’s Committee on NGOs to block groups critical of China from obtaining UN accreditation and barring accredited activists from participating in UN events. The government also retaliated against human rights groups working with the United Nations.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women is illegal and carries a sentence that ranges from three years in prison to death. The law does not safeguard same-sex couples or survivors of marital rape. A separate law on sexual assault includes male victims but has a lesser maximum penalty of five years in prison. Of the reported cases, most allegations of rape were closed through private settlement rather than prosecution. Some persons convicted of rape were executed.

Domestic violence remained a significant problem. Some scholars said victims were encouraged to attempt to resolve domestic violence through mediation. Societal sentiment that domestic violence was a personal, private matter contributed to underreporting and inaction by authorities when women faced violence at home. The law defines domestic violence as a civil, rather than a criminal, offense. The web publication Sixth Tone reported in 2019 that 25 percent of families had experienced domestic violence.

The government supported shelters for survivors of domestic violence, and some courts provided protections to survivors, including through court protective orders prohibiting a perpetrator of domestic violence from coming near to a survivor. Nonetheless, official assistance did not always reach survivors, and public security forces often ignored domestic violence. Legal aid institutions working to provide counseling and defense to survivors of domestic violence were often pressured to suspend public activities and cease all forms of policy advocacy, an area that was reserved only for government-sponsored organizations.

According to women’s rights activists, a recurring problem in the prosecution of domestic violence cases was a failure by authorities to collect evidence, including photographs, hospital records, police records, or children’s testimony. Witnesses seldom testified in court.

On November 2, professional tennis player Peng Shuai in a since-deleted post on Weibo accused former Politburo Standing Committee member and vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexually assaulting her in 2018. Peng said she and Zhang previously had an extramarital relationship and that she went to Zhang’s house “about three years ago” at his invitation to play tennis with him and his wife, when he sexually assaulted her. International media said this was the first such public accusation against a senior CCP official. Peng disappeared from public view following her post, and her social media accounts were blocked. Her disappearance sparked an international outcry, and a subsequent series of public sightings were criticized as staged propaganda intended to defuse international criticism.

Courts’ recognition of domestic violence improved, making spousal abuse a mitigating factor in crimes committed in self-defense.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment against women. The law defines behaviors included in the definition of harassment, eliminates the statute of limitations of minors seeking to sue on sexual harassment grounds, and requires employers to make affirmative efforts to prevent and address sexual harassment in the workplace. It remained difficult for victims to file a sexual harassment complaint and for judges to reach a ruling on such cases. Human Rights Watch cited one statistic showing nearly 40 percent of women said they experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Many women, however, remained unwilling to report incidents of sexual harassment, believing the justice system was ineffectual, according to official media. Several prominent media reports of sexual harassment were widely shared on social media, helping to raise awareness of the problem, particularly in the workplace.

In August a female employee of Hangzhou-based Alibaba wrote she had been sexually assaulted by her manager and a client and that Alibaba had not initially taken the matter seriously. Alibaba subsequently fired the accused manager, and two other senior employees resigned for not properly handling the allegations. The criminal case against the accused manager was ultimately dropped by prosecutors who said the “forcible indecency” committed by the man was not a crime.

On September 14, the Haidian District Court in Beijing ruled against plaintiff Zhou Xiaoxuan (also known as Xianzi) in a high-profile sexual harassment case, stating there was insufficient evidence to support her claims that China Central Television personality Zhu Jun had groped and forcibly kissed her in 2014 when she was an intern working for him.

The law allows victims to file a sexual harassment complaint with their employer, authorities, or both. Employers who failed to take effective measures to prevent sexual harassment could be fined.

Some women’s NGOs that sought to increase public awareness of sexual harassment reported harassment by public security and faced challenges implementing their programs.

Reproductive Rights: Through law and policy the CCP and government limit the rights of parents to choose the number of children they have. The law restricts most married couples to three children (increased from two in May) and allows couples to apply for permission to have a fourth child if they meet local and provincial requirements. In August the NPC formally passed the law raising the number of children permitted, including several provisions aimed at boosting the birth rate and “reducing the burden” of raising children. These provisions included abolishing the “social maintenance fee” that was a fine for having children beyond the previous limit, encouraging local governments to offer parental leave, and increasing women’s employment rights.

Enforcement of population control policy relied on social pressure, education, propaganda, and economic penalties, as well as on measures such as mandatory pregnancy examinations, contraception and, less frequently, forced sterilizations and, in some provinces, coerced abortions. Penalties for exceeding the permitted number of children were not enforced uniformly and varied by province. The law as implemented requires each woman with an unauthorized pregnancy to abort or to pay a social compensation fee, which can reach 10 times a person’s annual disposable income. Those with the financial means often paid the fee to ensure their children born in violation of the birth restrictions would have access to a wide array of government-provided social services and rights. Some avoided the fee by hiding such children with friends or relatives. The law only mentions the rights of married couples, which means unmarried women are not authorized to have children. They consequently have social compensation fees imposed on them if they give birth “outside of the policy,” and they could be subject to the denial of legal documents such as birth documents and the hukou residence permit, although local governments rarely enforced these regulations.

While authorities have liberalized population control measures for members of the Han majority since 2016, birth control policies directed toward Uyghurs became more stringent. Ethnic and religious minority women were often subject to coercive population control measures. Government targeting of ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang with intensified coercive family-planning measures resulted in plummeting birth rates since 2018. Most Xinjiang prefectures reported large increases in sterilizations and implantation of intrauterine devices (IUD), with Hotan Prefecture alone more than doubling its female sterilization numbers from 2017 to 2018. There were widespread reports of coercive population control measures – including forced abortions, forced sterilizations, involuntary IUD insertions, and pregnancy checks – occurring at detention centers in the region and targeting minority groups, primarily Uyghurs and ethnic Kazaks. Parents judged to have exceeded the government limit on the number of children (three or more) risked being sent to detention centers unless they paid exorbitant fines. In a January post later removed by Twitter, the PRC Embassy in the United States claimed, “Study shows that in the process of eradicating extremism, the minds of Uygur women in Xinjiang were emancipated and gender equality and reproductive health were promoted, making them no longer baby-making machines. They are more confident and independent.”

Since national family planning law mentions only the rights of married couples, local implementation was inconsistent, and unmarried persons were required to pay for contraception.

Sexual and reproductive health services including emergency contraception were available for survivors of sexual violence at public hospitals.

Discrimination: The constitution states “women enjoy equal rights with men in all spheres of life.” The law provides for equality in ownership of property, inheritance rights, access to education, and equal pay for equal work. Nonetheless, women reported that discrimination, unfair dismissal, demotion, and wage discrepancies were significant problems.

On average women earned 35 percent less than men who did similar work. This wage gap was greater in rural areas. Women were underrepresented in leadership positions, despite their high rate of participation in the labor force.

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

Women’s rights advocates indicated that in rural areas women often forfeited land and property rights to their husbands in divorce proceedings. The civil code includes a provision for a 30-day “cooling off” period in cases of uncontested divorce; some citizens expressed concern this leaves those seeking escape from domestic violence susceptible to further abuse. Rural contract law and laws protecting women’s rights stipulate women enjoy equal rights in cases of land management, but experts asserted this was rarely the case due to the complexity of the law and difficulties in its implementation.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: The most recent information from the State Council Information Office stated the boy-girl birth ratio had dropped from 113.5 in 2015 to 110.1 boys per 100 girls in 2019.

Nonmedical fetal sex diagnosis and aborting a pregnancy based on gender selection are illegal.  Private and unregistered clinics, however, provided these services. Provincial health commissions made efforts to crack down on sex-selective abortions.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution and laws include language that protects members of racial or ethnic minorities or groups from violence and discrimination; however, the government did not enforce these laws effectively, and authorities perpetrated and promoted violence and discrimination against members of racial or ethnic minority groups. Official state media outlets published numerous articles describing members of minority ethnic or religious groups as violent and inferior. Such propaganda emphasized the connection between religious beliefs, in particular belief in Islam, and acts of violence. Moreover, many articles described religious adherents as culturally backward and less educated, and thus in need of government rectification.

The government “sinicization” campaign resulted in ethnically based restrictions on movement, including curtailed ability to travel freely or obtain travel documents; greater surveillance and presence of armed police in ethnic minority communities; and legislative restrictions on cultural and religious practices.

The government promoted Han Chinese migration into minority areas, significantly increasing the population of Han in Xinjiang. Han Chinese officials continued to hold the majority of the most powerful CCP posts and many government positions in minority autonomous regions, particularly Xinjiang.

In 2017 the Xinjiang government implemented “Deradicalization Regulations,” codifying efforts to “contain and eradicate extremism.” Since 2017 the government used this broad definition of extremism to detain more than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslims in re-education or detention centers, designed to instill patriotism and erase their religious and ethnic identities. This included many of those ordered to return to China from studying or working abroad. International media reported government security officials in the centers abused, tortured, and killed some detainees (see sections 1.a., 1.b., 1.c., 1.d., and 2.d.).

Outside the internment camps, the government implemented severe restrictions on expressions of minorities’ culture, language, and religious identity, including regulations prohibiting behaviors the government considered signs of “extremism” such as growing “abnormal” beards, wearing veils in public places, and suddenly stopping smoking and drinking alcohol, among other behaviors. The regulations banned the use of some Islamic names when naming children and set punishments for teaching religion to children. Authorities conducted “household surveys” and “home stays” in which officials or volunteers forcibly lived in Uyghurs’ homes and monitored families for signs of “extremism.” There were media reports that male officials would sleep in the same bed as the wives of men who were detained in internment camps, as part of the “Pair Up and Become Family” program, and also bring alcohol and pork for consumption during the home stay. Authorities also used a vast array of surveillance technology specifically designed to target and track Uyghurs.

The national government perpetuated and condoned policies and attitudes that promoted discrimination; minority groups in border and other regions had less access to education than their Han Chinese counterparts, faced job discrimination in favor of Han Chinese migrants, and earned incomes well below those in other parts of the country. Government development programs and job provisions intentionally disrupted traditional living patterns of minority groups and in some cases included the forced relocation of persons and the forced settlement of nomads. As part of its emphasis on building a “harmonious society” and maintaining social stability, the government promoted racism and institutional discrimination against minorities, and disparaged and denied the resulting complaints, cracking down on peaceful expressions of ethnic culture and religion.

Many of the security raids, arbitrary detentions, and judicial punishments appeared to target groups or individuals peacefully seeking to express their political or religious views. Detention and punishment could be based on expression on the internet and social media, including the browsing, downloading, and transmitting of banned content. Officials continued to use the threat of violence as justification for extreme security measures directed at the local population, journalists, and visiting foreigners. According to the official news agency Xinhua, officials used surveillance and facial recognition software, biodata collection, and big-data technology to create a database of Uyghurs in Xinjiang for the purpose of conducting “social-instability forecasting, prevention, and containment.” (See section 1.f.) Security forces frequently staged large-scale parades involving thousands of armed police in cities across Xinjiang, according to state media.

Uyghurs and members of other religious and ethnic minority groups continued to be sentenced to long prison terms and were in some cases executed without due process on spurious charges of separatism and endangering state security. (See sections 1.a. and 1.b.).

The law criminalizes discussion of “separatism” on the internet and prohibits use of the internet in any way that undermines national unity. It further bans inciting ethnic separatism or “harming social stability.” It requires internet service providers and network operators to set up monitoring systems to detect, report, and delete religious content, and to strengthen existing systems and report violations of the law. Authorities searched cell phones at checkpoints and during random inspections of Uyghur households. Persons in possession of alleged terrorist material, including pictures of general religious or cultural importance, could be arrested and charged with crimes. International media reported security officials at police checkpoints used a surveillance application to download and view content on mobile phones. (See section 1.f.).

Ethnic Kazakhs were also targeted. Throughout the year ethnic Kazakhs in Almaty and Nur-Sultan reported that PRC officials attempted to silence protests regarding their missing family members in Xinjiang. Small groups of Kazakhs often protested outside the PRC consulate in Almaty and the PRC Embassy in Nur-Sultan to demand answers concerning their families’ detention in Xinjiang. Local sources stated that PRC officials frequently called their cell phones to pressure them to stop protesting. Kazakhs were also prevented from moving freely between China and Kazakhstan, and some were detained in internment camps upon their return to China.

The government pressured foreign countries to forcibly repatriate or deny visas to Uyghurs who had left China, and repatriated Uyghurs faced the risk of imprisonment and mistreatment upon return. Some Uyghurs who were forcibly repatriated disappeared after arriving in China. Family members of Uyghurs studying overseas were also pressured to convince students to return to China, and returning students were detained or forced to attend “re-education camps,” according to overseas media. Overseas ethnic Uyghurs, whether they were citizens of the PRC or their countries of residence, were sometimes pressured to provide information concerning the Uyghur diaspora community to agents of the PRC government.

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

For specific information on Tibet, see the Tibet Annex.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from parents. Parents must register their children in compliance with the national household registration system within one month of birth. Children born outside policy quotas or to single women often cannot be registered or receive other legal documents such as the hukou residence permit. Unregistered children could not access public services, including education, health care, identity registration, or pension benefits.

Education: Although the law provides for nine years of compulsory education for children, many children in poor rural areas did not attend school for the required period, and some never attended. Public schools were not allowed to charge tuition, but many schools continued to charge miscellaneous fees because they received insufficient local and central government funding. Such fees and other school-related expenses made it difficult for poorer families and some migrant workers to send their children to school. The gap in education quality for rural and urban youth remained extensive, with many children of migrant workers attending unlicensed and poorly equipped schools.

The law states “schools (classes and grades) and other institutions of education where most of the students come from minority nationalities shall, whenever possible, use textbooks in their own languages and use their languages as the medium of instruction.” Despite provisions to ensure cultural and linguistic rights, measures requiring full instruction in Mandarin beginning in preschool and banning the use of Uyghur in all educational activities and management were implemented throughout Xinjiang, according to international media.

Government authorities in Inner Mongolia required instructors to use Mandarin to teach history and politics instead of the Mongolian language and traditional Mongolian script, which are viewed as a key part of Mongolian culture. The PRC implemented similar policies in Xinjiang, Tibet, and other provinces to encourage a “national common language,” but which observers viewed as a means to erode unique languages and cultures.

Child Abuse: The physical abuse of children is grounds for criminal prosecution, and the law protects children. Sexual abuse of minors, particularly of rural children, was a significant problem.

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

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum legal age for consensual sex is 14. Persons who forced girls younger than 14 into commercial sex could be sentenced to 10 years to life in prison in addition to a fine or confiscation of property. In especially serious cases, violators could receive a life sentence or a death sentence, in addition to having their property confiscated. Those who paid for commercial sex with girls younger than 14 were subject to five years or more in prison in addition to paying a fine.

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

According to the law, persons broadcasting or showing obscene materials to minors younger than 18 are to be “severely punished.”

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: The law forbids infanticide, although NGOs reported that female infanticide due to a traditional preference for sons and coercive birth limitation policies continued. Parents of children with disabilities frequently left infants at hospitals, primarily because of the anticipated cost of medical care. Gender-biased abortions and the abandonment and neglect of baby girls were believed to be in decline but continued to be a problem in some circumstances.

Displaced Children: The detention of an estimated one million or more Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslims in Xinjiang left many children without caregivers. While many of these children had relatives willing to care for them, the government placed the children of detainees in orphanages, state-run boarding schools, or “child welfare guidance centers,” where they were forcibly indoctrinated with CCP ideology and forced to learn Mandarin Chinese, reject their religious and cultural beliefs, and answer questions regarding their parents’ religious beliefs and practices.

In October 2020 a study on parent-child separation in Yarkand County, Kashgar Prefecture, analyzed data from government spreadsheets not previously available. According to the study, government statistics showed that between 2017 and 2019, the number of boarding students in primary and middle schools (grades one to nine) increased from 497,800 to 880,500. Children in these schools studied ethnic Han culture, Mandarin, and CCP ideology. Government policy aimed to provide such children with state-sponsored care until they reach age 18. In Hotan some boarding schools were topped with barbed wire.

Institutionalized Children: See “Displaced Children” section above.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

The government does not recognize Judaism as an ethnicity or religion. The World Jewish Congress estimated the Jewish population at 2,500. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts during the year.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Organ Harvesting

Some activists and organizations accused the government of forcibly harvesting organs from prisoners of conscience, including religious and spiritual adherents such as Falun Gong practitioners and Muslim detainees in Xinjiang. In June several UN experts issued a statement expressing alarm concerning allegations of organ harvesting “targeting minorities, including Falun Gong practitioners, Uyghurs, Tibetans, Muslims and Christians, in detention in China.”

Persons with Disabilities

The law protects the rights of persons with disabilities and prohibits discrimination, but in many instances conditions for such persons lagged behind legal requirements, and the government failed to provide persons with disabilities with access to programs intended to assist them.

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

The Ministry of Education reported there were more than 2,000 separate schools for children with disabilities, but NGOs reported only 2 percent of the 20 million children with disabilities had access to education that met their needs.

Individuals with disabilities faced difficulties accessing higher education. Universities often excluded candidates with disabilities who would otherwise be qualified. A regulation mandates accommodations for students with disabilities when taking the national university entrance exam.

Unemployment among adults with disabilities, in part due to discrimination, remained a serious problem. The law requires local governments to offer incentives to enterprises that hire persons with disabilities. Regulations in some parts of the country also require employers to pay into a national fund for persons with disabilities when employees with disabilities do not make up a statutory minimum percentage of the total workforce.

The law sets standards for making roads and buildings accessible to persons with disabilities; compliance was limited.

The law forbids marriage for persons with certain mental disabilities, such as schizophrenia. If doctors find a couple is at risk of transmitting congenital disabilities to their children, the couple may marry only if they agree to use birth control or undergo sterilization. In some instances officials continued to require couples to abort pregnancies when doctors discovered possible disabilities during prenatal examinations. The law stipulates local governments are to employ such practices to eliminate the births of children with disabilities.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Discrimination against persons with HIV remained a problem, impacting individuals’ employment, education, and housing opportunities and impeding access to health care. In some instances laws protecting persons with HIV from discrimination contradict laws restricting the rights of persons with HIV. During the year state media outlets reported instances of persons with HIV or AIDS who were barred from housing, education, or employment due to their HIV status. According to the National Health Commission, as of the end of 2019, an estimated 950,000 persons in the country had HIV or AIDS.

According to the law, companies may not demand HIV antibody tests nor dismiss employees for having HIV. Nonetheless, regulations also stipulate that HIV-positive individuals shall not engage in work that is prohibited by laws, administrative regulations, and the Department of Health under the State Council.

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

No laws criminalize private consensual same-sex conduct between adults. Individuals and organizations working on LGBTQI+ matters continued to report discrimination and harassment from authorities similar to that experienced by organizations that accept funding from overseas.

LGBTQI+ individuals reported incidents of violence, including domestic violence; however, they encountered difficulties in seeking legal redress, since regulations on domestic violence do not include recognition of same-sex relationships. Accessing redress was further limited by societal discrimination and traditional norms, resulting in most LGBTQI+ persons refraining from publicly discussing their sexual orientation or gender identity. Nonetheless, the civil code includes a provision that protects certain tenancy rights for designated partners of deceased property owners without officially defined family relationships.

NGOs working on LGBTQI+ topics reported that although public advocacy work became more difficult for them due to laws governing charities and foreign NGOs, they made some progress in advocating for LGBTQI+ rights through specific antidiscrimination cases.

In July, WeChat’s parent company Tencent deleted dozens of public WeChat accounts run by LGBTQI+ groups at universities across the country for allegedly violating internet regulations, including 14 of the most prominent accounts.

In September the National Radio and Television Administration ordered television companies to exclude niangpao or “sissy men” from their content. It was the first time the government used the term, which is used to insult or bully gay men. Also in September the administration condemned representations of gay men’s love stories on radio and television. Later in the month, the state-backed gaming association issued new video game guidelines stating that depictions of same-sex relationships, characters with ambiguous genders, and effeminate males were considered problems and would raise flags.

In November, LGBT Rights Advocacy China, an organization focused on changing law and policy, announced it was ceasing all activities and shutting down its social media accounts.

Hong Kong

Read A Section: Hong Kong

China | Macau | Tibet

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. The 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law of the Special Administrative Region specified that, except in matters of defense and foreign affairs, Hong Kong would have a high degree of autonomy under the “One Country, Two Systems” framework. During the year, China continued to dismantle Hong Kong’s political freedoms and autonomy in violation of these international commitments. Amendments to the Basic Law fundamentally changed Hong Kong’s electoral system to allow Beijing effectively to block participation of political groups not approved by Beijing. The Hong Kong government arrested or disqualified opposition pan-democratic politicians, blocking their participation in upcoming elections. Pro-Beijing candidates won 89 of the 90 seats in the December Legislative Council election, which was widely regarded as fundamentally flawed. The turnout rate of 30.2 percent was a record low since Hong Kong’s handover to the People’s Republic of China in 1997.

The Hong Kong Police Force maintains internal security and reports to the Security Bureau. The Security Bureau continues to report to the chief executive; however, the National Security Department of the Hong Kong Police Force, established by the National Security Law, operates under the supervision of the central government, and the National Security Law permits the embedding of mainland security personnel within the department. In addition, the National Security Law established a Committee on National Security in the Hong Kong government that reports to the central government, as well as an Office for Safeguarding National Security in Hong Kong that is staffed by members of mainland security agencies. Unaccountable under Hong Kong law, the Office allows mainland China security elements to operate openly, contradicting the spirit and practice of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the “One Country, Two Systems” framework. It is no longer clear if Hong Kong’s civilian authorities maintain effective autonomous control over the city’s security services. Hong Kong security forces have taken actions – to include arrests against nonviolent protesters, opposition politicians, activists, journalists, union members, and others deemed by local officials to be critical of the central and Special Administrative Region governments.

Beijing undermined Hong Kong’s autonomy and eroded civil liberties and democratic institutions throughout the year. Hong Kong and Chinese authorities repeatedly threatened or arrested associations, groups, or individuals affiliated with the prodemocracy movement, undermining fundamental freedoms otherwise provided for under the Basic Law. Following accusations made by Beijing-controlled media organs, Hong Kong authorities investigated and cut government ties with these groups, in some cases freezing their assets and forcing them to cease operations. Even after threatened groups disbanded, authorities continued targeting key members for investigations and arrests. These procedures were applied to prodemocratic parties, trade unions, and professional associations, among others.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: arbitrary arrests and detention; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisals against individuals outside of Hong Kong; serious problems regarding the independence of the judiciary in certain areas; arbitrary interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists and censorship; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; restrictions on the freedom of movement and on the right to leave the territory; the inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; trafficking in persons; and significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association, including coercive actions against independent trade unions and arrests of labor union activists.

The government took few steps to identify, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses. The government prosecuted at least one case of official corruption.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were no credible reports that the Special Administrative Region (SAR) or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices and there were few reports of such abuse. According to a June Amnesty International report, prisoners in detention did not report abuse due to fear of retaliation. Other observers in direct contact with those in the detention facilities did not report witnessing or seeing evidence of abuse in the facilities.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were reports of prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.

Wall-fare, an independent prisoners’ rights organization, submitted a petition signed by 100,000 persons requesting that in very hot weather, prisoners have access to cold water, better ventilation, and extra showers, as some facilities lacked air conditioning. Wall-fare disbanded in September after the security secretary announced that some groups were giving prisoners items such as chocolates and hair clips to recruit them to endanger national security.

In October, one individual detained under the National Security Law (NSL) accused the agency responsible for the SAR’s prisons and detention centers of intercepting letters sent to her on the grounds that they would “affect order in the prison,” arguing that the agency’s standards had become stricter on political grounds.

Physical Conditions: Some activists raised credible concerns that individuals in pretrial detention for charges related to the NSL were kept in solitary confinement for extended periods of time. In some cases, activists alleged these individuals were subjected to 24-hour lighting, excessively hot or cold temperatures, or other degrading conditions.

Administration: The government investigated allegations of problematic conditions and documented the results in a publicly accessible manner. There was an external Office of the Ombudsman.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted legislators and justices of the peace to conduct prison visits. Justices of the peace may make suggestions and comments on matters, such as physical conditions, overcrowding, staff improvement, training and recreational programs and activities, and other matters affecting the welfare of inmates.

The Independent Police Complaints Council is the Hong Kong police watchdog, responsible for investigating alleged corruption or abuses. The SAR government announced in November 2020 that it would appeal a court ruling that month that declared the complaints council incapable of effective investigation, as it lacked necessary powers and was inadequate to fulfill the SAR’s obligations under the Basic Law to provide an independent mechanism to investigate complaints against the Hong Kong police.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. Under the NSL, however, the Hong Kong Police Force made several arbitrary arrests. The Hong Kong Police Force maintains internal security and reports to the SAR’s Security Bureau. The Immigration Department of the Security Bureau controls passage of persons into and out of the SAR as well as the documentation of local residents. The Security Bureau and police continue to report to the chief executive. The National Security Department of the police force, however, which was established by the NSL, operates under the supervision of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) government, and the NSL permits the embedding of mainland security personnel within the department. In addition, the NSL established a Committee on National Security within the SAR government that reports to the PRC government, as well as an Office for Safeguarding National Security in Hong Kong that is staffed by members of the PRC security agencies who may not be prosecuted under the SAR’s legal system. Therefore, it was no longer clear if the SAR’s civilian authorities maintain effective autonomous control over the city’s security services.

Security forces targeted nonviolent protesters, opposition politicians, and prodemocracy activists and organizations during the year. Multiple sources also reported suspected members of the PRC central government security services in the SAR were monitoring political activists, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and academics who criticized the PRC central government’s policies.

At the time of its passage, the SAR and PRC claimed the NSL was not retroactive. Despite that claim, international observers have noted that the police National Security Department, created by the NSL, used its sweeping investigative powers to find evidence of “sedition” prior to the establishment of the NSL and charge individuals under both the NSL and colonial-era sedition laws. Some of the evidence cited included individuals’ opinion posts online.

On January 6 and 7, authorities arrested 55 political activists for participating in the July 2020 unofficial pan-democratic primary election. Of those arrested, 47 were charged under the NSL with subversion.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Police generally apprehended suspects openly when they observed them committing a crime or with warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized official. Police were also required to charge or release arrested suspects promptly. The government respected this requirement and generally brought arrested persons before a judicial officer within 48 hours. Detainees were generally informed promptly of potential charges against them. There was a functioning bail system that allowed persons not charged to post bail to be released from detention pending the filing of charges. Such “police bail” included requirements that the arrestee submit to monthly check-ins at a police station. There was no defined period under the law within which the government was required to file charges. Activists argued that the bail system left the arrested in legal purgatory. After arrest, by law the Department of Justice investigates to determine the appropriate charges for the arrestee. Police have the authority to require individuals arrested under the NSL to surrender their travel documents while an investigation is continuing, including if they are not formally charged, and there were reports police exercised this authority in numerous NSL cases. Interviews of suspects must be videotaped.

Under NSL charges, democracy activists were increasingly denied bail, and the threshold for bail was higher. Bail conditions under the NSL place the burden of proof on the defendant to convince the judge that he or she would not “continue to commit acts endangering national security” and are adjudicated only by specially designated national security judges. Jeremy Tan, a former pan-democratic politician facing NSL charges, was denied bail in part based on an email invitation from a foreign consulate, while another former lawmaker, Claudia Mo, was denied bail in part based on interviews and text messages with international press. In November a SAR court denied bail to Cheung Kim-hung, chief executive officer (CEO) of Apple Daily parent company Next Digital, in apparent response to international condemnation of the executive’s arrest as an infringement on freedom of the press. Prosecutors cited a statement by the Media Freedom Coalition, signed by 21 governments, as well as a separate statement by the United Kingdom foreign secretary, as evidence of a close association between Cheung and “foreign political groups.”

Observers criticized SAR authorities for the treatment of the 47 individuals charged under the NSL in connection with the unofficial 2020 pan-democratic primary election. Police and prosecutors arrested, detained, and charged these individuals as a group, then immediately demanded a lengthy pretrial period to investigate the allegations made against them.

In February the Court of Final Appeal, the highest SAR court, reversed a ruling by a lower court granting bail to Jimmy Lai, media owner and democracy activist. The Court of Final Appeal decision stated that the courts have no power to review the NSL’s constitutionality, including provisions where the Basic Law and the NSL may be in conflict, such as bail standards.

Authorities generally allowed detainees access to a lawyer of their choice, but some legal experts stated that during initial bail hearings, many of the 47 persons charged with subversion for organizing or participating in the unofficial 2020 pan-democratic primary faced delays obtaining access to their lawyers. The first defendant in an NSL trial, Tong Ying-kit, requested that two additional pro bono barristers be permitted to join his legal team. The specially designated national security judges stated that with the addition of the barristers, the defendant might no longer be eligible for legal aid, forcing the withdrawal of the proposed two additional lawyers.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law generally provides for an independent judiciary, its independence was limited in NSL cases. Arrests and prosecutions appeared to be increasingly politically motivated. The SAR’s highest court stated that it was unable to find the NSL or any of its provisions unconstitutional, or to review the NSL based on incompatibility with the Basic Law or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Activists voiced concern about NSL proceedings because those charged under the NSL face stricter bail conditions; may be denied due process (see below) and a fair and public trial (see below); and may face extradition to the mainland for trial. In bail hearings, the NSL places the burden of proof on the defendant, rather than the prosecution, as is otherwise the case in most criminal matters. Local Chinese Communist Party-controlled media entities in the SAR put pressure on the judiciary to accept more “guidance” from the government and called for extradition to the mainland in at least one high-profile 2020 case; they also criticized sentences deemed too lenient.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary largely enforced this right. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them and the right to a trial without undue delay, but these rights were not always upheld. Some defendants in drug and drug trafficking cases waited several years to go to trial. Some charged with violations related to the 2019 protest movement may not face trial until 2023 due to a backlog in the judiciary’s caseload. Many of those charged with NSL violations have been remanded into custody and have been awaiting trial for several months because of the NSL’s high threshold for granting bail. Tong Ying-kit was charged and denied bail in July 2020 and was held in custody until his hearing on July 30. Jimmy Lai, arrested in December 2020, then temporarily released on bail, was returned to custody on December 31, 2020. His first trial was not held until the end of May, when he was convicted on a non-NSL charge of “unauthorized assembly” for participation in a 2019 peaceful protest. Given the special requirements for bail in NSL cases, the newness of the law, and COVID-19 pandemic related delays, persons charged under the NSL face longer-than-average pretrial delays.

Defendants are presumed innocent, except in official corruption cases: a sitting or former government official who maintains a standard of living above that commensurate with an official income or who controls monies or property disproportionate to an official income is by law considered guilty of an offense unless the official can satisfactorily explain the discrepancy. The courts upheld this ordinance. Trials are by jury except at the magistrate and district court levels. Under the NSL, SAR authorities may direct that a panel of three specially designated national security judges hear a case instead of a jury. In the trial of the first NSL defendant, Tong Ying-kit, the secretary of justice issued a certificate for the case to be heard by such a three-judge panel.

An attorney is provided at public expense if defendants cannot afford counsel. Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The government conducted court proceedings in either Cantonese or English, the SAR’s two official languages. The government provided interpretation service to those not conversant in Cantonese or English during all criminal court proceedings. Defendants could confront and question witnesses testifying against them and present witnesses to testify on their own behalf. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, the right to be present at their trial, and the right of appeal. In October SAR authorities proposed limiting the right of defendants receiving legal aid to choose their own lawyers, as well as the number of legal aid and judicial review cases that each lawyer may take per year. Some lawyers, activists, and experts have criticized the proposal as restricting defendants’ right to the counsel of their choice and limiting activists’ abilities to challenge authorities’ actions.

SAR courts are charged with interpreting provisions of the Basic Law that address matters within the limits of the SAR’s autonomy. SAR courts also interpret provisions of the Basic Law that relate to central government responsibilities or the relationship between the central authorities and the SAR. The Court of Final Appeal may seek an interpretation of relevant provisions from the PRC central government’s Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (the legislature). SAR courts must by law follow the standing committee’s interpretations in cases involving central government jurisdiction, although judgments previously rendered are not affected.

The chief executive provides a list of judges eligible to hear NSL cases. Some activists have described this NSL provision, which enables SAR authorities to hand pick the pool of judges to hear national security cases, as inconsistent with judicial independence. In multiple cases, SAR prosecutors have argued that defendants accused of charges that do not fall under the NSL should be tried by these specially designated national security judges, claiming that the cases involved “national security.”

The National People’s Congress Standing Committee determines how the NSL is interpreted, not a SAR-based judiciary or elected body. The standing committee has the power in cases involving foreign countries, serious situations, or major and imminent threats to national security to extradite the accused to the mainland and hold trials behind closed doors.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

SAR authorities detained and imprisoned a growing number of individuals during the year because of expressed and, in some cases, presumed, political views and participation in nonviolent political activities.

Local and international observers noted that with few exceptions, those charged with NSL violations, sedition, or unauthorized assembly were peacefully exercising freedoms of expression, political participation, assembly, and association provided for in the Basic Law and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. For example, activists and legal experts have commented that the 47 individuals charged with violating the NSL for participation in the 2020 unofficial pan-democratic primary election have been accused of subversion for allegedly planning to use a mechanism described in the Basic Law to cause the chief executive to resign.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Territory

The NSL claims jurisdiction over any individual, regardless of location, deemed to be engaged in one of the four vaguely defined criminal activities under the NSL: “secession;” subversion; terrorist activities; or collusion with a foreign country or external elements to endanger national security. There are reportedly standing NSL-related arrest warrants against 30 individuals, all residing abroad, one of whom has foreign citizenship and has resided outside the SAR and mainland China for more than 20 years. Although reported in state-controlled media, the government refused to acknowledge the existence of these warrants.

The amendment to the SAR’s Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, effective October 8, also known as the antidoxing amendment, increases the criminal penalties for individuals who are “reckless” with others’ personal information as well as for staff of internet service providers or online platforms that do not comply with doxing-related requests. The only territorial limit on the application of the law is that the concerned individual was present in the SAR at the time of the incident or was a SAR resident, raising concerns that the amendment may be used to prosecute individuals located outside the SAR who criticize SAR officials.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

For apolitical court cases, there is an independent and impartial judiciary for civil matters and access to a court to file lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations by SAR agencies or persons, except for employees of the National Security Department, as well as the Central Government Liaison Office, depending on interpretations of the law.

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

The law prohibits such actions, but there were multiple reports the SAR government failed to respect these prohibitions, including credible reports that PRC central government security services and the Beijing-mandated Office for Safeguarding National Security monitored prodemocracy and human rights activists and journalists in the SAR. Some of those arrested under the NSL, including some of the 55 individuals arrested in January in connection with the July 2020 unofficial pan-democratic primary election, were required to forfeit personal mobile and computer devices, including before they were formally charged. Police made repeated requests to technology companies for access to individuals’ private correspondence. SAR authorities froze bank accounts of former lawmakers, civil society groups, and other political targets.

Technology companies, activists, and private citizens increasingly raised concerns about the right to privacy and protection of data. The antidoxing amendment passed in October allows the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data to seize and access any electronic devices on the premises without a warrant if they suspect a doxing-related offense has been committed or may be committed. In June the Executive Council approved a proposal to mandate real name registration for subscriber identity module cards and to allow authorities to access telecommunications data without a warrant.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

Despite provisions of the Basic Law and government claims, the PRC and SAR governments increasingly encroached upon freedom of expression. Attacks on independent media included the coerced closures of Apple Daily and Stand News; the restructuring of public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) to gut its editorial independence and to delete previous online content considered politically sensitive; pressure applied to a prominent journalists’ labor union; and acts to encourage self-censorship by other media outlets and public opinion leaders.

Freedom of Expression: There were legal restrictions on the ability of individuals to criticize the government publicly without reprisal. Expressing views perceived to be critical of the PRC or SAR prompted charges of sedition or NSL violations for prodemocratic activists and politicians. On June 4, Chow Hang-tung, the vice chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, was arrested and later charged for inciting unauthorized assembly, because she urged members of the public to “turn on the lights wherever you are – whether on your telephone, candles, or electronic candles” in remembrance of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Requirements for electoral candidacy and for taking the oath of office also limited free speech in the political arena. The overhauled electoral system (see section 3) requires all elected officials to swear an oath of allegiance and to adhere to “patriotic” standards with respect to the PRC and SAR. Even with the signed pledge and oath of office, the Electoral Affairs Commission chose to disqualify 49 seated members of local District Councils and one remaining non-pro-Beijing legislative councilor, questioning their patriotism based on past statements or actions, despite their adherence to the requirements of office. There was no judicial recourse.

The government requires all civil servants to swear an oath of allegiance. According to media reports, civil servants may lose their jobs if they refuse to swear the oath and may face criminal charges, including under the NSL, if they later engage in behavior, including speech, deemed to violate the oaths. SAR authorities and Beijing officials insinuated that interactions with foreign diplomats could be considered “collusion” under the NSL. One former pan-democratic politician facing NSL charges was denied bail in part based on an email invitation from a foreign consulate, while another was denied bail in part based on interviews and text messages with international press.

Any speech critical of the central or local government or its policies may be construed as advocating secession or subversion in violation of the NSL, or inciting hate against the government in violation of a colonial-era sedition law. Prosecutors argued in multiple court hearings that the phrase “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times,” a common slogan of the 2019 prodemocracy protests, contained an inherent meaning of support for independence, a change in the SAR’s constitutional status, or both. To date, courts have convicted two individuals under the NSL in part on that basis. Scholars and activists have argued that the courts’ decisions failed to take into consideration protections for freedom of expression enshrined in the Basic Law, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the NSL itself.

In May SAR authorities passed legislation that criminalized inciting others not to vote in elections or to cast blank ballots. Violators are subject to up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine. The SAR anticorruption agency arrested at least 10 individuals in November and December for allegedly urging, on social media, others to cast blank votes. On December 16, two of the 10 were the first to be prosecuted under this law. Legal experts described the legislation as disproportionate and out of line with common law norms that criminalize incitement only when the behavior incited is itself illegal. SAR officials have also claimed that inciting others to boycott elections or cast blank votes may violate the NSL.

SAR legislation prohibits acts deemed to abuse or desecrate the PRC national flag or anthem. In September SAR authorities amended the legislation to criminalize desecrating the national flag or anthem online, such as by posting an image of a “defiled” national flag on social media. At least one individual was convicted during the year for desecrating the national flag, and at least three others were arrested for allegedly desecrating the flag or insulting the national anthem.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The operating space for independent media shrank considerably. The SAR targeted independent media that expressed views it construed as not progovernment. Pro-Beijing media and politicians accused government-owned public broadcaster RTHK of exercising insufficient editorial oversight, opposing police and the government, and thus potentially standing in violation of the NSL. The SAR government subsequently forced out the managing director and replaced him with a pro-Beijing civil servant with no broadcasting experience. RTHK’s civil service employees were given a deadline to swear loyalty oaths, leading many to resign. Under its new management, RTHK also fired presenters, cancelled shows, and censored content based on political perspective.

The SAR systematically dismantled Apple Daily, an independent newspaper and online news platform. On June 17, national security police officers arrested five executives of Next Digital, the parent company of Apple Daily. The same day, police searched Apple Daily offices and froze its assets. During the search, police documented each staff member on site. Following the freeze of its assets, on June 24, Apple Daily issued its last online reports and newspaper edition. Three members of the editorial staff, including a senior editor prohibited from boarding a flight at the airport, were subsequently arrested under the NSL. Cheung Kim-hung, CEO of Apple Daily parent company Next Digital, was denied bail based in part on public statements made by foreign governments, over which the defendant had no control.

On December 29, national security police officers arrested seven individuals affiliated with prodemocracy online media outlet Stand News on charges of “conspiracy to print or distribute seditious materials” under a colonial-era sedition law. The same day, police raided its office, seized journalistic materials, and froze its assets. Police also raided the home of Stand News deputy editor and chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association Ronson Chan, who was taken in for questioning but later released. Stand News subsequently announced on its social media page the resignation of its chief editor, the layoff of all staff, and the immediate cessation of all its operations.

Violence and Harassment: The pro-Beijing media and SAR officials began in September to accuse the Hong Kong Journalists Association of potential NSL violations. The association released a report in July titled Freedom in Tatters outlining the worrisome loss of journalistic freedom. The report expressed concern that police force national security offices would begin scrutinizing its activities using tactics like those used against trade unions and other professional associations. The Hong Kong Journalists Association is a frequent target of SAR government officials’ and pro-Beijing media criticism. In November the Foreign Correspondents’ Club issued the results of a member survey showing that 83 percent of respondents believed the NSL caused the media environment to change for the worse. This spurred the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in the city to condemn the club for smearing the city’s press freedom and interfering in the territory’s affairs.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Reports of media self-censorship and suspected content control continued. Public libraries and universities culled their holdings, including archives, to comply with the NSL; it was unclear if this was based on a request from SAR officials or if the institutions chose to self-censor. Public libraries removed past issues of Apple Daily and books authored by prodemocratic activists. After the closure of Apple Daily and the increased scrutiny of RTHK, Stand News removed articles and columns from its website in June to reduce risks that SAR authorities would accuse the media outlet of breaking the NSL or other laws.

In July officers in the Hong Kong police’s National Security Department arrested and later charged five members of a labor union with “conspiring to publish seditious publications” after the union published a series of children’s books that referred to the 2019-20 protest movement. Police also froze more than 160,000 Hong Kong dollars ($20,000) of the union’s assets. In August SAR authorities announced they were canceling the union’s registration for alleged activities inconsistent with the union’s stated objectives. SAR officials accused the books of “inciting hatred” and “poisoning” children’s minds against the PRC and SAR governments.

In October the Legislative Council passed a film censorship law that empowers SAR authorities to revoke a film’s license if “found to be contrary to national security interests.” Violators are liable for up to three years’ imprisonment.

Internet Freedom

The SAR government generally did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, although activists claimed central government authorities actively monitored their internet activity. There were also numerous reports of unexplained problems with access to certain websites associated with the prodemocracy movement. There were reports that public access was blocked to certain websites, including those associated with the prodemocracy movement and a museum focused on the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, although SAR authorities refused to confirm the reports. Prosecutors cited social media posts as evidence, including against those charged with NSL violations or inciting an unlawful assembly. NGOs and some media outlets reported focusing on digital security to protect their privacy, partners, and sources.

When investigating NSL violations, the national security divisions of the police force may require a person who published information or opinions or the relevant service provider to remove the content or assist the national security divisions by providing information on the user. Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter reported denying the SAR government’s user information and content takedown requests. Google reported releasing data to the SAR authorities on three occasions during the year, once due to a credible threat to life and twice in connection with suspected trafficking in persons; Google reported it had not complied with many political requests.

The antidoxing amendment raised concerns among civil society, the press, and online platforms that the vague amendment would be used to prosecute journalists reporting on matters of public interest. The amendment applies the same standard of consent to disclose data to private individuals and public officials alike and does not include carve outs for issues of public interest or for already publicly available information.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There was a significant increase in restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. The PRC and SAR authorities claimed that a lack of “patriotic education” was a root cause of the 2019 antiextradition bill protests and targeted the Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union, which dissolved under political pressure in August (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

In February the SAR’s Education Bureau announced the incorporation of “national security” into the SAR government-approved curriculum at all levels, beginning at the kindergarten level. New guidelines require all schools following the official SAR curriculum to limit political expression and activities on school campuses and to submit periodic reports regarding their implementation of so-called national security education. Activists decried the guidelines as restricting freedom of expression on campuses. The Education Bureau announced guidelines in October that require all SAR-run and subsidized schools to hold weekly flag raising ceremonies.

In July police raided the office of the student union at the University of Hong Kong after the union’s council passed a motion expressing “sadness” at the death of an individual who attacked a police officer on the July 1 anniversary of the SAR’s handover to PRC sovereignty. The union later apologized and retracted the motion. Under pressure from SAR authorities, university leadership barred the students who attended the council meeting from campus and severed ties with the student union. In August police arrested four members of the student union on suspicion of “advocating terrorism,” a crime under the NSL.

In June a museum dedicated to memorializing the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre operated by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China was raided following allegations that the museum did not have the appropriate license. Under this pressure, the museum closed later that month.

In December, three universities removed sculptures and artworks commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre from their campuses. The University of Hong Kong removed a memorial to the victims of the massacre called “Pillar of Shame,” the Chinese University of Hong Kong removed a statue of “The Goddess of Democracy,” and Lingnan University removed a wall relief portraying the massacre. The universities cited unspecified legal risks, and the University of Hong Kong and Chinese University of Hong Kong also claimed that their management had never approved the presence of the statues, which had stood on the campuses since 1997 and 2010, respectively.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but SAR authorities did not respect those rights, especially for individuals and organizations associated with the prodemocracy movement. The government repeatedly claimed COVID-19 pandemic health concerns as reasons for restricting public gatherings, although it made exceptions for events involving government officials and pro-Beijing groups.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

While the law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government effectively banned peaceful assembly for political purposes to prevent COVID-19. Because of the strict public health limits on any public gathering, police did not issue any “letters of no objection” for public demonstrations from groups not aligned with the PRC and SAR governments after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, police refused permits for a May 1 Labor Day rally, the annual 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre vigil, and the annual July 1 prodemocracy rally marking the anniversary of the SAR’s handover to China.

Freedom of Association

SAR law provides for freedom of association, but the government did not respect the law. SAR authorities investigated and forced the closure of any group they deemed a “national security” concern. Pro-Beijing media also accused several unions, including the SAR’s largest trade and teacher unions (see section 7, Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining) of “foreign collusion” – punishable by up to life in prison under the NSL – due to their affiliation with international organizations.

The Civil Human Rights Front, an umbrella group that organized large-scale annual prodemocracy protests, announced its dissolution just days after the police commissioner publicly accused the group of possible violations of the NSL and of operating since 2002 without proper registration. He made this accusation despite previous police approvals of the group’s requests for protest permits in prior years.

The 612 Humanitarian Fund, which used crowdfunding to support emergency financial and legal assistance for persons injured or arrested during the 2019 protests against the extradition bill, was also forced to shutter its operations after the government publicly made criminal allegations against the group.

The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, a prodemocracy group organizing annual vigils to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre, voted to disband after Hong Kong police charged seven of its leaders, as well as the organization itself, under the NSL, and froze the group’s assets. In October Chief Executive Carrie Lam ordered the Alliance removed from the city’s Companies Registry.

By law any person claiming to be an officer of a banned group may be sentenced to a maximum of three years in prison and fined. Those convicted of providing meeting space or other aid to a banned group may also be sentenced to fines and jail time.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, but the SAR government has established a system for providing limited protection to persons who would be subject to torture or other abuses in their home country.

The SAR government uses the term “nonrefoulement claim” to refer to a claim for protection against deportation. Persons subject to deportation could file a nonrefoulement claim if they either arrived in the SAR without proper authorization or had overstayed the terms of their admittance. Filing such a claim typically resulted in a period of detention followed by release on recognizance. Activists and refugee rights groups expressed concerns about the quality of adjudications and the very low rate of approved claims, fewer than 1 percent. Denied claimants may appeal to the Torture Claims Appeal Board. The government did not publish the board’s decisions, a practice that the Hong Kong Bar Association previously noted created concerns about the consistency and transparency of decisions. Persons whose claims were pending were required to appear periodically before the Immigration Department. In August the SAR implemented an ordinance amendment specifically targeting those seeking asylum and barring them from entering the SAR. The amendment also shortened timeframes for individuals seeking protection against deportation, and in some cases limited these individuals’ access to interpretation into their mother tongues.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Activists indicated that persons seeking refugee status faced discrimination and were frequent targets of negative commentary by some political parties and media organizations.

Employment: “Nonrefoulement claimants” have no right to work in the SAR while their claims are under review, and they must rely on social welfare stipends and charities. An NGO reported the government’s process for evaluating claims, which did not allow claimants to work legally in the SAR, made some refugees vulnerable to trafficking. The SAR government, however, frequently granted exceptions to this rule for persons granted nondeportation status and awaiting UNHCR resettlement.

Access to Basic Services: Persons who made “nonrefoulement” claims were eligible to receive publicly funded legal assistance, including translation services, as well as small living subsidies. Claimants were also entitled to basic health-care services at public hospitals and clinics. The children of such claimants could attend SAR public schools.

Temporary Protection: Persons whose claims for “nonrefoulement” are substantiated do not obtain permanent resident status in the SAR. Instead, the SAR government refers them to UNHCR for possible recognition as refugees and resettlement in a third country. In some cases, individuals waited years in the SAR before being resettled.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The Basic Law limits the ability of residents to change their government. The National People’s Congress Standing Committee March decision to overhaul the SAR’s electoral system further limited this ability, in contradiction to provisions in the Basic Law that describe the election of the chief executive and Legislative Council via universal suffrage as the “ultimate aim.”

Voters do not enjoy universal suffrage in elections for the chief executive or equal suffrage in Legislative Council elections. PRC central authorities made broad changes to the electoral system, thereby ensuring that only candidates vetted and approved by Beijing would be allowed to hold office at any level.

September 19 elections for seats in the Chief Executive Election Committee (CEEC), the first after the PRC’s overhaul of the SAR’s political system in March, by design produced a near unanimous sweep for pro-Beijing “patriots.” More than 1,100 of the 1,500 seats in the expanded CEEC were predetermined and not up for election. For the few competitive seats, regulations limited the franchise and moved the SAR farther from the one-person, one-vote principle. Only one nominally independent candidate was elected to any of those seats. Although the CEEC was historically considered a “closed circle election,” the September contest limited the number of voters eligible to cast ballots to fewer than 5,000 individuals, 97 percent smaller than the previous CEEC election in 2016. Following Beijing-imposed changes to the electoral system, all candidates for the Legislative Council are required to pass through a labyrinthine application process for vetting their “patriotic” bona fides. Per the new law, voters directly elect 20 of the expanded Legislative Council’s 90 seats, or 22 percent; in contrast, in the 2016 Legislative Council election, voters directly elected 40 of the 70 seats (57 percent). Forty seats are selected by the CEEC directly, while 30 are selected as representatives of “functional constituencies” for various economic and social sectors. In the December 19 Legislative Council elections, pro-Beijing candidates won 89 of the 90 seats, including all 20 of the directly elected seats. None of the major prodemocracy parties fielded any candidates.

Under the Basic Law, only the SAR government, not members of the legislature, may introduce bills that affect public expenditure, the political structure, or government policy.

The SAR sends 36 deputies to the National People’s Congress and has approximately 200 delegates in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference – bodies that operate under the direction of the Chinese Communist Party and do not exercise legislative independence. The approval of the chief executive, two-thirds of the Legislative Council, and two-thirds of the SAR’s delegates to the legislature are required to place an amendment to the Basic Law on the legislative agenda, which has the sole power to amend the Basic Law.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On December 19, the SAR held elections for the expanded Legislative Council. Pro-Beijing candidates won 89 of the 90 seats, including all 20 of the directly elected seats in the geographical constituencies. Only one nonestablishment moderate won a seat in the social welfare constituency. The SAR government had earlier postponed the election originally scheduled for September 2020 citing COVID-19 concerns, a decision seen by the prodemocracy opposition as an attempt to thwart its electoral momentum and avoid the defeat of pro-Beijing candidates. Several activists also called on voters to boycott the election, arguing it was a sham election. About 1.3 million voters cast ballots in the election, a record low turnout rate of 30.2 percent. Approximately 2 percent of ballots cast were blank or otherwise invalid, a record high. In contrast the 2016 election had a turnout rate of 58.3 percent. In 2017 the 1,194-member CEEC, dominated by proestablishment electors, selected Carrie Lam to be the SAR’s chief executive.

In September the SAR held elections for the CEEC, which elected 40 members of the Legislative Council in December and is scheduled to elect the chief executive in March 2022. Approximately 75 percent of the CEEC seats were filled by ex officio holders of various government positions, through nominations by Beijing-controlled bodies, or by uncontested candidates. Only one candidate not explicitly aligned with either the pro-Beijing or proestablishment camp won a seat. A total of 4,380 ballots were cast compared with more than 250,000 ballots in the 2016 election.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Since the imposition of the NSL, numerous leaders of prodemocracy political parties, protest organizing groups, and civil society organizations have been arrested for their involvement in nonviolent political activities. For example, in January, 55 prodemocracy politicians and activists, including former members of the Legislative Council and elected local District Council members, were arrested under the NSL for their involvement in the July 2020 unofficial pan-democratic primary election. No political party was subjected to an outright ban, but many prodemocracy political parties and organizations disbanded because of pressure from SAR authorities or concern they or their members would be subjected to political repression.

In May SAR authorities passed legislation requiring all elected members of local District Councils to swear loyalty oaths to Beijing. Many activists argued the move was designed to break the opposition pan-democratic camp’s hold over the District Councils, the SAR’s only representative bodies elected solely through universal suffrage, after pan-democratic politicians won 388 of 479 seats in the councils in 2019 local elections and won overall control over 17 of the 18 councils. After passage of the legislation, anonymous SAR officials were cited in local media as saying that District Council members who took the loyalty oath and were subsequently disqualified might be required to reimburse the SAR for up to hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong dollars in salary and expenses. More than 260 District Council members resigned in response. Subsequently, SAR authorities administered loyalty oaths to the remaining District Council members in September and October, then disqualified 49 pan-democratic District Council members without the possibility of appeal. The disqualified members are ineligible to run for election for five years.

In August, the chief secretary ruled that Cheng Chung-tai, one of two remaining Legislative Council members who did not caucus with the pro-Beijing or proestablishment camp, was ineligible to serve on the CEEC. Cheng was subsequently disqualified from his legislative seat as well, although the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs had praised him in 2020 for remaining in the legislature after the disqualifications and resignations of nearly all other pan-democratic representatives. In September Cheng announced the dissolution of his political party, Civic Passion.

Since the National People’s Congress Standing Committee decision in March created a labyrinthine nomination and vetting process for all candidates for political office designed to ensure “loyalty” to Beijing, and after the resignation and disqualification of hundreds of opposition District Council members, many opposition politicians and groups announced that they would not field candidates in the December Legislative Council elections. For example, the Democratic Party, the SAR’s largest opposition party, announced in October that none of its members had received sufficient nominations from within the party to run.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Following December Legislative Council elections, there were 17 women Legislative Council members (approximately 19 percent). In 2017 Carrie Lam was selected to be the SAR’s first female chief executive.

There is no legal restriction against members of historically marginalized or ethnic minority groups running for electoral office or serving as electoral monitors. There were, however, no members of ethnic minority groups in the Legislative Council, and members of such groups reported they considered themselves unrepresented.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were, however, reports of government corruption and a growing culture of impunity from prosecution for police and security sector officials.

Corruption: Opposition activists claimed that three senior government officials were treated leniently after attending a group dinner in violation of social distancing regulations in March. The Department of Justice cleared a senior police official in the National Security Department of illegal misconduct for visiting an unlicensed massage parlor where illegal sex services were reportedly being offered, although six women were arrested and four ultimately charged from the same police raid. The officer was subsequently reassigned to lead the police force personnel and training department.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups reported increasing government scrutiny, harassment, and restrictions, although some continued to investigate and publish their findings on human rights cases. The SAR used the NSL to force organizations expressing criticism of the PRC to cease operations, to self-censor, or to change operational procedures to protect their staff. The forced disbandment of multiple trade unions and other organizations created a chilling effect on the remaining groups that were historically critical of the central government.

In October Amnesty International announced it would close its Hong Kong office, as well as its Hong Kong-based regional office, by the end of the year. The organization stated that the NSL made it “impossible for human rights organizations in Hong Kong to work freely and without fear of serious reprisals from the government.”

PRC and SAR officials repeatedly accused local and international NGOs that alleged human rights abuses in the SAR of “sowing discord.”

A SAR court denied bail to a media executive in November in apparent response to international condemnation of the executive’s arrest as an infringement on freedom of the press. The court cited a statement by the Media Freedom Coalition, signed by 21 governments, as well as a separate statement by the United Kingdom’s foreign secretary, as evidence of a close association among Cheung Kim-hung, CEO of Apple Daily parent company Next Digital, and “foreign political groups.”

Government Human Rights Bodies: There is an Office of the Ombudsman and an Equal Opportunities Commission. The government recruits commissioners to represent both offices through a professional search committee, which solicits applications and vets candidates. Commissioners were independent. Both organizations operated without interference from the SAR government and published critical findings in their areas of responsibility. NGOs stated that the Equal Opportunities Commission had a narrow mandate that did not allow for deep investigations, and limited support from the SAR government.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape against women, including spousal rape, but does not explicitly criminalize rape against men. Support organizations for sexual and domestic violence reported an increase in gender-based violence based on the larger volume of calls to their hotlines and requests for mental health-care assistance. Activists expressed concern that rape was underreported, especially within ethnic minority communities.

The law does not directly criminalize domestic violence, but the government regarded domestic violence against women as a serious concern. Abusers may be liable for criminal charges under laws on offenses against the person, sexual assault, and child mistreatment, depending on which act constituted domestic violence. The government effectively prosecuted violators under existing criminal violations.

The law allows survivors to seek a three-month injunction, extendable to six months, against an abuser. The ordinance covers abuse between spouses, heterosexual and homosexual cohabitants, former spouses or cohabitants, and immediate and extended family members. It protects victims younger than 18, allowing them to apply for an injunction in their own right, with the assistance of an adult guardian, against abuse by parents, siblings, and specified immediate and extended family members. The law also empowers courts to require that an abuser attend an antiviolence program. In cases in which the abuser caused bodily harm, the court may attach an arrest warrant to an existing injunction and extend the validity of both injunctions and arrest warrants to two years.

The government maintained programs provided intervention, counseling, and assistance to domestic violence survivors and abusers.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment or discrimination based on sex, marital status, and pregnancy. The law applies to both men and women, and police generally enforced it effectively. There were multiple reports, however, of sexual harassment in housing, the workplace, and universities.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

The government provides access to sexual and reproductive health services, including emergency contraception, for survivors of sexual violence.

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men. The SAR’s sexual discrimination ordinance prohibits discrimination based on sex or pregnancy status, and the law authorizes the Equal Opportunities Commission to work towards the elimination of discrimination and harassment as well as to promote equal opportunity for men and women. Although the government generally enforced these laws, women reportedly faced some discrimination in employment, salary, welfare, inheritance, and promotion.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Although ethnic Chinese account for most of the population, the SAR is a multiethnic society, with persons from multiple ethnic groups recognized as permanent residents with full rights by law. The law prohibits discrimination, and the Equal Opportunities Commission oversees implementation and enforcement of the law. The commission maintained a hotline for inquiries and complaints concerning racial discrimination. Although the SAR government took steps to reduce discrimination, there were frequent reports of discrimination against ethnic minorities; the law does not clearly cover racial discrimination occurring during law enforcement activity.

Advocates stated there were indications of racism in COVID-19 testing and quarantine measures. Returning South and Southeast Asian SAR minority group residents complained of poor quarantine facilities, wait times, and diet, and accused the SAR of discrimination.

Persons born in mainland China also experienced frequent discrimination. Nonpermanent residents did not receive SAR cash subsidies to help with the COVID-19 pandemic-related economic downturn until eight months after the pandemic spread to the SAR.

Children

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

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

The government provided parent education programs through its maternal- and child-health centers, public education programs, clinical psychologists, and social workers. Police maintained a child abuse investigation unit and, in collaboration with the Social Welfare Department, operated a child witness support program.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 16 for both girls and boys; however, parents’ written consent is required for marriage before age 21.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of consent is effectively 16. By law, a person having “unlawful sexual intercourse” with a person younger than 16 is subject to five years’ imprisonment, while unlawful sexual intercourse with a person younger than 13 carries a sentence of life imprisonment. The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and procuring children for commercial sex. The law makes it an offense to possess, produce, copy, import, or export pornography involving a child or to publish or cause to be published any advertisement that conveys, or is likely to be understood as conveying, the message that a person has published, publishes, or intends to publish any child pornography. Authorities enforced the law. The penalty for creation, publication, or advertisement of child pornography is eight years’ imprisonment, while possession carries a penalty of five years’ imprisonment.

International Child Abductions: The SAR is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

The active Jewish community numbered approximately 2,500 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, and the government generally enforced these provisions. The government took action to investigate and punish those responsible for violence or abuses against persons with disabilities. The government generally implemented laws and programs to provide persons with disabilities access to education, employment, the judicial system, and health services. The law on disabilities states that children with separate educational needs must have equal opportunity in accessing education. Some human rights groups considered the SAR’s disability law too limited and that its implementation did not promote equal opportunities. The Social Welfare Department provided training and vocational rehabilitation services to assist persons with disabilities, offered subsidized resident-care services for persons deemed unable to live independently, offered preschool services to children with disabilities, and provided community support services for persons with mental disabilities, their families, and other residents interested in improving their mental health.

The government generally implemented laws and programs to provide persons with disabilities access to information, communications, and buildings, although there were reports of some restrictions. The law calls for improved building access and provides for sanctions against those who discriminate.

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

No laws criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. While the SAR has laws that ban discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, disability, and family status, no law prohibits companies or individuals from discriminating on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. There are also no laws that specifically aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) community. Lawmakers expressed both strong support for, and strong opposition to, LGBTQI+ rights. LGBTQI+ activists reported that they considered the courts to be the primary avenue to secure LGBTQI+ rights and viewed the courts as impartial in decisions on LGBTQI+ issues.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for workers to form and join unions, but the SAR and PRC authorities took repeated actions that violated the principle of union independence. The law does not protect the right to collective bargaining or obligate employers to bargain. The law prohibits civil servants from bargaining collectively.

The law prohibits firing an employee for striking and voids any section of an employment contract that punishes a worker for striking. The commissioner of police has broad authority to control and direct public gatherings, including strikes, in the interest of national security or public safety.

By law an employer may not fire, penalize, or discriminate against an employee who exercises his or her union rights and may not prevent or deter the employee from exercising such rights. Penalties for violations of laws protecting union and related worker rights include fines as well as legal damages paid to workers. Penalties were commensurate with those under other laws involving the denial of civil rights.

The law was not effectively enforced, and the government repressed independent unions and their confederations. SAR and national authorities publicly claimed that strikes and other union-organized activities during the prodemocracy movement in 2019-20 were “anti-China” in nature, and pressure from officials and from PRC-supported media outlets led many unions to disband.

In August, the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, the city’s largest professional trade union with approximately 95,000 members, decided to dissolve after facing pressure from PRC-supported media, which called the union a “poisonous tumor” to be eradicated, and the announcement hours later by the Hong Kong Education Bureau that it would cease working with the union.

On October 3, the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions voted to dissolve. Founded in 1990, the confederation included more than 80 unions from a variety of trades and grew to more than 100,000 members. Chairman Wong Tik-yuen reported that union members received threats against their personal safety if union operations were to continue.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, nor do laws specifically criminalize forced labor. Instead, the SAR uses its Employment and Theft Ordinances to prosecute forced labor and related offenses. Because these violations are typically civil offenses with fines, penalties for these offenses were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, which violate the Crimes Ordinance and carry prison terms.

NGOs expressed concerns that some migrant workers, especially domestic workers in private homes, faced high levels of indebtedness assumed as part of the recruitment process, creating a risk they could be subjected to forced labor through debt-based coercion. Domestic workers in the SAR were mostly women and mainly came from the Philippines, Indonesia, and other Southeast and South Asian countries. The SAR allows for the collection of maximum placement fees of 10 percent of the first month’s wages, but some recruitment firms required large up-front fees in the country of origin that workers struggled to repay. Some locally licensed employment agencies were suspected of colluding with local money lenders and agencies overseas to profit from debt schemes, and some local agencies illegally withheld the passports and employment contracts of domestic workers until they repaid the debt.

SAR authorities stated they encouraged aggrieved workers to file complaints and make use of government conciliation services, and that they actively pursued reports of any labor violations (see section 7.e., Acceptable Conditions of Work).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. Regulations prohibit employment of children younger than 15 in any industrial establishment. Children younger than 13 are prohibited from taking up employment in all economic sectors. Children who are 13 or older may be employed in nonindustrial establishments, subject to certain requirements, such as parental written consent and proof the child has completed the required schooling.

The Labor Department effectively enforced these laws and regularly inspected workplaces to enforce compliance with the regulations. Penalties for child labor law violations include fines and legal damages and were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, that violate the Crimes Ordinance and carry prison terms.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit employment discrimination based on race or ethnicity, disability, family status (marital status or pregnancy), or sex. The law stipulates employers must prove that proficiency in a particular language is a justifiable job requirement if they reject a candidate on those grounds. Regulations do not prohibit employment discrimination on the grounds of age, color, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV or other communicable disease status, or social status. The law authorizes the Equal Opportunities Commission to work towards the elimination of discrimination and harassment as well as to promote equal opportunity for men and women.

The government generally enforced these laws and regulations. In cases in which employment discrimination occurred, SAR courts had broad powers to levy penalties on those violating these laws and regulations. Although the government generally enforced these laws, women reportedly faced some discrimination in employment, salary, welfare, inheritance, and promotion.

Human rights activists and local scholars continued to raise concerns about job prospects for minority students, who were more likely to hold low-paying, low-skilled jobs and earn below-average wages.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The statutory minimum wage was below the poverty line for an average-sized household. The law does not regulate working hours, paid weekly rest, rest breaks, or compulsory overtime for most employees. Several labor groups reported that employers expected extremely long hours and called for legislation to address that concern.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law includes occupational safety and health standards for various industries. Workplace health and safety laws allow workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Employers are required to report any injuries sustained by their employees in work-related accidents.

The Occupational Safety and Health Branch of the Labor Department is responsible for safety and health promotion, identification of unsafe conditions, enforcement of safety management legislation, and policy formulation and implementation. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate investigations and prosecutions. For the first half of the year, the Labor Department reported 14,368 cases of occupational accidents.

The government effectively enforced the law, and the number of labor inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance except in the cases of nonpayment or underpayment of wages to, and working conditions of, domestic workers. There were many press reports regarding poor conditions faced by, and underpayment of wages to, domestic workers. Labor inspectors have the authority to conduct unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Penalties for violations of the minimum wage or occupational safety and health standards include fines, damages, and worker’s compensation payments. These penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes. The Labor Tribunal adjudicated disputes involving nonpayment or underpayment of wages and wrongful dismissal.

India

Executive Summary

India is a multiparty, federal, parliamentary democracy with a bicameral legislature. The president, elected by an electoral college composed of the state assemblies and parliament, is the head of state, and the prime minister is the head of government. The constitution gives the country’s 28 states and nine union territories a high degree of autonomy and primary responsibility for law and order. Electors chose President Ram Nath Kovind in 2017 to serve a five-year term, and Narendra Modi became prime minister for the second time following the victory of the National Democratic Alliance coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2019 general election. Observers considered the parliamentary elections, which included more than 600 million voters, to be free and fair, but there were reports of isolated instances of violence.

The states and union territories have primary responsibility for maintaining law and order, with policy oversight from the central government. Police are within state jurisdiction. The Ministry of Home Affairs controls most paramilitary forces, the internal intelligence bureaus, and national law enforcement agencies, and provides training for senior officials from state police forces. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful and arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or its agents; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by police and prison officials; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention by government authorities; political prisoners or detainees; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on free expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, use of criminal libel laws to prosecute social media speech; restrictions on internet freedom; overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operations of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; refoulement of refugees; serious government corruption; government harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; crimes involving violence and discrimination targeting members of minority groups based on religious affiliation, social status or sexual orientation or gender identity; and forced and compulsory labor, including child labor and bonded labor.

Despite government efforts to address abuses and corruption, a lack of accountability for official misconduct persisted at all levels of government, contributing to widespread impunity. Investigations and prosecutions of individual cases took place, but lax enforcement, a shortage of trained police officers, and an overburdened and underresourced court system contributed to a low number of convictions.

Terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir, northeastern states, and Maoist terrorism-affected areas committed serious abuses, including killings and torture of armed forces personnel, police, government officials, and civilians, kidnapping, and recruitment and use of child soldiers.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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, including extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals and terrorists.

Military courts are primarily responsible for investigating killings by security forces and paramilitary forces.

Reports of prisoners or detainees who were killed or died in police and judicial custody continued. In March the National Campaign Against Torture reported the deaths of 111 persons in police custody in 2020. The report stated 82 of the deaths were due to alleged torture or foul play. Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat reported the highest number of custodial deaths at 11 each, followed by Madhya Pradesh with 10 deaths. A separate Prison Statistics of India (PSI) report from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) documented 1,887 inmate deaths in judicial custody in 2020. The report attributed most prison deaths to natural causes and stated the highest number of custodial deaths occurred in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

In September the National Human Rights Commission required Assam’s director general of police to compile a report in connection with a complaint alleging that police committed extrajudicial killings of more than 20 petty criminals.

On June 18, a Dalit woman collapsed and died while in police custody for suspected theft. The Telangana High Court ordered an investigation into allegations the victim was beaten to death. The Telangana government fired three police officers for their involvement in the custodial death and provided compensation to family members.

On July 22, Ravi Jadav and Sunil Pawar, two members of a tribal community accused of involvement in a bicycle theft case, were found hanging inside a police station in the Navsari District of Gujarat. Three police officials were arrested in connection with the custodial deaths, and on September 18, Navsari police provided compensation to family members of the victims.

In September 2020 the Central Bureau of Investigation filed charges against nine police officials in connection with the custodial deaths of Ponraj and Beniks Jeyaraj in Tamil Nadu. The two men were arrested in June 2020 for violating COVID-19 regulations; police allegedly beat them while in custody, and they subsequently died. The Tamil Nadu government arrested and held without bail 10 police officials alleged to be involved in the deaths, but one official has since died from COVID-19. The trial of the remaining nine was underway.

Killings by government and nongovernment forces were reported in Jammu and Kashmir, northeastern states, and Maoist-affected areas of the country (see section 1.g.). The South Asia Terrorism Portal reported the deaths of 23 civilians throughout the country as a result of terrorism as of November 27.

In July police arrested five persons in connection with the 2018 killing of Rising Kashmir editor in chief Shujaat Bukhari and his two police bodyguards. A police investigation alleged that terrorists belonging to Lashkar-e-Tayyiba targeted Bukhari in retaliation for his support of a government-backed peace effort.

Terrorists committed numerous killings. Maoist terrorists in Jharkhand and Bihar continued to attack security forces and infrastructure facilities, including roads, railways, and communication towers.

Terrorists killed 10 political party leaders in Jammu and Kashmir. On August 9, terrorists fatally shot Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Gulam Rasool Dar and his wife in Anantnag District. Apni Party leader Ghulam Hassan Lone was killed by terrorists on August 19 in Kulgam District.

b. Disappearance

There were allegations police failed to file required arrest reports for detained persons, resulting in unresolved disappearances. Police and government officials denied these claims. The central government reported state government screening committees informed families regarding the status of detainees. There were reports that prison guards sometimes required bribes from families to confirm the detention of their relatives.

Disappearances attributed to government forces, paramilitary forces, and terrorists occurred in areas of conflict during the year (see section 1.g.).

On March 31, UN special rapporteurs asked the central government to provide details regarding allegations of arbitrary detention, extrajudicial killings, and disappearances in Jammu and Kashmir, including the status of Naseer Ahmad Wani, who disappeared in 2019 after being questioned by army soldiers.

The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, Kashmir (APDP) reported two cases of disappearances during the year, one in Bandipora District of North Kashmir in July and another in Baramullah in June. Both persons remained missing, and the APDP claimed the National Human Rights Commission declined to investigate the cases.

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

The law prohibits torture, but there were reports that police forces employed such practices.

Police beatings of prisoners resulted in custodial deaths (see section 1.a.).

The law does not permit authorities to admit coerced confessions into evidence, but nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) alleged authorities used torture to coerce confessions. Authorities allegedly also used torture to extort money or as summary punishment.

There were reports of abuse in prisons at the hands of guards and inmates, as well as reports that police raped female and male detainees.

On May 23, Karnataka police suspended Subinspector Arjun Honkera after Punith K.L, a Dalit man, filed a complaint against Honkera for forcing him to lick the urine of another inmate while he was in police custody. The complainant also alleged police beat him for hours. The Criminal Investigation Department of the Karnataka police arrested Honkera on September 2.

The government authorized the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to investigate rape cases involving police officers. By law the NHRC may also request information regarding cases involving the army and paramilitary forces, but it has no mandate to investigate those cases. NGOs claimed NHRC statistics undercounted the number of rapes committed in police custody. Some rape victims were unwilling to report crimes due to social stigma and fear of retribution if the perpetrator was a police officer or official. There were reports police officials refused to register rape cases.

Victims of crime were sometimes subjected to intimidation, threats, and attacks.

There were reports of security forces acting with impunity, but members were also held accountable for illegal actions. In December 2020 the army indicted an officer and two others for extrajudicial killings in Jammu and Kashmir; a court trial was underway. Jammu and Kashmir police also filed local charges against the accused.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were frequently life threatening, most notably due to inadequate sanitary conditions, lack of medical care, and extreme overcrowding.

Physical Conditions: Prisons were often severely overcrowded, and food, medical care, sanitation, and environmental conditions frequently were inadequate. Potable water was not universally available. Prisons and detention centers remained underfunded and understaffed and lacked sufficient infrastructure. Prisoners were sometimes physically mistreated.

According to the PSI 2020 report released in December, there were 1,306 prisons in the country with a total authorized capacity of 414,033 persons. The actual incarcerated population was 488,511. Persons awaiting trial accounted for approximately 76 percent of the prison population. The law requires detention of juveniles in rehabilitative facilities, but at times authorities detained juveniles in adult prisons, especially in rural areas. Authorities often held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. The PSI 2020 report acknowledged overcrowding as “one of the biggest problems faced by prison inmates.”

According to the India Justice Report 2020, in Uttar Pradesh each correctional officer is responsible for more than 25,000 inmates. In 21 states and union territories, the occupancy rate for prisons was more than 100 percent. The most crowded prisons were Delhi (at 175 percent of capacity), Uttar Pradesh (at 168 percent), and Uttarakhand (at 159 percent).

In May the Odisha Directorate of Prisons set up an exclusive ward in Bhubaneswar to house up to 10 transgender persons. The ward had beds, separate washroom blocks, a hall, and a reading room. State officials announced that similar exclusive wards for transgender persons will be opened in all other prisons in a phased manner. A representative of the transgender community welcomed the move, pointing out that there were previous reports of sexual harassment of transgender inmates held in the regular wards.

On May 7, the Supreme Court ordered state law enforcement agencies to reduce arrests and decongest prisons. The Supreme Court issued a similar ruling in March 2020, which ordered states and union territories to release certain prisoners on parole or interim bail. The state governments of Goa, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, and Maharashtra independently ordered their prison systems to parole or furlough inmates to reduce prison overcrowding during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Administration: Authorities permitted prisoners to register complaints with state and national human rights commissions, but the authority of the commissions extended only to making recommendations. Government officials reportedly often failed to comply with a Supreme Court order instructing the central government and local authorities to conduct regular checks on police stations to monitor custodial violence.

Authorities permitted visitors limited access to prisoners, but some family members claimed authorities denied access to relatives, particularly in areas experiencing high levels of violence, including Jammu and Kashmir.

Independent Monitoring: The NHRC received and investigated prisoner complaints of human rights violations throughout the year. Civil society representatives believed few prisoners filed complaints due to fear of retribution from prison guards or officials.

The NHRC made unannounced visits to monitor state prisons in multiple states. NHRC special rapporteurs visited state prisons on a regular basis throughout the year to verify that authorities provided medical care to all inmates. The NHRC has not publicly released reports on their findings. NHRC jurisdiction does not extend to military detention centers.

Courts sometimes ordered prisoners released on bail to receive medical treatment.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but both occurred during the year. Police also used special security laws to postpone judicial reviews of arrests. Pretrial detention was arbitrary and lengthy, sometimes exceeding the duration of the sentence given to those convicted.

According to human rights NGOs, police used torture, mistreatment, and arbitrary detention to obtain forced or false confessions. In some cases police reportedly held suspects without registering their arrests and denied detainees sufficient food and water.

Following the 2019 abrogation of autonomous status for Jammu and Kashmir, authorities used a public safety law to detain local politicians without trial, but most were subsequently released. Media reports indicated some of those released were asked to sign bonds agreeing not to engage in political activity after release. A few prominent politicians declined to sign and were still released. Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, who was released in October 2020, alleged that she was frequently subjected to periods of house arrest.

On February 13, New Delhi police arrested climate activist Disha Ravi in Bengaluru on sedition charges. The authorities accused Ravi of creating and sharing a document that included instructions on fomenting violence. After Ravi spent 10 days in jail, a New Delhi court granted her bail on February 23, noting a citizen’s right to dissent from the government.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

In cases other than those involving security risks, terrorism, or insurgency, police may detain an individual without charge for up to 30 days, but an arrested person must be brought before a judge within 24 hours of arrest. Lengthy arbitrary detention remained a significant problem due to overburdened and underresourced court systems and a lack of legal safeguards.

Arraignment of detainees must occur within 24 hours unless authorities hold the suspect under a preventive detention law. The law allows police to summon individuals for questioning, but it does not grant police prearrest investigative detention authority. There were incidents in which authorities allegedly detained suspects beyond legal limits. By law authorities must allow family member access to detainees, but this law was not always observed.

Due to delays in completing repatriation procedures, foreign nationals often remained incarcerated beyond the expiration of their sentences, including those charged under the immigration act for irregular entry or stay. The PSI 2020 noted a category of 765 “other” prisoners pending release; experts analyzing the previous editions of the PSI report stated this category most likely represented those who had completed sentences but had not yet been released. This included approximately 270 Rohingya arrested for illegal entry, of whom 147 had reportedly completed their sentences.

The law requires every arrested person to be produced before a judicial magistrate within 24 hours of arrest. Other than in Jammu and Kashmir, the National Security Act allows police to detain persons considered security risks without charge or trial for as long as one year. The law allows family members and lawyers to visit national security detainees and requires authorities to inform a detainee of the grounds for detention within five days, or 10 to 15 days in exceptional circumstances. Nonetheless, rights activists noted instances where these provisions were not followed in Odisha, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharashtra. Under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), the central government may designate a state or union territory as a “disturbed area,” authorizing security forces in the state to use deadly force to “maintain law and order” and to arrest any person “against whom reasonable suspicion exists” without informing the detainee of the grounds for arrest. The law also provides security forces immunity from civilian prosecution for acts committed in regions under the AFSPA.

The designation as a disturbed area under the AFSPA remained in effect in Nagaland, parts of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, and Assam, and a version of the law was in effect in Jammu and Kashmir. The AFSPA was renewed through January, and again in June in Nagaland, which has been under the AFSPA for nearly six decades. It was also extended in Assam, Manipur, and in three districts of Arunachal Pradesh. On December 27, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced the creation of a committee to review the continuation of the AFSPA in Nagaland.

Human rights organizations asserted the law is in violation of Article 21 of the constitution and continued to call for its repeal, citing numerous alleged human rights violations.

The Public Safety Act (PSA), which applies only in Jammu and Kashmir, permits authorities to detain persons without charge or judicial review for up to two years without visitation from family members. The press reported that the number of PSA detentions rose to 331 from 134 in 2020.

Authorities in Jammu and Kashmir allowed detainees access to a lawyer during interrogation, but human rights groups documented that police routinely employed arbitrary detention and denied detainees access to lawyers and medical attention.

Authorities must promptly inform persons detained on criminal charges of the charges against them and of their right to legal counsel. By law a magistrate may authorize the detention of an accused person for a period of no more than 90 days prior to filing charges. Under standard criminal procedure, authorities must release the accused on bail after 90 days if charges are not filed.

NCRB data from January 2020 showed that most individuals awaiting trial spent more than three months in jail before they could secure bail, and more than 63 percent spent between three months and five years before being released on bail. According to the India Justice Report 2020, one in four court cases have been pending for more than five years.

The law also permits authorities to hold a detainee in judicial custody without charge for up to 180 days (including the 30 days in police custody). The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), which gives authorities the ability to detain persons for up to 180 days without charge in cases related to insurgency or terrorism, makes no bail provisions for foreign nationals, and it allows courts to deny bail in the case of detained citizens. The UAPA presumes the accused to be guilty if the prosecution can produce evidence of the possession of firearms or explosives or the presence of fingerprints at a crime scene, regardless of whether authorities demonstrate criminal intent. State governments also reportedly held persons without bail for extended periods before filing formal charges under the UAPA. The NCRB Crime in India 2020 report released in September revealed that 796 new UAPA cases were registered in 2020.

In 2019 parliament passed an amendment to the UAPA that allows the government to designate individuals as terrorists and provides new authorities to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to seize properties acquired from proceeds of terrorism.

States and union territories with terrorist activity, including Manipur and Jammu and Kashmir, also saw an increase in the application of the UAPA. Media reported that since 2019, the Jammu and Kashmir administration had booked more than 2,300 persons in approximately 1,200 cases under the UAPA. Of those, 46 percent remained in jail as of August, according to government figures.

On November 23, Kashmiri human rights defender Khurram Parvez was arrested by the NIA for “terror funding” and “conspiracy”; both his home and office were raided. His arrest was immediately criticized by domestic and international civil society. UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor and other UN experts called for his immediate release in a joint statement on December 22.

In September 2020 former Jawaharlal Nehru University student leader Umar Khalid was arrested under the UAPA for making a speech during protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA). He remained in jail and claimed prosecutors were delaying the start of his trial. In a related case, the Delhi High Court ordered the release of student leaders Asif Iqbal Tanha, Natasha Narwal, and Devangana Kalita in June. The three had been charged under the UAPA for allegedly conspiring to incite the 2020 Delhi riots.

Multiple courts have denied bail to the majority of 15 activists incarcerated on conspiracy charges related to the Elgaar Parishad Bhima Koregaon protests that resulted in several deaths. The accused claimed the charges were politically motivated. On February 21, the Bombay High Court granted conditional bail on medical grounds for six months to Varvara Rao, an 81-year-old human rights activist, following his hospitalization for COVID-19 in June 2020. The NIA petitioned for Rao’s return to prison following several bail extensions despite his health’s improvement; in December the Bombay High Court ordered the matter be discussed during a further hearing early in 2022.

On July 5, 84-year-old human rights activist and Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy died in a private hospital after contracting COVID-19 in prison. A NIA Special Court had rejected multiple bail pleas submitted on medical grounds, including Swamy’s diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, other age-related illnesses, and multiple falling incidents in prison, in the months following Father Swamy’s arrest in October 2020. Activist Sudha Bharadwaj was released on bail in December.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention, but in some cases, police reportedly continued to arrest persons arbitrarily. There were reports of police detaining individuals for custodial interrogation without identifying themselves or providing arrest warrants.

On March 9, paramilitary personnel and local police of the Dantewada District in Chhattisgarh detained human rights activist Hidme Markam without a warrant during an event to recognize International Women’s Day and Adivasi rights. She remained in jail after charges were filed under the UAPA.

On June 15, police in Jammu and Kashmir detained political activist Sajad Sofi after he criticized government officers who were posted in Jammu and Kashmir from other parts of the country. Sofi was released four days later.

Pretrial Detention: NCRB data reported 371,848 prisoners were awaiting trial at the end of 2020, totaling 76 percent of the country’s prison population. Media reported the high numbers of pretrial detainees contributed to prison overcrowding.

The Telangana Prisons Department stated that since 2019 a total of 429 persons facing trial remained in prisons despite securing bail. The report noted the accused belonged to low-income families that did not have sufficient money to pay for bail. Telangana officials said COVID-19 had hampered the activities of the NGOs that visit prisons and pay bail money.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary and the government generally respected judicial independence, but the judicial system experienced delays, capacity challenges, and corruption.

The judicial system remained seriously overburdened and lacked modern case management systems, often delaying or denying justice. According to Department of Justice statistics released in January, there were 402 judicial vacancies out of 1,098 positions on the country’s 25 high courts.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, except in proceedings that involve official secrets or state security. Defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence, except as described under UAPA conditions, and may choose their counsel. The constitution specifies the state should provide free legal counsel to defendants who cannot afford it to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen, but circumstances often limited access to competent counsel. An overburdened justice system resulted in lengthy delays in court cases, with disposition sometimes taking more than a decade.

There were reported cases in which police denied suspects the right to meet with legal counsel as well as cases in which police unlawfully monitored suspects’ conversations and violated their confidentiality rights.

While defendants have the right to confront accusers and present their own witnesses and evidence, defendants sometimes did not exercise this right due to lack of proper legal representation. Defendants have the right not to testify or confess guilt. Courts must announce sentences publicly, and there are effective channels for appeal at most levels of the judicial system.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of political prisoners and detainees. NGOs reported the central government held political prisoners and temporarily detained individuals in Jammu and Kashmir under the PSA. In August the lieutenant governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Manoj Sinha, announced the formation of a committee to investigate the cases of political prisoners detained under the PSA. Sinha stated no politician remained in detention under the PSA in Jammu and Kashmir.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals or NGOs on behalf of individuals or groups may file public-interest litigation petitions in any high court or directly to the Supreme Court to seek judicial redress of public injury. Grievances may include a breach of public duty by a government agent or a violation of a constitutional provision. NGOs credited public-interest litigation petitions with making government officials accountable to civil society organizations in cases involving allegations of corruption and partiality.

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

While the constitution does not contain an explicit right to privacy, the Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that privacy is a “fundamental right.”

The law, with some exceptions, prohibits arbitrary interference. The government generally respected this provision; at times authorities infringed upon the privacy rights of citizens. The law requires police to obtain warrants to conduct searches and seizures, except for cases in which such actions would cause undue delay. Police must justify warrantless searches in writing to the nearest magistrate with jurisdiction over the offense.

Both the central and state governments legally intercepted communications. A Group of Experts on Privacy convened in 2018 by the central government noted the country lacked a comprehensive consumer data-protection framework.

The UAPA also allows use of evidence obtained from intercepted communications in terrorism cases. In Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, and Manipur, security officials have special authorities to search and arrest without a warrant.

There were reports that government authorities accessed, collected, or used private communication arbitrarily or unlawfully or without appropriate legal authority and developed practices that allow for the arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, including the use of technology to arbitrarily or unlawfully surveil or interfere with the privacy of individuals.

Privacy concerns were raised by The Wire, an online media outlet, that published a series of stories alleging dozens of journalists were potential targets for surveillance by Pegasus malware developed by NSO Group Technologies. The Wire cited forensic analysis conducted by Amnesty International on phone numbers that showed signs of either attempted or successful infiltration. In October the Supreme Court ordered an independent probe on these allegations.

The government denied conducting surveillance activities that violated laws or formally established procedures. Laws permit the government to intercept calls to protect the sovereignty and integrity of the country, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, for public order, or for preventing incitement to the commission of an offense.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

The country’s armed forces, the security forces of individual states, and paramilitary forces engaged with terrorist groups in several northeastern states and Jammu and Kashmir, and with Maoist terrorists in the northern, central, and eastern parts of the country. The intensity of these conflicts continued to decline. The army and security forces remained stationed in conflict areas in the northeastern states, Jharkhand, and Bihar. The armed forces and police also engaged with terrorist groups in Jammu and Kashmir.

The use of force by all parties resulted in deaths and injuries to both conflict participants and civilians. There were reports government security forces committed extrajudicial killings. Human rights groups claimed police sometimes refused to release bodies. Authorities did not require the armed forces to report custodial deaths to the NHRC.

There were few investigations and prosecutions of human rights violations or abuses arising from internal conflicts.

Killings: Terrorists used violence against the state, including killings, while government security forces conducted operations against these groups sometimes leading to the deaths of intended targets or nonparticipants.

On October 8, Parvez Ahmad Bokda died when members of the Central Reserve Police Force opened fire in what they claimed was self-defense at a checkpoint in Jammu and Kashmir. Local observers said the death was the result of “disproportionate force” and pressed for action against the security personnel involved. On October 24, Shahid Ajaz was killed in crossfire between security forces and terrorists, according to initial police reports. Media reported 12 civilian deaths in Jammu and Kashmir by terrorist or security forces in October.

On April 3, Maoist terrorists killed 22 members of security forces in Chhattisgarh. The ambush marked the largest death toll for security forces battling the guerrillas since 2017.

Maoist insurgents allegedly killed former colleagues on suspicion of acting as informants for law enforcement. Korra Pilku of Andhra Pradesh and Santosh Dandasena of Odisha were allegedly killed for working with police officials.

Abductions: Human rights groups maintained that insurgent groups abducted persons in Chhattisgarh, Manipur, Jharkhand, and Jammu and Kashmir.

Maoist groups in Chhattisgarh used abduction to intimidate law enforcement and the local population. Media reports alleged Maoists killed Constable Sannu Punem after abducting him in Bijapur District of Chhattisgarh. Additionally, Maoist rebels were suspected of kidnapping 11 persons who attended a police recruitment event.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: There were reports government security forces tortured and mistreated insurgents in custody and injured demonstrators. Human rights activists alleged some prisoners were tortured or killed during detention.

The postmortem report on A Velmurugan, a member of a Maoist terrorist group killed by anti-insurgency forces in Kerala in November 2020, showed he “sustained 44 lacerated penetrative and nonpenetrative wounds on all sides of his body,” leading human rights activists to allege torture.

Waheed-Ur-Rehman Parra, a Kashmiri politician detained by the National Intelligence Agency on alleged terrorist charges, was granted bail in January. On March 31, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer cosigned a report raising concerns of Parra’s alleged torture in custody. The government denied these allegations, and soon after the report was made public, Parra was re-arrested. Parra was still in custody at year’s end.

Child Soldiers: In May the United Nations released the Children and Armed Conflict report, which identified the recruitment of two minors by unidentified perpetrators. The United Nations also stated it was investigating reports that security forces used three minors for less than 24 hours.

Insurgent groups reportedly recruited teenagers for support roles. There were reports terrorist groups recruited children from schools in Chhattisgarh.

On July 27, the federal minister of state for home affairs informed parliament that Maoist terrorists in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand states were recruiting children and providing them military training.

Speaking at the UN Security Council’s Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict on July 28, the foreign secretary called for an end to impunity for all those involved in recruiting child soldiers. He called for greater accountability and sincere efforts in bringing the perpetrators to justice.

Other Conflict-related Abuse: In 2020 the Ministry of Home Affairs informed parliament’s lower house there were approximately 65,000 registered Kashmiri migrant families across the country. Tens of thousands of Hindus, known as Kashmiri Pandits, fled the Kashmir Valley after 1990 because of violent intimidation that included murders, destruction of temples, and rapes by Kashmiri Muslim residents.

In March the Ministry of Home Affairs informed parliament that 3,800 Kashmiri Pandit migrants had returned to Jammu and Kashmir since the 1990s, 520 of whom had returned after August 2019. In July the Ministry of Home Affairs reported to parliament that 1,997 candidates from the Kashmiri Pandit community had been selected for jobs in Jammu and Kashmir.

In the central and eastern areas, armed conflicts between Maoist insurgents and government security forces over land and mineral resources in tribal forest areas continued. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal’s existing-conflict map, Maoist-affected states included Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Assam. Human rights advocates alleged the security operations sought not only to suppress terrorism but also to force tribal populations from their land.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, but it does not explicitly mention freedom of the press. The government generally respected this right, but there were instances in which the government or actors considered close to the government allegedly pressured or harassed media outlets critical of the government, including through online trolling. There were also reports of terrorists and extremists perpetrating killings, violence, and intimidation against journalists critical of the government.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals routinely criticized the government publicly and privately via online platforms, television, radio, or in print media. According to the HRW World Report 2021, the government “increasingly harassed, arrested, and prosecuted rights defenders, activists, journalists, students, academics, and others critical of the government or its policies.” Harassment and detainment of journalists critical of the government in their reporting or social media messaging continued.

Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2021 report downgraded the country’s ranking from “Free” to “Partly Free,” due in part to “a crackdown on expressions of dissent by media, academics, civil society groups, and protesters.” The Freedom House report stated authorities used security, defamation, sedition, and hate speech laws, as well as contempt-of-court charges, to curb critical voices. Media contacts said that some media outlets practiced self-censorship in response to the government reportedly withholding public-sector advertising from some outlets critical of the government.

On January 1, Madhya Pradesh police arrested stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui and four other persons for offending religious sentiments with jokes he allegedly planned to perform. The Supreme Court granted Faruqui bail in February, stating the allegations against him were vague.

On February 1, the government ordered Twitter to block accounts belonging to journalists covering the protests against agricultural reform laws, stating the order was to prevent a potential escalation of violence. Twitter initially complied with the government’s request, but subsequently restored access to the accounts after conducting an internal review.

On May 13, Manipur police arrested social activist Erendro Leichombam for a Facebook post critical of a BJP leader who advocated cow dung and cow urine as cures for COVID-19. On July 19, the Supreme Court granted bail to Leichombam, who was previously kept in preventive detention under the National Security Act after being granted bail by a lower court.

On July 24, Tamil Nadu police arrested Father George Ponnaiah, a Catholic priest, for alleged hate speech against the prime minister and home minister. The priest was attending a July 18 meeting honoring deceased tribal rights activist Father Stan Swamy. The court remanded Ponnaiah to judicial custody for 15 days, and the Madras High Court granted conditional bail on August 10.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views. The law prohibits content that could harm religious sentiments or provoke enmity among groups, and authorities invoked these provisions to restrict print media; broadcast media; digital media platforms, including streaming services; and publication or distribution of books.

There were reports from journalists and NGOs that government officials at both the local and national levels were involved in intimidating critical media outlets through physical harassment and attacks, pressuring owners, targeting sponsors, encouraging frivolous lawsuits, and in some areas blocking communication services, such as mobile telephones and the internet, and constraining freedom of movement.

NGOs alleged criminal prosecutions and investigations were used to intimidate journalists critical of the government.

The Reporters without Borders 2021 World Press Freedom Index described the country as very dangerous for journalists, with press freedom violations by police, political activists, criminal groups, and local officials. The report also identified “coordinated hate campaigns waged on social networks,” encouraging threats against journalists as a major area of concern. Harassment and violence were particularly acute for female journalists. Journalists working in Jammu and Kashmir continued to face barriers to free reporting through communications and movement restrictions.

In Jammu and Kashmir at least six journalists were assaulted, detained, or questioned by police through August according to the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society. In 2020 the government introduced a new media regulation in Jammu and Kashmir empowering local administration to determine “fake and antinational news” and to initiate criminal charges against journalists. The Kashmir Press Club protested the policy and alleged that the government was institutionalizing intimidation by exploiting the policy against media platforms critical of the government.

In January, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat, Karnataka, and New Delhi police filed charges against India Today anchor Rajdeep Sardesai; National Herald senior consulting editor Mrinal Pande; Qaumi Awaz editor Zafar Agha; the Caravan founder Paresh Nath, editor Anant Nath, and executive editor Vinod K. Jose; and Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor. The charges included sedition, intent to cause riot, and other charges through their coverage of a violent January 26 protest. The Supreme Court granted the individuals a stay of arrest on February 9.

On March 5, journalists Shafat Farooq and Saqib Majeed said they were beaten by police during a protest in Srinagar. On July 17, Kashmiri journalist Aakash Hassan was allegedly assaulted by police. In August, Jammu and Kashmir police detained and questioned journalist Irfan Malik concerning tweets critical of the Jammu Kashmir government’s film promotion policy.

On April 7, Jammu and Kashmir Police inspector general Vijay Kumar issued a warning that police would file criminal charges against journalists who approached ongoing police counterterrorism operations, on the grounds that such reporting was “likely to incite violence” or promote “antinational sentiment.” The Editors Guild of India criticized the prohibitions as “draconian and undemocratic.”

Media reported criminal charges were filed against individuals who posted requests for oxygen supplies via social media during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 28, police in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh, filed charges against 26-year-old Shashank Yadav for tweeting a plea for oxygen for his grandfather. On April 30, the Supreme Court warned that states should protect citizens’ right to communicate their grievances regarding the COVID-19 pandemic on social media.

On June 15, Uttar Pradesh police filed charges against Twitter; online news platform The Wire; journalists Rana Ayyub, Saba Naqvi, and Mohammad Zubair; and Congress leaders Salman Nizami, Masqoor Usmani, and Sama Mohammad for “stoking communal unrest” by posting video footage of the assault of an elderly Muslim man.

On July 22, the Income Tax Department searched 32 office and residential locations affiliated with the Dainik Bhaskar Group, publisher of Dainik Bhaskar, the country’s second-most-read Hindi language newspaper. The Income Tax Department also raided the offices of Hindi language television station Bharat Samachar. Government sources asserted the raids were a result of alleged tax evasion by the media groups. The media groups claimed the raids were conducted as retaliation for investigative reporting during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In February the Kashmir Press Club stated security agencies had routinely deployed intimidation tactics such as threats, summonses, and physical attacks on journalists in Jammu and Kashmir. On February 8, police summoned journalists Naseer Ganai and Haroon Nabi to the police facility, where they were questioned for reporting on a statement by the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front.

In June the Jammu and Kashmir government released Media Policy 2020, a policy which authorizes the Directorate of Information and Publication Relations to “examine” the content of print, electronic, and other forms of media for “fake news, plagiarism, and unethical or antinational activities” in the name of law and order. Under the new media policy, government action could range from legal proceedings against journalists for “indulging in fake news, unethical or antinational activities, or plagiarism” to withholding advertisements from any media that “incite or tends to incite violence, question sovereignty and the integrity of India, or violate the accepted norms of public decency and behavior.”

On June 13, Uttar Pradesh authorities charged Scroll.in executive editor Supriya Sharma for a news report critical of the COVID-19 lockdown; she was charged with violating the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and sections of the penal code regarding printing defamatory matter and negligent acts likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life. Police also charged the Mumbai-based editor in chief of Scroll.in. On August 26, the Allahabad High Court granted Sharma protection from immediate arrest in the case but allowed the investigation to continue.

On July 1, UNESCO director general Audrey Azoulay called for authorities to end “gunpoint censorship” and prosecute those responsible for the killing of Shubham Mani Tripathi, a journalist for the newspaper Kampu Mail. Tripathi died on June 19 when he was shot six times by two gunmen in Uttar Pradesh. His killing was allegedly in retaliation for his investigative reports into connections between illegal sand mining and corruption allegations. The two assailants, along with a third individual, were arrested.

The government maintained a monopoly on AM radio stations, limiting broadcasting to the state-owned All India Radio, and restricted FM radio licenses to entertainment and educational content. Widely distributed private satellite television provided competition for Doordarshan, the government-owned television network. There were accusations of political interference in the state-owned broadcasters. State governments banned the import or sale of selected books that contained material government officials deemed could be inflammatory or provoke communal or religious tensions.

On May 14, Andhra Pradesh police filed sedition charges against Telugu news channels TV5 and ABN Andhra Jyothi for broadcasting the speeches and statements of Member of Parliament K. Raghu Ramakrishna Raju that allegedly “promoted enmity and hatred among different communities.” Police arrested Raju and filed sedition charges against him. On May 21, the Supreme Court granted bail to the lawmaker; on May 31, the Supreme Court blocked Andhra Pradesh police from acting against the two channels.

Violence and Harassment: The Committee to Protect Journalists reported five journalists were killed during the year. Journalists were threatened online with violence and, in the case of female journalists, rape.

On March 24, Syandan Patrika journalist Bikash Das was assaulted in Tripura while covering a story on corruption. A group of assailants attacked Das, inflicting serious injuries before he was able to escape.

On June 13, Uttar Pradesh journalist Sulabh Srivastava was found dead under mysterious circumstances. On the day before his death, Sulabh wrote to seek protection from Uttar Pradesh police, claiming he faced danger after reporting on organized crime in the city. Police reported the cause of Srivastava’s death as a motorcycle accident.

In July photojournalist Masrat Zahra, who relocated to Germany after UAPA charges were filed against her, alleged her parents were beaten by Jammu and Kashmir police because of her work.

On August 8, journalist Chennakeshavalu was stabbed to death by two suspects allegedly for his reporting on illegal gambling activities in Andhra Pradesh. Police arrested Venkata Subbaiah, a police officer, and his brother Nani for suspected murder.

Online and mobile harassment was prevalent, and reports of internet “trolling,” continued to rise. In some instances police used information provided by anonymous social media users as a pretext to initiate criminal proceedings against journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Citizens generally enjoyed freedom of speech, but the government continued to censor and restrict content based on broad public and national interest provisions in Article 19 of the constitution.

On February 25, the government published new regulations to govern social media platforms, messaging services, and streaming service that delivers content directly to the consumer over the internet. Human rights advocates and journalists expressed concerns that these rules would curtail freedom of speech and expression, and several media organizations filed legal actions against the regulations. They contended that parts of IT Rules 2021 are unconstitutional and contrary to the necessity and proportionality standard laid down by the Supreme Court in the 2018 Puttaswamy v. India decision guaranteeing the right to privacy in the constitution. In response to one such challenge on August 14, the Mumbai High Court ordered a stay on implementation of Rules 9(1) and 9(3) of the IT Rules 2021, which require digital news media and online publishers to adhere to a prescribed code of ethics and establish a three-tier grievance redressal mechanism.

Libel/Slander Laws: Individuals continued to face legal action for posting offensive or derogatory material on social media. In January the Delhi High Court dismissed a criminal defamation case filed by a former senior official against Priya Ramani, accusing Ramani of sexual harassment. The court noted, “a woman cannot be punished for raising her voice against sexual abuse.”

National Security: In some cases government authorities cited laws protecting national interest to restrict media content. The government banned more than 200 Chinese mobile apps because they were “prejudicial” to the sovereignty and security of the country.

Internet Freedom

There were government restrictions on access to the internet, disruptions of access to the internet, censorship of online content, and there were reports the government occasionally monitored users of digital media, such as chat rooms and person-to-person communications. The law permits the government to block internet sites and content and criminalizes sending messages the government deems inflammatory or offensive. Both central and state governments have the power to issue directives for blocking, intercepting, monitoring, or decrypting computer information. The government temporarily blocked telecommunications and internet connections in certain regions during periods of political unrest.

In January 2020 the Supreme Court declared access to the internet a fundamental right guaranteed by the constitution. In 2015 the Supreme Court overturned some provisions of the information technology law that restricted content published on social media but upheld the government’s authority to block online content “in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defense of India, security of the state, and friendly relations with foreign states or public order” without court approval. The government may shut telephone and internet services temporarily during a “public emergency” or for “public safety.” A suspension order can be issued by a “competent authority” at either the federal or the state level.

NGO Software Freedom Law Center reported the central and state governments conducted localized internet shutdowns 36 times as of October. For example, according to Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, Jammu and Kashmir experienced 19 instances of internet shutdown as of August.

Press outlets reported instances in which individuals and journalists were arrested or detained for online activity. Police continued to arrest individuals based on the Information Technology Act for legitimate online activity, despite a 2015 Supreme Court ruling striking down the statute as unconstitutional; experts claimed the arrests were an abuse of legal processes.

The Central Monitoring System continued to allow government agencies to monitor electronic communications in real time without informing the subject or a judge. The monitoring system is an indigenous mass electronic surveillance data mining program installed by the Center for Development of Telematics, a government-owned telecommunications technology development center.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

Contacts reported a few Kashmiri academics attempting to travel internationally to attend academic conferences or pursue professional assignments were prohibited from leaving the country.

In January the Ministry of Education issued guidelines for holding virtual conferences and seminars that required local universities to seek government approval for any virtual discussions, including approval of the names of all participants, and prohibited virtual events related to security matters. The academic community, including the country’s two largest science academies representing 1,500 scientists, protested and requested the elimination of these regulations. In February the government withdrew the guidelines and left in place a 2008 rule that only concerned in-person conferences.

In July, Madhya Pradesh police warned the administration of Dr. Harisingh Gour University of possible action based on the national penal code “if religious and caste sentiments are hurt” during an international webinar titled Culture and Linguistic Hurdles in the Achievement of Scientific Temper. The police warning was prompted by a complaint from the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, which objected to the topic as well as past statements and “antinational mentality” of the academic participants.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for freedom of assembly. Authorities often required permits and notification before parades or demonstrations, and local governments generally respected the right to protest peacefully. Jammu and Kashmir was an exception, where the state government sometimes denied permits to separatist political parties for public gatherings, and security forces reportedly detained and assaulted members of political groups engaged in peaceful protest (see section 1.g.). During periods of civil unrest in Jammu and Kashmir, authorities used the law to ban public assemblies and impose curfews.

Freedom of Association

The law provides for freedom of association. While the government generally respected this right, the government’s increased monitoring and regulation of NGOs that received foreign funding caused concern. In certain cases the government suspended foreign banking licenses or froze accounts of NGOs that allegedly received foreign funding without authorization or that unlawfully mixed foreign and domestic funding. In other instances the government canceled or declined to renew Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) registrations.

In September 2020 parliament passed amendments to the FCRA that placed additional limitations on the international funding of nongovernmental organizations. Financial consultants and NGO leaders believed the new legislation would severely restrict the ability of smaller, regional organizations to raise funds and diminish collaboration between the government and civil society.

Some NGOs reported an increase in random FCRA compliance inspections by Ministry of Home Affairs officials. FCRA licenses were also reportedly canceled periodically based on confidential investigations by the Intelligence Bureau.

Some NGOs stated they were targeted as a reprisal for their work on “politically sensitive” topics such as human rights or environmental activism. In September 2020 Amnesty International India (AII) closed its offices after a two-year FCRA investigation charged the organization with financial irregularities resulting in the suspension of its local bank accounts. In February the Enforcement Directorate froze access to AII assets worth more than 170 million rupees ($2.3 million) as part of a money-laundering investigation.

On March 31, the National Investigation Agency conducted searches of suspected terrorist organizations at 31 locations across Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The Human Rights Forum described the searches as intimidation intended to stifle lawful protest, while a representative of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties alleged that human rights activists were being deliberately targeted and silenced by this law enforcement action.

On June 7, the government temporarily suspended the FCRA license of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) for alleged violations. CHRI lawyers believe the enforcement action was taken as retribution for CHRI’s human rights work. Subsequently, the Delhi High Court allowed the human rights organization access up to 25 percent of the impounded funds to pay staff salaries.

On September 16, Enforcement Directorate officials raided the home and office of human rights activist Harsh Mander. Authorities alleged Mander violated provisions of the FCRA. Human Rights Watch claimed authorities repeatedly targeted Mander, who has criticized the government’s “discriminatory policies against religious minorities.” On September 29, more than 30 activists and intellectuals released a statement condemning the raids as a tactic to harass and intimidate Mander.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

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

In-country Movement: The central government relaxed restrictions on travel by foreigners to Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, and parts of Jammu and Kashmir, excluding foreign nationals from Pakistan, China, and Burma. The Ministry of Home Affairs and state governments required citizens to obtain special permits when traveling to certain states. Inner Line Permits are required in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, and Manipur.

Foreign Travel: The government may legally deny a passport to any applicant for engaging in activities outside the country “prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of the nation.”

The government delayed issuance and renewal of passports to citizens from Jammu and Kashmir, sometimes for up to two years. The government reportedly subjected applicants born in Jammu and Kashmir, including children born to military officers deployed there, to additional scrutiny and police clearances before issuing them passports.

Citizenship: In 2019 parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Act, which provides an expedited path to citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian religious minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. The act does not include Muslims from those countries and does not apply to the tribal areas of Assam and Tripura, most of Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, or Tripura. Following passage of the act, widespread protests against its passage and the exclusion of Muslims from the statute occurred throughout the country, leading to arrests, targeted communications shutdowns, bans on assembly, and deaths in a few instances.

On July 27, the minister of state for home affairs notified parliament that the government required additional time to further develop and notify the rules for the CAA, effectively meaning that the law was not in effect during the year.

Approximately 1.9 million residents of the state of Assam, which borders Bangladesh, were left off the Supreme Court-mandated National Register of Citizens (NRC) register in Assam. The government established procedures for appeals. The nationality status of those excluded remained unclear, pending the adjudication of appeals. On May 13, Assam’s NRC authorities requested Supreme Court permission for a reverification of the NRC list.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Settlements of internally displaced persons (IDPs) existed throughout the country. In 2020 approximately 3,900 persons were displaced because of conflicts and violence, while natural disasters displaced almost four million persons.

Precise numbers of those displaced by conflict or violence were difficult to obtain because the government does not monitor the movements of displaced persons, and humanitarian and human rights agencies had limited access to camps and affected regions. While authorities registered residents of IDP camps, an unknown number of displaced persons resided outside the camps. Many IDPs lacked sufficient food, clean water, shelter, and health care (see section 1.g., Other Conflict-related Abuse).

National policy or legislation did not address the matter of internal displacement resulting from armed conflict or from ethnic or communal violence. The welfare of IDPs was generally the purview of state governments and local authorities, allowing for gaps in services and poor accountability. The central government provided limited assistance to IDPs but allowed NGOs and human rights organizations access to IDPs; neither access nor assistance was standard for all IDPs or all situations.

On April 20, nearly 400 families of Mizoram’s Bru tribe left a temporary camp and relocated to permanent homes. Since 1997, nearly 37,000 Brus have lived in six relief camps after they fled Mizoram’s Mamit, Kolasib, and Lunglei Districts. In 2020 the central government, along with the state governments of Tripura and Mizoram, signed an agreement with the leaders of the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum that allowed Brus to settle permanently in Tripura.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing minimal protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern. While UNHCR does not have an official agreement with the government, it is able to assist asylum seekers and refugees from noncontiguous countries. UNHCR did not have direct access to newly arriving refugees on the country’s border with Burma or protracted Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu.

The country hosted a large refugee population, including more than 73,404 Tibetan refugees, per the latest census conducted by Central Tibetan Relief Committee. More than 92,000 refugees from Sri Lanka lived in the country as of July 1. In February, Burmese nationals fleeing violence in Burma began arriving in Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland states. The estimated number of Burmese refugees varied widely from approximately 5,000 to 20,000. A protection working group consisting of civil society and humanitarian organizations provides basic humanitarian assistance to this population.

UNHCR reported 736 Afghans registered for protection between August 1 and September 30, and it established a telephone helpline to answer queries from this population. The Ministry of Home Affairs announced an emergency e-visa for Afghan nationals seeking emergency entry into India on August 17 after the collapse of the previous Afghan government. On September 5, a Ministry of Home Affairs official stated that no Afghan national would be required to leave the country without prior approval of the Home Ministry.

The courts protected refugees and asylum seekers in accordance with the constitution. The Supreme Court, however, issued an order allowing the deportation of a group of Rohingya on April 8. The group of more than 150 Rohingya were detained on March 6 for illegally residing in Jammu and Kashmir. The government argued Rohingya were illegal migrants who had crossed the border. They enjoyed equal protection of law, but their right to movement was restricted.

In many cases refugees and asylum seekers under UNHCR’s mandate reported increased obstacles to regularizing their status through long-term visas and residence permits.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. Absent a legal framework, the government sometimes granted asylum on a situational basis on humanitarian grounds in accordance with international law. This approach resulted in varying standards of protection for different refugee and asylum-seeker groups. The government recognized refugees from Tibet and Sri Lanka and generally honored UNHCR decisions on refugee status determination for individuals from other countries.

UNHCR maintained an office in New Delhi, where it registered refugees and asylum seekers, made refugee status determinations, and provided some services. The government permitted UNHCR and its partner staff access to refugees in other urban centers and allowed it to operate in Tamil Nadu to assist with Sri Lankan refugee repatriation. Access to some refugees or asylum seekers in detention was granted.

The government generally permitted NGOs, international humanitarian organizations, and foreign governments access to Sri Lankan refugee camps and Tibetan settlements, but it generally denied access to asylum seekers in Mizoram, Manipur, and Jammu and Kashmir. The government denied requests for some foreigners to visit Tibetan settlements in Ladakh.

After the end of the Sri Lankan civil war, the government ceased registering Sri Lankans as refugees. The Tamil Nadu government cooperated with UNHCR by providing exit permission for Sri Lankan refugees to repatriate voluntarily; however, UNHCR did not have access to Sri Lankan refugees who remained in Tamil Nadu.

Excluding Tibetan and Sri Lankan refugees, 43,157 persons of concern were registered by UNHCR as of the end of August.

Refoulement: The government advocated for the return of refugees to Burma. According to UNHCR, at least 26 non-Rohingya refugees (of an estimated 40,000) have been deported since late 2016.

On April 2, Assam police took a 14-year-old Rohingya girl from a shelter home to the international border in Manipur for deportation to Burma. Burmese immigration officials reportedly refused to accept the girl, and police returned the girl to the shelter home.

On May 3, the High Court of Manipur granted seven Burmese nationals who illegally entered the country permission to approach the UNHCR office in New Delhi. The High Court interpreted Article 21 of the constitution as protecting the principle of nonrefoulement.

On August 9, the minister of state for defense informed parliament that 8,486 Burmese refugees entered the country after the military coup in February. The minister noted that 5,796 refugees were “pushed back” into Burma while 2,690 remained in the country.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: The law does not contain the term “refugee,” treating refugees as any other foreigner. Undocumented physical presence in the country is a criminal offense. Persons without documentation were vulnerable to detention, forced returns, and abuse. The country historically treated persons as refugees based on the merits and circumstances of the cases.

Refugees reported exploitation by nongovernment actors, including assaults, gender-based violence, fraud, and labor and sex trafficking. Most urban refugees worked in the informal sector or in occupations such as street vending, where they suffered from police extortion, nonpayment of wages, and exploitation.

NGOs claimed law enforcement officials harassed and intimidated Rohingya refugees, including by confiscating UNHCR-issued refugee cards and government identification documents. NGOs also alleged Delhi police handcuffed, physically abused, and covered refugees’ heads with hoods while detaining them for routine questioning.

UNHCR continued to advocate for the release of detained refugees, for asylum seekers to freely move within the country and have their claims assessed, and for refugees to benefit from protection in the state where they arrived, and which has jurisdiction over them.

Freedom of Movement: UNHCR registered 43,157 refugees and asylum seekers as of August 31. This included 23,518 persons from Burma. On August 10, the minister of state for home affairs told the lower house of parliament the government did not have accurate data on the number of illegal migrants in the country and responded to questions from parliamentarians that there were reports of Rohingya migrants committing illegal activities.

The country hosted more than 92,000 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees. In August, 29 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees attempted suicide in two separate incidents at a detention camp in Tamil Nadu. Media reports stated nearly 80 Sri Lankan Tamils conducted a protest for weeks demanding their release and alleging false detention. The refugees were reportedly dissatisfied after meeting Tamil Nadu government officials in May who determined that their release would be delayed. Tamil Nadu has 107 refugee camps across the state, including one detention camp for refugees with criminal records.

Employment: Most UNHCR-registered refugees found employment in the informal sector. Some refugees reported discrimination by employers and landlords. According to UNHCR, obtaining formal employment was difficult for refugees because they did not possess government-issued documents such as long-term visas, which the government stopped issuing to refugees in 2017.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees and asylum seekers had access to housing, primary and secondary education, and health care. In cases where refugees were denied access, it was often due to a lack of knowledge of refugee rights by the service provider. In many cases UNHCR or its partners were able to intervene successfully and advocate for refugee access.

For asylum seekers UNHCR provided a letter upon registration indicating the person was being considered for UNHCR refugee status.

Sri Lankan refugees were permitted to work in Tamil Nadu. Police, however, reportedly summoned refugees back into the camps on short notice, particularly during elections and required refugees or asylum seekers to remain in the camps for several days.

On August 27, Tamil Nadu chief minister M.K. Stalin announced a special welfare package of 3.17 billion rupees ($42 million) for Sri Lankan Tamil refugees living in Tamil Nadu. The assistance will support refugee housing, cooking gas subsidies, and education allowances for refugee children. This allocation followed the disbursement of 4,000 rupees ($53) per Sri Lankan refugee family earlier in the year.

Government services, such as mother and child health programs, were available. According to a factsheet published by UNHCR in June, 6,561 refugees and asylum seekers were vaccinated against COVID-19 across the country during the year.

Refugees were able to request protection from police and courts as needed.

Durable Solutions: The government did not accept refugees for resettlement from other countries.

According to UNHCR an April 2020 moratorium on the repatriation of Sri Lankans remained in effect since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the suspension of commercial flight operations. A ferry project jointly proposed by the government and the government of Sri Lanka for the repatriation of refugees remained on hold. Departures for voluntary repatriation, third country resettlement, and complementary pathways continued.

g. Stateless Persons

By law parents confer citizenship, and birth in the country does not automatically result in citizenship. Any person born in the country on or after January 26, 1950, but before July 1, 1987, obtained citizenship by birth. A child born in the country on or after July 1, 1987, obtained citizenship if either parent was a citizen at the time of the child’s birth. Authorities consider those born in the country on or after December 3, 2004, citizens only if at least one parent was a citizen and the other was not illegally present in the country at the time of the child’s birth. Authorities considered persons born outside the country on or after December 10, 1992, citizens if either parent was a citizen at the time of birth, but authorities do not consider those born outside the country after December 3, 2004, citizens unless their birth was registered at a consulate within one year of the date of birth. Authorities may also confer citizenship through registration in specific categories and via naturalization after residing in the country for 12 years.

Children born in Sri Lankan refugee camps received birth certificates. While these certificates alone do not entitle refugees to citizenship, refugees may present birth certificates to the Sri Lankan High Commission to obtain a consular birth certificate, which entitles them to pursue Sri Lankan citizenship.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The Election Commission is an independent constitutional body responsible for administering all elections at the central and state level throughout the country. In May 2019 voters re-elected the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in the country’s general elections, which involved more than 600 million eligible voters. During the year state assembly elections took place in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry, West Bengal, and Assam. Observers considered these elections free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides for universal voting rights for all citizens 18 and older. There are no restrictions placed on the formation of political parties or on individuals of any community from participating in the election process. The election law bans the use of government resources for political campaigning, and the Election Commission effectively enforced the law. The commission’s guidelines ban opinion polls 48 hours prior to an election and exit poll results may not be released until completion of the last phase (in a multiphase election).

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they freely participated. The law reserves one-third of the seats in local councils for women. Religious, cultural, and traditional practices prevented women from proportional participation in political office. Nonetheless, women held many high-level political offices, including two positions as cabinet ministers. This represented a decline from the first Modi government when nine women served in the cabinet. The 2019 general election resulted in 78 women elected to the lower house of parliament, compared with 66 in the 2014 general election. The sole female chief minister leads West Bengal.

The constitution stipulates that, to protect historically marginalized groups and provide for representation in the lower house of parliament, each state must reserve seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in proportion to their population in the state. Only candidates belonging to these groups may contest elections in reserved constituencies. Members of minority populations had previously served or currently served as prime minister, president, vice president, cabinet ministers, Supreme Court justices, members of parliament, and state chief ministers.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials at all levels of government. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Corruption was present at multiple levels of government. In June the country’s anticorruption ombudsman reported it had received 110 corruption complaints, including four against members of parliament, during the year.

NGOs reported the payment of bribes to expedite services, such as police protection, school admission, water supply, and government assistance. Civil society organizations drew public attention to corruption throughout the year, including through demonstrations and websites that featured stories of corruption.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Most domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. In some circumstances groups faced restrictions (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association). There were reportedly more than three million NGOs in the country, but definitive numbers were not available. The government generally met with domestic NGOs, responded to their inquiries, and acted in response to their reports or recommendations.

The NHRC worked cooperatively with numerous NGOs, and several NHRC committees had NGO representation. Some human rights monitors in Jammu and Kashmir were able to document human rights violations, but periodically security forces, police, and other law enforcement authorities reportedly restrained or harassed them. Representatives of certain international human rights NGOs sometimes faced difficulties obtaining visas and reported that occasional official harassment and restrictions limited their public distribution of materials.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The United Nations had limited access to Jammu and Kashmir and the northeastern states. In September UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet raised concerns regarding restrictions on public assembly, internet shutdowns, and the use of UAPA charges in the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The NHRC is an independent and impartial investigatory and advisory body established by the central government, with a dual mandate to investigate and remedy instances of human rights violations and to promote public awareness of human rights. It is directly accountable to parliament but works in close coordination with the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Law and Justice. It has a mandate to address official violations of human rights or negligence in the prevention of violations, intervene in judicial proceedings involving allegations of human rights violations, and review any factors (including acts of terrorism) that infringe on human rights. The law authorizes the NHRC to issue summonses and compel testimony, produce documentation, and requisition public records. The NHRC also recommends appropriate remedies for abuses in the form of compensation to the victims of government killings or their families.

The NHRC has neither the authority to enforce the implementation of its recommendations nor the power to address allegations against military and paramilitary personnel. Human rights groups claimed these limitations hampered the work of the NHRC. Some human rights NGOs criticized the NHRC dependence on the government funding and its policy of not conducting investigations that last more than one year. Some claimed the NHRC did not register all complaints, dismissed cases arbitrarily, rerouted complaints back to the alleged violator, and did not adequately protect complainants.

Of 28 states, 24 have human rights commissions, which operated independently under the auspices of the NHRC. Some human rights groups alleged local politics influenced state committees, which they claimed were less likely to offer fair judgments than the NHRC. The Human Rights Law Network observed most state committees had few or no minority, civil society, or female representatives. The group claimed the committees were ineffective and at times hostile toward victims, hampered by political appointments, understaffed, and underfunded.

The government closed the Jammu and Kashmir Human Rights Commission in 2019 and ordered the NHRC to oversee human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir. The NHRC has jurisdiction over all human rights violations, except in certain cases involving the military. The NHRC has authority to investigate cases of human rights violations committed by the Ministry of Home Affairs and paramilitary forces operating under the AFSPA in the northeast states.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape in most cases, but marital rape is not illegal when the woman is older than 15. According to legal experts, the law does not criminalize rape of adult men. Rape of minors is covered by the gender-neutral Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act (POCSO). Official statistics reported rape as one of the country’s fastest-growing crimes, prompted at least in part by the increasing willingness of survivors to report rapes, but observers believed the number of rapes remained vastly underreported.

Law enforcement and legal recourse for rape survivors were inadequate, and the judicial system was unable to address the problem effectively.  Police sometimes worked to reconcile rape survivors and their attackers.  In some cases they encouraged female rape survivors to marry their attackers.

The NGO International Center for Research on Women noted low conviction rates in rape cases was one of the main reasons sexual violence continued unabated and at times unreported. NGOs observed the length of trials, lack of victim support, and inadequate protection of witnesses and survivors remained major concerns and were more pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic. The government sought to expedite cases involving women by setting up more than a thousand fast-track special courts to handle pending rape cases. In addition, several high courts have also directed state governments to establish more fast-track courts to promptly dispose of pending rape cases.

Civil society organizations provided awareness and survivor-centered, nonstigmatizing, confidential and free care to victims of violence and facilitate referrals to tertiary care, social welfare, and legal services. Some also provided short-term shelter for women and child survivors of rape. These services were intended to encourage women and children to come forward and report cases.

Additionally, the central government implemented interventions to improve the safety and security of women while reporting violence. This includes centers for reporting and accessing health support, women help desks at police stations to facilitate reporting, emergency response support system via a mobile application for reporting emergencies, and training programs for police, prosecutors, medical officers, and the judiciary to respond to victims in compassionate and respectful ways.

Rape continued to be a persistent problem, including gang rape, rape of minors, rape against lower-caste women or women from religious and nonreligious minority communities by upper-caste men, and rape by government officials.

The minimum mandatory punishment for rape is 10 years’ imprisonment. The minimum sentence for the rape of a girl younger than age 16 is between 20 years’ and life imprisonment; the minimum sentence of gang rape of a girl younger than 12 is either life imprisonment or the death penalty. The Investigation Tracking System for Sexual Offenses monitors sexual assault investigations. According to latest government data, 77 cases of rape per day were reported across the country in 2020.

On April 7, a 24-year-old Delhi woman was gang raped by five men in Gurugram, Haryana. The woman was raped repeatedly and left near Farrukhnagar, Haryana. To date, no suspects have been arrested.

On June 11, two minor tribal girls in Assam’s Kokrajhar District were found hanging from a tree after they were raped and killed. Police arrested seven suspects.

On August 1, a nine-year-old Dalit girl was allegedly raped, suffocated to death, and her body cremated in New Delhi. Police arrested and charged four suspects, two of whom admitted to raping her because she was a Dalit.

Women in areas such as in Jammu and Kashmir, northeastern states, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh, as well as vulnerable Dalit or tribal women, were often victims of rape or threats of rape. National crime statistics indicated Dalit women were disproportionately victimized. Domestic violence continued to be a problem. The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown led to increased instances of domestic violence. Women and children were more vulnerable due to loss of livelihood of the perpetrator and the family being forced to remain indoors, where victims were locked in with their abusers with limited means to escape or access to resources.

Local authorities made efforts to address the safety of women. The NCRB’s 2021 Crime in India report revealed that overall crime against women fell by 8 percent from 405,326 cases in 2019 to 371,503 cases in 2020. West Bengal and Odisha reported the highest increase in crimes against women while Uttar Pradesh recorded a 17 percent decline in registered cases. Madhya Pradesh reported the largest number of domestic violence cases while Rajasthan reported the highest number of rapes.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): No national law addresses the practice of FGM/C. According to human rights groups and media reports, between 70 and 90 percent of Dawoodi Bohras, a population of approximately one million persons concentrated in the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Delhi, practiced FGM/C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law forbids the acceptance of marriage dowries, but many families continued to offer and accept dowries, and dowry disputes remained a serious problem. NCRB data showed a total of 7,045 dowry-related deaths in 2020 as compared with 7,141 in 2019. The highest number of cases were registered in Uttar Pradesh with 2,302 victims. Most states employed dowry prohibition officers. A 2010 Supreme Court ruling mandates all trial courts to charge defendants in dowry death cases with murder.

Acid attacks against men and women continued to cause death and permanent disfigurement. On April 16, a man from Patiala threw acid on his wife for not giving birth to a son. The woman sustained burns on nearly 58 percent of her body in the acid attack. Police charged the man with attempted murder and voluntarily causing grievous hurt.

On May 21, a woman contracted to have acid thrown on her boyfriend after he rejected her marriage proposal. Police arrested the perpetrator.

So-called honor killings remained a problem, especially in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana; they were usually attributable to the victim marrying against his or her family’s wishes.

In August, Gwalior police in Madhya Pradesh arrested the father and brother of a 22-year-old woman found hanging at her home after a reported “honor killing.” Police also charged the woman’s uncle and two cousins with murder, as the family had opposed her choice to marry outside of her community.

Andhra Pradesh police registered a case of suspicious death as murder in response to a complaint that the parents of an 18-year-old girl allegedly killed and cremated her when she refused to end her relationship with a man of another caste.

The Telangana High Court questioned police statistics that reported only four “honor killings” and three cases of assault on individuals who married outside of their caste in the preceding four years in the state. A social activist filed a petition alleging 36 “honor killings” took place in the state in recent years.

There were reports women and girls in the devadasi system of symbolic marriages to Hindu deities (a form of so-called ritual prostitution) were victims of rape or sexual abuse at the hands of priests and temple patrons, including sex trafficking. This practice was found in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu, and almost always targeted girls from Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities. NGOs suggested families exploited some girls from lower castes to mitigate household financial burdens and the prospect of marriage dowries. The practice deprived girls of their education and reproductive rights and subjected them to stigma and discrimination.

Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Maharashtra have legislation that prohibits the devadasi system and provides rehabilitation services to women and girls affected by the practice. Enforcement of these laws remained lax.

In February police rescued a 19-year-old girl from Karnataka after she alerted them to her parents’ plan to force her into the devadasi system. Officials noted the victim’s mother was a former devadasi and insisted her daughter join the practice.

No federal law addresses accusations of witchcraft; however, authorities may use other legal provisions as an alternative for an individual accused of witchcraft. The NCRB reported 88 deaths with witchcraft listed as the motive in 2020. Madhya Pradesh registered 17 cases of murder against those accused of witchcraft. Bihar, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Assam, and Jharkhand have laws criminalizing accusing others of witchcraft.

On March 9, a woman’s dismembered body was found buried in Jharkhand. According to police, villagers suspected the woman of practicing witchcraft.

On May 25, a group of villagers in Assam’s Baksa District beat a 50-year-old tribal man to death. Police suspected a case of witch hunting and detained five persons.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a serious problem. Authorities required all state departments and institutions with more than 50 employees to operate committees to prevent and address sexual harassment, often referred to as “eve teasing.” By law sexual harassment includes one or more unwelcome acts or behavior, such as physical contact, a request for sexual favors, making sexually suggestive remarks, or showing pornography.

Reproductive Rights: There were reports of coerced and involuntary sterilization. The government promoted female sterilization as a form of family planning for decades. Some women, especially poor and lower-caste women, reportedly were pressured by their husbands and families to have tubal ligations or hysterectomies. The government provided monetary compensation for the wage loss, transportation costs, drugs and dressing, and follow-up visits to women accepting contraceptive methods, including voluntary sterilization. There were no formal restrictions on access to other forms of family planning; however, despite recent efforts to expand the range of contraceptive choices, voluntary sterilization remained the preferred method due to the costs and limited availability of alternative contraceptive choices.

Policies and guidelines that penalized families with more than two children were not widely enforced but remained in place in various states. Certain states continued to maintain quotas for government jobs and subsidies for adults with no more than two children. For example, Assam linked a two-child norm to accessing state government benefits and running for certain offices.

Many states promoted female sterilization as a family planning method, which resulted in risky, substandard procedures and limited access to nonpermanent methods. The central government does not have the authority to regulate state public health policies. Some women, particularly poor and lower-caste women, were reportedly pressured to have tubal ligations, hysterectomies, or other forms of sterilization.

The government recognized the role of health-care professionals in treating survivors of sexual violence and implemented protocols that meet international standards for such medical care. Government directives instruct health facilities to ensure survivors of all forms of sexual violence receive immediate access to health care services, including emergency contraception, police protection, emergency shelter, forensic services, and referrals for legal aid and other services. Implementation of the guidelines was uneven, however, due to limited resources and social stigma.

In February the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare released the Sample Registration Report for Maternal Mortality Rates between 2016 and 2018, which estimated that the maternal mortality ratio declined to 113 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2016-18, compared with 130 such deaths per 100,000 live births in 2014-16. The report indicated Assam’s maternal mortality rate, at 215 per 100,000 live births, was the highest in the country, while Kerala recorded the lowest maternal mortality ratio at 43 per 100,000 live births.

Care received by women, especially those from marginalized and low-income groups, at public health facilities was often inadequate, contributing to a reluctance to seek treatment. Government initiatives resulted in a significant increase in institutional births, but there were reports that health facilities continued to be overburdened, underequipped, and undersupplied.

Policies penalizing families with more than two children remained in place in seven states, but some authorities did not enforce them. There were reports these policies created pressure on women with more than two children to use contraception, including permanent methods such as sterilization, or even termination of subsequent pregnancies.

To counter sex selection, almost all states introduced “girl child promotion” plans to promote the education and well-being of girls; some plans required a certificate of sterilization for the parents to collect benefits.

Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination in the workplace and requires equal pay for equal work, but employers reportedly often paid women less than men for the same job, discriminated against women in employment and credit applications, and promoted women less frequently than men. The government did not effectively enforce discrimination laws.

Many tribal land systems, including in Bihar, deny tribal women the right to own land. Other laws or customs relating to the ownership of assets and land accord women little control over land use, retention, or sale.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: The law bans sex determination tests, the use of all technologies for the purpose of selecting a fetus’s gender, and sex-based abortions; however, NGOs claimed the practice of abortion based on sex was widely practiced across the country despite government efforts to enforce the legislation. This resulted in a sex ratio of 889 females per 1,000 males (or 112 males per 100 females) per the 2011 census.

States implement “girl child promotion” programs to counter prenatal sex selection. In 2015 the national government launched the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao program to arrest the decline in the child sex ratio. According to government data, the sex ratio at birth improved from 918 girls per 1,000 boys in 2014-15 (109 boys per 100 girls) to 934 girls per 1,000 boys in 2019-20 (107 boys per 100 girls).

According to media reports, fear of giving birth to a girl child drove some women toward sex-selective abortion or attempts to sell baby girls.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution prohibits discrimination against any citizen on the grounds of religion, race, caste, or place of birth. The registration of castes and tribes continued for the purpose of affirmative action programs, as the federal and state governments continued to implement programs for members of lower-caste groups to provide better quality housing, quotas in schools, government jobs, and access to subsidized foods. Critics claimed many of the programs to assist the lower castes suffered from poor implementation, corruption, or both.

The term Dalit, derived from Sanskrit for “oppressed” or “crushed,” refers to members of what society regarded as the lowest of the Scheduled Castes. According to the 2011 census, Scheduled Caste members constituted 17 percent of the population (approximately 200 million persons). The NCRB reported 50,291 crimes against Scheduled Castes in 2020 – an increase of 9.4 percent from 2019. Crimes committed against Dalits reportedly often went unpunished, either because authorities failed to prosecute perpetrators or because victims did not report crimes due to fear of retaliation.

Discrimination based on caste remained prevalent, particularly in rural areas. In August Haridwar police arrested two suspects for using caste-based slurs against Indian hockey player Vandana Katariya. The suspects were charged with insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace and violation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act.

The law protects Dalits, but there were numerous reports of violence and significant discrimination in access to services, such as health care, education, access to justice, freedom of movement, access to institutions (such as temples), and marriage. Many Dalits were malnourished. Most bonded laborers were Dalits, and those who asserted their rights were often victims of attacks, especially in rural areas. As agricultural laborers for higher-caste landowners, Dalits reportedly often worked without pay.

NGOs reported Dalit students were sometimes denied admission to certain schools because of their caste, required to present caste certification prior to admission, barred from morning prayers, asked to sit in the back of the class, or forced to clean school toilets while being denied access to the same facilities. There were also reports some teachers refused to correct the homework of Dalit children, refused to provide midday meals to Dalit children, and asked Dalit children to sit separately from children of upper-caste families.

In September an Uttar Pradesh school principal was suspended and a police report filed for using caste-based slurs and discriminating against Dalit children.

On February 2, the minister for social justice and empowerment told parliament that Uttar Pradesh reported the highest number of deaths of persons who died while cleaning sewers and septic tanks, work often performed by Dalits, between 2016 to December 2020. While Uttar Pradesh recorded 52 deaths, Tamil Nadu registered 43 deaths. Most manual-scavenging accidents occurred due to asphyxiation and exposure to poisonous gases when workers were inside the sewer systems and septic tanks. NGOs estimated the number of deaths was underreported.

On September 8, the Madras High Court directed the heads of corporations and municipalities in Tamil Nadu to submit a written report that no manual-scavenging work would be permitted in their jurisdiction. The court had previously indicated the heads of corporations and municipalities would be held personally liable for any manual-scavenging activity or mishap occurring in their jurisdiction. The court also recommended the state government obtain appropriate machinery and improve sewer lines to eliminate manual scavenging in the state.

Indigenous Peoples

The constitution provides for the social, economic, and political rights of disadvantaged groups of indigenous persons. The law provides special status for indigenous individuals, but authorities often denied their rights in practice.

In most of the northeastern states, where indigenous groups constituted most of the states’ populations, the law provides for tribal rights, but some local authorities disregarded these provisions. The law prohibits any nontribal person, including citizens from other states, from crossing a government-established inner boundary without a valid permit. No one may remove rubber, wax, ivory, or other forest products from protected areas without authorization. Tribal authorities must also approve the sale of land to nontribal persons.

Tribal leaders in Telangana accused the state government of impinging on the forest rights of tribal communities. Farmers contended the state forest department destroyed their crops without prior notice and attempted to forcibly remove them from their land. On August 6, police arrested 23 tribal farmers for attempted murder when tribal members “forcefully tried to recover farmland that the villagers have been cultivating for decades.” Tribal leaders criticized the arrests as “persecution” for defending their rights.

On August 26, a tribal man from Madhya Pradesh died after several persons tied him to a van and dragged him on the road following a minor traffic dispute. Madhya Pradesh police identified and arrested five of the eight accused after a video of the incident was disseminated widely on social media.

Children

According to a Lancet report, more than 100,000 children lost either one or both parents during the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) filed a Supreme Court affidavit reporting 8,161 children were orphaned, 92,475 children lost one parent, and 396 were abandoned between April 2020 and August.

After the NCPCR raised concerns regarding complaints of illegal adoption of children orphaned by COVID-19, the Supreme Court directed states to take stringent measures against illegal adoptions and to increase publicity of the laws and regulations.

Birth Registration: The law establishes state government procedures for birth registration. Analysis of government data from 2015-16 noted approximately 62 percent of children younger than five had their births registered and their parent or parents received a birth certificate.

Children lacking citizenship or registration may not be able to access public services, enroll in school, or obtain identification documents later in life.

Education: The constitution provides for free education for all children from ages six to 14, with a compulsory education age through age 15, but the government did not always comply with this requirement. Since the minimum age for work is lower than the compulsory education age, children may be encouraged to leave school before the completion of compulsory education.

The COVID-19 pandemic affected children’s right to education and nutrition. A UNICEF India report found that during the pandemic 1.5 million schools were closed, which affected 247 million children enrolled in elementary and secondary schools. Socioeconomic inequality and lack of resources, including internet and technological devices as well as limited access to electricity, resulted in less educational opportunities for some children. The report projected that 8 percent of all children may not return to school. To reduce the risk of children dropping out, the Supreme Court ordered private schools to waive fees and for the state to pay fees to ensure children remain enrolled.

According to UNICEF, more than 60 percent of secondary school-age children with disabilities did not attend school. Additionally, children with disabilities faced additional challenges with online education.

Since the minimum age for work is lower than the compulsory education age, children may be encouraged to leave school before the completion of compulsory education.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse, but it does not recognize physical abuse by caregivers, neglect, or psychological abuse as punishable offenses.

The India Child Protection Fund reported increased incidences of cyber or sexual abuse involving children. With children spending more time indoors and online during the COVID-19 pandemic, often without supervision, the report expressed concern that children were more vulnerable to online sexual predators.

A Karnataka Commission for the Protection of Child Rights study, released in July, concluded that physical, online, and mental abuse against children sharply increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law sets the legal age of marriage for women at 18 and men at 21, and it empowers courts to annul early and forced marriages. The law does not characterize a marriage between a girl younger than 18 and a boy younger than 21 as illegal but recognizes such unions as voidable. The law also sets penalties for persons who perform, arrange, or participate in child marriages. Authorities did not consistently enforce the law nor address the practice of rape survivors being forced into marriage.

In 2020 the government constituted a task force to review the increase of the minimum permissible age for marriage of girls from 18 to 21 years. Critics believed the proposal did not address the core concerns regarding child marriage, such as extreme poverty and lack of education.

The law establishes a full-time child marriage prohibition officer in every state to prevent child marriage. These individuals have the power to intervene when a child marriage is taking place, document violations of the law, file charges against parents, remove children from dangerous situations, and deliver them to local child protection authorities.

Financial distress, parental deaths, and school closures have put more girls at risk of child marriage. According to media reports, more than 500 cases of child marriage took place in West Bengal between March and June 2020 during the COVID-19 national lockdown. The NCRB reported 785 cases of child marriages were registered throughout the country in 2020, an increase of 50 percent from the previous year. Officials reported that in most cases underage girls were forced to marry because of their family’s loss of earnings and financial distress caused by the lockdown. According to a recent study, 65 percent of the child marriage cases were related to so-called romantic marriages, another 30 percent were arranged, and 5 percent were forced.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits child pornography and sets the legal age of consent at 18. It is illegal to pay for sex with a minor, to induce a minor into commercial sexual or any form of “illicit sexual intercourse,” or to sell or buy a minor for the purposes of commercial sex exploitation or child sex trafficking.  Violators are subject to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine.

The law provides for at least one special court dedicated to sexual offenses against children (POCSO court) to be set up in each district, but implementation of this provision lagged.

NCRB data showed that the number of 16- to 18-year-old victims under the POCSO Act was higher than the number of child victims from all the other age groups. Some NGOs noted several adolescent boys entered the juvenile justice system having been charged with rape because of the changes in the law.

Media reports indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a rise in cases filed under the POCSO Act. Data from Child Welfare Committees showed a 36.5 percent increase in the number of POCSO cases registered from January to July when compared with the number recorded for the same period in 2020. The rise in POCSO cases was attributed to increased time spent online which increased exposure to online traffickers.

On March 13, the Ministry of Women and Child Development published new rules to protect children from sexual offenses. The rules provide for immediate compensation, increased public awareness regarding services from the CHILDLINE India Foundation, and legal aid assistance. The rules advise state governments to enact a child protection policy to re-enforce the prohibition of violence against children. A new provision also directs immediate financial help to victims of child sexual abuse by the Child Welfare Committees. NGOs noted the procedure was not being implemented in a standardized fashion across jurisdictions.

In January the Bombay High Court ruled that groping a child is not considered sexual assault if there is no “skin-to-skin contact” or “sexual intent.” The National Commission for Women criticized the ruling and appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reversed the Bombay’s High Court’s decision.

In a June 2020 ruling the Delhi High Court mandated notice to complainants in child assault cases to ensure their presence in every bail application filed by the accused in their case. This ensured the complainant is informed of the proceedings and has an opportunity to argue against bail. Other high courts were expected to follow suit. For instance, the Orissa High Court issued similar directions to the POCSO courts operating under its jurisdiction.

In June 2020 the Delhi High Court held that the POCSO Act does not prevent a victim from applying for monetary compensation more than once if their circumstances required. Court cases typically last for years, and a victim’s financial needs may grow as time passes.

There was a continued focus on providing speedy justice to victims of sexual abuse. A 2016 study by the NGO Counsel to Secure Justice highlighted many child sexual abuse cases were pending trial or delayed in trial. The government stated 49,000 pending cases related to rape and sexual offenses against children were addressed during the COVID-19 pandemic with the use of 1,023 fast-track courts. Critics alleged fast-track courts established for POCSO cases were often unable to function on a timely basis because of pandemic restrictions. As a remedy, the Supreme Court directed the states of Assam, West Bengal, and Rajasthan to initiate a pilot project to test videoconferencing facilities for recording testimony.

Displaced Children: Displaced children, including refugees, IDPs, and street children, faced restrictions on access to government services (see also section 2.d.).

Institutionalized Children: Lax law enforcement and a lack of safeguards encouraged an atmosphere of impunity in several group homes and orphanages.

A National Commission for Protection for Child Rights audit found that out of 7,163 childcare institutions in the country, as many as 2,039 or 28.5 percent were not registered with state governments as mandated by the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015. In several cases government-funded shelter homes continued to operate despite significant gaps in mandatory reporting and allegations of abuse.

In 2020 the Supreme Court directed state governments to improve the handling of the COVID-19 crisis among institutionalized children. States were asked to file detailed reports, and various guidelines were issued to different childcare institutions on how to deal with the pandemic-induced crisis. NCPCR stated more than 720 children in childcare institutions in 11 states and union territories contracted COVID-19 as of August, but no fatalities were reported.

In January 2020 the Supreme Court revised the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, to prevent children from being tried as adults. The Supreme Court ruled that children can be tried as an adult only for “heinous” crimes that have a minimum punishment of seven years. In view of this judgment, the Juvenile Justice Board may conduct a preliminary assessment into a child’s mental and physical capacity to decide whether the child should be tried as an adult.

Many children continued to stay in institutions. Children accused of committing crimes often did not appear before juvenile justice boards for up to a year, and in many cases, children were required to stay in institutions for extended periods of time.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html

Anti-Semitism

Jewish groups from the 4,650-member Jewish community cited no reports of anti-Semitic acts during the year.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Organ Harvesting

Buying and selling of human organs are prohibited by the Transplantation of Human Organs Act. Organs can be donated to close relatives as well as others in need of transplantation for medical reasons after proper authorization.

In July, Assam police arrested three persons for trading in human organs – mainly kidneys harvested from approximately 12 victims. Other reports indicated almost 30 individuals may have been victims. Reports suggested that pandemic-induced financial hardship led villagers to fall prey to those involved in the organ trade.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution does not explicitly mention disability. The law provides equal rights for persons with a variety of disabilities, and a 2016 law increased the number of recognized disabilities, including persons with Parkinson’s disease and victims of acid attacks. The law requires the government to provide persons with disabilities with unrestricted free access to physical infrastructure and public transportation systems.

The law states the government should take necessary measures for persons with disabilities to provide barrier-free access in government, private hospitals, and healthcare institutions.

The law further states the government shall take measures to provide: (1) facilities for persons with disabilities at bus stops, railway stations, and airports conforming to the accessibility standards relating to parking spaces, toilets, ticketing counters, and ticketing machines; (2) access to all modes of transport that conform with design standards including retrofitting old modes of transport, wherever technically feasible and safe for persons with disabilities, economically viable and without entailing major structural changes in design; and (3) accessible roads to address mobility necessary for persons with disabilities.

According to the National Center for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), only 494 state government buildings in 15 states were accessible by persons with disabilities. The Central Public Works Department has made 1,030 central government buildings accessible, while 603 railway stations and 44,153 buses were partially accessible by persons with disabilities.

The law establishes quotas of 3 percent of all educational seats and 4 percent of government jobs for persons with disabilities. The government allocated funds to programs and NGOs to increase the number of jobs filled. In 2017 a government panel decided that private news networks must accompany public broadcasts with sign language interpretations and closed captions to accommodate persons with disabilities.

Access to education continued to be a challenge for students with disabilities. During the pandemic the closure of schools led to an increase in the number of students with disabilities dropping out. According to NGOs the digital divide has led to increased exclusion of persons with disabilities due to lack of access to technology.

The law states that the appropriate government and local authorities shall endeavor that all educational institutions provide inclusive education to children with disabilities. Toward that end, they should: (1) admit them without discrimination and provide education and opportunities for sports and recreation activities equally with others; (2) make buildings, campuses, and facilities accessible; and (3) provide reasonable accommodation according to the individual’s requirement. According to the law, the government shall take measures to promote, protect, and ensure participation of persons with disabilities in adult education and continuing education programs equally with others.

Private-sector employment of persons with disabilities remained low, despite governmental incentives. Discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, and access to health care was more pervasive in rural areas, and 45 percent of the country’s population of persons with disabilities were illiterate.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare estimated 25 percent of individuals with mental disabilities were homeless. Mainstream schools remained inadequately equipped with teachers trained in inclusive education, resource material, and appropriate curricula. Patients in some mental-health institutions faced food shortages, inadequate sanitary conditions, and lack of adequate medical care.

The NCPEDP reported the government allowed persons with disability to access COVID-19 vaccination services using the Unique Disability ID cards.

In May the NCPCR reported a total of 99 sexual abuse cases relating to children with disabilities had been registered from 2017 to 2020.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The estimated HIV prevalence has been declining since the epidemic’s peak in 2000 and has stabilized in recent years. According to the National AIDS Control Organization, there were approximately 70,000 newly diagnosed HIV infections in 2019. The epidemic persisted among the most vulnerable and high-risk populations that include female sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender persons, and persons who inject drugs. UNAIDS 2018 data indicated new HIV infections were declining among sex workers and men who have sex with men, but stigma related to key populations continued to limit their access to HIV testing and treatment. The data showed 79 percent of individuals were aware of their HIV status and that 71 percent of individuals with HIV were receiving treatment.

According to the National AIDS Control Organization 2019 report, Maharashtra was estimated to have the highest number of new HIV infections, followed by Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Gujarat, and Delhi.

The National AIDS Control Program prioritized HIV prevention, care, and treatment interventions for high-risk groups and advocated for the rights of persons with HIV. The National AIDS Control Organization worked actively with NGOs to train women’s HIV and AIDS self-help groups. Police engaged in programs to strengthen their role in protecting communities vulnerable to HIV.

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

NGO activists reported heightened discrimination and violence against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community in the eastern area of the country during the COVID-19 lockdown.

LGBTQI+ persons faced physical attacks, and rape. LGBTQI+ groups reported they experienced widespread societal discrimination and violence, particularly in rural areas. Activists reported that transgender persons continued to face difficulty obtaining medical treatment. Some police officers committed crimes against LGBTQI+ persons and used the threat of arrest to coerce victims not to report the incidents. With the aid of NGOs, several states offered education and sensitivity training to police.

In June the Madras High Court ordered the state and union governments to draw up plans for reforms that protect sexual orientation and gender identity rights. The High Court recommended awareness training for government officials and police, separate housing for gender-nonconforming and transgender persons in prison, revocation of licenses from doctors who claim “cures” for homosexuality, and gender-neutral bathrooms at school and colleges.

On June 13, the Odisha state government began recruitment for police positions of candidates who self-identified as transgender. A Bhubaneswar-based transgender activist welcomed the move as one of the several protransgender policy decisions taken by the Odisha government in recent years.

On July 6, the Karnataka state government amended its civil services rules to enable a 1 percent quota of government jobs for transgender individuals to be filled through direct recruitment.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to form and join unions and to bargain collectively, but there is no legal obligation for employers to recognize a union or engage in collective bargaining. In Sikkim, trade union registration was subject to prior permission from the state government. The law limits the organizing rights of federal and state government employees.

The law provides for the right to strike but places restrictions on this right for some workers. As an example, in export-processing zones (EPZs), a 45-day notice is required because of the EPZs’ designation as a “public utility.” The law also allows the government to ban strikes in government-owned enterprises and requires arbitration in specified “essential industries.” Definitions of essential industries vary from state to state. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and retribution for involvement in legal strikes and provides for reinstatement of employees fired for union activity. Union leaders generally operated free from threats and violence from government and employers. Employers rarely refused to bargain with worker led unions.

On February 3, industrial workers across the country observed a day of protest against the government’s plans to privatize state-owned companies and to press for the repeal of labor codes passed by parliament in September 2020. In September approximately 25 million workers across the country went on a day-long strike in support of the farmers’ protest demanding the repeal of farm reform legislation.

Enforcement of the law varied from state to state and from sector to sector. Enforcement was generally better in the larger, organized-sector industries. Authorities generally prosecuted and punished individuals responsible for intimidation or suppression of legitimate trade union activities in the industrial sector. Civil judicial procedures addressed abuses because the Trade Union Act does not specify penalties for such abuses. Penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. Specialized labor courts adjudicate labor disputes, but there were long delays and a backlog of unresolved cases.

Employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to organize and bargain collectively in the formal industrial sector but not in the larger, informal economy. Most union members worked in the formal sector, and trade unions represented a small number of agricultural and informal-sector workers. Membership-based organizations such as the Self-Employed Women’s Association successfully organized informal-sector workers and helped them to gain higher payment for their work or products.

An estimated 80 percent of unionized workers were affiliated with one of the five major trade union federations. Unions were independent of the government, but four of the five major federations were associated with major political parties.

State and local authorities sometimes impeded registration of unions, repressed independent union activity, and used their power to declare strikes illegal and force adjudication. Labor groups reported that some employers continued to refuse to recognize established unions, and some instead established “workers’ committees” and employer-controlled unions to prevent independent unions from organizing. EPZs often employed workers on temporary contracts. Additionally, employee-only restrictions on entry to the EPZs limited union organizers’ access.

In November 2020 a nationwide general strike took place. More than 250 million public- and private-sector workers participated in the strike, called by 10 central trade unions and hundreds of worker associations and federations. Trade union leaders demanded that the government repeal certain labor codes and three recently passed farm laws. In November parliament passed a law to repeal three agricultural reform laws after farmers largely concentrated in Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh protested for their repeal. The Indian National Trade Union Congress congratulated the farmers’ union for their protests.

In January labor and Dalit activists Shiv Kumar and Nodeep Kaur were arrested after their protest against the alleged harassment of factory workers in the Kundli Industrial Area in the state of Haryana, which turned violent on January 12. While in police custody, the families of both activists alleged they were subject to physical abuse. Nodeep Kaur was granted bail on February 26, and on March 4, a judge granted bail to Shiv Kumar.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but forced labor, including bonded labor for both adults and children (see section 7.c.), remained widespread. Internal forced labor constituted the country’s largest labor-trafficking problem; traffickers use debt-based coercion (bonded labor) to compel men, women, and children to work in agriculture, brick kilns, rice mills, embroidery and textile factories, and stone quarries. Women and children from the Dalit and tribal communities were vulnerable to forced labor, as were children of migrant laborers. The increase in economic insecurity and unemployment due to the pandemic further increased vulnerability to forced labor.

Enforcement and compensation for victims is the responsibility of state and local governments and varied in effectiveness. Some local governments did not effectively enforce laws related to bonded labor or labor trafficking laws, such as the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act. When inspectors referred violations for prosecution, court backlogs, inadequate preparation, and a lack of prioritization of the cases by prosecuting authorities sometimes resulted in acquittals. In addition, when authorities reported violations, they sometimes reported them to civil courts to assess fines and did not refer them to police for criminal investigation of labor trafficking. Legal penalties varied based on the type of forced labor and included fines and prison terms; penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. For example, bonded labor is specifically criminalized by the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, which prescribes sufficiently stringent penalties, and the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act, which prescribes penalties that were not sufficiently stringent.

Investigations, prosecutions, and case convictions of traffickers decreased in 2020. NGOs estimated at least eight million trafficking victims in the country, mostly in bonded labor, and reported that police often did not file reports. Authorities penalized some adult and child victims for crimes their traffickers compelled them to commit.

On July 22, officials in Tamil Nadu’s Virudhunagar District rescued 14 adolescent bonded laborers from two plastics factories; three had been trafficked from Bihar.

On August 26, Thane District officials in Maharashtra rescued 43 individuals belonging to a traditional tribal group who were kept in bondage at a stone quarry. Police also opened an investigation after two of the rescued women accused the quarry owners of sexual abuse.

Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe members lived and worked under traditional arrangements of servitude in many areas of the country. The central government had long abolished forced labor servitude, but these social groups remained impoverished and vulnerable to forced exploitation.

In May the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued three advisories to states and union territories, recommending measures to address the mental health of vulnerable populations, release and rehabilitation of bonded laborers, and safeguarding rights of informal workers. The NHRC noted that all levels of government must ensure that medical resources are provided to bonded laborers.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

All the worst forms of child labor were prohibited. The law prohibits employment of children younger than 14. The law also bans the employment of children between 14 and 18 in hazardous work. Children are barred from using flammable substances, explosives, or other hazardous material, as defined by the law. In 2017 the Ministry of Labor and Employment added 16 industries and 59 processes to the list of hazardous industries where employment of children younger than 18 is prohibited and where children younger than 14 are precluded from helping, including family enterprises.

Despite evidence that children worked in unsafe and unhealthy environments for long periods of time in spinning mills, garment production, carpet making, and domestic work, not all children younger than 18 are prohibited from working in occupations related to these sectors. The law permits employment of children in family-owned enterprises involving nonhazardous activities after school hours. Nevertheless, child labor remained common.

Law enforcement agencies took actions to combat child labor. State governments enforced labor laws and employed labor inspectors, while the Ministry of Labor and Employment provided oversight and coordination. Nonetheless, gaps existed within the operations of the state government labor inspectorate that hindered adequate labor law enforcement. Violations remained common. The law establishes penalties that are not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, and authorities sporadically enforced them. The fines collected are deposited in a welfare fund for formerly employed children.

The International Labor Organization estimated there were 10 million child workers between ages five and 14 in the country. Most of the child labor occurred in agriculture and the informal economy, particularly in stone quarries, in the rolling of cigarettes, and in informal food-service establishments. Children were also exploited in domestic service and in the sugarcane, construction, textile, cotton, and glass-bangle industries in addition to begging.

Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred (see section 6, Children).

Forced child labor, including bonded labor, also remained a serious problem. Employers engaged children in forced or indentured labor as domestic servants and beggars, as well as in quarrying, brick kilns, rice mills, silk-thread production, and textile embroidery. Children typically entered debt bondage along with their entire family, and trafficked children were also employed in cotton farms, home-based embroidery businesses, and roadside restaurants.

In July, Telangana police rescued 172 child workers as part of a campaign to detect child labor and locate missing children. Police arrested 37 persons for employing children and filed 18 cases against employers.

In June, UNICEF reported it expected that COVID-19 and subsequent economic distress would have increased the risk of child labor. The closure of 1.5 million schools due to the pandemic and lockdowns increased the risk of child labor and unsafe migration for children enrolled in elementary and secondary schools.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, or social status with respect to employment and occupation. A separate law bans discrimination against individuals suffering from HIV or AIDs. The law does not forbid employment discrimination against individuals with communicable diseases or based on color, religion, political opinion, national origin, or citizenship.

The law prohibits women from working in jobs that are physically or morally harmful.

The government effectively enforced the law and regulations within the formal sector; however, penalties were not sufficient to defer violations. The law and regulations do not protect informal-sector workers (industries and establishments that do not fall within the purview of the Factories Act), who made up an estimated 90 percent of the workforce.

Discrimination occurred in the informal sector with respect to Dalits, indigenous persons, and persons with disabilities. The American Bar Association report, Challenges for Dalits in South Asia, noted, “Dalits have been provided with reservations (or quotas) for government jobs; however, reservations do not apply to private sector jobs.” Gender discrimination with respect to wages was prevalent. Foreign migrant workers were largely undocumented and typically did not enjoy the legal protections available to workers who are nationals of the country.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: State government laws set minimum wages and hours of work. The daily minimum wage varied but was more than the official estimate of poverty level income. State governments set a separate minimum wage for agricultural workers. Laws on wages, hours, and occupational health and safety do not apply to the large informal sector.

The law mandates a maximum eight-hour workday and 48-hour workweek as well as safe working conditions, which include provisions for restrooms, cafeterias, medical facilities, and ventilation. The law mandates a minimum rest period of 30 minutes after every four hours of work and premium pay for overtime, but it does not mandate paid holidays. The law prohibits compulsory overtime and limits the amount of overtime a worker may perform. Occupational safety and health standards set by the government were generally up to date and covered the main industries in the country.

State governments are responsible for enforcing minimum wages and hours of work. The number of inspectors generally was insufficient to enforce labor law. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. State governments often did not effectively enforce the minimum wage law for agricultural workers.

To boost the economy following the COVID-19-induced lockdown, many state governments relaxed labor laws to permit overtime work beyond legislated limits. The state governments of Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat passed executive orders to suspend enforcement of most labor laws for a period of up to three years to promote industrial production.

Occupational Safety and Health: Federal law sets safety and health standards. State governments enforced additional state-specific regulations. Enforcement of safety and health standards was poor, especially in the informal sector, but also in some formal-sector industries. Penalties for violation of occupational safety and health standards were commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence.

Small, low-technology factories frequently exposed workers to hazardous working conditions. Undocumented foreign workers did not receive basic occupational health and safety protections. In many instances workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardizing their employment.

On February 23, two workers were killed, and 26 others injured in a blast at the United Phosphorous Limited plant in Jhagadia, Gujarat. State authorities shut down the plant following the blast.

On June 7, a fire at the SVS Aqua Technologies chemical plant near Pune in Maharashtra killed 18 persons. Preliminary investigations revealed that flammable materials had been stored in the plant without following prescribed safety norms. On June 8, police arrested the factory director on charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and subsequently released him on bail. In March, Geneva-based IndustriALL noted high accident rates continued in factories, chemical plants, and mines. According to IndustriALL, the 14 accidents reported during the year resulted in 42 workers’ deaths and approximately 100 workers being injured.

Informal Sector: Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health standards were common in the informal sector. The World Bank reported most of the labor force is employed in the informal sector. A report issued by the State Bank of India in October estimated the size of the informal sector was more than 52 percent of the total labor sector, but other estimates placed the percentage much higher. On August 26, the Ministry of Labor and Employment launched the e-Shram portal to develop a national database of unorganized workers including migrant workers, construction workers, and gig and platform workers. The portal will facilitate the extension of social-sector benefits to workers in the unorganized sector. More than 30 million unorganized workers registered on the portal as of October 8, nearly half of them women.

According to the World Bank’s Shifting Gears: Digitization and Services-Led Development report, low-skilled and urban workers faced the brunt of employment shocks due to the second wave of COVID-19, and their earnings have yet to return to 2019 levels. In December 2020 a World Bank economist for South Asia and other experts noted more than 44 percent of the country’s informal workers were unemployed in April 2020. In 2020 the International Labor Organization connected the high rate of informal work to a low level of education and skill levels of the overall workforce. Within the informal sector, casual or temporary wage workers were more likely to lose employment than self-employed workers, regardless of industry, location, education, or caste.

Indonesia

Executive Summary

Indonesia is a multiparty democracy. In April 2019 Joko Widodo (popularly known as Jokowi) won a second five-year term as president. Voters also elected new members of the House of Representatives and the Regional Representative Council, as well as provincial and local legislatures. Domestic and international observers deemed the elections to be free and fair.

The Indonesian National Police is responsible for internal security and reports directly to the president. The Indonesian National Armed Forces, which also report directly to the president, are responsible for external defense and combatting separatism, and in certain conditions may provide operational support to police, such as for counterterrorism operations, maintaining public order, and addressing communal conflicts. Civilian authorities maintained control over security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by government security forces; torture by police; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary and unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in the conflict in Papua and West Papua Provinces, including unlawful civilian harm, torture and physical abuses; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists and religious figures, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of racial and ethnic minority groups; crimes involving violence or threats of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and the existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.

While the government took steps to investigate and prosecute some officials who committed human rights abuses and corruption, impunity for historic and recent serious human rights abuses and corruption remained a significant concern, especially as some of those implicated in past abuses received promotions, were given public awards and honors, and occupied senior official positions.

Armed conflict between government forces and separatist groups continued in Papua and West Papua Provinces. There were numerous reports of both sides committing abuses against civilians including killings, physical abuse, and destruction of property. The conflict caused the displacement of thousands of residents. Outside Papua and West Papua, there were numerous reports of unknown actors using digital harassment and intimidation against human rights activists and academics who criticized government officials, discussed government corruption, or covered issues related to the conflict in Papua and West Papua.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were numerous reports that security officials committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Many of these reports related to security forces’ counterinsurgency operations against armed separatist groups in Papua and West Papua (see section 1.g.).

In many cases of alleged extrajudicial killings, police and the military did not conduct any investigations and, when they did, failed to disclose either the fact or the findings of these internal investigations. Official statements related to abuse allegations sometimes contradicted nongovernmental organization (NGO) accounts, and the frequent inaccessibility of areas where violence took place made confirming facts difficult.

The Commission for Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS), a local NGO, reported 16 deaths due to alleged torture and other abuse by security forces between June 2020 and May 2021. KontraS also reported 13 deaths attributable to police shootings in the same period. On January 8, the National Commission on Human Rights released its report on the December 2020 police shootings of six members of the Islamic Defenders Front (see also section 2.b.) on the Jakarta-Cikampek toll road in West Java Province. The commission found that police unlawfully killed four front members who were already in police custody and labelled the killings a human rights violation. In April a police spokesperson stated that three police officials from the Mobile Reserve Unit of the Greater Jakarta Metropolitan Regional Police had been named as suspects and were being investigated, noting that one of the three had died in an accident in January. On August 23, media reported the filing of charges against the two suspects in the East Jakarta District Court.

On April 25, Baubau City Police in Southeast Sulawesi Province arrested Samsul Egar on suspicions of involvement in drug trafficking. According to media reports, police chased Egar; after he was captured, he was seen handcuffed on the ground and unconscious. Egar was brought to a hospital where he was declared dead. Human rights organizations reported Egar had bruises on his body. Police allegedly did not tell Egar’s family they believed he was a drug trafficker until 28 days after his death. As of September 10, there was no indication that authorities had investigated the report or taken action against the officer involved.

On August 31, the Balikpapan District Court of East Kalimantan Province began the trial of six Balikpapan City Police officers charged with abuses resulting in the 2020 death of Herman Alfred, a 39-year-old man accused of stealing a phone. The six officers were removed from duty in February when they were named as suspects in the case. According to prosecutors, Alfred was arrested on December 2, and brought to the Balikpapan police station. The six officers allegedly physically abused him while in custody, inflicting injuries that led to his death. As of September 10, the trial of the six officers was ongoing.

There were also multiple reports of killings outside of Papua and West Papua by terrorist groups. The government investigated and prosecuted all such killings.

For example, media and the government reported that the East Indonesia Mujahedeen group was responsible for the May 11 killing of four farmers, reportedly all Christians, in Poso Regency, Central Sulawesi Province. The same group was accused of killing four residents of Sigi Regency, Central Sulawesi, in November 2020. As of October, security force operations seeking to apprehend members of the group continued. On September 18, security forces killed the group’s leader, Ali Kalora, in a firefight.

On March 28, two suicide bombers attacked the Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic cathedral, in Makassar, South Sulawesi Province, killing both assailants and injuring 20 bystanders. The attack occurred during a Palm Sunday mass. Police identified the two bombers as part of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah, a terrorist organization responsible for the 2018 bombings of three churches in Surabaya, East Java Province. As of May 19, a police spokesperson told the media that 53 persons had been detained and named as suspects in connection with the bombing.

b. Disappearance

Outside Papua and West Papua (see section 1.g.) there were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. The government and NGOs reported little progress in accounting for persons who previously disappeared, including disappearances that occurred when Timor-Leste was still part of Indonesia. NGOs reported little progress in prosecuting those responsible for such disappearances and noted many officials suspected of being involved in disappearances continued to serve in the government (see section 1.c.).

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

The constitution prohibits such practices. The law criminalizes the use of violence or force by officials to elicit a confession, but no law specifies or defines “torture.” Other laws, such as on witness and victim protection, include antitorture provisions. Officials face imprisonment for a maximum of four years if they use violence or force illegally.

NGOs made numerous reports of police and security forces using excessive force during detention and interrogation, with some cases resulting in death (see section 1.a.).

National police and the military maintained procedures to address alleged torture. All police recruits undergo training on the proportional use of force and human rights standards. In cases of alleged torture (and other abuse), police and the military typically conducted investigations but often did not publicly disclose either the fact or the findings of these internal investigations. Official statements related to abuse allegations sometimes contradicted NGO accounts, and the frequent inaccessibility of areas where violence took place made confirming facts difficult. NGOs and other observers criticized the short prison sentences often imposed by military courts in abuse cases involving civilians or actions by off-duty soldiers.

KontraS reported 166 injuries from alleged torture and other abuse by security forces between June 2020 and May 2021. KontraS also reported 98 persons injured in police shootings during the same period. KontraS noted there had been a decrease in police violence cases compared with previous years but attributed the decrease to the COVID-19 pandemic rather than reforms in police behavior.

On May 25, a uniformed solider, Joaquim Parera, assaulted an employee of a gas station in East Nusa Tenggara Province. The employee refused to provide service to Parera because he had cut in line. The assault was filmed, and the video was spread widely online. A mediation session between Parera and the victim was held and the military reported the dispute had been settled peacefully. The military also stated that Parera could still face a military tribunal, but as of November 24 there were no updates on whether Parera faced punishment for the incident.

On June 22, police detained a 20-year-old man, Yohan Ronsumbre, on suspicion of theft in Biak Numfor Regency, Papua Province. NGOs reported that during the detention police officers attempted to force Ronsumbre to confess by punching him and pouring boiling water on his right arm. Ronsumbre’s lawyers reported the incident to police, the national Ombudsman, and the National Commission on Human Rights. In July a police representative told media they were investigating the incident. As of November 24, there was no update on the investigation or action taken against the officers involved.

On August 19, two soldiers from the 1627/Rote Ndao District Military Command in East Nusa Tenggara Province physically abused a 13-year-old boy who they suspected of stealing a mobile phone from one of the soldiers. The soldiers beat the boy, burned him with cigarettes, and burned his genitals with a candle. On August 23, the two soldiers were arrested by military police and were reportedly under investigation for the incident.

Aceh Province has special authority to implement sharia regulations. Authorities there carried out public canings for violations of sharia in cases of sexual abuse, gambling, adultery, alcohol consumption, consensual same-sex conduct, and sexual relations outside of marriage. Sharia does not apply to non-Muslims, foreigners, or Muslims not resident in Aceh. Non-Muslims in Aceh occasionally chose punishment under sharia because it was more expeditious and less expensive than secular procedures. For example, in February three non-Muslims convicted of illegal possession of alcohol requested punishment under sharia and each received 40 lashes. One of those punished publicly stated he did so to avoid a lengthy prison sentence.

Canings continued to occur in public spaces despite the Aceh governor’s 2018 order that they should be executed only in prison facilities. Individuals sentenced to caning may receive up to 100 lashes for each crime for which they were convicted, depending on the crime and prison time served.

NGOs reported that some female police and military recruits were subjected to invasive virginity testing as a condition of employment, which activists claimed were painful, degrading, discriminatory, and frequently inaccurate. The law does not require such testing, but some police and military regulations include the testing in their recruitment process, leading to inconsistent application across the country. Media reported that, per regulation, fiancees of military personnel were sometimes subjected to this testing. In June the army issued a technical regulation eliminating virginity testing for recruits and fiancees – the status of this testing for the navy and air force remained unclear.

In December 2020 President Widodo signed a government regulation on chemical castration and the use of tracking devices for individuals convicted of sexual abuse of children. The regulation allows chemical castration and electronic tracking for a maximum of two years after offenders are released from prison.

Security force impunity remained a problem. Members of the army special forces’ Rose Team, which was involved in the kidnapping, torture, and killing of students in 1997-98, continued to serve as senior officials in the government despite being convicted and serving prison sentences for their involvement in these abuses. On August 12, President Widodo awarded the nation’s third-highest civilian honor to Eurico Guterres, an alleged former pro-Indonesia militia leader in East Timor. In 2002 Guterres was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for crimes against humanity for his involvement in mass violence and killings in East Timor prior to its independence in 1999. In 2008, however, the Supreme Court overturned the convictions of Guterres and all others convicted on such charges.

Internal investigations undertaken by security forces were often opaque, making it difficult to know which units and actors were involved, especially if they occurred in Papua or West Papua. Internal investigations were sometimes conducted by the unit accused of the abuses, or in high-profile cases by a team sent from police or military headquarters in Jakarta. Cases involving military personnel could be forwarded to a military tribunal for prosecution or, in the case of police, to public prosecutors. These trials lacked transparency, and the results were not always made public. Victims or their families may file complaints with the National Police Commission, National Commission on Human Rights, or National Ombudsman to seek an independent inquiry into the incident. The lack of transparent investigations and judicial processes continued to hamper accountability in multiple past cases involving security forces. NGOs continued to advocate for investigations and judicial resolution of historical cases of security force involvement in killings and disappearances that date back to 1965.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in the country’s 526 prisons and detention centers were often harsh and sometimes life threatening, due especially to overcrowding.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a serious problem, including at immigration detention centers. According to the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, as of July there were 271,231 prisoners and detainees in prisons and detention centers designed to hold a maximum of 132,107. Overcrowding posed hygiene and ventilation problems. The degree of overcrowding varied at different facilities. Minimum- and medium-security prisons were often the most overcrowded; maximum-security prisons tended to be at or below capacity. On September 8, a fire at the Tangerang Level I Prison in Banten Province killed 49 inmates. Media reported that the fire occurred in a cell block designed for 38 inmates but that held 122.

From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 to September 2021, concern about the rapid spread of COVID-19 in prisons led officials to grant early releases to nearly 70,000 prisoners. This mass sentence reduction, however, did not apply to inmates convicted for “political crimes,” such as Papuan and Moluccan activists.

By law prisons are supposed to hold those convicted by courts, while detention centers hold those awaiting trial. Most prisons have two facilities on the same compound, one designed for pretrial detainees and one for convicted prisoners. Persons held at the two facilities did not normally mix. At times, however, officials held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners due to overcrowding.

By law children convicted of serious crimes serve their sentences in juvenile prison, although some convicted juveniles remained in the adult prison system despite efforts to end this practice.

Authorities generally held female prisoners at separate facilities. In prisons with both male and female prisoners, female prisoners were confined in separate cellblocks. According to NGO observers, conditions in prisons for women tended to be significantly better than in those for men. Women’s cellblocks within prisons that held prisoners of both genders, however, did not always grant female prisoners access to the same amenities, such as exercise facilities, as their male counterparts.

NGOs noted authorities sometimes did not provide prisoners adequate medical care. Human rights activists attributed this to a lack of resources.

International and local NGOs reported that in some cases prisoners did not have ready access to clean drinking water. There were widespread reports the government did not supply sufficient food to prisoners, and family members often brought food to supplement relatives’ diets.

Guards in detention facilities and prisons regularly extorted money from inmates, and prisoners reported physical abuse by guards. Inmates often bribed or paid corrections officers for favors, food, telephones, or narcotics. The use and production of illicit drugs in prisons were serious problems, with some drug networks basing operations out of prisons.

Administration: The law allows prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to authorities without censorship and to request investigation of alleged deficiencies. Complaints are submitted to the Ministry of Law and Human Rights where they were investigated and were subject to independent judicial review.

Independent Monitoring: Some NGOs received access to prisons but were required to obtain permission through bureaucratic mechanisms, including approval from police, attorneys general, courts, the Ministry of Home Affairs, and other agencies. NGOs reported authorities rarely permitted direct access to prisoners for interviews and that health restrictions implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19 had further impeded their ability to monitor prison conditions. There was no regular independent monitoring of prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements, but there were notable exceptions.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Security forces must produce warrants during an arrest. Exceptions apply, for example, if a suspect is caught in the act of committing a crime. The law allows investigators to issue warrants, but at times authorities, especially police from the Criminal Investigation Department, made questionable arrests without warrants.

By law suspects or defendants have the right to contact family promptly after arrest and to legal counsel of their choice at every stage of an investigation. Legal aid organizations reported numerous cases in which they had difficulty accessing detainees, especially if physical or other abuse during or after the arrest was discovered or alleged when access was granted.

Court officials are supposed to provide free legal counsel to all persons charged with offenses that carry the death penalty or imprisonment for 15 years or more, and to destitute defendants facing charges that carry a penalty of imprisonment for five years or more. Such legal resources were limited, however, and free counsel was seldom provided. Additionally, NGOs reported that some police and prosecutors maintained a “pocket lawyer” who could be called in to provide a pro forma defense for their clients.

Suspects can only be detained for 110 days before charges must be filed; however, in special circumstances that period can be extended to 170 days, and in terrorism cases the period can be extended to 290 days. During an investigation police can detain suspects for 20 days but then must seek an extension of detention from public prosecutors, which can be granted for an additional 40 days. NGOs reported numerous cases in which investigators’ requests to extend detention did not contain information required under the law, such as the details of the alleged crime and a citation of relevant law. Following the 60 days of detention allowed for police investigation, prosecutors can continue detention for 20 days for prosecutorial investigation and request an additional 30 days of detention from a judge. Detention can be extended another 60 days if the suspect has severe mental illness or is suspected of a crime carrying a punishment of nine years or more in prison. In terrorism cases, police may detain a suspect for 21 days before naming them as a suspect or having to seek an extension from public prosecutors. Prosecutors can extend pretrial detention of terrorism suspects up to a total of 240 days, or up to a total of 290 days with approval from the chief magistrate of the district court.

There is no system of bail; however, detainees can request a suspension of detention, which can be granted by investigators, prosecutors, or judges. Additionally, detainees may challenge their arrest and detention by petitioning for a pretrial hearing. According to the law, a judge must begin the pretrial hearing within three days of receipt of the application and render a decision within seven days after the beginning of the hearing. Some defense lawyers indicated reluctance to request these suspensions, since sometimes the paperwork their clients must sign as a condition of release include language that can be interpreted as an admission of guilt.

Lack of legal resources was particularly problematic for persons involved in land disputes. Local government officials and large landowners involved in land grabs reportedly accused community activists of crimes, hoping the resulting detentions or arrests and the community’s lack of legal and financial resources would hamper efforts to oppose the land grab.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary arrests by police, primarily by the Criminal Investigation Department and the Mobile Brigade Corps. There were multiple media and NGO reports of police temporarily detaining persons for criticizing the government, participating in peaceful demonstrations, and other nonviolent activities.

In February for example, police detained three members of the Dayak indigenous community in East Kutai Regency, East Kalimantan Province, for surveying assets on land in dispute between the Dayaks and a palm oil company, PT Subur Abadi Wana Agung. The three were released the next day. NGOs criticized the detentions as an attempt to criminalize the community’s efforts to defend their land rights.

NGOs reported numerous cases of arbitrary arrest across the country, with numerous cases in Papua and West Papua and in connection with political protests and property disputes. Most of those detained in such cases were released within 24 hours.

Pretrial Detention: The legal length of pretrial detention depends on factors such as whether the suspect is a flight risk or a danger or is charged with certain crimes. The maximum period of pretrial detention is 170 days for most suspects, 290 days for terrorism suspects. If convicted, time in pretrial detention is counted against the sentence. Media reported, however, cases in which suspects were detained longer than allowed by law, in some cases – especially of low-level crimes with sentences less than a year – resulting in immediate release of persons found guilty because the time served in pretrial detention equaled or exceeded their sentence. Terrorism suspects are governed by special rules. The government did not report the number of individuals in pretrial detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary and the right to a fair public trial, but the judiciary remained susceptible to corruption (see section 5) and influence from outside parties, including business interests, politicians, the security forces, and officials of the executive branch.

In March the Corruption Court sentenced former secretary of the Supreme Court, Nurhadi Abdurrachman, to six years in prison and a substantial fine, for receiving bribes worth nearly 50 billion rupees (IDR) ($3.5 million) to influence cases appearing before the Supreme Court.

Decentralization created difficulties for the enforcement of court orders, and at times local officials ignored them.

Four district courts are authorized to adjudicate cases of systemic gross human rights violations upon recommendation of the National Human Rights Commission. None of these courts, however, has heard or ruled on such a case since 2005.

Under the sharia court system in Aceh, 23 district religious courts and one court of appeals hear cases. The courts usually heard cases involving Muslims and based their judgments on decrees formulated by the local government rather than the national penal code.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, but judicial corruption and misconduct hindered the enforcement of this right. The law presumes defendants are innocent until proven guilty, although this was not always respected. Defendants are informed promptly and in detail of the charges at their first court appearance. Although suspects have the right to confront witnesses and call witnesses in their defense, judges may allow sworn affidavits when distance is excessive or the cost of transporting witnesses to the court is too expensive, hindering the possibility of cross-examination. Some courts allowed forced confessions and limited the presentation of defense evidence. Defendants have the right to avoid self-incrimination. The prosecution prepares charges, evidence, and witnesses for the trial, while the defense prepares their own witnesses and arguments. A panel of judges oversees the trial and can pose questions, hear evidence, decide on guilt or innocence, and impose punishment. Both the defense and prosecution may appeal a verdict.

The law gives defendants the right to an attorney from the time of arrest and at every stage of investigation and trial. By law indigent defendants have the right to public legal assistance, although they must prove they have no funds for private legal assistance. NGOs reported that defendants in many areas of the country do not have access to legal assistance due to the lack of legal aid organizations in those areas. Where they existed, their legal staffs were often too small to represent all indigent defendants. There were, consequently, numerous cases in which defendants faced trial without counsel. Defendants facing offenses that carry the death penalty or imprisonment for 15 years or more are required to have legal counsel; however, NGOs reported cases in which the legal counsel provided to these defendants was associated with the prosecution. All defendants have the right to free interpretation. In some cases, procedural protections were inadequate to ensure a fair trial. With the notable exceptions of sharia court proceedings in Aceh and some military trials, trials are public.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

NGOs estimated that as of July, seven political prisoners from Papua and West Papua were incarcerated, either awaiting trial or after being convicted under treason and conspiracy statutes, including for the display of banned separatist symbols. Additionally, eight Moluccan political prisoners remained in prison, according to NGOs.

According to Amnesty International, a small number of the 188 Papuans detained between January and July for participating in peaceful protests were charged with treason or other criminal offenses.

On February 10, environmental activists Samsir and Syamsul Bahri were arrested by the Tanjung Pura Police in Langkat Regency, North Sumatra for an alleged assault in December 2020. On May 31, the two were sentenced to two months in prison. NGOs claimed that the accusations made against the activists were false and meant to criminalize the two activists and thereby impede their efforts to rehabilitate mangroves in the area.

On May 9, security forces arrested Victor Yeimo, spokesperson for the pro-independence National Committee for West Papua in Jayapura, Papua Province. Lawyers for Yeimo reported he was arrested without a warrant and moved to the Mobile Brigade Corps’ detention center without notification to his lawyers. On August 30, the Jayapura District Court rejected Yeimo’s pretrial challenge to detention on the grounds of his unprocedural arrest. Yeimo was charged with criminal conspiracy, incitement, and treason for his alleged involvement in violent antiracism protests in Papua and West Papua Provinces in 2019. NGOs alleged that the charges against Yeimo were a baseless attempt to silence nonviolent advocacy for Papuan separatism. NGO requests for his release on health grounds were rejected. His hospitalization, however, delayed the start of his trial, and as of November 24, the trial had yet to begin.

On July 22, the East Jakarta District Court sentenced Roland Levy and Kevin Molama, two members of the Papuan Student Alliance, to five months in prison minus time served for assaulting another Papuan student. Police arrested the two activists on March 3 at a student dormitory in Jakarta. NGOs claimed the charges against the two were a fabricated attempt to disrupt the activists’ efforts.

Local activists and family members generally were able to visit political prisoners, but authorities held some prisoners on islands far from their families.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Victims of human rights abuses may seek damages in the civil court system, but widespread corruption and political influence limited victims’ access to justice.

Property Seizure and Restitution

An eminent domain law allows the government to expropriate land for the public good, provided the government properly compensates owners. NGOs accused the government of abusing its authority to expropriate or facilitate private acquisition of land for development projects, often without fair compensation.

Land access and ownership were major sources of conflict. Police sometimes evicted those involved in land disputes without due process, often siding with business-related claimants over individuals or local communities.

In January the Ministry of Agrarian Affairs and Spatial Planning launched an electronic land certificate program to register land claims across the country. Stated goals of the program included reducing the number of land disputes by making it more difficult to falsify land deeds.

On January 5, President Widodo held a virtual ceremony where he announced the distribution of 584,407 land certificates (i.e., titles) to demonstrate the government’s commitment to addressing land disputes. The Ministry of Agrarian Affairs reported that in 2020 it had issued 6.8 million land certificates across the country.

On January 29, the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources announced an agreement with PT Tambang Mas Sangihe allowing the company to expand its operations on Sangihe Island, North Sulawesi Province. In June the Save Sangihe Island movement, made up of local community members, filed a lawsuit against the agreement, arguing it had been made without a proper evaluation of environmental impact, without consultation with the local community, and in violation of several other laws.

On March 4, five UN special rapporteurs and a team of independent experts sent a letter highlighting human rights abuses associated with the Mandalika tourism project on the island of Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara Province. The Mandalika project was managed by the Indonesia Tourism Development Corporation, a state-owned enterprise, and was designated a priority project by the government; the land confiscated was designated a Special Economic Zone. The United Nations and NGOs reported the project was associated with numerous claims of land grabbing, forced evictions, and police and unknown actors threatening and intimidating residents. Local activists were also detained and sentenced for creating “disturbances.”

On March 17, an armed group forcibly evicted residents of Pancoran Buntu II in Jakarta. The residents were evicted from land subject to a court case with PT Pertaminia Training and Consulting, a subsidiary of a state-owned enterprise. During the incident, 28 residents suffered injuries, including broken bones, lacerations, and breathing difficulties due to tear gas. Human rights organizations reported that police in the area did nothing to stop the armed group.

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

The law requires judicial warrants for searches except in cases involving subversion, economic crimes, and corruption. Security forces generally respected these requirements. The law also provides for searches without warrants when circumstances are “urgent and compelling.” Police throughout the country occasionally took actions without proper authority or violated individuals’ privacy.

NGOs claimed security officials occasionally conducted warrantless surveillance on individuals and their residences and monitored telephone calls.

The government developed Peduli Lindungi (Care Protect), a smartphone application used to track COVID-19 cases. Government regulations sought to stop the spread of the virus by requiring individuals entering public spaces like malls to check in using the application. The application also stores information on individuals’ vaccination status. NGOs expressed concerns about what information was gathered by the application and how this data was stored and used by the government.

On August 16, protesters gathered in Yahukimo Regency, Papua Province, to protest the arrest of Victor Yeimo (see section 1.e.) and the extension and revision of special autonomy for Papua. NGOs reported that police opened fire on the demonstration and arrested 48 protesters. One protester, Ferianus Asso, was allegedly hit by police gunfire in the abdomen; he was treated at home until August 20, when he was taken to a local hospital. On August 22, Asso died from complications related to his injuries. As of November 24, there were no reports that the government investigated the incident.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media. The law places various restrictions on its exercise, including criminal penalties for defamation, hate speech, blasphemy, obscenity, and spreading false information. There were numerous reports of the law being used to limit political criticism of the government.

Freedom of Expression: The law criminalizes speech deemed defaming of a person’s character or reputation (see Libel/Slander Laws below); insulting a religion; spreading hate speech; spreading false information; obscenity; or advocating separatism. Spreading hate speech or false information is punishable by up to six years in prison. Language in the law regulating pornography has been broadly applied to restrict content deemed as offending local morals. Under the criminal code, blasphemy is punishable for up to five years in prison. Blasphemy cases, however, were usually prosecuted under the Electronic Information and Transactions law, which was increasingly used to regulate online speech and carries a maximum six-year prison sentence. NGOs reported these laws were often used to prosecute critics of the government.

In February Sulaiman Marpaung, a man in North Sumatra Province, was sentenced to eight months in prison for hate speech after he posted comments on Facebook critical of Vice President Ma’ruf Amin’s religious bona fides and a collage of photos comparing the vice president with an elderly Japanese pornography actor.

On May 19, Kahiri Amri, head of the KAMI opposition political organization in Medan, North Sumatra Province, was sentenced to one year in prison for hate speech. In October 2020 Amri sent messages in a WhatsApp chat about organizing protests against the government’s proposed Omnibus Bill on Job Creation. In those messages he referred to police as “brown planthoppers” – a kind of insect – which the court deemed to constitute hate speech.

On August 19, an “antimask” activist, Yunus Wahyudi, was sentenced to three years in prison for spreading false news. In 2020 Wahyudi had posted a video online in which he claimed that there was no COVID-19 in Banyuwangi Regency, East Java Province.

According to the Legal Aid Foundation, in 2020 there were 67 blasphemy cases following at least 40 arrests on blasphemy charges. On August 25, police arrested Muhammad Kece in Bali for videos he uploaded to YouTube that allegedly insulted the Prophet Muhammad. On August 26, police arrested Yahya Waloni in Bogor Regency, West Java, for comments made in a video claiming that the Bible is fake. As of November 24, both Kece and Waloni were still in detention, with Waloni’s trial having begun and Kece’s trial scheduled to begin. For additional cases see section 2.c.

Although the law permits flying a flag symbolizing Papua’s cultural identity generally, a government regulation specifically prohibits the display of the Morning Star flag in Papua, the Republic of South Maluku flag in Maluku, and the Free Aceh Movement Crescent Moon flag in Aceh.

On May 21, Nasruddin (aka Nyak Din) was sentenced to one year in prison and his co-defendant Zulkifli was sentenced to eight months in prison for treason for flying the Free Aceh Movement Crescent Moon Flag in Indrajaya District, Aceh Province.

On May 15, police arrested three men for raising the Republic of South Maluku flag in Central Maluku Regency, Maluku Province. The three men have been named as suspects for treason and could face up to life imprisonment. As of November 24, there was no update on this case.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. The government, however, sometimes used regional and national regulations, including those on blasphemy, hate speech, defamation, false information, and separatism, to restrict media. Obtaining permits for travel to Papua and West Papua was difficult for foreign journalists, who reported bureaucratic delays or denials, ostensibly for safety reasons. The constitution protects journalists from interference, and the law states that anyone who deliberately prevents journalists from doing their job shall face a maximum prison sentence of two years or a substantial fine.

Violence and Harassment: From January to August, the Alliance of Independent Journalists reported 24 cases of violence against journalists that included doxing, physical assaults, and verbal intimidation and threats perpetrated by various actors, including government officials, police and security personnel, members of mass organizations, and the general public.

On March 4, Yasmin Bali, a journalist for Malukunews.com, was assaulted by Galib Warang, reportedly a friend of West Seram Regent Muhammad Yasin Payapo, in Maluku Province. Bali and several journalists had originally come to the regent’s office to interview the regional secretary. While waiting for the interview, Bali attempted to take a photo, at which point Warang punched him. Media reported that the assault happened in front of the regent. As of September 16, Warang was on trial for the incident.

On March 27 in Surabaya, East Java, security guards assaulted Nurhadi (no last name), a journalist for Tempo magazine, who was covering a story about a former Ministry of Finance official named as a suspect in a corruption case. Nurhadi went to the official’s daughter’s wedding reception to collect information for the report. While escorting Nurhadi from the reception, security guards allegedly destroyed his phone, punched him, and threatened to kill him. Nurhadi was taken to a second location where he was interrogated and beaten by two police officers. In May police named the two officers, Purwanto (no last name) and Firman Subkh, as suspects for assaulting Nurhadi. As of November 24, the trial for the two officers was ongoing. The suspects were not detained during the trial per a request from Surabaya Police.

In May IndonesiaLeaks, a joint investigative journalism project, reported the attempted hacking of websites and personal social media accounts of those associated with the project. Journalists associated with the project also reported that police followed them and took photos as they interviewed sources at cafes. The alleged intimidation occurred after IndonesiaLeaks made public its investigation into the head of the Corruption Eradication Commission and the reasons behind his alleged use of a civil service test to weaken the commission (see section 4). As a result of threats and intimidation, IndonesiaLeaks discontinued the use of its Twitter account in June.

In July the Bukit Barisan Regional Military Command identified four soldiers as suspects in the June 19 killing of Mara Salem Harahap, editor in chief of lassernewstoday.com, in Simalungun Regency, North Sumatra Province. Police had previously named two other suspects, the owner and staff of a local nightclub, in the killing. Police reported that Harahap often visited the nightclub and threatened to report on its involvement in drug trafficking if he was not given free drugs. The nightclub owner provided money to one of the soldiers to “deter” Harahap from continuing this extortion. On September 13, one of the soldiers, Awaluddin (no last name), died due to unknown causes at a hospital. As of October 28, another soldier, Dani Effendi, was reportedly on trial in military court for his involvement in the killing. As of October 28, the trial for the owner and staff of the night club was ongoing.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Attorney General’s Office has authority to monitor written material and request a court order to ban written material; this power was apparently not used during the year.

The Broadcasting Commission has the power to restrict content broadcast on television and radio and used that authority to restrict content deemed offensive. On March 17, the commission issued a circular on television programs aired during the month of Ramadan, which contained a provision that programs not show physical intimacy such as kissing or cuddling. Another provision prohibited television programs from having lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer content. In June the commission issued a list of 42 English-language songs that were prohibited from being played before 10 p.m. due to their content. Included in the list were songs by Bruno Mars, Ariana Grande, Maroon 5, and Busta Rhymes.

The government-supervised Film Censorship Institute censored domestic and imported movies for content deemed religiously or otherwise offensive.

Libel/Slander Laws: Criminal defamation provisions prohibit libel and slander, which are punishable with five-year prison terms. The truth of a statement is not a defense.

NGOs alleged that government officials, including police and the judiciary, selectively used criminal defamation to intimidate individuals and restrict freedom of expressions.

On June 22, Andi Dharmawansyah was sentenced to one month in jail for defaming Andi Suryanto Asapa, the former district head of health for Sinjai Regency, South Sulawesi Province. On February 16, Dharmawansyah posted an accusation online that Asapa was the mastermind behind cuts to a compensation fund intended for the heirs of health workers who died from COVID-19.

On September 10, presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko filed criminal defamation complaints with police against researchers from Indonesia Corruption Watch. The criminal complaint focuses on statements made by the organization in July accusing Moeldoko of having a conflict of interest in promoting the use of Ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19 because of his daughter’s close relationship with PT Harsen Laboratories, the producer of Ivermectin. Moeldoko denied that his daughter had any business relationship with PT Hansen Laboratories. Prior to filing these charges, Moeldoko sent three cease and desist letters to Indonesia Corruption Watch, the first delivered on July 29. As of year’s end, the Criminal Investigative Agency of the police was investigating the complaint.

On September 22, Coordinating Minister of Maritime and Investment Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan filed criminal and civil defamation complaints with police against Fatia Maulidiyanti, coordinator for KontraS, and Haris Azhar, executive director of the Lokataru Foundation. The complaints focus on statements made by Maulidiyanti in an August 20 video hosted on Azhar’s YouTube channel accusing Pandjaitan of having an economic interest in the conflict in Papua, based on an August report by a coalition of 10 NGOs on mining interests in Papua. Pandjaitan’s lawyers and spokesperson denied the activists’ accusations and stated they lacked a factual basis for claiming Pandjaitan has a conflict of interest in Papua. As of year’s end, the Criminal Investigative Agency was investigating the complaint after efforts to arrange mediation sessions between the parties stalled.

National Security: The government used legal provisions barring advocacy of separatism to restrict the ability of individuals and media to advocate peacefully for self-determination or independence in different parts of the country.

Nongovernmental Impact: Hardline Muslim groups sometimes intimidated perceived critics of Islam. On September 3, a group destroyed an Ahmadiyya mosque in Sintang Regency, West Kalimantan Province. The destruction of the mosque followed protests against the Ahmadi by a group called the Alliance of the Islamic Ummah and an August 14 order by the Sintang regent closing the mosque. Police arrested 22 individuals in connection with the case, naming three of those arrested as potential masterminds of the attack. As of November 24, government officials were investigating the incident and the involvement of hardline groups and the local government.

Criminal groups also reportedly used intimidation and violence against journalists who exposed their operations. On June 13, unknown persons set fire to the house of Syahzara Sopian, a journalist for a local newspaper in Binjai, North Sumatra. On June 26, four unknown armed persons, in an apparent attempt to kill him, attacked Sopian in a cafe; Sopian escaped. As of July 14, police had arrested five individuals and were still pursuing four other suspects in the case. Police reported that the apparent motive for the arson and attempted murder was Sopian’s reporting on an illegal gambling ring operating in the city.

On November 7, a group calling itself the “Homeland Militant Defender Army” threw an explosive device into the house of the parents of human rights activist Veronica Koman in Jakarta, leaving behind a note containing threats and demanding that Koman return to the country. No one was injured in the bombing. Koman went to Australia in late 2019 after police stated she would be arrested on charges of inciting violent protests related to Papua. A police spokesperson stated that the bombing was likely related to Koman’s activism related to the situation in Papua. As of November 24, there has been no update on the status of the police investigation into the attack.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government sometimes restricted these freedoms.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for freedom of assembly, and outside Papua the government generally respected this right. The law requires demonstrators to provide police with written notice three days before any planned demonstration and requires police to issue a receipt for the written notification. This receipt acts as a de facto license for the demonstration. Restrictions on public gatherings imposed to address the COVID-19 pandemic limited the public’s ability to demonstrate. NGOs claimed that the government selectively enforced COVID-19 related restrictions to prevent antigovernment protests.

Police in Papua routinely refused to issue such demonstration receipts, believing the demonstrations would include calls for independence, an act prohibited by law. A Papua provincial police decree prohibits rallies by seven organizations labeled as pro-independence, including the National Committee of West Papua, the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, and the Free Papua Movement.

On May 25, several hundred persons joined a protest against the extension and revision of Papua’s special autonomy in Manokwari Regency, West Papua. Police dispersed the crowd, stating it was a violation of COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings, arresting 146 individuals. On August 10, police arrested 14 students from Cendrawasih University in Jayapura, Papua Province for involvement in a protest demanding the release of Victor Yeimo (see section 1.e.). NGOs reported that these protesters were often injured in the process of arrest.

NGOs reported that protests related to Papua across the country were routinely disrupted by police and protesters were arrested. On January 27, protesters gathering in front of the parliament building in Jakarta were arrested before they could begin their demonstration against the extension and revision of Papua’s special autonomy. On March 5, Papuan students held a protest in Semarang, Central Java Province opposing the extension and revision of Papua’s special autonomy. Police disbursed the protest and arrested 20 individuals. On March 8, police arrested 46 persons in Denpasar, Bali Province, during a protest against the extension and revision of Papua’s special autonomy; police said they were arrested for violating COVID-19 related restrictions.

On March 9, Malang Police Chief Senior Commander Leonardus Harapantua Simarmata Permata threatened protesters from the Papuan Students Alliance in Malang, East Java. In a video of the incident, which was spread widely online, Permata can be heard saying “if you cross that line your blood is halal.” Activists and media reported the statement as a threat to shoot the protesters if they crossed a police barrier. On March 23, a Police Internal Affairs spokesperson stated they were investigating the incident. In June Permata was reassigned to be principal examiner for the National Police Forensic Lab; it was not clear whether this reassignment was related to the incident.

On May 1, students in Medan, North Sumatra Province, protested against the 2020 Omnibus Law on Job Creation, calling for its cancellation. Police arrested 14 of the protesters, during which time several students were injured.

Freedom of Association

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, which the government generally respected. The regulations on registration of organizations were generally not onerous. Some LGBTQI+ advocacy groups, however, reported that when attempting to register their organizations, they were unable to state explicitly that they were LGBTQI+ advocacy groups on their registration certificate.

To register officially, foreign NGOs must have a memorandum of understanding with a government ministry. Some organizations reported difficulties obtaining these memoranda and claimed the government withheld them to block their registration, although cumbersome bureaucracy within the Ministry of Law and Human Rights was also to blame. Foreign NGOs could continue to operate in the country without registration, but those lacking registration were unable to work directly with government programs.

In December 2020, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Mahfud MD announced a joint ministerial decree that declared the Islamic Defenders Front, a hardline Islamic organization, “nonregistered” and banned the organization, its symbols, and its activities. The Islamic Defenders Front’s permit to operate as a religious organization expired in June 2019; it was operating without a clear legal status for 18 months. Mahfud MD stated that during this period the organization had broken the law and violated public order and refused to amend its articles of association to make it consistent with the law, specifically the national ideology of Pancasila. A coalition of prominent human rights organizations released a statement asserting that while they criticized the Islamic Defenders Front’s violent actions, hate speech, and violations of the law, the joint ministerial decree was not consistent with the country’s constitution and was an unjust restriction on the rights of association and expression.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The law provides for freedom of internal movement and generally allows for travel outside of the country. The law gives the military broad powers, in a declared state of emergency, to limit land, air, and sea traffic. The government did not use these powers during the year. The government instituted a variety of restrictions on movement intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Some NGOs and activists criticized the frequent changes of these restrictions and their inconsistent enforcement.

In-country Movement: The government continued to impose administrative hurdles for travel by NGOs, journalists, foreign diplomats, and others to Papua and West Papua. After the COVID-19 pandemic began, authorities severely limited movement in and out of Papua and West Papua, enforcing these restrictions far more strictly and for a longer period than elsewhere.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The government collects data on displacement caused by natural hazards and conflict through the National Disaster Management Authority, although the lack of systematic monitoring of return and resettlement conditions made it difficult to estimate reliably the total number of internally displaced persons (IDPs). The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center reported there were 161,000 IDPs due to disasters and 40,000 IDPs due to conflict and violence as of December 2020.

The law stipulates the government must provide for “the fulfillment of the rights of the people and displaced persons affected by disaster in a manner that is fair and in line with the minimum service standards.” IDPs in towns and villages were not abused or deprived of services or other rights and protections, but resource and access constraints delayed or hindered the provision of services to IDPs in some cases, notably for those who fled to the countryside and forests to escape conflict in Papua and West Papua.

The return of persons displaced by conflict in Papua and West Papua was slow and difficult. Fighting in the highlands of Puncak Regency, Papua Province in 2019 led to thousands of displaced persons relocating to the capital of Illaga. The local government recorded that as of June 2, approximately 3,019 persons from 23 villages remained displaced as a result of conflict.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: The country is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and does not allow permanent local settlement or naturalization of asylum seekers or persons judged to be refugees. The government allows refugees to settle temporarily while awaiting permanent resettlement. The law acknowledges UNHCR’s role in processing all refugee status determinations in the country. Regulations establish a detailed refugee management process, outlining the specific responsibilities of national and subnational agencies from the time of refugee arrival to departure for resettlement or repatriation. UNHCR officials reported 13,343 known refugees and asylum seekers were in the country as of August.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In April 2019 Joko Widodo (popularly known as Jokowi) won a second five-year term as president. Voters also elected new members of the House of Representatives and the Regional Representative Council, as well as provincial and local legislatures. Domestic and international observers deemed the elections free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women and members of historically marginalized or minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The law on political parties mandates that women comprise a minimum of 30 percent of the founding membership of a new political party.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but government efforts to enforce the law were insufficient. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Despite the arrest and conviction of many high-profile and high-ranking officials, including the former ministers of maritime and social affairs, there was a widespread perception that corruption remained endemic. NGOs claimed that endemic corruption was one cause for human rights abuses, with moneyed interests using corrupt government officials to harass and intimidate activists and groups that impeded their businesses.

The Corruption Eradication Commission, national police, the armed forces’ Special Economics Crime Unit, and the Attorney General’s Office may all investigate and prosecute corruption cases. Coordination between these offices, however, was inconsistent and coordination with the armed forces unit was nonexistent. The Corruption Eradication Commission does not have authority to investigate members of the military, nor does it have jurisdiction in cases where state losses are valued at less than IDR one billion ($70,000).

Many NGOs and activists maintained that the Corruption Eradication Commission’s ability to investigate corruption was limited because its supervisory body was selected and appointed by the president and because the commission was part of the executive branch. Commission investigators were sometimes harassed, intimidated, or attacked because of their work.

On May 5, the Corruption Eradication Commission conducted a civics exam for all commission employees as part of a legally mandated transition process to convert commission staff to regular civil service status. Seventy-five employees failed the test, including prominent investigators who had criticized the commission’s leadership and 2019 amendments to the commission’s statute and who were involved in many high-profile investigations, including those of two ministers (see below). On July 15, the national ombudsman concluded the exam was improperly administered and that the commission lacked the legal standing to compel employees to take the exam. NGOs and media reported that the test was a tactic to remove specific investigators, including Novel Baswedan, a prominent investigator who had led a case resulting in the imprisonment of the speaker of the House of Representatives and who had been injured in an acid attack perpetrated by two police officers. On September 30, the commission dismissed 57 of the 75 who failed the test.

On August 30, the commission’s supervisory board determined that the commission Deputy Chairperson Lili Pintauli Siregar was guilty of an ethics violation in her handling of a bribery case involving the mayor of Tanjung Balai, Muhammad Syahrial. The board determined Siregar had inappropriate contact with the subject of an investigation for her own personal benefit and imposed a one-year, 40 percent pay reduction for Siregar for the infraction.

Corruption: The Corruption Eradication Commission investigated and prosecuted officials suspected of corruption at all levels of government. Several high-profile corruption cases involved large-scale government procurement or construction programs and implicated legislators, governors, regents, judges, police, and civil servants. In 2020 the commission recovered state assets worth approximately IDR 152 billion ($10.7 million); it conducted 114 investigations, initiated 81 prosecutions, and completed 111 cases resulting in convictions. The Attorney General Office’s Corruption Taskforce was also active in the investigation and prosecution of high-profile corruption cases.

On March 10, two police generals were convicted and sentenced for taking bribes from Djoko Soegiarto Tjandra, a fugitive from charges of involvement in a Bank Bali debt scandal, to assist him in traveling around the country while a fugitive. Inspector General Napoleon Bonaparte was sentenced to four and one-half years in prison for taking IDR 7.2 billion ($500,000) in bribes; Brigadier General Prasetijo Utomo was sentenced to three and one-half years for taking IDR 1.4 billion ($100,000). On April 5, Tjandra was sentenced to four and one-half years in prison for bribing Bonaparte, Utomo, and a prosecutor.

On July 16, former minister of marine affairs and fisheries Edhy Prabowo was found guilty of accepting bribes from businessmen and misusing his authority to expedite export permits for lobster larvae. Prabowo was sentenced to five years in prison, a substantial fine, and barred from public office for three years after the end of his sentence.

On August 23, former social affairs minister Juliari Peter Batubara was found guilty of accepting IDR 20.8 billion ($1.45 million) in kickbacks related to government food assistance programs created to alleviate hunger during the COVID-19 pandemic. Juliari was sentenced to 12 years in prison, ordered to pay IDR 14.6 billion ($1 million) in restitution, a fine of IDR 500 million ($34,700), and barred from running for public office for four years after the end of his prison term.

According to NGOs and media reports, police commonly demanded bribes ranging from minor payoffs in traffic cases to large amounts in criminal investigations. Corrupt officials sometimes subjected Indonesian migrants returning from abroad, primarily women, to arbitrary strip searches, theft, and extortion.

Bribes and extortion influenced prosecution, conviction, and sentencing in civil and criminal cases. Anticorruption NGOs accused key individuals in the justice system of accepting bribes and condoning suspected corruption. Legal aid organizations reported cases often moved very slowly unless a bribe was paid, and in some cases, prosecutors demanded payments from defendants to ensure a less zealous prosecution or to make a case disappear.

In 2020 the National Ombudsman received 284 complaints related to maladministration in court decisions. From January 1 to October 30, 2020, the Judicial Commission received 1,158 public complaints of judicial misconduct and recommended sanctions against 121 judges. The Judicial Commission reported that from January 4 to April 30, they had received 494 complaints of judicial misconduct.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Domestic and international human rights organizations generally operated without government restriction, except in Papua and West Papua, investigating and publishing findings on human rights cases and advocating improvements to the government’s human rights performance. Government representatives met with local NGOs, responded to their inquiries, and took some actions in response to NGO concerns. Some officials subjected NGOs to monitoring, harassment, interference, threats, and intimidation. On May 10, General Paulus Waterpauw stated that some NGOs and activists enflamed the situation in Papua and perpetuated the separatist movement there.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government generally permitted UN officials to monitor the human rights situation in the country, except in Papua and West Papua. Security forces and intelligence agencies, however, tended to regard foreign human rights observers with suspicion, especially those in Papua and West Papua, where their operations were restricted. NGOs continued to press the government to allow the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights to visit Papua and West Papua to assess the human rights situation there.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Many independent agencies addressed human rights problems, including the Office of the National Ombudsman, the National Commission on Violence against Women, and the National Human Rights Commission. The government is not required to adopt their recommendations and at times avoided doing so. Some agencies, including the human rights and violence against women commissions, may refer cases to police or prosecutors.

The Aceh Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established to investigate human rights violations perpetrated by the government and the then active Free Aceh Movement between 1976 and 2005, has taken statements from victims, former separatists, and witnesses between 2016 and 2020. Budget constraints posed challenges for the commission.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, domestic abuse, and other forms of violence against women. The legal definition of rape covers only forced penetration of sexual organs, and filing a case requires a witness or other corroboration. Rape is punishable by four to 14 years in prison and a substantial fine. While the government imprisoned some perpetrators of rape and attempted rape, sentences were often light, and many convicted rapists received the minimum sentence. Marital rape is not a specific criminal offense in law but is covered under “forced sexual intercourse” in national legislation on domestic violence and may be punished with criminal penalties.

The National Commission on Violence against Women reported receiving 2,300 complaints of violence against women in 2020, up from 1,400 in 2019 – the Commission attributed the upswing in part to social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as increased willingness of victims to report incidents. On August 24, the commission reported that in the first six months of the year, it received more than 2,500 complaints – the majority of which were domestic violence incidents. Civil society activists underscored that many cases went unreported, as many victims did not report abuse because of fear of social stigma, shame, and lack of support from friends and family.

On June 13, a 16-year-old girl was detained for questioning in West Halmahera Regency, North Maluku Province and taken to the South Jailolo Police Station. While detained the girl was raped by a police officer at the station who threatened her with jail time if she refused to have sex with him. On June 23, North Maluku police reported that the officer had been dishonorably discharged from the police and arrested pending trial for rape.

Civil society organizations operated integrated service centers for women and children in all 34 provinces and approximately 436 districts and provided counseling and support services of varying quality to victims of violence. Larger provincial service centers provided more comprehensive psychosocial services. living in rural areas or districts with no such center had difficulty receiving support services, and some centers were only open for six hours a day, not the required 24 hours. Nationwide, police operated “special crisis rooms” or “women’s desks” where female officers received reports from female and child victims of sexual assault and trafficking and where victims found temporary shelter.

In addition to 32 provincial-level antitrafficking-in-persons task forces, the government has 251 task forces at the local (district or city) level, which were usually chaired by the head of the local integrated service center or of the local social affairs office.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C reportedly occurred regularly. There were no recent reliable data on FGM/C. Using 2013 data, UNICEF estimated that 49 percent of girls aged 11 and younger underwent some form of FGM/C, with the majority of girls subjected to the procedure before they were six months old. National law prohibiting this practice has never been tested in court, as no one has ever been charged for performing FGM/C. The Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection continued to lead official efforts to prevent FGM/C.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibiting indecent public acts serves as the basis for criminal complaints stemming from sexual harassment. Violations are punishable by imprisonment of up to two years and eight months and a small fine. Civil society and NGOs reported sexual harassment was a problem countrywide.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. NGOs reported that social stigma and bullying of female students related to menstruation occurred, and that female students had inadequate access to menstrual education, hygiene products, and hygienic facilities at schools. Such inadequacy prevented female students from appropriately managing menstruation, frequently resulting in absenteeism from school during menstruation. (See the Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting subsection for additional information.)

The law recognizes the basic right of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, but various regulations undercut its effective implementation for women. By law the government must provide information and education on reproductive health that do not conflict with religious or moral norms. NGOs reported that government officials attempted to restrict the provision of reproductive health information related to contraceptives and other services deemed as conflicting with religious or moral norms.

While condoms were widely available, regulations require husbands’ permission for married women to obtain other forms of birth control. Local NGOs reported that unmarried women found it difficult to obtain contraceptives through health-care systems. Media and NGOs reported such women were stigmatized, including by health-care staff who repeatedly asked about marital status and sometimes turned away unmarried women seeking routine procedures such as pap smears.

The UN Population Fund reported that the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted access to family planning and reproductive services. The National Agency for Population and Family Planning reported that approximately 10 percent of its clients dropped out of its programs during the pandemic.

NGOs reported that reproductive health services were not consistently provided to victims of sexual violence. NGOs reported rape victims sometimes experienced difficulties obtaining emergency contraceptives from medical providers.

According to 2017 World Health Organization data, the maternal mortality rate was 177 per 100,000 live births, down from 184 in 2016. The Ministry of Health and NGOs identified several factors contributing to the maternal mortality rate, including lack of training for midwives and traditional birth attendants, continued lack of access to basic and comprehensive emergency obstetric care, and limited availability of essential maternal and neonatal medications. Hospitals and health centers did not always properly manage complicated procedures, and financial barriers and the limited availability of qualified health personnel caused problems for referrals in case of complications. A woman’s economic status, level of education, and age at first marriage also affected maternal mortality.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men in family, labor, property, and nationality law, but it does not grant widows equal inheritance rights. The law states that women’s work outside the home must not conflict with their role in improving family welfare and educating the younger generation. The law designates the man as the head of the household.

Divorce is available to both men and women. Many divorced women received no alimony, since there is no system to enforce such payments. The law requires a divorced woman to wait 40 days before remarrying; a man may remarry immediately.

The National Commission on Violence against Women viewed many local laws and policies as discriminatory. These included “morality laws” and antiprostitution regulations.

In January media widely reported that a Christian female student was forced to wear a hijab in Padang, West Sumatra. In May the Supreme Court invalidated a government ban issued in February on such school regulations, stating that it conflicted with laws regarding the national education system, protection of children, and local government. A March report by Human Rights Watch detailed widespread and intense social pressure for women to wear hijabs in schools and government offices, in addition to requirements in official regulations. Women faced discrimination in the workplace, both in hiring and in gaining fair compensation (see section 7.d.).

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law contains provisions specifically aimed at eliminating racial and ethnic discrimination, providing criminal penalties for individuals who discriminate on ethnic/racial grounds, as well as sentencing enhancements for violent actions that include a racial or ethnic motivation. The law defines hate speech as spreading hate against a race, tribe, religion, or group. The government generally applied hate speech law in cases related to race.

NGOs reported that persons of Melanesian descent, predominantly from Papua and West Papua, faced widespread discrimination throughout the country. Persons of Melanesian descent often faced police abuse (see sections 1.c., 1.g., and 2.b.)

In a January interview, former National Intelligence Agency chief General Hendropriyono suggested that two million Papuans should be resettled away from their homeland so that they would be “racially separate from the Papuans in Papua New Guinea” and feel more Indonesian.

In January Ambroncius Nababan, chairman of the pro-president Widodo Projamin Volunteer Organization, used racist language and images of a gorilla to attack Natalius Pigai, former human rights commissioner and an ethnic Papuan, over Pigai’s criticism of the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine.

An Amnesty International report covering protests in July and August related to the extension and revision of special autonomy found that police officers involved in arresting or causing injury to Papuan protesters had referred to them as “monkeys.”

Papuan activists emphasized that although Papua and West Papua are rich in natural resources, the local Melanesian population has historically not fully benefitted from these resources and much of the local economy has long been controlled by non-Melanesians. Statistics Indonesia, a government agency, reported that in 2020 the provinces of Papua and West Papua had the lowest Human Development Index and highest poverty rate of the country’s 34 provinces. On July 15, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill extending special autonomy for the provinces of Papua and West Papua, which included an increase in the yearly allocation of government funds to Papua from 2 to 2.25 percent of the national budget intended to address this inequality. Opponents of this bill claimed the economic benefits of this increase would disproportionately benefit non-Melanesians.

Indigenous Peoples

The government viewed all citizens as “indigenous” but recognized the existence of several “isolated communities” and their right to participate fully in political and social life. The Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago estimated that between 50 and 70 million indigenous persons were in the country. These communities include the Dayak tribes of Kalimantan, families living as sea nomads, and the 312 officially recognized indigenous groups in Papua. Indigenous persons, most notably in Papua and West Papua, were subjected to discrimination.

There was little improvement in respect for indigenous persons’ traditional land rights and access to ancestral lands remained a major source of tension throughout the country. The government failed to prevent companies, often in collusion with local military and police units, from encroaching on indigenous peoples’ land. Central and local government officials were also alleged to have extracted kickbacks from mining and plantation companies in exchange for land access at the expense of indigenous peoples.

Mining and logging activities, many of them illegal, posed significant social, economic, and legal problems for indigenous communities. Melanesians in Papua cited racism and discrimination as drivers of violence and economic inequality in the region.

NGOs reported that as of January, only approximately 193 square miles of a proposed 38,610 square miles has been granted to local indigenous groups. These hutan adat (customary forest) land grants are specifically designated for indigenous groups. Nevertheless, large corporations and the government continued to displace individuals from ancestral lands. NGOs reported that security forces and police sometimes became involved in disputes between corporations and indigenous communities, often taking the side of the businesses.

From January 2020 to March 2021, Amnesty International reported 61 cases of indigenous community members arrested without due process of law – a trend the NGO identified as an attempt to criminalize indigenous community’s efforts to maintain their customary rights.

In May the West Papua government rescinded 12 licenses held by companies operating palm oil plantations in the province. The 12 licenses covered a total of 1,034 square miles. The recensions came after the provincial government collaborated with the Corruption Eradication Commission and the NGO EcoNusa to review 24 palm oil license holders for administrative and legal violations.

On May 18, security personnel from PT Toba Pulp Lestari clashed with thousands of residents in Toba Regency, North Sumatra, injuring dozens of residents. The confrontation started because of the company’s plans to plant eucalyptus trees on 2.3 square miles claimed by the local indigenous community as customary land. The conflict was part of a long-standing dispute. From 2020 to May 2021, PT Toba Pulp Lestari reported 71 members of the local indigenous community to police for a variety of offenses.

In June Human Rights Watch released an in-depth report on the operations of PT Sintang Raya’s palm oil plantations and the company’s disputes with the local indigenous community in Kubu Raya Regency, West Kalimantan Province. The report stated that government “authorities have done very little to mediate and resolve disputes” about land ownership.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived through the citizenship of one’s parents. If citizenship of the parents cannot be determined, or the parents lack citizenship, citizenship can be acquired by birth in national territory.

The law prohibits fees for legal identity documents issued by the civil registry. Nevertheless, NGOs reported that in some districts local authorities did not provide free birth certificates.

Education: Although the constitution states that the government must provide tuition-free education, it does not cover fees charged for schoolbooks, uniforms, transportation, and other nontuition costs. The Ministry of Education and Culture, representing public and private schools, and the Ministry of Religious Affairs for Islamic schools and madrassahs, operated a system giving students from low-income families a financial grant for their educational needs. Nonetheless, high poverty rates nationwide put education out of reach for many children.

According to the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection’s 2019 Children Profile Report, approximately 10.9 million children ages five to 17 had not attended school and 3.2 million children had dropped out of school.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse, but NGOs criticized the slow police response to such allegations. The law also addresses economic and sexual exploitation of children. Some provincial governments did not enforce these provisions. In April, six female primary school students alleged their school principal had sexually assaulted them in Medan, North Sumatra. In May the principal was arrested and named as a suspect by police. In May a Quran teacher in Bekasi, West Java Province, was arrested for allegedly molesting a 15-year-old female student in a mosque where he worked.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum marriage age for women and men is 19. Exceptions to the minimum age requirements are allowed with court approval. The courts officially permitted more than 33,000 child marriages with parental consent between January and June 2020, with 60 percent of these involving individuals younger than 18. Children’s rights activists are concerned that increased economic pressure from COVID-19 may be leading parents to resort to child marriage to reduce the economic burden on their households. The National Statistics Agency reported in 2018 that approximately 11 percent of girls in the country married before the age of 18. Provinces with the highest rates of early marriage include West Sulawesi, Central Kalimantan, Southeast Sulawesi, South Kalimantan, and West Kalimantan. The main drivers of early marriage were poverty, cultural tradition, religious norms, and lack of sexual reproductive-health education.

The reduction of child marriage is one of the targets set in the National Mid-Term Development Plan 2020-2024. The government aimed to reduce new child marriages to 8.7 percent of all marriages by 2024.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law forbids consensual sex outside of marriage with girls younger than 15. It does not address heterosexual conduct between women and boys, but it prohibits same-sex sexual conduct between adults and minors.

The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and the use of children in illicit activities. It also prohibits child pornography and prescribes a maximum sentence of 12 years and a substantial fine for producing or trading in child pornography.

According to 2016 data, the most recent available from the Ministry of Social Affairs, there were 56,000 underage sex workers in the country; UNICEF estimated that nationwide 40,000 to 70,000 children were victims of sexual exploitation and that 30 percent of female commercial sex workers were children.

In February media reported that an online matchmaking service named Aisha Weddings promoted services for those between the ages of 12 and 21 on its website and advertised unregistered and polygamous marriages. The website was blocked soon after being reported. Police stated that the website was registered in a foreign country.

From April to July, a mosque administrator allegedly sexually abused 16 children in Makassar, South Sulawesi Province in the mosque. The administrator paid the victims 10 to 20 thousand IDR ($0.70 to $1.40) to agree to engage in the sexual acts. In August police arrested the man, who faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Displaced Children: Ministry of Social Affairs data from December 2020 estimated there were 67,368 street children in the country. The government continued to fund shelters administered by local NGOs and paid for the education of some street children.

Institutionalized Children: The Ministry of Social Affairs reported that in 2019 183,104 children were registered in its Integrated Social Welfare Data system, of whom 106,406 were residing in 4,864 child welfare institutions; 76,698 were in family placement.

In August two orphan children at the al-Amin Orphanage in Gresik Regency, East Java Province, were abused by the son of the orphanage’s administrator. The abuser used a wire to beat the two children, aged 10 and 11. The incident was reported to police.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

The country’s Jewish population was extremely small, estimated at approximately 200. There were no significant reports of anti-Semitism, but studies in recent years indicated a high level of anti-Semitic sentiment, often linked with strong anti-Israeli sentiment.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities and mandates accessibility to public facilities for persons with disabilities. The law applies to education, employment, health services, transportation, and other state services but was seldom enforced. Comprehensive disability rights law provisions impose criminal sanctions for violators of the rights of persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities were disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 crisis. They had difficulties accessing information on the pandemic, following virus-related public health strategies, and receiving health care from service providers.

According to Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection data from 2019, approximately 650,000 children ages two to 17 have disabilities. There was no reliable data on their access to education, but observers believed it was low.

According to the General Election Commission, there were potentially 137,247 voters with disabilities out of 105 million voters registered to vote in the 2020 regional head elections. The law provides persons with disabilities the rights to vote and run for office, and election commission procedures provide for access to the polls for voters with disabilities.

Despite a government ban, NGOs reported that families, traditional healers, and staff in institutions continued to shackle individuals with psychosocial disabilities, in some cases for years. The government continued to prioritize elimination of this practice. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the practice of shackling increased, after declining for several years. According to Ministry of Health data, in the year prior to the pandemic there were 5,227 cases of shackling nationwide, but during the pandemic the number increased to 6,278 by the end of 2020, with the largest increase coming in East Java Province where the number of cases jumped from 961 to 2,302. NGOs noted a lack of public awareness of the issue.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The stigmatization of and discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS were pervasive, despite government efforts to encourage tolerance. Societal tolerance varied widely and official fear of a backlash from religious conservatives often resulted in muted prevention efforts. Societal barriers to accessing antiretroviral drugs and their expense put these drugs beyond the reach of many. Persons with HIV or AIDS reportedly continued to face employment discrimination. Closer collaboration between the Ministry of Health and civil society organizations increased the reach of the government’s awareness campaign; however, some clinics refused to provide services to persons with HIV or AIDS.

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

No national law criminalizes same-sex sexual conduct, except between adults and minors. NGOs reported numerous cases of local government regulations that define same-sex sexual conduct as a form of sexual deviance. Aceh’s sharia makes consensual same-sex sexual conduct illegal and punishable by a maximum of 100 lashes, a considerable fine, or a 100-month prison term. According to Aceh’s sharia agency chief, at least four witnesses must observe individuals engaging in consensual same-sex sexual conduct for them to be charged. Local organizations held anti-LGBTQI+ protests. NGOs reported that fear of prosecution under Aceh’s sharia at times caused LGBTQI+ activists to flee the province, sometimes permanently. Producing media depicting consensual same-sex sexual conduct – vaguely and broadly defined in the law – can be prosecuted as a crime under the antipornography act. Penalties include potentially extremely large fines and imprisonment from six months to 15 years, with heavier penalties for crimes involving minors.

In August a military tribunal in North Kalimantan dismissed a soldier from service and sentenced him to seven months in prison for having same-sex intercourse. The judges stated that the soldier had violated military regulations against immorality and LGBTQI+ activities.

Antidiscrimination law does not protect LGBTQI+ individuals, and discrimination and violence against LGBTQI+ persons continued. Families often put LGBTQI+ minors into conversion therapy, confined them to their homes, or pressured them to marry persons of the opposite sex.

According to media and NGO reports, local authorities harassed transgender persons, including by forcing them to conform to cultural standards of behavior associated with their biological sex or to pay bribes following detention. In many cases, officials failed to protect LGBTQI+ persons from societal abuse. Police corruption, bias, and violence caused LGBTQI+ persons to avoid interaction with police. Officials often ignored formal complaints by victims and affected persons, including refusing to investigate bullying directed at LGBTQI+ individuals. In criminal cases with LGBTQI+ victims, police investigated the cases reasonably well, as long as the suspect was not affiliated with police. Human Rights Watch Indonesia noted anti-LGBTQI+ rhetoric in the country has increased since 2016.

In 2020 Hendrika Mayora Kelan was elected to head of the consultative body of a small village in East Nusa Tenggara Province, becoming the country’s first transgender public official.

Transgender persons faced discrimination in employment and access to public services and health care. NGOs documented government officials’ refusal to issue identity cards to transgender persons. NGOs reported that transgender individuals sometimes faced problems in getting COVID-19 vaccinations due to the lack of identity documents. The law only allows transgender individuals officially to change their gender after the completion of sex reassignment surgery. Some observers claimed the process was cumbersome and degrading because it is permissible only in certain undefined special circumstances and requires a court order declaring that the surgery is complete. In June the Ministry of Home Affairs announced that it would start providing electronic identity cards to transgender individuals; however, the name and gender on the card would remain those given at birth, absent a court order showing a change of name or gender.

LGBTQI+ NGOs operated but frequently held low-key public events because the licenses or permits required for holding registered events were difficult to obtain or they were pressured by police not to hold such events to avoid creating “social unrest.”

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, with restrictions, provides for the rights of workers to join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination.

Workers in the private sector have, in law, broad rights of association and formed and joined unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements. The law places restrictions on organizing among public-sector workers. Civil servants may only form employee associations with limitations on certain rights, such as the right to strike. Employees of state-owned enterprises may form unions, but because the government treats most such enterprises as essential national interest entities, their right to strike is limited.

The law stipulates that 10 or more workers have the right to form a union, with membership open to all workers, regardless of political affiliation, religion, ethnicity, or gender. The Ministry of Manpower records, rather than approves, the formation of a union, federation, or confederation and provides it with a registration number.

The law allows the government to petition the courts to dissolve a union if it conflicts with the constitution or the national ideology of Pancasila, which encompasses the principles of belief in one God, justice, unity, democracy, and social justice. Authorities may compel a union to dissolve if its leaders or members, in the name of the union, commit crimes against the security of the state, and they may receive a minimum of five years in prison. Once a union is dissolved, its leaders and members may not form another union for at least three years. The International Labor Organization remained concerned that dissolving a union could be disproportionate to the seriousness of the violation.

The law includes some restrictions on collective bargaining, including a requirement that a union or unions represent more than 50 percent of the company workforce or receive a vote of more than 50 percent of all workers to negotiate a collective labor agreement. Workers and employers have 30 days to conclude a collective labor agreement. Such agreements have a two-year lifespan that the parties may extend for one year. Unions noted that the law allows employers to delay the negotiation of collective labor agreements with few legal repercussions.

The right to strike is legally restricted. By law workers must give written notification that includes the location and start and end time to authorities and employer seven days in advance for a strike to be legal. Before striking, workers must engage in mediation with the employer and then proceed to a government mediator or risk having the strike declared illegal. In the case of an illegal strike, an employer may make two written requests within a period of seven days for workers to return. Workers who do not return to work after these requests are considered to have resigned.

All strikes at “enterprises that cater to the interests of the general public or at enterprises whose activities would endanger the safety of human life if discontinued” are deemed illegal. Regulations do not specify the types of enterprises affected, leaving this determination to the government’s discretion. Presidential and ministerial decrees enable companies or industrial areas to request assistance from police and the military in the event of disruption of or threat to “national vital objects” in their jurisdiction. The International Labor Organization believes that the regulatory definition of “national vital objects” imposed overly broad restrictions on legitimate trade union activity, including in export-processing zones. Human rights activists and unions alleged that the government continues to label companies and economic areas as “national vital objects” to justify the use of security forces to restrict strike activity.

The government did not always effectively enforce provisions of the law protecting freedom of association or preventing antiunion discrimination. Antiunion discrimination cases moved excessively slowly through the court system. Bribery and judicial corruption in workers’ disputes continued, and unions claimed that courts rarely decided cases in the workers’ favor, even in cases in which the Ministry of Manpower recommended in favor of the workers. While such workers sometimes received severance pay or other compensation, they were rarely reinstated. Authorities used some legal provisions to prosecute trade unionists for striking, such as the crime of “instigating a punishable act” or committing “unpleasant acts,” which criminalized a broad range of conduct.

Penalties for criminal violations of the law protecting freedom of association and the right to enter into collective labor agreements include a prison sentence and fines and were generally commensurate with similar crimes. Local Ministry of Manpower offices were responsible for enforcement, which was particularly difficult in export-promotion zones. Enforcement of collective bargaining agreements varied based on the capacity and interest of individual regional governments.

Several common practices undermined freedom of association. Antiunion intimidation most often took the form of termination, transfer, or filing unjustified criminal charges. Unions alleged that employers commonly reassigned labor leaders deemed to be problematic. For example, on May 21, union leader Zulkarnain (one name only) was dismissed by PT Schneider Electric; the company said it was for inability to do his work. The company in May 2020 transferred Zulkarnain from his position of 10 years as a metrology engineer to a supplier quality engineer and said he could either take the offer or leave. On March 10, management gave him both a first and second warning letter alleging underperformance. The company allegedly threatened to cut his severance payment if he appealed the dismissal through the union. The district labor department said underperformance could not be grounds for dismissal. As of October 14, there were no additional updates on this case.

Labor activists claimed that companies orchestrated the formation of multiple unions, including “yellow” (employer-controlled) unions, to weaken legitimate unions. Some employers threatened employees who contacted union organizers. Companies often sued union leaders for losses suffered in strikes.

Many strikes were unsanctioned or “wildcat” strikes that broke out after a failure to settle long-term grievances or when an employer refused to recognize a union. Unions reported that employers also used the bureaucratic process required for a legal strike to obstruct unions’ right to strike. Unions noted that employers’ delays in negotiating collective labor agreements contributed to strike activity and legal measures taken against union members in the event of a failed agreement negotiation.

The 2020 Omnibus Law on Job Creation and the subsequent implementing regulations allowed for increased use of contract labor and eliminated restrictions on outsourcing labor. Both changes affected workers’ right to organize and bargain collectively. Under the law, outsourcing contract labor can be done for any business activity without limitation. The provider company, rather than the user company, is solely responsible for the working conditions and wages of contract workers. The user company may source contract workers from multiple outsourcing companies, making it impossible for workers to bargain collectively at the workplace.

The Omnibus Law provides vague limits to the use of fixed-term contracts. For example, fixed-term contracts can be used for any work that is temporary in nature or can be completed in “not too long a time.” The implementing regulations also increased the maximum duration of fixed contracts from three years to 10 years. These broad guidelines made it difficult to ensure that the threat of contract renewal was not used to inhibit freedom of association and collective bargaining. In March workers at two unions, PTTEL security union and PTTEL care and service union, went on strike after failing to negotiate a new collective agreement with management. Part of the dispute was a result of the company outsourcing workers at the factory, and the dismissal of 38 of those workers. The union reported that police violently dispersed the picket line.

In 2020 the Indonesian Trade Union Confederation and the Confederation of Indonesian Workers Welfare Union, the two largest labor unions, filed requests for judicial review of the constitutionality of the 2020 Omnibus Law with the Constitutional Court due to the adverse impact of the law on workers. In June the Constitutional Court refused the judicial review request from the Confederation of Indonesian Workers Welfare Union; however, the request from the Indonesian Trade Union Confederation was still under consideration as of October 25.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, prescribing penalties of imprisonment and a fine, which were commensurate with similar crimes.

To prevent forced labor among Indonesian workers abroad, the National Social Security Administration enrolls these migrant workers and their families in the national social security program, enables authorities to prosecute suspects involved in illegal recruitment and placement of workers, and limits the role of private recruitment and placement agencies by revoking their authority to obtain travel documents for migrant workers. Government agencies may suspend the licenses of recruitment agencies for coercive or deceptive recruitment practices and contract signings, sending migrant workers to an unauthorized destination country, document forgery, underage recruitment, illegal fees (such as requesting several months of workers’ salaries), and other violations.

The government continued its moratorium on sending domestic workers to certain countries where its citizens had been subjected to forced labor. Some observers noted this moratorium resulted in an increasing number of workers seeking the services of illegal brokers and placement agencies to facilitate their travel, increasing their vulnerability to human trafficking. The government asserted such moratoriums were needed until receiving countries can guarantee protections against the abuse and exploitation of its migrant workers.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. There were credible reports that forced labor occurred, including forced and compulsory labor by children (see section 7.c.). A May Greenpeace report released covering a period of six years indicated a significant increase in reports of forced labor on fishing vessels at sea in 2020. Forced labor also occurred in domestic servitude and in the mining, manufacturing, fish processing, construction, and plantation agriculture sectors.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Law and regulations prohibit all labor by children between the ages of five and 12. Children ages 13 and 14 may work up to 15 hours per week; children ages 15 to 17 may work up to 40 hours per week (not during school or evening hours and with written permission from parents). The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, as defined by the International Labor Organization. It does not, however, extend to the informal economy, where most child labor takes place. Companies which legally employ children for the purpose of artistic performances and similar activities are required to keep records of their employment. Companies that legally employ children for other purposes are not required to keep such records. In 2020 through its Family Hope Program, the government removed 9,000 children from child labor.

The government did not effectively enforce the law prohibiting the worst forms of child labor. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes.

Child labor commonly occurred in domestic service, rural agriculture, light industry, manufacturing, and fishing. There were reports of child labor on palm oil plantations. The worst forms of child labor occurred in commercial sexual exploitation, including the production of child pornography (also see section 6, Children); other illicit activities, including forced begging and the production, sale, and trafficking of drugs; and in fishing and domestic work.

According to a National Statistics Agency report, in August 2020 there were approximately 1.17 million children ages 10 to 17 working, primarily in the informal economy. The International Labor Organization estimated 1.5 million children between ages 10 and 17 work in the agricultural sector.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, ethnicity, religion, sex, national origin, and disability but not specifically with respect to sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, or HIV or other communicable disease status. There were no legal restrictions against women in employment to include limiting working hours, occupations, or tasks.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for violations of similar laws, but they were not applied outside the formal sector. According to NGOs, antidiscrimination protections were not always observed by employers or the government. Human rights groups reported some government ministries discriminated against pregnant women, persons with disabilities, LGBTQI+ individuals, and HIV-positive persons in hiring. For example, on June 23, the chief of staff of the navy stated that he would dismiss any naval personnel involved in LGBTQI+ activities. The Ministry of Manpower, the Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Agency, the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the National Development Planning Board worked in partnership to reduce gender inequality, including supporting equal employment opportunity task forces at the provincial, district, and municipal levels. , however, still lagged behind men in wages.

In January courts dismissed a suit filed by a gay police officer in Central Java Province for reinstatement into the police force. In 2018 he was fired after being seen with his same-sex romantic partner.

In March a West Sumatran man with a disability lost his appeal to be admitted as a civil servant for the National Audit Board. The man passed the required test but was told he was not healthy enough in mind and body. The man appealed this initial decision and submitted complaints to the National Commission of Human Rights and the Ombudsman.

Migrant workers and persons with disabilities commonly faced discrimination in employment and were often only hired for lower status jobs.

In June IndustriAll reported that the Ministry for Women’s Empowerment and Children agreed to the establishment of an additional 10-15 “protection houses” in key industrial zones where women employees can report gender-based violence, discrimination, and noncompliance with maternity protection. Government agencies provided physical, mental and rehabilitation support. The program began in 2020 and included six protection houses.

Some activists said that in manufacturing, employers relegated women to lower paying, lower-level jobs. Jobs traditionally associated with women continued to be significantly undervalued and unregulated. NGOs reported discriminatory behavior toward domestic workers continued to be rampant.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: Minimum wages varied throughout the country since provincial governors had authority to set a minimum wage floor and district heads had authority to set a higher rate. Minimum wages were above the official poverty line.

Most workers are not covered by the minimum wage laws. Government regulations exempt employers in certain sectors, including small and medium enterprises and labor-intensive industries such as textiles, from minimum wage requirements. Implementing regulations issued from February to April for the 2020 Omnibus Law require that sectors exempt from minimum wage rules should pay workers at least 50 percent of the average public consumption or 25 percent above the poverty level of their province. The new regulations also make part-time workers eligible for hourly wages.

For certain sectors, the overtime rate for work in excess of a 40-hour workweek was 1.5 times the normal hourly rate for the first hour and twice the hourly rate for additional overtime, with a maximum of four hours of overtime per day and a maximum of 18 hours per week. The 2020 Omnibus Law allows certain businesses that require temporary employees to be exempt from the 40-hour workweek. According to the February implementing regulation related to this provision, the sectors exempt from the 40-hour workweek include, but are not limited to, energy and natural resources, mining, natural gas and oil, agribusiness, and fisheries.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law requires employers to provide a safe and healthy workplace and to treat workers with dignity and provides appropriate standards for the main industries. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

There were no reliable national estimates for workplace deaths or injuries. Unions continued to urge the government, especially the Ministry of Manpower, to do more to address the country’s poor worker safety record and lax enforcement of health and safety regulations, particularly in the construction sector. NGOs and unions reported that many businesses continued to operate in defiance of government lockdown orders, at times resulting in COVID-19 outbreaks. In August the Ministry of Manpower released guidance for business-labor relations during the pandemic and items that should be covered in collective labor agreements to avoid disruptions and disputes.

Local officials from the Ministry of Manpower are responsible for enforcing minimum wage, work hours, and health and safety regulations. Penalties for violations include fines and imprisonment (for violation of the minimum wage law), which were generally commensurate with those for similar crimes. Government enforcement was inadequate, particularly at smaller companies, and supervision of labor standards was not fully enforced. Provincial and local officials often did not have the technical expertise needed to enforce labor law effectively. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and can initiate sanctions in the formal sector. The Ministry of Manpower employed 1,352 labor inspectors in 2020 and allocated IDR 191 billion ($13.3 million) for the labor inspections, down from IDR 231 billion ($16.1 million) in 2019. The number of inspectors was inadequate to enforce compliance.

Informal Sector: Authorities enforced labor regulations, including minimum wage regulations, only for the estimated 43 percent of workers in the formal sector. Workers in the informal sector did not receive the same protections or benefits as workers in the formal sector, in part because they had no legal work contract that labor inspectors could examine. The law does not mandate that employers provide domestic workers with a minimum wage, health insurance, freedom of association, an eight-hour workday, a weekly day of rest, vacation time, or safe work conditions.

Plantation agriculture workers often worked long hours without government-mandated health insurance benefits. They lacked proper safety gear and training in pesticide safety. Most plantation operators paid workers by the volume of crop harvested, which resulted in some workers receiving less than minimum wage and working extended hours to meet volume targets.

Gig workers were not protected under wage, work hours, and occupational safety and health regulations. This led to several large work stoppages by gig workers. For example, on April 6, approximately 1,000 Shopee Express couriers conducted a one-day work stoppage in Bandung following a cut in their pay that meant drivers would earn less than the minimum wage. In June drivers at GoKilat and LalaMove held two major work stoppages related to working conditions.

Japan

Executive Summary

Japan has a parliamentary government with a constitutional monarchy. On November 10, Kishida Fumio, the new leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, was confirmed as prime minister. International observers assessed elections to the Lower House of the Diet in October, which the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, Komeito, won with an absolute majority, as free and fair. Domestic lawyers filed lawsuits seeking to nullify the results of the Lower House election in all electoral districts for alleged unconstitutional vote weight disparities (see Section 3, Elections and Political Participation).

The National Public Safety Commission, a cabinet-level entity, oversees the National Police Agency, and prefectural public safety commissions have responsibility for local police forces. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: significant barriers to accessing reproductive health; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities, members of national/racial/ethnic minority groups, or indigenous peoples. There were concerns that some laws and practices, if misused, could infringe on freedom of the press. A human rights concern was criminal libel laws, although there was no evidence the government abused these laws to restrict public discussion.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses or engage in corrupt practices. There were no known reports of such action during the year.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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 disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

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

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

The government continued to deny death row inmates advance information about the date of execution until the day the sentence was to be carried out. The government notified family members of executions after the fact. The government held that this policy spared prisoners the anguish of knowing when they were going to die.

Authorities by law hold prisoners condemned to death in solitary confinement until their execution but allowed visits by family, lawyers, and others. The length of such solitary confinement varied from case to case and may extend for several years.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions generally met international standards, although some prisons continued to lack adequate medical and mental health care, and sufficient heating in the winter or cooling in the summer. Prisoners in the Tokyo area presented chilblains-affected fingers and toes of varying severity resulting from long-term exposure to cold. Meals were strictly rationed and were often considered insufficient, leading to significant weight loss, according to independent observers. Prisons and detention centers routinely held prisoners and detainees alone in their cells for extended periods. While not generally applied punitively, this resulted in what was effectively solitary confinement. Prisoners routinely spent up to 24 hours a day in their cells, with exercise periods not consistently allowed.

Long-term detention of foreign nationals at immigration centers continued to be a concern. In response to COVID-19, the Ministry of Justice granted temporary release to many detainees, reducing the population in immigration facilities from more than 1,000 in April 2020 to 346 as of June 2. Of the 346, approximately 60 percent had been detained for more than six months, some for as long as eight years. Detention practices led to an increasing number of protests, including hunger strikes, among detainees. Some facilities imposed forceful control of detainees, including women, and failed to protect detainees’ privacy.

Once sentenced, convicted prisoners generally had no access to telephones.

Physical Conditions: Authorities held women separately from men, and juveniles younger than age 20 separately from adults in prisons, other correctional facilities, and immigration facilities.

From April 2019 through March 2020, third-party inspection committees of prisons and immigration detention centers documented inadequate medical care as a major concern. Inspection committees also called for providing prison officers with additional human rights education, enhancing COVID-19 preventive measures, and improving heating and cooling systems. According to the Ministry of Justice, in 2020 there were 292 doctors working at correctional institutions, approximately 90 percent of the required staffing level.

On March 6, 33-year-old Ratnayake Liyanage Wishma Sandamali, detained at an immigration facility in Nagoya for more than six months for overstaying her visa, died at a hospital from an unidentified disease, according to an Immigration Services Agency report. Wishma began complaining of stomach pain and other symptoms in January and continued applying for provisional release for hospital treatment. She requested a physical exam at a hospital outside the facility in late February, but the request was never relayed to management and was not met. Instead, the facility conducted an exam at a hospital’s psychiatric department on March 4. The Nagoya facility had only a part-time doctor who worked twice a week for two hours each shift. No medical personnel were available on Saturdays, the day on which Wishma died. The Immigration Services Agency attributed the facility’s delay in placing an emergency call to the absence of consultation with a medical professional. On August 10, the Immigration Services Agency established a 20-member team to promote reform; four officials who oversaw Wishma’s detention were given verbal warnings. The nongovernmental organizations (NGO) Arbitrary Detention Network, Human Rights Now, and Foreign Human Rights Law Liaison Committee issued a statement protesting the report, calling its study of the cause of death and its recommendations for preventive measures insufficient. They also voiced concerns about insufficient medical resources, communication failures, the facility’s staffers’ disregard for the detainee’s complaint, and lack of proper oversight their rights.

Administration: Most authorities permitted prisoners and immigration detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities and to request investigation of alleged problems. Legal experts and human rights NGOs, however, continued to raise concerns that authorities controlled the complaint process at immigration detention centers. Complainants were, for example, required to notify detention officers about complaints. Authorities provided the responses to prisoners and immigration detainees in a letter offering little detail beyond a final determination.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally allowed scheduled visits by elected officials, NGOs, members of the media, and international organizations.

By law the Ministry of Justice appointed members to inspection committees for government-run prisons and immigration detention centers from outside of the national government. Authorities permitted the committees, which include physicians, lawyers, local municipal officials, local citizens, and experts, to interview detainees without the presence of prison and immigration detention center officers. Prisons and immigration detention centers generally acted upon or gave serious consideration to their recommendations.

Legal experts and human rights NGOs, however, raised concerns about aspects of the inspection process and the teams’ makeup. Police supervisory authorities and prefectural public safety commissions appointed the members of inspection committees for police detention facilities, albeit from outside of the police force. Authorities also accepted some recommendations by NGOs in selecting inspection committee members. Legal experts and human rights NGOs also continued to voice concern that undisclosed selection criteria and the members themselves impeded nongovernmental experts’ ability to evaluate whether the selected members were appropriately qualified. In immigration detention facilities, detention officers were also responsible for scheduling on-site inspections by the inspection committees and determining the time allowed for committees to interview detainees.

NGOs and the UN Committee against Torture also continued to raise concerns about the inspection process. For instance, they cited concerns about the requirement to submit advance notifications to facility authorities. They also raised concerns about a lack of transparency in the selection of committee members.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. Police officers may stop and question any person who is suspected of having committed or whom they believe is about to commit a crime or possesses information on a crime. Civil society organizations continued to urge police to end ethnic profiling and unjustified surveillance of foreigners.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Authorities apprehended persons openly with warrants based on evidence and issued by a duly authorized official and brought detainees before an independent judiciary. In urgent cases when there is sufficient basis to suspect that suspects committed specific crimes, including a crime punishable by death, the law allows police to arrest suspects without obtaining warrants beforehand, but it requires police to seek to obtain warrants immediately after arrest.

The law allows suspects, their families, or representatives to request that the court release an indicted detainee on bail. Bail is not available prior to indictment. NGOs and legal experts stated bail was very difficult to obtain without a confession. Authorities tended to restrict access to defense counsel for detainees who did not confess. Other elements of arrest and pretrial detention practices (see below) also tended to encourage confessions. The Public Prosecutors Office reported that in 2020 approximately 67 percent of all criminal suspects who were referred to prosecutors by police did not face indictment. Prosecutors indicted the remaining approximately 33 percent, of whom nearly all were convicted. In most of these cases, suspects had confessed.

Suspects in pre-indictment detention are legally required to face interrogation. Police guidelines limit interrogations to a maximum of eight hours a day and prohibit overnight interrogations. Pre-indictment detainees have access to counsel, including at least one consultation with a court-appointed attorney, if required. There is no legal right, however, for defense counsel to be present during interrogations.

The law allows police to prohibit suspects from meeting with persons other than counsel (and a consular officer in the case of foreign detainees) if there is probable cause to believe that the suspect may flee or conceal or destroy evidence (see Pretrial Detention below). Many suspects, including most charged with drug offenses, were subject to this restriction before indictment, although some were permitted visits from family members in the presence of a detention officer. There is no legal connection between the type of offense and the length of time authorities may deny a suspect visits by family or others. Those held for organized crime or on charges involving other criminals, however, tended to be denied such visits because prosecutors believed that communications with family or others could interfere with investigations.

Police and prosecutors must record the entire interrogation process in cases involving heinous crimes, including murder, death or injury resulting from rape, arson, and kidnapping for ransom. In such cases, an arrested suspect’s statements to police and prosecutors during an interrogation are in principle inadmissible without a recording. According to legal experts, this was intended to prevent forced confessions and false charges. Police are also required to make best efforts to record the interrogation process when arrested suspects have a mental disability. The Japan Federation of Bar Associations noted that criminal cases subject to video recording constituted 2 percent of the country’s criminal cases in 2018, and it advocated expanding the measure to include the video recording of the interrogations of pre-arrest suspects and in all criminal cases. Legal experts therefore continued to express concerns about forced confessions, especially in cases involving white-collar crimes.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were credible reports of foreigners being stopped and searched by police in suspected racial-profiling incidents. Individuals were detained, questioned, and searched. In multiple cases, Black individuals were accused of having drugs on their body, although there was no reason to believe this to be the case. In some cases, individuals were required to remove their shoes, belts, and other clothing items in public, and within view of bystanders.

In June a Muslim woman reported that police allowed an ethnic Japanese man to verbally assault her and her three-year-old daughter. The man alleged that the daughter kicked the man’s son, which the mother denied. The woman said she and her child were detained for 90 minutes before being taken to the police station where they were questioned for three hours in a small room with five officers before they were separated for additional questioning. According to the mother, police gave her name, address, and phone number to the man without her permission. The man then posted pictures of the woman and her daughter on social media with the caption “Attempted Murderers.”

Pretrial Detention: Authorities routinely held suspects in police-operated detention centers for an initial 72 hours prior to indictment although, by law, such detention is allowed only when there is probable cause to suspect that a person has committed a crime and is likely to conceal or destroy evidence or flee. After interviewing a suspect at the end of the initial 72-hour period, a judge may extend pre-indictment custody for up to two consecutive 10-day periods. Prosecutors routinely sought and received such extensions. Prosecutors may also apply for an additional five-day extension in exceptional cases, such as insurrection, foreign aggression, or violent public assembly.

NGOs and legal experts reported the practice of detaining suspects in pre-indictment detention or daiyou kangoku (substitute prison) continued. Because judges customarily granted prosecutors’ requests for extensions, pre-indictment detention usually lasted for 23 days for nearly all suspects, including foreigners. Moreover, the 23-day detention period may be applied on a per charge basis, so individuals facing multiple charges may be held far longer. NGOs and foreign observers continued to report that for persons in daiyou kangoku, access to persons other than their attorneys was routinely denied, and they were subject to lengthy interrogation without counsel throughout this period.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants are legally presumed innocent until proven guilty, but NGOs and lawyers continued to suggest that this was not the case because of the pressure on suspects to confess prior to trial. Foreign suspects with time-limited visas often confessed in exchange for a suspended sentence in order to close the case before their visas, which are not extended for trial, expire. The time between the conclusion of the trial and the rendering of the verdict and subsequent sentencing can be very long, especially in more complex cases, to allow judges to re-examine evidence.

Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges against them. Each charged individual has the right to a trial without undue delay (although observers noted that trials could be delayed indefinitely for mentally ill prisoners); to access to defense counsel, including an attorney provided at public expense if indigent; and to cross-examine witnesses. There is a lay judge (jury) system for serious criminal cases. Defendants have the right to attend their trials and may not be compelled to testify against themselves. Authorities provided free interpretation services to foreign defendants in criminal cases. Foreign defendants in civil cases must pay for interpretation, although a judge may order the plaintiff to pay the charges in accordance with a court’s final decision.

Defendants have the right to appoint their own counsel to prepare a defense, present evidence, and appeal. The court may assist defendants in finding an attorney through a bar association. Defendants may request a court-appointed attorney at state expense if they are unable to afford one.

Trial procedures favored the prosecution. Observers said a prohibition against defense counsel’s use of electronic recording devices during interviews with clients undermined counsel effectiveness. The law also does not require full disclosure by prosecutors unless the defending attorney satisfies difficult disclosure procedure conditions, which could lead to the suppression of material favorable to the defense.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations called for an end to the usual practice of restraining criminal defendants with handcuffs and ropes around their waists, ostensibly to prevent escape attempts, during entry into and exit from the courtroom, which they argued could undermine the presumption of innocence. The handcuffs and ropes are removed during trials.

NGOs expressed concern about the retrial process for inmates on death row because execution is not stayed for a pending petition of retrial, which the Japan Federation of Bar Associations asserted called into question the validity of executions.

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 in civil matters. There are both administrative and judicial remedies for alleged wrongs. Individuals may file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights abuse with domestic courts.

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

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected these freedoms. An independent media, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to sustain freedom of expression.

Freedom of Expression: There is a hate speech law designed to eliminate hate speech against persons originating from outside the country by developing government consultation systems and promoting government awareness efforts. The law, however, neither penalizes nor prohibits hate speech, so as not to impede freedom of speech. Legal and civil society experts acknowledged a continued decrease in hate speech at street demonstrations since the law, and subsequent municipal ordinances, went into effect in 2016. In contrast hate speech increased in propaganda and online, while crimes targeting members of specific ethnicities also continued, according to experts who called on the government to implement more effective deterrent measures and conduct a survey on hate speech incidents. Eight local governments have ordinances to prevent hate speech – Osaka City in Osaka Prefecture; Setagaya Ward, Kunitachi City, and Komae City in Tokyo Prefecture; Kijo Town in Miyazaki Prefecture; Kobe City, and Kawasaki City. Kawasaki is the first and only government with an ordinance imposing fines as a criminal penalty.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. While no such cases have ever been pursued, the law enables the government to prosecute those who publish or disclose government information that is a specially designated secret. Those convicted face up to five years’ imprisonment with work and a substantial fine.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Domestic and international observers continued to express concerns that the system of kisha (reporter) clubs attached to government agencies may encourage self-censorship. These clubs are established in a variety of organizations, including government ministries, and may block nonmembers, including freelance and foreign reporters, from covering the organization.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a criminal as well as civil offense. The law does not accept the truthfulness of a statement as a defense. There was no evidence the government abused these laws to restrict public discussion.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, except for travel restrictions implemented by the government to and within the country as COVID-19 infection prevention measures.

Foreign Travel: The government’s COVID-19 infection prevention measures restricted entry to the country by nearly all foreign nationals. Re-entry by residents was subject to quarantine at government facilities and movement restrictions for 14 days. Citizens were not subject to restrictions on leaving the country or foreign travel but were subject to re-entry restrictions.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection for and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. In March the Immigration Services Agency and UNHCR signed a memorandum of cooperation to improve the quality of the government’s refugee status system. As of September, activities under the memorandum had not been finalized.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status. The country’s refugee screening process was, however, strict; in 2020 the government granted 47 applicants refugee status out of 3,936 first-time applications, a 10-year high. NGOs and UNHCR expressed concern about the low rates of approval.

NGOs, including legal groups, expressed concern about the restrictive screening procedures that discouraged individuals from applying for refugee status and led applicants to voluntarily withdraw their applications and accept deportation, specifically claiming that the government’s interpretation of “fear of persecution” used when adjudicating refugee claims was overly restrictive and required absolute certainty of immediate danger to an applicant. UNHCR lacked access to the government’s assessments of refugee claims to evaluate how the Ministry of Justice was applying the criteria that determine refugee status. Civil society groups reported that it took an average of four years for an asylum seeker to be recognized as a refugee, and some cases involving multiple appeals lasted 10 years.

Immigration authorities administered the first round of hearings on whether to grant refugee status. Asylum seekers were not allowed to have lawyers participate in the first round of hearings, except for vulnerable cases, including minors age 15 or younger who had no guardians and applicants with disabilities.

The Refugee Examination Counselors, an outside panel appointed by the Ministry of Justice, conducted second hearings to review appeals from persons denied refugee status. All persons appearing before the counselors had the right to an attorney. The Ministry of Justice is obliged to hear, but not to accept, the opinions of the counselors. Legal experts questioned whether the review system delivered fair judgements, citing Ministry of Justice statistics showing the counselors recommended refugee status for only one of the 6,475 applicants who filed appeals in 2020.

Immigration authorities also conducted hearings to review complaints from asylum seekers about problems with the process.

As government-funded legal support was not available for most refugees and asylum seekers, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations continued to fund a program that provided free legal assistance to those who could not afford it.

While asylum seekers arriving in the country irregularly or without a visa allowing for residency were subject to detention, asylum seekers increasingly had valid visas prior to asylum applications. The Ministry of Justice announced that in 2020 approximately 95 percent (3,721 of the 3,936 applicants) had valid visas, including visas for temporary visitors or designated activities.

In 2020 the government granted humanitarian-based permission to stay to 44 asylum seekers. According to the Ministry of Justice, in 2019 (latest available data) there were 8,967 voluntary repatriations and 516 involuntary deportations. As of December 2019, 2,217 persons subject to deportation orders were allowed to live outside of immigration facilities; 942 persons under deportation orders were held in immigration detention facilities. There is no legal limit to the potential length of detention. In response to COVID-19, more detainees were permitted to stay outside immigration facilities, according to the Ministry of Justice (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions).

The Ministry of Justice, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, and the NGO Forum for Refugees Japan continued to cooperate to implement the Alternatives to Detention project to provide accommodations, advice on living in the country, and legal services for individuals meeting certain criteria. Services were available to those who arrived at Narita, Haneda, Chubu, and Kansai airports seeking refugee status. Government-subsidized civil organizations and donations funded the project.

In April the Ministry of Justice for the first time granted refugee status to a Chinese national Falun Gong practitioner residing in the country, according to the Japanese Falun Dafa Association. The woman feared religious persecution if she returned to China. She had lived in the country for eight years and applied for refugee status multiple times prior to being recognized.

In August the Ministry of Justice granted refugee status to a Burmese national soccer player, Pyae Lyan Aung, who expressed concern about a risk to his life should he return to Burma after he publicly protested against the Burmese junta at a soccer match in Japan in May. His case was adjudicated with unusual speed.

Refoulement: Persons under deportation order had the right to refuse deportation and most did, often because of fear of returning home or because they had family in the country. According to Justice Ministry statistics released in December 2019, a substantial majority of those under deportation orders refused deportation. Of those who refused deportation, 60 percent in 2019 were in the process of applying for refugee status. By law the government may not deport those who are subject to deportation orders while their refugee applications are pending, however they were commonly detained during this process, which can take several years.

In September the Tokyo High Court ruled that the constitutional rights of two Sri Lankan men were violated when they were deported without the opportunity to appeal the denial of their refugee status applications. The court ruled immigration authorities “intentionally delayed notifying [the men] of the results of dismissal so that they could deport them before they filed a lawsuit.” One of the plaintiffs who was deported to Sri Lanka had been under oppression for political reasons and was forced into hiding because of his deportation.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: NGOs continued to express concern about the indefinite detention of refugees and asylum seekers and conditions in detention facilities. Legal experts and UNHCR noted that lengthy detention led to detainee protests, including by hunger strikes, generally intended to create a health concern that would warrant medical release.

Freedom of Movement: Asylum seekers granted a residency permit may settle anywhere and travel in the country freely with conditions, including reporting their residence to authorities. Asylum seekers in detention and under deportation orders may be granted provisional release from detention for illness, if the applicant was a trafficking victim, or in other circumstances as determined on an ad hoc basis by the Ministry of Justice. Provisional release does not provide a work permit and has several restrictions, including an obligation to appear monthly at the Immigration Bureau, report in advance any travel outside the prefecture in which she or he resides, and report any change of residence to the Immigration Office. The system of provisional release also requires a deposit that may amount to three million yen ($27,500) depending on the individual case. A refugee or asylum seeker who does not follow the conditions may be returned to detention and the deposit is subject to confiscation. Lawyers noted that in recent cases those found working illegally were punished with a minimum of three years’ detention.

Employment: Asylum seekers who have a valid visa at the time of their asylum application and whom authorities have determined may be recognized as a refugee may apply for work permits within eight months after the date they were determined to qualify potentially as refugees. An individual must apply for permission to engage in income-earning activities before the visas expire. Individuals must have a work permit to work. In the interim before approval, the Refugee Assistance Headquarters, a section of the government-funded Foundation for the Welfare and Education of the Asian People, provided small stipends to some applicants who faced financial difficulties.

Persons granted refugee status have full employment rights.

Access to Basic Services: Excepting those who met right-to-work conditions, asylum seekers received limited social welfare benefits, not including health care. This status rendered them dependent on overcrowded government-funded shelters, illegal employment, government financial support, or NGO assistance.

Persons granted refugee status faced the same discrimination patterns often seen by other foreigners: reduced access to housing, education, and employment.

Durable Solutions: In addition to the regular asylum application system, the government may accept refugees under a third-country refugee resettlement program. In April 2020 the government increased the cap on refugees accepted under this program from 30 to 60. NGOs noted the increase but continued to voice concern about the low overall numbers of refugees accepted. COVID-19 related concerns delayed implementing the increase.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to 44 individuals in 2020 who may not qualify as refugees. Twenty-five of the 44 were married to Japanese citizens or their children were citizens. The remaining 19 were granted permission to stay based on situations in their home countries, including 10 individuals from Syria. They may live and work in the community.

The Immigration Services Agency announced in August that it would not deport Afghans against their will.

In response to the military coup in Burma in February, the government implemented an emergency measure in May to grant approximately 35,000 Burmese citizens in Japan quasi-amnesty status. Under the measure Burmese citizens in the country were eligible to have their visas extended for six months to one year, depending on their profession. The approximately 2,900 Burmese citizens who requested refugee status were given a six-month visa extension, even if the government had previously rejected their applications.

Approximately 300 Rohingya Muslims were also living in the country under special stay permits on humanitarian grounds or temporary stay visas based on ethnic and religious persecution in Burma. Fewer than 20 Rohingya have been granted refugee status; approximately the same number of Rohingya asylum seekers were out of detention centers on temporary release but were not permitted to work and could be detained again.

g. Stateless Persons

The Ministry of Justice announced that 627 individuals were stateless in 2019 based on immigration provisions. Legal experts argued, however, that stateless persons potentially exceeded the official count because the figure was limited to stateless persons with legitimate residence permits.

By law a stateless person age 20 or older is qualified for naturalization when she or he has met certain criteria, including having lived in the country for at least five consecutive years, good conduct, and financial stability.

Japan-born children of ethnic Koreans who had their Japanese citizenship revoked following the end of Japanese colonial rule in Korea at the end of World War II were deemed foreign nationals, as are their parents. They do not have suffrage rights and may not hold positions in government service. Persons who have not pledged allegiance to either South or North Korea following the division of the Korean Peninsula fall under the special category of “citizens of the Korean Peninsula (Korea or Chosen).” These Koreans, regarded as de facto stateless by legal experts, may opt to claim South Korean citizenship or to pursue Japanese citizenship. Although they hold no passports, these ethnic Koreans may travel overseas with temporary travel documents issued by the government and were considered special permanent residents.

The Immigration Services Agency conducted the first-ever survey on stateless children in July. There were 217 stateless children younger than age four in the country as of June. The justice minister announced in July that the lack of documents substantiating their nationality and the requirement for formal action by authorities in their home countries resulted in their statelessness. The Justice Ministry also acknowledged that it had no official, comprehensive data on stateless children in the country.

In February a child born in Japan of Ghanaian parents spoke during a study session of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on being born in the country yet being effectively stateless. The justice minister also acknowledged that “it is a serious problem if these children, who were born in Japan, are deprived of the basis of their rights because of [lack of citizenship].”

Children born to Rohingya living in the country remained effectively stateless.

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: An election for the Lower House of the Diet in October was free and fair according to international observers. Upper House elections in 2019 were also considered free and fair.

On November 1, lawyers filed lawsuits in 14 high courts and their branches around the country seeking to nullify the results of the Lower House election in all electoral districts. The lawyers stated that the disparity in the weight of a single vote between the most and least populated electoral districts was unconstitutionally wide. In a similar lawsuit, the Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that the 2019 Upper House elections were constitutional while expressing concern that the Diet made little progress to rectify the vote weight disparity.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women and members of historically marginalized or minority groups in the political process if they are citizens, and they did participate. Women voted at rates equal to or higher than men. Women, however, have not been elected to any level of office at rates reflecting this.

The number of the elected women in both the national parliament and local assemblies remained low. At a national level, female Lower House members accounted for 9.7 percent of the total following the October Lower House election. In the Upper House, the percentage of elected female members was 22.6 percent. The percentages of women’s representation in both houses dropped from the previous elections, down from 10.1 percent in the Lower House and 23.1 percent in the Upper House. In local assemblies, the average percentage of the elected women in 2020 was 14.5 percent, according to the Cabinet Offices’ Gender Equality Bureau.

The number of female candidates was low as well. Women made up 17 percent of the candidates for the October Lower House elections, down from 17.8 percent from the previous election. A law calls on political parties to make their best efforts to have equal numbers of male and female candidates on the ballot in national and local elections. Separately, a government plan encourages political parties to make their best efforts to raise the number of female candidates to 35 percent of all candidates in national and local elections by 2025. Neither the law or the government plan imposes mandatory quotas for the female candidates, nor do they punish failure to meet these goals.

In an April by-election, a female candidate reported numerous instances of gender discrimination during her campaign, including when the ruling LDP accused her of being too arrogant by assuming she could run for a Diet seat as an untested, “ignorant” female candidate. There were also reports of voters inappropriately touching and sexually harassing female candidates while they were campaigning.

Very few individuals with disabilities ran as candidates.

Some ethnic minority group members of mixed heritage served in the Diet, but their numbers were difficult to ascertain because they did not always self-identify.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were documented cases of corruption by officials.

Independent academic experts stated that ties among politicians, bureaucrats, and businesspersons were close, and corruption remained a concern. There were investigations into financial and accounting irregularities involving government officials.

Corruption: Among cases of corruption by officials, on February 5, the Tokyo District Court sentenced Kawai Anri, former member of the House of Councilors, to imprisonment for one year and four months with a five-year suspension of the jail sentence. On October 21, the court finalized a sentence given to Kawai Katsuyuki, the spouse of Kawai Anri and a former member of the House of Representatives, of three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 1.3 million yen ($11,900). In 2020 the Kawais were arrested and indicted on charges of paying cash for votes in Kawai Anri’s election. The couple lost their Diet seats February 3 (Anri) and April 1 (Katsuyuki).

Thirteen officials from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications were found on June 4 to have violated the government’s National Public Service Ethics Code, which prohibits receiving favors from stakeholders. Suga Seigo, son of former prime minister Suga Yoshihide, and other members of the Tohokushinsha Film Corporation, a satellite broadcasting company, gave the 13 officials thousands of dollars’ worth of favors on 39 occasions between 2016 and 2020. Of the 13 officials, 11 were administratively reprimanded; none were prosecuted. The light penalty reflected the fact that the process was an internal, administrative one rather than a criminal prosecution.

In September the Tokyo District Court found former LDP Diet member Akimoto Tsukasa guilty of receiving bribes worth 7.6 million yen ($69,700) between September 2017 and February 2018 from a Chinese gambling operator bidding to enter Japan’s casino market. He was also found guilty of offering money to two advisors to the company in exchange for giving false testimony. Akimoto was the senior vice minister in the Cabinet Office in 2017 and 2018 responsible for the government’s initiative to legalize the operation of casinos. He was sentenced to four years in prison and fined 7.6 million yen ($69,700). He appealed the decision to a higher court. As of October, his appeal was still pending.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

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 their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ministry of Justice’s Human Rights Counseling Office has more than 300 offices across the country. Approximately 14,000 volunteers fielded questions in person, by telephone, or on the internet, and provided confidential consultations. Counselling in 10 foreign languages was available in 50 offices. These consultative offices field queries, but they do not have authority to investigate human rights abuses by individuals or public organizations without consent from parties concerned. They provided counsel and mediation, and collaborated with other government agencies, including child consultation centers and police. Municipal governments have human rights offices that deal with a range of human rights problems.

According to the Ministry of Justice, regional legal affairs bureaus nationwide initiated relief procedures in 9,589 cases of human rights abuses in 2020. Of those, 1,693 were committed online, and 256 were cases of sexual harassment. There were 175 cases of human rights violations related to COVID-19. In one such case an individual found to be positive for COVID-19 was denied medical care when their local health authority learned their partner was a health-care provider. The health authority recommended the individual seek care from their partner rather than in an outside setting.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Discrimination based on race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, or gender identity is not prohibited.

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes various forms of rape, regardless of the gender of a survivor and defines the crime as vaginal, anal, or oral penile penetration by force or through intimidation. Only men can be charged with rape, and the law does not recognize anything other than the use of male genitalia as rape. Forcible penetration with any other body part or object is considered forcible indecency, not rape. The age of consent is 13, which made prosecution for child rape difficult. The law also criminalizes custodial rape of a minor younger than age 18. The law does not deny the possibility of spousal rape, but no court has ever ruled on such a case, except in situations of marital breakdown (i.e., formal or informal separation, etc.). The law mandates a minimum sentence of five years’ imprisonment for rape convictions. Prosecutors must prove that violence or intimidation was involved or that the survivor was incapable of resistance. The penalty for forcible indecency is imprisonment for not less than six months or more than 10 years. Domestic violence is also a crime and survivors may seek restraining orders against their abusers. Convicted assault perpetrators face up to two years’ imprisonment or a modest fine. Convicted offenders who caused bodily injury faced up to 15 years’ imprisonment or a modest fine. Protective order violators faced up to one year’s imprisonment or a moderate fine. The National Police Agency received 82,643 reports of domestic violence in 2020, a record high after consecutive annual increases since 2003.

In October the Cabinet Office’s Gender Equality Bureau reported a decrease in domestic violence inquiries compared with the same period in 2020. From April to September, it reported receiving 90,843 inquiries compared with 96,132 inquiries in the same period in 2020. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare allowed survivors fleeing domestic or sexual violence to receive public services from their municipality of actual residence rather than from that of their residence of record.

Rape and domestic violence were significantly underreported crimes. Observers attributed women’s reluctance to report rape to a variety of factors, including fear of being blamed, fear of public shaming, a lack of support, potential secondary victimization through the police response, and court proceedings that lack empathy for rape survivors.

In March a 43-year-old female company board official was arrested on suspicion of indecent behavior with a 17-year-old boy. Police said the woman and the survivor met on social media.

Survivors of abuse by domestic partners, spouses, and former spouses could receive protection at shelters run by either the government or NGOs.

Sexual Harassment: The law requires employers to make efforts to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace; however, such sexual harassment persisted (see section 7.d.).

Sexual harassment also persisted in society. Men groping women and girls on trains continued to be a problem. The NGO Japan National Assembly of Disabled People’s International reported continued sexual harassment and stalking of women in wheelchairs or with visual impairment on trains and at stations, calling on some railway companies to stop announcing that persons with physical disabilities were boarding trains; such announcements sometimes also included the car or station involved. Some railway companies reportedly used such announcements so that train station attendants and train crew could prevent accidents. The assembly noted the announcement, however, helped would-be offenders locate female passengers with physical disabilities. On the request of the NGO, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism in July issued a request that railway companies consider using alternative communication means. In August the ministry hosted a virtual meeting where representatives of more than 60 railway companies learned from assembly representatives about the harassment and stalking of women with disabilities on trains and at stations. As of the end of August, the assembly reported continued announcements by some railway companies, primarily in the greater Tokyo area.

In August the gender council of a youth group consisting mainly of high school and university students held an online petition campaign “NoMoreChikan,” demanding that the government take more fundamental and serious steps to prevent chikan (groping). At a press conference in late August, the group called on the government to conduct an in-depth survey of chikan, to increase awareness and education in schools including teaching students how to react when they are victimized, and to set up correctional programs for offenders. The group collected more than 27,000 signatures on a petition with its requests sent to the Ministry of Education, political parties, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly in September.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

The law requires transgender persons to be without reproductive capacity, effectively requiring surgical sterilization for most persons to have their gender identity legally recognized. (See subsection “Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity” below for more information.)

The law requires spousal consent to terminate a pregnancy.

In March the Ministry of Health issued new guidelines to allow survivors of domestic violence to terminate a pregnancy without spousal consent. There were reports that rape survivors were denied abortions without consent of the perpetrator. The Japan Medical Association instructed gynecologists to request documentation like a bill of indictment or a court sentence from sexual assault survivors seeking an abortion.

The government subsidized sexual or reproductive health-care services for survivors of sexual violence when the survivors seek help from police or government-designated centers supporting sexual violence survivors located in each prefecture. These services included medical examinations and emergency contraception.

Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination based on sex and generally provides women the same rights as men. The Gender Equality Bureau in the Cabinet Office continued to examine policies and monitor developments.

Despite the law and related policies, NGOs continued to allege that implementation of antidiscrimination measures was insufficient, pointing to discriminatory provisions in the law, unequal treatment of women in the labor market (see section 7.d.), and low representation of women in elected bodies.

Calls for the government to allow married couples to choose their own surnames continued. The civil code requires married couples to share a single surname. According to the government, 96 percent of married couples adopt the husband’s family name. On June 23, the Supreme Court ruled that the legal provision requiring married couples to use the same surname is constitutional. The ruling upheld a 2015 decision and recommended the issue be discussed in the Diet.

In February Mori Yoshiro, chairperson of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympics organizing committees and a former prime minister, was forced to resign after saying that meetings with women take too long because women talk too much.

Three high school students collected more than 7,500 signatures on a petition urging a major convenience store to change the name of its readymade food line from Okaasan Shokudo (Mom’s Diner). They argued there is an inherent gender bias in the name, implying that a wife’s job is to do the cooking and housework, possibly deepening social biases.

According to National Police Agency statistics, 7,026 women committed suicide in 2020, a 15 percent increase from the previous year. In February the prime minister elevated the issue to the cabinet level, assigning it to the minister for regional revitalization. A member of the ruling LDP’s “loneliness and isolation” taskforce attributed the increase to stresses arising from the pandemic, including the increased presence tin the home of spouses and children; record levels of domestic violence; and multiple high-profile celebrity suicides. The government also reported the number of working women who committed suicide rose to 1,698 in 2020 compared with an annual average of 1,323 from 2015 to 2019. The government attributed the more than 28 percent increase to the COVID-19 pandemic, in which women were disproportionally dismissed from their employment. The number of men and nonworking or self-employed women committing suicide declined. In response the bureau continued 24-hour hotline services and consultation services via social network services in Japanese and 10 foreign languages.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

There is no comprehensive law prohibiting racial, ethnic, or religious discrimination.

Despite legal safeguards against discrimination, foreign permanent residents in the country and non-ethnic Japanese citizens, including many who were born, raised, and educated in the country, were subjected to various forms of entrenched societal discrimination, including restricted access to housing, education, health care, and employment opportunities. Foreign nationals and “foreign looking” citizens reported they were prohibited entry – sometimes by signs reading “Japanese Only” – to privately owned facilities serving the public, including hotels and restaurants.

Senior government officials publicly repudiated the harassment of ethnic groups as inciting discrimination and reaffirmed the protection of individual rights for everyone in the country.

Representatives of the ethnic Korean community said hate speech against Koreans in public and on social networking sites persisted.

According to legal experts, hate speech or hate crimes against transgender women and ethnic Koreans, especially against Korean women and students, were numerous, but there were also incidents directed at other racial and ethnic minorities. Legal experts pointed out that hate speech against Chinese and Ainu also increased after the COVID-19 outbreak and the opening of the government-run National Ainu Museum in July 2020, respectively.

In May the Tokyo High Court ordered an Oita man to pay 1.3 million yen ($11,900) in damages for discriminatory comments he made on his blog about Koreans living in the country. The ruling determined the comments constituted racial discrimination. The plaintiff identified the defendant by using identifying information obtained from the internet service provider.

Students at Korea University (operated by an organization with close links to the North Korean regime) in Tokyo were excluded from government-issued financial aid designed to mitigate financial difficulties among students resulting from COVID-19. The government denied the exclusion of Korea University, which the government does not recognize as a higher education institution, constituted discrimination based on race, ethnicity, or nationality.

There were reports that kindergartners at an ethnically Korean school in Saitama were excluded from a government initiative to distribute face masks to schoolchildren and preschool workers.

In July the Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit to compel the government to provide Chosen schools subsidies for tuition. Chosen schools offer education to resident ethnic Koreans; the national government does not recognize them. All private high schools, except for the 64 Chosen schools, received tuition subsidies from the government. Local prefectures may recognize them and independently provide subsidies.

The law specifically addresses discrimination against Buraku (the descendants of feudal-era outcasts). It obligates national and local governments to study discrimination against Buraku, implement awareness education, and enhance the counseling system.

Buraku advocacy groups continued to report that despite socioeconomic improvements in their communities, widespread discrimination persisted in employment, marriage, housing, and property assessment. Although the Buraku label was no longer officially used to identify individuals, the family registry system can be used to identify them and facilitate discriminatory practices. Buraku advocates expressed concern that employers who required family registry information from job applicants for background checks, including many government agencies, might use this information to identify and discriminate against Buraku applicants.

Indigenous Peoples

The law recognizes Ainu as indigenous people, protects and promotes their culture, and prohibits discrimination against them. The law requires the national and local governments to take measures to support communities and boost local economies and tourism. The law does not provide for self-determination or other tribal rights, nor does it stipulate rights to education for Ainu.

There were widespread reports of continued discrimination against Ainu. In March a Nippon Television program broadcast content that used an anti-Ainu slur, in April graffiti with the same derogatory language was found in Tokyo, and throughout the year there were reports of hate speech online.

Although the government does not recognize the Ryukyu (a term that includes residents of Okinawa and portions of Kagoshima Prefecture) as indigenous people, it officially acknowledged their unique culture and history and made efforts to preserve and show respect for those traditions.

Children

Birth Registration: The law grants citizenship at birth to a child of a Japanese father who either is married to the child’s mother or recognizes his paternity; a child of a Japanese mother; or a child born in the country to parents who are both unknown or are stateless. The law relieves individuals from some conditions for naturalization to a person born in the country with no nationality at the time of birth but who has resided in the country for three consecutive years or more since his or her birth, but it does not grant citizenship without further conditions. The law requires registration within 14 days after in-country birth or within three months after birth abroad, and these deadlines were generally met. Individuals were allowed to register births after the deadline but were required to pay a nominal fine.

The law requires individuals to specify whether a child was born in or out of wedlock on the birth registration form. The law presumes that a child born within 300 days of a divorce is the divorced man’s child, resulting in the nonregistration of an unknown number of children.

Child Abuse: Reports of child abuse increased. Experts attributed the rise to increased social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to official data, police investigated a record 2,133 child abuse cases in 2020, an 8.2 percent increase from the previous year. Of the cases, 1,756 involved physical violence; 299 involved sexual abuse; 46, psychological abuse; and 32, neglect. Police took custody of 5,527 children whose lives were threatened and notified child consultation centers of suspected abuse against a record 106,991 children. Also in 2020, child abuse deaths totaled 57, of which half (28) were of children younger than age one. There were concerns that more cases went undetected as COVID-19 reduced the frequency with which children interacted with persons outside the family.

Reports of sexual abuse of children by teachers declined by more than half, largely because of increased public awareness and disciplinary dismissal of those teachers, according to a Ministry of Education official. Local education boards around the nation imposed disciplinary actions on 126 public school teachers for sexual misconduct with children from April 2019 through March 2020 according to the Ministry of Education. The ministry dismissed 96 percent of the disciplined teachers from their teaching posts. By law their teaching licenses were invalidated, but they may obtain teaching licenses again after three years. Children were also subject to human rights abuses via the internet. Abuses included publishing photographs and videos of elementary school students in public places without their consent. The government requested site operators to remove such images, and many reportedly complied.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law stipulates that to marry, the male partner must be age 18 or older and the female partner 16 or older. A person younger than 20 may not marry without at least one parent’s approval. A law creating gender parity in the legal age to marry, 18 for both sexes, comes into force in April 2022.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The commercial sexual exploitation of children is illegal, with penalties including prison sentences or moderate fines. Statutory rape laws criminalize sexual intercourse with a girl younger than age 13, notwithstanding her consent. The penalty for statutory rape is a sentence of not less than three years’ imprisonment with mandatory labor. The law was enforced. Additionally, national law and local ordinances address sexual abuse of minors. Possession of child pornography is a crime. The commercialization of child pornography is illegal with the penalty of imprisonment with labor for not more than three years or a moderate fine. Police continued to crack down on this crime and noted that instances of sexual exploitation via social networking services continued to rise. NGOs continued to express concern that preventive efforts more frequently targeted victims rather than perpetrators. NGOs reported the low age of consent complicated efforts to formally identify children exploited in commercial sex as trafficking victims.

The continued practice of enjo kosai (compensated dating) and the existence of websites for online dating, social networking, and “delivery health” (a euphemism for call girl or escort services) facilitated the sex trafficking of children and other commercial sex industries. NGOs reported that unemployment and stay-at-home orders established because of the COVID-19 crisis fueled online sexual exploitation of children. The government’s interagency taskforce to combat child sex trafficking in joshi kosei (or “JK” businesses) – dating services connecting adult men with underage girls – and in forced pornography continued to strengthen its crackdown on such businesses. Ordinances in seven prefectures ban JK businesses, prohibiting girls younger than age 18 from working in “compensated dating services,” or requiring JK business owners to register their employee rosters with local public safety commissions. NGOs helping girls in the JK business reported a link between these activities and the commercial sexual exploitation of children in prostitution.

In May, Honda Hiranao, a Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan Lower House Diet member from Hokkaido, reportedly said that it would be “wrong” for a man in his 50s like himself to be arrested for having consensual sex with a 14-year-old child. The remark came as the party discussed raising the age of consent from 13 to 16. In June, Honda publicly apologized and asked to withdraw his remarks, for which the party gave him a “severe verbal warning.” In July he resigned from the party and the Diet.

The country was a site for the production of child pornography and the exploitation of children by traffickers.

No law addresses the unfettered availability of sexually explicit cartoons, comics, and video games, some of which depicted scenes of violent sexual abuse and the rape of children.

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

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

The total Jewish population is approximately 3,000 to 4,000. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

A law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, intellectual, mental, or other disabilities affecting body and mind and bars infringement of their rights and interests on the grounds of disability in the public and private sectors. The law requires the public sector to provide reasonable accommodations and the private sector to make best efforts in employment, education, access to health care, or the provision of other services. The laws do not stipulate remedies for persons with disabilities who experience discriminatory acts, nor do they establish penalties for noncompliance. Accessibility laws mandate that construction projects for public-use buildings must include provisions for persons with disabilities. The government may grant low interest loans and tax benefits to operators of hospitals, theaters, hotels, and other public facilities if they upgrade or install features to accommodate persons with disabilities. Nonetheless, persons with disabilities faced physical barriers to accessing some public services.

Abuse of persons with disabilities was a serious concern. Persons with disabilities experienced abuse, including sexual abuse of women with disabilities, by family members, care-facility employees, and employers. Some persons with disabilities reported increased verbal abuse of persons with disabilities on the street.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

No law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS; nonbinding health ministry guidelines state that firms should not terminate or fail to hire individuals based on their HIV status. Courts have awarded damages to individuals fired from positions due to their HIV status.

Concerns about discrimination against individuals with HIV or AIDS and the stigma associated with the disease, and fear of dismissal, prevented many persons from disclosing their HIV or AIDS status.

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

No law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and there are no penalties associated with such discrimination. In April, however, Mie became the country’s first prefecture to implement an ordinance to prohibit forcing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity and to ban disclosure of their sexual orientation or gender identity without their consent. The ordinance, however, has no penalties nor a remedy mechanism for abuses. LGBTQI+ advocacy organizations reported instances of discrimination, outing, bullying, harassment, and violence.

The LDP failed to advance a bill to promote greater understanding of the LGBTQI+ community due to strong opposition from influential party members to including the phrase “discrimination is unacceptable.” In May, LDP Lower House Member Yana Kazuo reportedly claimed that sexual minorities were “resisting the preservation of the species that occurs naturally in biological terms.”

All new textbooks included extensive information about LGBTQI+ and gender issues across nine subjects.

The law requires transgender persons to be without reproductive capacity, effectively requiring surgical sterilization for most persons to have their gender identity legally recognized. They also must meet additional conditions, including undergoing a psychiatric evaluation and receiving a diagnosis of “gender identity disorder,” a disorder not recognized in the International Classification of Diseases; being unmarried and older than age 20; and not having any children younger than age 20. If the conditions are met, pending approval by a family court, their gender can be recognized.

In 2019 (most recent available data), 948 individuals officially registered a new gender, the highest number since it was allowed in 2004, according to the Supreme Court. Advocates, however, continued to voice concern about discrimination and the strict conditions required for persons to change their sex in family registries.

In May the Tokyo High Court ruled that it was acceptable for the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry to restrict the use of women’s bathrooms by a transgender official, overturning a lower court ruling. The official has been diagnosed with gender-identity disorder but was still registered as male in her family registry. The official also claimed the ministry told persons at her workplace about her gender-identity disorder without her approval. The court ordered the state to pay 110,000 yen ($1,010) in damages for psychological pain caused by inappropriate remarks made by the person’s superiors.

In November 2020 the Tokyo High Court dismissed an appeal for damages from the parents of a student who fell from a school building in 2015 after his classmates disclosed he was gay; however, the court ruled that revealing the student’s sexual orientation was illegal.

According to a survey of more than 10,000 LGBTQI+ individuals, 38 percent reported being sexually harassed or assaulted. One respondent, a transgender man, reported that after being sexually assaulted by a man, he was subsequently refused help by a sexual violence counseling center and turned away by police when trying to file a report. The Ministry of Justice received 15 inquiries about potential human rights abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity in 2020, providing the inquirers with legal advice.

Stigma surrounding LGBTQI+ persons remained an impediment to self-reporting of discrimination or abuse.

There is one openly LGBTQI+ national legislator, a member of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of private-sector workers to form and join unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements and protects their rights to strike and bargain collectively.

The law restricts the right of public-sector workers and employees of state-owned enterprises to form and join unions of their choice. Public-sector employees may participate in public-service employee unions, which may negotiate collectively with their employers on wages, hours, and other conditions of employment. The International Labor Organization continued to raise concerns that the law restricts some public-sector employees’ labor rights. Public-sector employees do not have the right to strike; trade union leaders who incite a strike in the public sector may be dismissed and fined or imprisoned. Firefighting personnel and prison officers are prohibited from organizing and collectively bargaining.

Workers in sectors providing essential services, including electric power generation and transmission, transportation and railways, telecommunications, medical care and public health, and the postal service, must give 10 days’ advance notice to authorities before conducting a strike. Employees involved in providing essential services do not have the right to collective bargaining.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for legal union activities.

The government effectively enforced laws providing for freedom of association, collective bargaining, and legal strikes. Government oversight and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. Collective bargaining was common in the private sector.

In the case of a rights violation, a worker or union may lodge an objection with the Labor Committee, which may issue a relief order requiring action by the employer. If the employer fails to act, a plaintiff may then take the matter to a civil court. If a court upholds a relief order and determines that a violation of that order has occurred, it may impose a fine, imprisonment, or both.

The increasing use of short-term contracts undermined regular employment and frustrated organizing efforts.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law, however, does not expressly define what would constitute forced or compulsory labor, allowing for prosecutorial discretion when pursuing such cases.

Although the government generally effectively enforced the law, enforcement was lacking in some sectors, especially those in which foreign workers were commonly employed. Legal penalties for forced labor varied depending on its form, the victim(s), and the law used to prosecute such offenses. Some were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes. For example, the law criminalizes forced labor and prescribes penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment, but it also allows for moderate fines in lieu of incarceration. NGOs argued that reliance on multiple and overlapping statutes hindered the government’s ability to identify and prosecute trafficking crimes, especially for cases involving forced labor with elements of psychological coercion.

Indications of forced labor persisted in the manufacturing, construction, and shipbuilding sectors, primarily in small- and medium-size enterprises employing foreign nationals through the Technical Intern Training Program (TITP). This program allows foreign workers to enter the country and work for up to five years in a de facto guest-worker program that many observers assessed to be rife with vulnerabilities to trafficking and other labor abuses.

Workers in the TITP experienced restrictions on freedom of movement and communication with persons outside the program, nonpayment of wages, excessive working hours, high debt to brokers in countries of origin, and retention of identity documents, despite government prohibitions on these practices. The Organization for Technical Intern Training oversees the TITP, including conducting on-site inspections of TITP workplaces. The organization maintained its increased workforce, including inspectors, but labor organizations continued to cite concerns that it was understaffed, insufficiently accessible to persons who do not speak Japanese, and ineffective at identifying labor rights violations.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor. Children ages 15 to 18 may perform any job not designated as dangerous or harmful, such as handling heavy objects or cleaning, inspecting, or repairing machinery while in operation. They are also prohibited from working late night shifts. Children ages 13 to 15 years may perform “light labor” only, and children younger than age 13 may work only in the entertainment industry.

The government effectively enforced these laws. Penalties for child labor violations included fines and imprisonment and were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes.

Children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, disability, and age, but it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on religion, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status, or language. The government effectively enforced the applicable laws, and penalties for violations were commensurate with similar laws related to civil rights, such as the Public Offices Election Act.

The law prohibits gender-based discrimination in certain circumstances, including recruitment, promotion, training, and renewal of contracts. It does not address mandatory dress codes. The law imposes some restrictions on women’s employment. The law restricts women from performing certain tasks in underground mining as well as work that requires lifting very heavy objects or spraying 26 specified hazardous materials such as polychlorinated biphenyls. Additional restrictions apply to pregnant women and those who gave birth within the prior year.

The law mandates equal pay for men and women; however, the International Labor Organization viewed the law as too limited because it does not capture the concept of “work of equal value.” A private-sector survey of more than 24,000 companies in July showed the proportion of women in corporate managerial posts rose to a high of 8.9 percent. Women’s average monthly wage was approximately 74 percent that of men in 2020. The equal employment opportunity law includes prohibitions against policies or practices that have a discriminatory effect, even if unintended (called “indirect discrimination” in law), for all workers in recruitment, hiring, promotion, and changes of job type.

Women continued to express concern about unequal treatment in the workforce, including sexual and pregnancy harassment. The law does not criminalize sexual harassment, but the equal employment opportunity law requires companies to take measures to prevent it; asks companies to report incidents if they occur; and offers administrative advice, instructions, or guidance.

When a violation of equal employment opportunity law is alleged, the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare may request the employer to report the matter, and the ministry may issue advice, instructions, or corrective guidance. If the employer fails to report or files a false report, the employer may be subject to a fine. If the employer does not follow the ministry’s guidance, the employer’s name may be publicly disclosed. Government hotlines in prefectural labor bureau equal employment departments handled consultations concerning sexual harassment and mediated disputes when possible. The Labor Ministry portal regarding harassment in the workplace showed, for example, that there were 87,670 cases of power harassment, 7,323 cases of sexual harassment, and 2,131 cases of maternity harassment reported to the prefectural labor consultation centers in 2019.

In June, a year after the implementation of a revised law requiring companies to take measures to prevent power harassment and sexual harassment in the workplace, the Japanese Trade Union Confederation conducted a survey of 1,000 working men and women between the ages of 20 to 59 (not including corporate executives, entrepreneurs, or the self-employed) that showed limited progress. According to the survey, approximately one-third of workers had experienced some type of harassment in the workplace. Approximately 40 percent said their employer took no action when harassment occurred, and 43 percent of that group told no one because they thought it would not help.

In October 2020 the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare released a survey of 1,000 male and female graduates from universities or vocational schools during fiscal years 2017-19 on sexual harassment during their job search and internship. Overall, 25 percent of the respondents experienced sexual harassment; 9 percent reported being forced to have sexual relations. When asked what they did after the sexual harassment, 25 percent said they did nothing, and almost 8 percent said they gave up on the job search process.

The law mandates that both government and private companies hire at or above a designated minimum proportion of persons with disabilities (including mental disabilities). The government hiring rate is 2.5 percent; for private companies it is 2.2 percent. By law companies with more than 100 employees that do not hire the legal minimum percentage of persons with disabilities must pay a moderate fine per vacant position per month. Disability rights advocates claimed that some companies preferred to pay the mandated fine rather than hire persons with disabilities. There is no penalty for government entities failing to meet the legal minimum hiring ratio for persons with disabilities.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law establishes a minimum wage, which varies by prefecture but in all cases allows for earnings above the official poverty line. The government effectively enforces the minimum wage.

The law provides for a 40-hour workweek for most industries and, with exceptions, limits the number of overtime hours permitted in a fixed period. Violators may face penalties including fines and imprisonment commensurate with those for similar crimes.

Labor unions continued to criticize the government for failing to enforce the law regarding maximum working hours; workers, including those in government jobs, routinely exceeded the hours outlined in the law.

The Ministry of Labor conducted 24,042 on-site workplace inspections of workplaces they had reason to suspect excessive overtime was taking place during fiscal year 2020 (April 2020 to May 2021). It found violations at 8,904, or 37 percent of workplaces. The Ministry of Labor provided the violators with guidance for correction and improvement.

Workers employed on term-limited contracts, known as “nonregular” workers, continued to receive lower pay, fewer benefits, and less job security than their “regular” colleagues performing the same work. Most women in the workforce were employed as nonregular workers. The law requires employers to treat regular and nonregular workers equally when the job contents and the scope of expected changes to the job content and work location are the same. This law went into effect in April 2020 for large companies and in April 2021 for small- and medium-size enterprises.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government sets occupational safety and health (OSH) standards. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing laws and regulations governing wages, hours, and OSH standards in most industries. The National Personnel Authority covers government officials. The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry covers OSH standards for mining, and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism is responsible for OSH standards in the maritime industry.

The government effectively enforced OSH laws, and penalties for OSH violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes. While inspectors have the authority to suspend unsafe operations immediately in cases of flagrant safety violations, in lesser cases they may provide nonbinding guidance. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Government officials acknowledged their resources were inadequate to oversee more than 4.3 million firms and that the number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance.

Reports of OSH and wage violations in the TITP are common; they included injuries due to unsafe equipment and insufficient training, nonpayment of wages and overtime compensation, excessive and often spurious salary deductions, forced repatriation, and substandard living conditions (also see section 7.b.).

There were 131,156 major industrial accidents in 2020 resulting in the death or injury of workers requiring them to be absent from work for more than four days (802 deaths). Falls, road traffic accidents, and injuries caused by heavy machinery were the most common causes of workplace fatalities. The Ministry of Heath, Labor, and Welfare also continued to grant formal recognition to victims of karoshi (death by overwork). Their former employers and the government paid compensation to family members when conditions were met.

Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare initiatives to prevent accidents and injuries in the workplace include checklists, educational materials, leaflets, and videos on the proper handling of equipment and use of safety gear, and promoting workspaces organized to minimize accidents.

Malaysia

Executive Summary

Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy. It has a parliamentary system of government selected through regular, multiparty elections and is headed by a prime minister. The king is the head of state, serves a largely ceremonial role, and has a five-year term. The kingship rotates among the sultans of the nine states with hereditary Malay rulers. In 2018 parliamentary elections, the Pakatan Harapan coalition defeated the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, resulting in the first transfer of power between coalitions since independence in 1957. Before and during that campaign, opposition politicians and civil society organizations alleged electoral irregularities and systemic disadvantages for opposition groups due to a lack of media access for the opposition and malapportioned districts favoring the then ruling coalition. In February 2020 the Pakatan Harapan coalition collapsed, and power transferred to the Malay-dominated Perikatan Nasional coalition which included the main Barisan Nasional components, headed by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. In August that coalition lost its majority in the lower house of parliament, resulting in a transfer of power to a Barisan Nasional-led coalition headed by the new prime minister, Ismail Sabri.

The Royal Malaysian Police maintain internal security and report to the Ministry of Home Affairs. State-level Islamic religious enforcement officers have authority to enforce some criminal aspects of sharia. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government or its agents; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by government entities; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on free expression and media including unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws; restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe restrictions on religious freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement; serious government corruption; serious government restrictions on or harassment of domestic human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; significant barriers to accessing reproductive health; trafficking in persons; violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; criminalization of consensual adult same-sex sexual conduct; and child labor.

The government arrested and prosecuted some officials engaged in corruption, malfeasance, and human rights abuses, although civil society groups alleged continued impunity.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were scattered reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, mostly in the prison system.

In June human rights organizations called for inquests into what media termed “a recent spate of deaths in police custody.” In July the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM), an independent entity established by parliament, stated it was launching investigations into four fatalities in May and June, including the case of a security guard, Sivabalan Subramaniam, who died less than an hour after his arrest and detention on May 20 at Gombak District police headquarters in Selangor State, allegedly from injuries sustained while in custody. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Eliminating Deaths and Abuse in Custody Together (EDICT) accused the government and police of not taking the issue seriously and called for a coroner’s inquest to determine the cause of death. In June, responding to prisoner deaths in the Gombak facility, the inspector general of police transferred Gombak police chief Arifai Tarawe to the Integrity Unit at Bukit Aman police headquarters.

On June 3, Umar Faruq Abdullah, a truck driver, died at the Southern Klang District police headquarters in Selangor State, a day after police arrested him for stealing a gas cylinder. Media reported police told the family that Umar had “fallen to his death while he attempted to escape.” Umar’s family’s lawyer told media, however, that “something was definitely not right” about the circumstances of his death and indicated he planned to file a suit against police and the government for causing Umar Faruq’s death. Umar’s wife, who viewed the body before the autopsy, said she saw swellings all over the body.

Investigation by the Criminal Investigation Division within the Royal Malaysian Police into the use of deadly force by a police officer occurs only if the attorney general initiates the investigation or approves an application for an investigation by family members of the deceased. When the attorney general orders an official inquiry, a coroner’s court convenes, and the hearing is open to the public. In such cases courts generally issued an “open verdict,” meaning that there would be no further action against police.

b. Disappearance

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

SUHAKAM continued its public inquiry, suspended for six months in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, into the 2016 disappearance of Christian converts Pastor Joshua Hilmy and his wife, Ruth Sitepu. On January 11, SUHAKAM expressed disappointment that the government was withholding evidence on orders from the Attorney General’s Chambers and claimed the legal authority to demand such evidence.

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

No law specifically prohibits torture; however, laws that prohibit “committing grievous hurt” encompass torture. More than 60 offenses are subject to caning, sometimes in conjunction with imprisonment, and judges routinely mandated caning as punishment for crimes, including kidnapping, rape, and robbery, and nonviolent offenses, such as narcotics possession, criminal breach of trust, migrant smuggling, immigration offenses, and others. Civil and criminal law exempt men older than 50, unless convicted of rape, and all women from caning. Male children between ages 10 and 18 may receive a maximum of 10 strokes of a “light cane” in a public courtroom.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces due in part to corruption and political influence over the police force. Police abuse of suspects in custody and a lack of accountability for such offenses remained a serious problem. The executive director of local human rights NGO Suaram, Sevan Doraisamy, reported that according to Suaram’s media monitoring, widely reported custodial deaths during the year pointed to a “combination of a sense of impunity and poor health systems in detention centers.”

In March the then inspector general of police, Abdul Hamid Bador, declared that there was a “cartel of dirty cops” in middle and senior ranks. He claimed their collaborators would get promoted to dominate the police hierarchy, so that “when they are top officers and have power, they will start to do their dirty work, including collaborating with criminals.” In November the Home Affairs Ministry referred the matter to the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission for further investigation.

In September, Home Affairs Minister Hamzah Zainudin told parliament that since January, 42 individuals had died while in custody, 14 in prison or police custody and 28 in immigration detention centers. According to the NGO Suaram, however, 16 persons died in police lockups and prison through September, while more than 40 individuals died in immigration detention centers. The government claimed that deaths caused by police were rare, but civil society activists disputed this claim. Hamzah announced that the Ministry of Home Affairs was installing closed-circuit television inside all police lockups in April and that installation was 40 percent complete as of September 29.

In February media reported an accusation by the attorney for retail worker Leong Ann Ping that Leong was sexually harassed by male suspects while detained in the local jail at Mukah, Sarawak State, that she suffered from insomnia and headaches while incarcerated, and that police were not responsive to her request for morning headache medicine. Leong had been arrested three times since November 2020 in connection with a break-in, under a statute designed to combat organized crime and terrorism. Responding to a request from the deputy public prosecutor, a judge ordered her release.

On February 17, Rafi Ullah, a Pakistani refugee, died at Sungai Buloh Prison, near Paya Jaras, Selangor State, reportedly of a heart attack; his lawyer said serious injuries on his hands and feet raised questions about the cause of death. Media reported the prison only informed the family on February 19 and only agreed to conduct an autopsy after the family filed a police report.

On April 17, A. Ganapathy died of severe injuries at Selayang Hospital in Gombak District, Selangor State, following 12 days in custody at Gombak District police headquarters, according to media reports. A lawyer representing Ganapathy’s family said an autopsy revealed his death was due to “severe injuries” to his legs and shoulders. The NGO EDICT called for an inquiry, adding that for police to “abuse tactics to force suspects to confess is inappropriate.” In September, Home Affairs Minister Hamzah announced police had started an inquest into the death.

In May families of 10 inmates filed police reports after their incarcerated relatives claimed to have been abused while under quarantine at Jelebu Prison in Negeri Sembilan. Among the allegations was that the inmates’ genitals and anuses were pepper-sprayed, rendering them unable to urinate or defecate.

In September Selangor State Criminal Investigation Department chief Nik Ezanee Mohd Faisal told media that police would investigate the reported sudden death in custody of Vinaiyagar Thinpathy for foul play and noncompliance with standard operating procedures. Police arrested Vinaiyagar on September 8 for alleged “gangsterism,” and he died five days later due to a ruptured stomach ulcer, per police reports. Police indicated he was also COVID-19 positive. His wife disputed the reports and filed a wrongful death claim against police, stating that his body appeared swollen and beaten. Vinaiyagar’s death in police custody was the tenth since January.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and detention centers could be harsh and life threatening.

The government cracked down on migrants, particularly Rohingya, who were put into detention centers for what it claimed was COVID-19-related “quarantine.”

In December the NGO Suaram stated that deaths in police custody were “severely underreported” and reported there were 19 custodial deaths from January 20 through November 16.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding in prisons and immigration detention centers, particularly in facilities near major cities, remained a serious problem. According to the Home Affairs Ministry, 20 of the country’s 37 prisons were overcrowded. In Kuala Lumpur as well as Selangor and Kelantan States, prisons exceeded capacity by 45 to 50 percent. According to World Prison Brief, as of August 2020 the country had 69,000 inmates in 52 prisons designed to hold only 52,000 inmates.

Administration: The law allows for investigations into allegations of mistreatment; however, this provision did not always function. Officers found responsible for deaths in custody did not generally face punishment.

Authorities restricted rights to religious observance for members of all non-Sunni practices of Islam, which the government bans as “deviant.”

Independent Monitoring: Authorities generally did not permit NGOs and media to monitor prison conditions; the law allows judges to visit prisons to examine conditions and ask prisoners and prison officials about conditions. The government’s Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and SUHAKAM monitored prisons on a case-by-case basis.

The government did not grant the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) access to detention facilities where migrant laborers and refugees were held.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

Police may use certain preventive detention laws to detain persons suspected of terrorism, organized crime, gang activity, and trafficking in drugs or persons without a warrant or judicial review for two-year terms, renewable indefinitely. Within seven days of the initial detention, however, police must present the case for detention to a public prosecutor. If the prosecutor agrees “sufficient evidence exists to justify” continued detention and further investigation, a fact-finding inquiry officer appointed by the minister of home affairs must report within 59 days to a detention board appointed by the king. The board may renew the detention order or impose an order to restrict, for a maximum of five years, a suspect’s place of residence, travel, access to communications facilities, and use of the internet. In other cases the law allows investigative detention for up to 28 days to prevent a criminal suspect from fleeing or destroying evidence during an investigation.

Immigration law allows authorities to arrest and detain noncitizens for 30 days, pending a deportation decision.

In October the minister of home affairs reported that 374 individuals were detained under security legislation from January 1 through September 30.

In September Home Affairs Minister Hamzah Zainudin reported to parliament that as of August 25, there were 2,881 prison detainees younger than 21. Among these detainees, 45 were pending trial while 2,836 were convicted prisoners. As of the same date, there were 1,490 detainees younger than 21 at immigration depots and temporary immigration depots nationwide.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law permits police to arrest and detain individuals for some offenses without a warrant, even outside situations of a crime in progress or other urgent circumstances. During investigations police may hold a suspect for 24 hours, which may be extended for a maximum of 14 days by court order under general criminal law provisions. NGOs reported a police practice of releasing suspects and then quickly rearresting them to continue investigative custody without seeking judicial authorization.

Some NGOs asserted that a police approach of “arrest first, investigate later” was prevalent, particularly in cases involving allegations of terrorism. By law a person must be informed of the grounds for arrest by the arresting officer.

Bail is usually available for persons accused of crimes not punishable by life imprisonment or death. The amount and availability of bail is at the judge’s discretion. Persons granted bail usually must surrender their passports to the court.

Police must inform detainees of their rights to contact family members and consult a lawyer of their choice. Nonetheless, police often denied detainees’ access to legal counsel and questioned suspects without allowing a lawyer to be present. Police justified this practice as necessary to prevent interference in investigations in progress, and the courts generally upheld the practice.

While authorities generally treated attorney-client communications as privileged, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission officials may question lawyers who accompanied their clients to nonjudicial commission hearings about their interaction with their clients and the content of their discussions.

Police sometimes did not allow detainees prompt access to family members or other visitors.

The law allows the detention of a material witness in a criminal case if that person is likely to flee.

On May 13, police detained two boys, ages 12 and 13, at a local police station in Sentul, a suburb of Kuala Lumpur, on suspicion of throwing firecrackers at policemen sent to disperse a crowd of approximately 200 setting off fireworks. They were released on bail the next day. The SUHAKAM children’s commissioner, Noor Aziah Mohd Awal, declared that the arrests contravened the law, which states that a child being arrested should not be handcuffed, the parents or guardians must be informed of the child’s whereabouts, the child’s identity must be protected, and the child has the right to consult with counsel of his or her choice.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities sometimes used their powers to intimidate and punish opponents of the government. Activists and government critics were often subjected to late-night arrests, long hours of questioning, and lengthy remand periods, even if they were not ultimately charged with an offense.

From March 3 to July 29, Selangor State Islamic religious authorities detained journalist Wan Norhayati Wan Alias, known as “Ibu Yati,” without charge, based on controversial comments she posted on social media about the “Arabization” of Malay culture. During this time authorities allegedly repeatedly questioned her; deprived her of contact with her lawyer; and detained her in unsafe conditions, including lack of water, food, and access to medicine, at times with possibly COVID-19-positive detainees. On July 28, the Selangor State sharia high court charged Ibu Yati and two others with expounding religious doctrines contrary to Islamic law and spreading them through Facebook from December 2020 through February 1. They were released on bail but ordered to report to the nearest District Islamic Religious Department and barred from uploading on social media. A November 2 hearing was fixed for Ibu Yati. Ibu Yati’s court date was set for January 25, 2022.

Also on July 28, authorities detained youth activist Sarah Irdina and questioned her for 10 hours over social media posts promoting the “black flag” campaign to protest the Muhyiddin government’s response to COVID-19. Police also raided her home without a search warrant.

Pretrial Detention: The International Center for Prison Studies reported that pretrial detainees comprised approximately 27 percent of the prison population in 2018. Crowded and understaffed courts often resulted in lengthy pretrial detention, sometimes lasting several years. In September Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat issued directives to improve the detention process and ensure suspects detained for investigation for more than 24 hours had access to legal representation, were in good health, and were allowed to testify in court about their treatment while under detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Three constitutional articles provide the basis for an independent judiciary; however, other constitutional provisions, legislation restricting judicial review, and executive influence over judicial appointments limited judicial independence and strengthened executive influence over the judiciary. The judiciary frequently deferred to police or executive authority in cases those parties deemed as affecting their interests.

Members of the Malaysian Bar Council, NGO representatives, and other observers expressed serious concern about significant limitations on judicial independence, citing several high-profile instances of arbitrary verdicts, selective prosecution, and preferential treatment of some litigants and lawyers. Representatives of these groups argued that the lines between the executive, the judiciary, and the state were very blurred and that the judiciary needed to exert more independence and objectivity.

The Judges’ Ethics Committee suspended Court of Appeal judge Hamid Sultan Abu Backer from February through August because of an affidavit he filed in 2019 as part of a lawsuit against then chief justice Richard Malanjum. Hamid alleged government interference in previous judicial decisions and complicity by judges in sham cases designed to reward government supporters with large settlements. Hamid was the first judge suspended since the statute establishing the ethics committee came into effect in 2010. The inquiry against him took place behind closed doors, causing human rights NGOs to question the independence of the decision. After the suspension, Hamid retired.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. The legal system is based on British common law, and defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly of the charges against them, to a timely trial, and to be present at their trial. Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice or to have counsel appointed at public expense if they face charges that carry the death penalty. Defendants also may apply for a public defender in certain other cases.

According to the Malaysian Bar Council, defendants generally had adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense if they had the means to engage private counsel. Otherwise, defendants must rely on legal aid, and the amount of time to prepare for trial is at the discretion of the judge. Authorities provide defendants free interpretation in Mandarin, Tamil, and some other commonly used dialects from the moment charged through all appeals. Criminal defendants have the right to confront witnesses. Defendants may present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. Limited pretrial discovery in criminal cases impeded the defense. Strict rules of evidence apply in court. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt.

Defendants may appeal court decisions to higher courts, but only if the appeal raises a question of law or if material circumstances raise a reasonable doubt regarding conviction or sentencing. The Malaysian Bar Council claimed these restrictions were excessive.

In cases related to terrorism or national security, the law allows police to hold persons, even after acquittal, against the possibility of appeal by the prosecution.

Many NGOs complained women did not receive fair treatment from sharia courts, especially in divorce and child custody cases (see section 6).

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals or organizations may sue the government and officials in court for alleged violations of human rights; however, a large case backlog often resulted in delays in civil actions to the disadvantage of plaintiffs. The courts increasingly encouraged the use of mediation and arbitration to speed settlements.

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

Laws prohibit such actions; nevertheless, authorities sometimes infringed on citizens’ privacy. Under national security laws, police may enter and search the homes of persons suspected of threatening national security without a warrant. The government monitored the internet and threatened to detain anyone sending or posting content the government deemed a threat to public order or security (see section 2.a.).

Islamic authorities may enter private premises without a warrant to apprehend Muslims suspected of engaging in offenses such as gambling, consumption of alcohol, and sexual relations outside marriage.

The government does not recognize marriages between Muslims and non-Muslims and considers children born of such unions illegitimate.

Throughout the year there were numerous instances of police confiscating the cell phones of human rights defenders brought in for questioning.

In August, NGOs reported that after activists cancelled a planned protest against the government, police went to many of the organizers’ homes and questioned them and their families.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution allows restrictions on the freedom of expression “in the interest of the security of the Federation…[or] public order.” The government regularly restricted freedom of expression for members of the public, media, and civil society, citing reasons such as upholding Islam and the special status of ethnic Malays, protecting national security, maintaining public order, and preserving friendly relations with other countries. The government curbed freedom of expression, particularly freedom of the press.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits sedition and public comment on issues defined as sensitive, including racial and religious matters or criticism of the king or ruling sultans. The law prohibits speech “with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person.”

According to the International Press Institute, the nationwide state of emergency declared in January to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, postponing parliamentary sittings and elections while banning interstate travel and imposing restrictions on media, posed “a grave threat to press freedom and freedom of expression.” In March the government enacted an emergency ordinance prohibiting the spread of “fake news” related to COVID-19 and the state of emergency declaration with heavy fines, three years in prison, or both for violations. Opposition members of parliament, media, lawyers, and civil society activists called the ordinance “draconian” and prone to abuse because “fake news” was not clearly defined. Although parliament annulled the emergency ordinance in October, Communications and Multimedia Minister Annuar Musa declared that any ongoing investigations of “fake news” would not be affected by the annulment. According to the minister, of 30 investigations opened from March to October, 12 were brought to court, 14 were classified as “no further action,” and four remained under investigation.

In April police threatened activist and artist Fahmi Reza with sedition for mocking the queen over her Instagram posts. Police detained Reza after he compiled two Spotify playlists of songs that referenced either the queen, Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah, or her Instagram question to followers if they were jealous of her and her servants for receiving early COVID-19 vaccinations. Supporters congregated at the police station, and civil rights organizations demanded his release; they were then also called in for questioning. In August police dropped the sedition case.

In August police investigated seven activists from youth coalition Sekratariat Solidariti Rakyat for sedition in relation to a planned street protest. The organizers had held two street protests in July, demanding the prime minister’s resignation, the reopening of parliament, and an automatic loan repayment moratorium for all. A youth coalition press statement slammed the use of sedition as excessive intimidation of ordinary individuals.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Political parties and individuals linked to the ruling coalition owned or controlled a majority of shares in almost all English and Malay language print and broadcast media, many of which were overtly progovernment. Online media outlets were more independent but were often the target of legal action and harassment.

In April, Reporters Without Borders, referring to the March emergency ordinance, cited the country’s “restoration of more authoritarian rule” as the government imposed a “fake news” decree enabling authorities “to impose their own version of the truth.”

The government maintained and at times exerted control over news content, both in print and broadcast media. The government banned, restricted, or limited circulation of publications it considered a threat to public order, morality, or national security. The government has the power to suspend publication for these reasons and retained effective control over the licensing process.

In February, Court of Appeal President Rohana Yusuf found independent online news portal Malaysiakini guilty of contempt for user comments posted to an article the portal published in June 2020; chief editor Steven Gan was acquitted. The ruling found the user comments, which Malaysiakini removed within 12 minutes of posting, “contemptuous” of Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat. The Attorney General’s Chambers requested a fine of 200,000 ringgit ($47,500), but Yusuf fined Malaysiakini more than double that amount. A prominent human rights advocate stated, “the amount is not punitive. It is vindictive.”

Also in February authorities investigated Malaysiakini chief editor Steven Gan and member of parliament Charles Santiago under sedition and multimedia legislation for issuing statements critical of the judicial ruling that the news portal was guilty of contempt.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were subjected to harassment and intimidation.

In May the National Union of Journalists Peninsular Malaysia, the Centre for Independent Journalism, and Gerakan Media Merdeka issued a statement in response to five incidents where authorities questioned and investigated journalists early in the year. Noting that Malaysiakini, Astro Awani, Free Malaysia Today, and the China Press had been subjected to police investigations, the foregoing media groups declared that the press should not be “summoned by the government or threatened with action based on articles they publish in their capacity as the media,” and termed harassment of journalists for doing their jobs “a tactic to stifle press freedom.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government maintained the ability to censor media. The law requires a permit to own a printing press, and printers often were reluctant to print publications critical of the government due to fear of reprisal. Such policies, together with antidefamation laws and the emergency ordinance prohibiting the spread of “fake news” enacted in March under the January-August COVID-19 pandemic-related state of emergency, inhibited independent or investigative journalism and resulted in self-censorship in the print and broadcast media.

The government occasionally censored foreign magazines, newspapers, and news programming, most often due to sexual content.

Government restrictions on radio and television stations mirrored those on print media, and electronic media predominantly supported the government. Television stations censored programming to follow government guidelines.

The government generally restricted publications it judged might incite racial or religious disharmony. The Ministry of Home Affairs maintained a list of more than 1,700 banned publications as of November 2020. In April the High Court upheld a 2019 ban on the comic book Belt and Road Initiative for Win Winism by “Superman Hew.” In July NGO Refuge for the Refugees founder Heidy Quah was charged under communications legislation over a 2020 social media post regarding conditions at an immigration detention center. She faced up to a year in prison and a fine of 50,000 ringgit ($12,000).

In July police raided the offices of Freedom Film Network in response to an animated short film the network and the NGO Suaram released in June about the lack of police accountability. Police reportedly questioned Suaram staff to assess whether the film violated sedition or communications legislation but made no determination. The cofounder of youth group Misi Solidariti, Sharon Wah, questioned along with four other activists, declared: “Laws that arbitrarily criminalize speech and legitimate criticism remain on the book. All it takes is one offhand comment, one misplaced statement, and you’re on the receiving end of a police investigation too.”

Libel/Slander Laws: The law includes sections on civil and criminal defamation. Criminal defamation is punishable by a maximum two years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. True statements may be considered defamatory if they contravene the “public good.” The government and its supporters used these laws, along with provisions against sedition, to punish and suppress publication of material critical of government officials and policies.

In July the Federal Court upheld a 2018 criminal defamation conviction against online news portal Malaysiakini for articles and videos published in 2012 about pollution allegedly linked to Raud Australian Gold Mining and ordered Malaysiakini to pay 550,000 ringgit ($132,000) in damages and costs.

In October the government revived a 2018 criminal defamation suit against British journalist Claire Rewcastle-Brown for her reporting on the 1 Malaysia Development Berhad financial scandal that led to the conviction of former prime minister Najib in 2020 on corruption charges and occasioned his continued prosecution on other corruption and abuse of power charges during the year.

National Security: Authorities often cited national security laws to restrict media distribution of material critical of government policies and public officials. The government used the COVID-19 pandemic to further this practice.

Nongovernmental Impact: Groups sympathetic to the sitting government sought to limit freedom of expression through public criticisms of expression deemed dangerous or criminal complaints of allegedly seditious speech. In June, 40 religious and educator groups jointly protested an online program, “School as a Safe Place for Individuals of Various Sexual Orientations,” arguing that schools “must be saved from elements of pro-unnatural sex orientations and transgenderism ideology that are against religious teachings” (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity). Such groups also sometimes attempted to intimidate opposition groups through demonstrations.

Internet Freedom

The government restricted access to the internet. Curtailing internet freedom to combat dissenting political views online, authorities blocked some websites and monitored the internet for messages and blog postings deemed a threat to public security or order.

The government warned internet users to avoid offensive or indecent content and sensitive matters such as religion and race, and it aggressively pursued charges against those criticizing Islam, the country’s royalty, or its political leaders.

Sedition and criminal defamation laws led to self-censorship by local internet content sources, including bloggers, news providers, and activists.

The law requires internet and other network service providers to obtain a license and permits punishment of the owner of a website or blog for allowing offensive racial, religious, or political content. The government regards those who post content as publishers, thereby placing the burden of proof on the poster. NGOs and members of the public criticized the law, noting it could cause self-censorship due to liability concerns. Legal observers feared the February ruling by the Court of Appeal against Malaysiakini (see section 2.a., Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media) set a precedent that websites could be held responsible for reader comments posted in response to content.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government placed some restrictions on academic freedom, particularly the expression of unapproved political views, and enforced restrictions on teachers and students who expressed dissenting views. The government requires all civil servants, university faculty, and students to sign a pledge of loyalty to the king and government. Some politicians and human rights activists claimed the government used the loyalty pledge to restrain political activity among these groups. Although faculty members sometimes publicly criticized the government, public university academics whose career advancement and funding depended on the government practiced self-censorship. Self-censorship took place among academics at private institutions as well, spurred by fear the government might revoke the licenses of their institutions. The law imposes limitations on student associations and on student and faculty political activity. Students remain prohibited from “expressing support or sympathy” for an unlawful society or organization.

The government censored films for certain political and religious content, not allowing, for example, screening of films in Hebrew or Yiddish, or from Israel. Although the government allowed foreign films at local film festivals, it sometimes censored content by physically blocking screens until the objectionable scene was over.

In July authorities charged Toh Han Boon for producing and promoting the movie Babi, which the government banned in 2020 over its portrayal of race relations in the country. The law bars the production, distribution, or exhibition of films without authorization from the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia. Toh was released on bail but could face a substantial fine, two years’ imprisonment, or both. The court scheduled a hearing for October 14, and the case continued at year’s end.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association but allows restrictions deemed necessary or expedient in the interest of security, public order, or (in the case of association) morality. Abiding by the government’s restrictions did not protect some protesters from harassment or arrest.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides citizens “the right to assemble peaceably and without arms”; however, several laws restricted this right. Although the law does not require groups to obtain a permit for assemblies, police frequently placed time, location, and other restrictions on the right to assemble. Authorities often banned street protests, and police sometimes confronted civil society and opposition demonstrations with mass arrests.

Protests deemed acceptable by the government usually proceeded without interference.

In August police stopped a candlelight vigil organized by the NGO Sekretariat Solidariti Rakyat to commemorate COVID-19 victims in Kuala Lumpur and arrested 31 activists for violating infectious disease control regulations despite participants following all necessary COVID-19 standard operating procedures for gatherings. Police fined each of the activists, including a local city councilor, and detained them for several hours.

Also in August, police barricaded the main route to parliament to prevent opposition members of parliament from entering the building after Speaker of the Lower House Azhar Harun suspended a special parliamentary session citing COVID-19 concerns.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for the right of association; however, the government placed significant restrictions on this right, and certain statutes limit it. By law only registered organizations of seven or more persons may legally function. The government often resisted registering organizations deemed particularly unfriendly to the government or imposed strict preconditions. The government may revoke registrations for violations of the law governing societies.

The government bans membership in unregistered political parties and organizations.

Many human rights and civil society organizations had difficulty obtaining government recognition as NGOs. As a result, many NGOs registered as companies, which created legal and bureaucratic obstacles to raising money to support their activities. Authorities frequently cited a lack of registration as grounds for action against organizations. Some NGOs also reported the government monitored their activities to intimidate them.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, emigration, and repatriation, but these rights were often restricted by federal and state government officials, particularly in eastern Sabah and Sarawak states.

In-country Movement: Sabah and Sarawak States controlled immigration into their areas and required foreigners and citizens from peninsular Malaysia to present passports or national identity cards for entry. State authorities continued to deny entry to certain national leaders to these states. Sarawak maintained its ban on Zakir Naik, an Islamic preacher; Mandeep Karpal Singh, formerly of the fair-election NGO coalition Bersih; sitting Bersih chair Thomas Fann; former chair Ambiga Sreenevasan; Wong Chin Huat, an academic and Bersih resource chair; Jerald Joseph, a SUHAKAM commissioner; and activists Colin Nicholas and Jannie Lasimbang, among others. There were some restrictions on in-country movement by refugees and asylum seekers (see section 2.f., Freedom of Movement).

Foreign Travel: Travel to Israel is subject to approval and limited to religious purposes.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government generally did not impede organizations providing protection and assistance to migrants, refugees, and stateless persons, most of whom lived intermingled with the general public. The government cooperated to a limited extent with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers. As there is no legal framework for dealing with refugees and asylum seekers in the country, UNHCR conducted all activities related to protection, including registration and status determination.

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 to refugees.

Migrants, refugees, and stateless persons receive no government support. The government allowed UNHCR and NGOs to work with these populations, but government cooperation with UNHCR was inconsistent.

Viewed as “illegal immigrants,” refugees and others were subject to deportation at any time. They also faced a maximum of five years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both, and mandatory caning with a maximum of six strokes if convicted of immigration law violations.

In June human rights organizations protested an illustration posted on social media by the National Task Force, a government unit charged with tightening border controls, that showed armed security officials and navy ships surrounding a boat, captioned, “Rohingya migrants, your arrival is not welcome.” In response to complaints, Minister of Home Affairs Hamzah Zainudin declared he believed most Malaysians were concerned that “the huge number of refugees who made Malaysia their destination of choice” might “lead to various social ills.” In turn migrant rights activist Adrian Pereira of the NGO North South Initiative expressed fear of what the government’s portrayal of the Rohingya could lead to, especially after the surge of online hate against that community in 2020.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: UNHCR reported that as of December 31, there were 180,440 refugees and asylum seekers in the country who were registered with the agency, of whom 155,400 were from Burma: 103,380 Rohingyas, 22,570 Chins, and 29,450 of other ethnic groups coming from conflict-affected areas or “fleeing persecution” in Burma. The remaining 24,040 individuals, UNHCR reported, came from 50 countries, including 6,730 Pakistanis, 3,720 Yemenis, 3,300 Syrians, 3,210 Somalis, 2,800 Afghans, 1,690 Sri Lankans, 1,200 Iraqis, 770 Palestinians, and others. Among the refugees and asylum seekers, 68 percent were men and 32 percent were women. There were 46,170 children younger than age 18. Ongoing travel restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 prevented many individuals from presenting themselves to renew their UNHCR cards, leaving them with expired documentation.

Most migrants, refugees, and stateless persons lived in private accommodations and survived on support from UNHCR, NGOs, community-based organizations, refugee support networks, or illegal or informal labor. The government held thousands of individuals in immigration detention centers and other facilities. Access to those in detention centers was often significantly limited. According to observers, as of September, there were at least 600 registered asylum seekers and refugees, including 57 children, held in immigration detention centers.

The government continued to arrest undocumented migrant workers, including children, and held thousands in confined and congested cells at immigration detention centers and other facilities.

In April a Pakistani UNHCR cardholder refugee was assaulted by a group of men in Selangor State who severed his genitals.

Migrants and potential refugees expressed fear about coming forward for the COVID-19 vaccine, fearing detention and possible deportation after receiving mixed messaging from the government. In May Home Affairs Minister Hamzah Zainudin declared the government would “round up” and vaccinate undocumented migrants to “help” them and “protect Malaysians.” If the migrants did not come for vaccinations, the government would “go after them,” he told media, adding that authorities would then work with employers and embassies to get individuals documented only for the purpose of vaccination. In September, however, Hamzah informed parliament the government would require healthcare workers to notify security forces if undocumented migrants appeared at health facilities and vaccine centers.

In September Minister of Health Khairy Jamaluddin announced that everyone in the country was eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine regardless of documentation status, but many remained skeptical. Applicants had to provide their name and address for their vaccine status to be recorded, and some feared authorities could use the information later to raid their homes. Although observers reported that no Department of Immigration officers were seen at vaccination centers, there were isolated reports of police roadblocks or intimidation of refugees by police on their way to vaccination centers, including an instance when police tore up an expired UNHCR card. In another case a refugee said police on patrol stopped him, became aggressive, and despite his UNHCR card, threatened him with arrest, claiming he had broken the law. “I panicked because I was made to believe that I had committed something wrong. Eventually, they asked for money, which I had no choice but to oblige.”

UNHCR affirmed that authorities continued to disallow visits by its staff to detention centers to meet refugees and asylum seekers, determine those in need of international protection, and advocate for their release.

NGOs and international organizations involved with these populations made credible allegations of overcrowding, inadequate food and clothing, lack of regular access to clean water, poor medical care, improper sanitation, and lack of bedding in the immigration detention centers.

Local and international NGOs estimated most of the country’s 12 permanent and nine temporary immigration detention centers were at or beyond capacity, with some detainees held for a year or longer. The number detained in these centers was not publicly available.

Human rights organizations expressed serious concerns about the lack of access to fair legal process and adequate representation during immigration court hearings. The Malaysian Bar Council strongly criticized the immigration courts in detention centers as facilitating a legal process where migrant workers were not provided with a clear understanding of the charges against them in their own language and were effectively denied the right to legal counsel. At court hearings 15 to 20 migrants were often tried together, grouped by the offense with which they were charged. If found guilty, the cost of deportation generally fell to the detainee, which led to prolonged detention for those unable to pay.

The government on several occasions forcibly expelled boats with refugees and asylum seekers who had come from a country where their lives or freedom could be threatened due to their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

In February the High Court issued an interim stay on the deportation of 1,200 Burmese nationals after the deportees were already aboard Burmese naval ships. The stay followed a hearing on a joint filing against the government by Amnesty International Malaysia and Asylum Access Malaysia, alleging that among the deportees there were documented refugees, asylum seekers, and minors separated from parents residing in Malaysia. Nonetheless, the ships departed later that day despite the court ruling. The immigration director general issued a statement confirming that the ships departed with 1,086 of the 1,200 Burmese nationals aboard. UNHCR declared that the deportees included at least six individuals registered with the agency. According to refugee groups, minority Chin and Kachin asylum seekers fleeing persecution and approximately a dozen children with at least one parent in Malaysia were also among them. These groups also expressed concern that some deportees might not have had their UN-issued cards with them when they were picked up and pointed out that others had applied for asylum but were awaiting assessment of their claims. Human Rights Watch called on the government to investigate the deportations and to provide UNHCR with access to all detainees, refugees, and asylum seekers in the country, stressing the risk they faced of a return to persecution.

Freedom of Movement: The government generally tolerated the presence of undocumented refugees and asylum seekers but sometimes detained them for a variety of causes in police jails or immigration detention centers until they could be deported or UNHCR established their bona fides. Some refugees holding UNHCR identification cards reported limited ability to move throughout the country because authorities sometimes did not recognize the UNHCR card.

Employment: Although the government does not authorize UNHCR-registered refugees to work, it typically did not interfere if they performed informal work. UNHCR reported the government brought charges in a few cases against employers for hiring refugees. Refugees employed in the informal sector were paid lower wages than comparable employees and were vulnerable to exploitation.

Access to Basic Services: The government provided access to health care at a discounted foreigner’s rate of 50 percent to UNHCR-registered refugees, but not to persons without UNHCR registration cards. NGOs operated static and mobile clinics, but their number and access were limited. Refugees did not have access to the public education system. Access to education was limited to schools run by NGOs and ethnic communities, and UNHCR estimated no more than 40 percent of refugee children attended school. A lack of resources and qualified teachers limited opportunities for the majority of school-age refugee children. UNHCR noted that because most schooling was virtual during the year, some populations, such as Rohingya, allowed girls to participate in schooling virtually when they would have been prohibited from attending in person.

g. Stateless Persons

The National Registration Department did not maintain records of stateless persons. In October UNHCR estimated there were 9,040 stateless persons residing in peninsular Malaysia, the majority of whom were of Indian Tamil ethnicity. In 2019 UNHCR estimated there were 450,000 stateless persons residing in the eastern state of Sabah. Baseline figures of stateless persons and persons “at risk” of statelessness in Sabah, where approximately 80,000 Filipino Muslim refugees resided, were unavailable.

Citizenship law and birth registration rules and procedures created a large class of stateless children in the migrant and refugee population. When mothers did not have valid proof of citizenship, authorities entered the child’s citizenship as “unknown” on the birth certificate. UNHCR deemed this a widespread problem.

Even if the father is a citizen, the marriage may be considered invalid and the children illegitimate if the mother lacks proof of citizenship; such children were also considered stateless.

Some observers indicated that children born to Muslim refugees and asylum seekers often had an easier time obtaining citizenship than non-Muslim refugees and asylum seekers. For refugees in Muslim marriages, the observers claimed authorities often accepted a UNHCR document or other documentation in lieu of a passport as proof of citizenship.

Persons who lacked proof of citizenship were not able to access government services, such as reduced-cost health care, or own property. Previously the federal government permitted stateless children to enroll in public school if parents were able to prove the child’s father was a citizen, but in November 2020 the minister of education informed parliament that stateless children did not have access to public schools but could attend private schools.

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 constitution also provides for transfers of power without new legislative elections. This occurred in August for the second time since 2018, when Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin resigned after losing majority support from members of the lower house of parliament, resulting in a transfer of power to a new prime minister, Ismail Sabri. The king determined that Sabri commanded a parliamentary majority and appointed him prime minister after meeting with parliamentarians, in conformity with constitutional parameters.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country’s most recent general election was held in 2018 amid allegations of partisanship on the part of public institutions, in particular the Election Commission and the Registrar of Societies. In the election the Pakatan Harapan coalition unseated the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, marking the first federal transition of power between coalitions since independence in 1957. Prior to the 2018 elections, opposition political parties were disadvantaged due to the Barisan Nasional government’s control over traditional media outlets and malapportionment of constituencies, among other matters.

While authorities generally recorded votes accurately, there were irregularities perpetrated by the former Barisan Nasional coalition government that affected the fairness of elections.

A consortium of NGOs released a formal report in 2018 detailin