An official website of the United States Government Here's how you know

Official websites use .gov

A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Angola

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

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

There were reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. For example, on June 1, an officer with the Criminal Investigation Services (SIC) shot and killed a robbery suspect in broad daylight while the suspect lay injured on the ground surrounded by SIC officers. A bystander filmed the killing, and the video footage circulated widely on social media. On June 10, the Ministry of Interior, which oversees SIC, ordered an investigation and placed the SIC officer who killed the suspect in preventive detention. Authorities charged him as well as six other officers present at the scene with qualified homicide. The trial of the seven officers continued at year’s end.

In a 2017 report, The Field of Death, journalist and human rights activist Rafael Marques stated a SIC campaign of extrajudicial killings of young men in Luanda. According to Marques, many SIC victims were accused of petty criminality or otherwise labeled as “undesirable” by residents of their respective communities. The report stated the national police at times coordinated with SIC officers in the killings. In December 2017 the public prosecutor announced the creation of a commission of inquiry to investigate the allegations, and the investigation continued at year’s end.

On August 14, the Luanda Provincial Tribunal convicted First Sergeant Jose Tadi and sentenced him to 18 years in prison and a fine of one million kwanzas ($3,450) for the 2016 killing of 14-year-old Rufino Antonio during an Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) demolition operation of allegedly unauthorized housing. The court convicted three other FAA soldiers for their involvement in the case and sentenced each of them to one year in prison. In September the family of Rufino Antonio filed a lawsuit against the government for failing to try or hold accountable the FAA commanding officers who oversaw the demolition operation.

At year’s end the Supreme Court had not rendered a decision on the appeal of the 28-year sentence imposed in 2016 on Jose Kalupeteka, leader of the Light of the World religious sect, convicted in connection with the 2015 clashes between members of his group and police that left 13 civilians and nine police officers dead, according to official figures.

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 constitution and law prohibit all forms of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but the government did not always enforce these prohibitions. Periodic reports continued of beatings and other abuses of persons on the way to and in police stations during interrogations. The government acknowledged that at times members of the security forces used excessive force when apprehending individuals. Police authorities openly condemned some acts of violence or excessive force against individuals and asked that victims report abuses to the national police or the Office of the Public Defender (Ombudsman).

On April 14, police detained Antonio Castro Cassongo and five other members of the Lunda Tchokwe Protectorate Movement (LTPM) during a training workshop led by Cassongo. For several days police failed to acknowledge the whereabouts of the six individuals. After family members and the LTPM reported the disappearances to the press, a municipal police commander in Cafunfo acknowledged authorities had detained the six individuals in Cafunfo prison. They later released all six detainees; however, Cassongo stated that police brutally beat them while in custody.

During the year there were fewer instances in which security forces reacted violently to public demonstrations against the government. The visible presence of security forces was enough to deter significantly what the government deemed unlawful demonstrations. Authorities claimed known agitators, who sought only to create social instability, organized many of the public demonstrations.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, a lack of medical care, corruption, and violence.

Physical Conditions: On March 19, Meneses Cassoma, the spokesperson and chief prison inspector for the penitentiary services, acknowledged to the press that overcrowding in prisons was a serious problem.

Authorities frequently held pretrial detainees with sentenced inmates, and short-term detainees with those serving long-term sentences for violent crimes, especially in provincial prisons. Inmates who were unable to pay court-ordered fines remained in prison after completing their sentence.

Prison conditions varied widely between urban and rural areas. Prisons in rural areas were less crowded and had better rehabilitation, training, and reintegration services. Prisons did not always provide adequate medical care, sanitation, potable water, or food, and it was customary for families to bring food to prisoners. Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) stated prison services were insufficient.

There was no additional information on the killing of prisoner Bruno Marques in March 2017. In 2016 newspaper Novo Jornal published photos taken by Marques that allegedly depicted Viana jail’s deplorable conditions and sick and malnourished prisoners.

On March 18, SIC officers detained Mario Francisco, the director of penitentiary services for Cunene Province, and five other individuals on suspicion of diverting food from Peu Peu prison. In July 2017 the NGO Ame Naame Omunu denounced conditions in Peu Peu prison and filed a complaint with the provincial-level representative of the Ministry of Interior after uncovering the deaths of nine Peu Peu prisoners from unidentified causes. Prison records later identified cases of malnutrition resulting in inmate deaths. Francisco awaited trial and remained released on bail at year’s end.

Administration: The government investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions.

Some offenders, including violent offenders, reported paying fines and bribes to secure their freedom, but it was unclear how prevalent this practice was.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits to prisons by independent local and international human rights observers and foreign diplomats. Nevertheless, civil society organizations faced difficulties in contacting detainees, and prison authorities undermined civil society work in the prisons.

Members of opposition parties visited prisons around the country on a regular basis and reported uneven improvements in living conditions and rehabilitation programs. A local NGO that provides pro bono legal services to inmates stated prison officials were trying to improve conditions but that overcrowding limited results. According to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, ministry representatives made monthly visits to detention centers with representatives of the Office of the Public Defender, the Attorney General’s Office (PGR), and members of the National Assembly to assess prisoners’ living conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, security forces did not always respect these prohibitions. The constitution provides the right of habeas corpus to citizens to challenge their detention before a court.

According to several NGO and civil society sources, police arbitrarily arrested individuals without due process and routinely detained persons who participated, or were about to participate, in antigovernment protests, although the constitution protects the right to protest. While they often released detainees after a few hours, police at times charged them with crimes.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police, controlled by the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for internal security and law enforcement. The SIC, also under the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for preventing and investigating domestic crimes. The Expatriate and Migration Services and the Border Guard Police, in the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for migration law enforcement. The state intelligence and security service reports to the presidency and investigates sensitive state security matters. The FAA are responsible for external security but also have domestic security responsibilities, including border security, expulsion of irregular migrants, and small-scale actions against Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda separatists in Cabinda.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the FAA and the national police, and the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The security forces generally were effective, although sometimes brutal, at maintaining stability. There were allegations during the year that the SIC committed extrajudicial killings, at times in coordination with the national police, to combat crime (see section 1.a.). The national police and FAA have internal mechanisms to investigate security force abuses, and the government provided some training to reform the security forces. Impunity for security force abuses remained a problem, however.

Local populations generally welcomed police presence in neighborhoods and on streets as enhancing general safety and security. Nevertheless, police routinely were believed to extort civilians to supplement their income. Corruption and impunity remained serious problems. The national police handled most complaints internally through opaque disciplinary procedures, which sometimes led to formal punishment, including dismissal. They participated in a television series designed to show a gamut of interactions between police and civilians. The goal of the show was to encourage the population to collaborate with police while discouraging security force members’ procurement of bribes or their payment. The national police also utilized social media to communicate with civilians. The PGR has an anticorruption unit, charged with oversight of police wrongdoing. The government disclosed publicly the results of some investigations that led to disciplinary action.

Police participated in professional training provided by national and international organizations that focused on human rights and combatting trafficking in persons.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires a magistrate or judge to issue a warrant before an arrest may be made, although a person caught committing an offense may be arrested immediately without a warrant. Authorities, however, did not always procure warrants before making an arrest.

By law the public prosecutor must inform the detainee of the legal basis for his or her detention within 48 hours. NGO sources reported authorities often did not respect the law. If the public prosecutor is unable to determine whether there is a legal basis for the detention within 48 hours, the prosecutor has the authority to release the person or, depending on the seriousness of the case, require the person to submit to one or more pretrial procedures prescribed by law, such as posting bail, periodic appearance before authorities, or house arrest.

If the public prosecutor determines a legal basis exists for the detention, a person may be held in pretrial detention for up to four months without charge and up to 12 months before a judge is required to rule on the case. Cases of special complexity regarding crimes for which conviction is punishable by eight or more years allow for pretrial detention without charge for up to six months, and up to 14 months before a judge is required to rule on the case. By law the period of pretrial detention counts as time served in fulfillment of a sentence of imprisonment.

The law states that all detainees have the right to a lawyer, either chosen by them or appointed by the government on a pro bono basis. The lack of lawyers in certain provinces at times impeded the right to a lawyer. There was an insufficient number to handle the volume of criminal cases, and the geographical distribution of lawyers was a problem, since most lawyers were concentrated in Luanda. Lawyers and NGOs noted that even in Luanda most poor defendants did not have access to lawyers during their first appearance before a judicial authority or during their trial. When a lawyer is unavailable, a judge may appoint a clerk of the court to represent the defendant, but clerks of the court often lacked the necessary training to provide an adequate defense.

The law allows family members prompt access to detainees, but prison officials occasionally ignored this right or made it conditional upon payment of a bribe. The law requires detainees be held incommunicado for up to 48 hours until being presented to a public prosecutor, except they may communicate with their lawyer or a family member.

A functioning but ineffective bail system, widely used for minor crimes, existed. Prisoners and their families reported that prison officials demanded bribes to release prisoners.

Arbitrary Arrest: Unlawful arrest and detention remained serious problems. The PGR attributed allegations of government wrongdoing on arrest practices made by local and international NGOs to a lack of understanding of national laws. For example, on August 12, authorities detained Joaquim costa Zangui “Lutambi,” a member of the political party Democratic Bloc, in the Viana suburb of Luanda by seizing him as he walked on the street. The Monitoring Group on Human Rights, an NGO, issued an alert several days after his disappearance, and police subsequently acknowledged they took Zangui to Ndalatando prison on suspicion of criminal activity. On September 6, authorities released Zangui.

Pretrial Detention: Excessively long pretrial detention continued to be a serious problem. An inadequate number of judges and poor communication among authorities contributed to the problem. In some cases authorities held inmates in prison for up to two years in pretrial detention. On March 18, the Ministry of Interior reported that approximately 45 percent of the total inmate population were pretrial detainees. The government often did not release detainees confined beyond the legal time limit, claiming previous releases of pretrial detainees had resulted in an increase in crime.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent and impartial judiciary. Institutional weaknesses in the judicial system, however, such as political influence in the decision-making process, were problems. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and the PGR worked to improve the independence of prosecutors and judges. The National Institute for Judicial Studies conducted capacity-building programs on the importance of an independent judicial system.

There were long trial delays at the Supreme Court. Criminal courts also had a large backlog of cases, which resulted in major delays in hearings.

Informal courts remained the principal institutions through which citizens resolved civil conflicts in rural areas, such as disputes over a bartering deal. Each community in which informal courts were located established local rules, creating disparities in how similar cases were resolved from one community to the next. Traditional leaders (known as “sobas”) also heard and decided local civil cases. Sobas do not have the authority to resolve criminal cases, which only courts may hear.

Both the national police and the FAA have internal court systems that generally remained closed to outside scrutiny. Although members of these organizations may be tried under their internal regulations, cases that include violations of criminal or civil laws may also fall under the jurisdiction of provincial courts. Both the PGR and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights have civilian oversight responsibilities over military courts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Although the law provides all citizens the right to a fair trial, authorities did not always respect this right. Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Authorities must inform defendants of the charges levied against them in detail within 48 hours of their detention. Defendants have the right to free language interpretation during all legal proceedings from the moment charged through all appeals. By law trials are usually public, although each court has the right to close proceedings. Defendants have the right to be present and consult with an attorney, either chosen by them or appointed by the state, in a timely manner. According to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, all public defenders are licensed lawyers. Defendants do not have the right to confront their accusers. They may question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right to sufficient time and facilities to prepare a defense. The law protects defendants from providing self-incriminating testimony. Individuals have the right to appeal their convictions. Authorities did not always respect these trial procedure rights.

A separate juvenile court is designated for children’s affairs. A juvenile court hears cases of minors between the ages of 12 and 16 accused of committing a criminal offense. Minors older than age 16 accused of committing a criminal offense are tried in regular courts. In many rural municipalities, there is no provision for juvenile courts, so offenders as young as 12 may be tried as adults. In many cases traditional leaders have state authority to resolve disputes and determine punishments for civil offenses, including offenses committed by juveniles. The constitution defines traditional authorities as ad hoc units of the state.

The president appoints Supreme Court justices for life terms without confirmation by the National Assembly. The Supreme Court generally hears cases concerning alleged political and security crimes.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Damages for human rights violations may be sought in municipal or provincial courts and appealed to the Supreme Court.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The constitution recognizes the right to housing and quality of life, and the law states that persons relocated should receive fair compensation. The constitution provides that all untitled land belongs to the state. In 2016 security forces demolished hundreds of allegedly illegal, privately built homes in Zango, a suburban Luanda zone that falls within the restrictive perimeter of the Luanda-Bengo Special Economic Zone. The demolitions displaced thousands of persons and resulted in several deaths. Some persons forced to move did not receive fair compensation, at times due to lack of clear title or permits for the destroyed property. Relocated persons who received housing units often complained their units were located far from their jobs or places of business, or were of substandard quality.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government did not always respect these prohibitions. Civil organizations and politically active individuals, including government critics, members of opposition parties, and journalists, complained the government maintained surveillance of their activities and membership. These groups also frequently complained of threats and harassment based on their affiliations with groups that were purportedly or explicitly antigovernment.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for the right of peaceful assembly, and the government increasingly respected this right.

The law requires written notification to the local administrator and police three days before public assemblies are to be held. The law does not require government permission to hold public assemblies, but permits authorities to restrict or stop assemblies in public spaces within 109 yards of public, military, detention, diplomatic or consular buildings for security reasons. The law also requires public assemblies to start after 7 p.m. on weekdays and 1 p.m. on Saturdays. The government at times prohibited events based on perceived or claimed security considerations. Police and administrators did not interfere with progovernment gatherings. Nonpartisan groups intending to criticize the government or government leaders, however, often encountered the presence of police who prevented them from holding the event. Usually authorities claimed the timing or venue requested was problematic or that the proper authorities had not received notification.

On May 26, in Luanda, police intervened to prevent a group of 20 activists from commemorating the 41st anniversary of a 1977 protest against the MPLA that resulted in the arrest and killings of thousands of individuals. Protesters stated police prevented their access to the protest site and attacked them with dogs and sticks. One protester was badly injured. Opposition parties, UNITA and the Broad Convergence for the Salvation of Angola-Electoral Coalition (CASA-CE), as well as Amnesty International, criticized the police intervention.

Members of LTPM held several protests during the year. On November 17, security forces allegedly fired shots in the direction of LTPM protesters in Cafunfo, Lund Norte province, to disperse them. LTPM and several media sources reported that security forces shot one protester in the leg and detained dozens.

The government at times arbitrarily restricted the activities of associations it considered subversive by refusing to grant permits for organized activities. Authorities generally permitted opposition parties to organize and hold meetings.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for the right of association, but the government did not always respect this right (see also section 7.a.). Extensive delays in the NGO registration process continued to be a problem; however, NGOs that had not yet received registration were allowed to operate.

In July 2017 the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional a 2015 presidential decree regulating the operation of NGOs. Civil society had criticized the decree as potentially restrictive and intrusive for including requirements that NGOs obtain approval from the government before the implementation of any project, provide frequent financial reports to the government on NGO activities, and allow local authorities to supervise NGO projects within their municipalities. The government stated this regulation was part of its strategy to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. The court ruled that only the National Assembly had jurisdiction to legislate such requirements according to the clearly defined separation of powers in the constitution.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government at times restricted these rights.

The government sometimes cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern. As of November 16, UNHCR reported that security forces expelled or voluntarily repatriated an estimated 450,000 irregular migrants. The overwhelming majority of these individuals were Congolese whom authorities expelled or voluntarily repatriated to the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). On October 25, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights criticized the government for creating a humanitarian crisis due to the massive influx of people crossing into the unstable Kasai region of the DRC. UNHCR reported that security forces refouled 2,200 registered Congolese refugees as part of the expulsions or voluntarily repatriations. There were other reports throughout the year that Lunda Norte provincial authorities exerted pressure on irregular migrants and refugees to return to the DRC. The government failed to provide adequate protection for asylum seekers and urban refugees.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: On September 25, security forces began Operation Transparency, a security campaign directed at irregular migrants working in the diamond-mining region in the northern part of the country. The operation resulted in the expulsion or voluntary repatriation of an estimated 450,000 Congolese irregular migrants and smaller numbers of primarily West African migrants from the country. Multiple sources report security forces committed abuses against these migrants during the campaign.

On November 6, security forces began the nationwide campaign Operation Rescue, a nationwide law enforcement campaign focused on addressing criminality and unlicensed commercial activity. Following a 2016 visit, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Francois Crepeau, issued a report criticizing the government for its lack of adequate protections for refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants. Crepeau cited government failure to implement key elements of the 2015 asylum law, which had the effect of impeding refugee and asylum seekers’ access to basic services and documents, such as birth certificates for children of foreign-born parents. NGOs working with refugee and asylum-seeker populations continued to cite security force harassment of and state discrimination against those communities. At year’s end the asylum law remained unimplemented.

In-country Movement: Police maintained roadside checkpoints throughout the country. Reports by local NGOs suggested some police officers extorted money from civilians at checkpoints and during regular traffic stops. Reports from the diamond mining provinces of Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul indicated some government agents restricted the movements of local communities.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

In 2017 more than 32,000 Congolese, primarily women and children, fled the Kasai region of the DRC and sought refuge in Lunda Norte Province. During the early days of the refugee influx, the government was the sole provider of life-saving assistance, including food and medical care. The government generally cooperated with UNHCR, the World Food Program, and NGOs to protect and assist the community. At year’s end, however, the government had not formally granted the Kasai refugees prima facie status, despite repeated requests from UNHCR.

Refoulement: On November 16, UNHCR reported the government had forcibly returned 2,200 registered Congolese refugees since the beginning of Operation Transparency on September 25. On February 25-27, the government forcibly returned 52 registered and 480 unregistered Congolese refugees, including 217 children, to the Kasai region of the DRC despite continued reports of violence and inadequate humanitarian conditions in that region. Congolese provincial government leaders made several visits to Lunda Norte during the year and reportedly pressured refugees to return to the DRC.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, but the law did not function during the year. The 2015 asylum law provides specific procedures for the submission of an asylum application and guidance on the determination of asylum and refugee cases. UNHCR and several NGOs reported that asylum seekers and urban refugees did not have a mechanism to apply for or resolve their status. The 2015 law changed the role of the Committee for the Recognition of the Right to Asylum, the prior implementing mechanism to identify, verify, and legalize asylum seekers, to that of an advisory board; however, at year’s end the government had not put into practice an alternative mechanism to adjudicate asylum and refugee cases in the committee’s place. The law also established the creation of reception centers for refugees and asylum seekers where they are to receive assistance until the government makes a decision on their cases.

Freedom of Movement: UNHCR, NGOs, and refugees themselves reported restrictions on freedom of movement in Lunda Norte Province. Police arbitrarily arrested or detained refugees and confiscated their registration documents during periodic round ups, particularly in Dundo, the provincial capital. Refugees also reported periodic restrictions on freedom of movement from their resettlement site in Lovua, Lunda Norte Province.

Employment: Formal restrictions on a refugee’s ability to seek employment existed. Regulation 273/13 restricted refugees from obtaining the mandatory business license required to own and operate a business. Refugees often faced difficulty obtaining employment due inability to obtain legal documents required to work in the formal sector. A general lack of acceptance of the refugee card and lack of knowledge concerning the rights it was intended to safeguard compounded the difficulties.

Access to Basic Services: Persons with recognized refugee status could at times obtain public services. UNHCR, NGOs, and refugees, however, reported that urban refugees in particular were unable to obtain legal documents following passage of the asylum law and at times faced difficulty accessing public services such as health care and education. Corruption by officials compounded these difficulties.

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 August 2017 the government held presidential and legislative elections, which the ruling MPLA won with 61 percent of the vote. In September 2017 the country inaugurated MPLA party candidate Joao Lourenco as its third president since independence.

Domestic and international observers reported polling throughout the country was peaceful and generally credible, although the ruling party enjoyed advantages due to state control of major media and other resources. Opposition parties complained to the Constitutional Court aspects of the electoral process, including the National Electoral Commission’s lack of transparent decision making on key election procedures and perceived irregularities during the provincial-level vote count. The court rejected opposition appeals, citing a lack of evidence. The court concluded that members of the two opposition parties, UNITA and the Social Renewal Party, forged election documents submitted in support of their appeals, a crime for which conviction carries a penalty of two to eight years’ imprisonment and a monetary fine. The court referred the matter to the public prosecutor, but at year’s end there were no additional details on the investigation.

The central government appoints the provincial governors, and the constitution does not specify a timeline for implementing municipal-level elections. On March 22, President Lourenco announced that municipal elections in select municipalities would occur in 2020.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The ruling MPLA party dominated all political institutions. Political power was concentrated in the presidency and the Council of Ministers, through which the president exercised executive power. The council may enact laws, decrees, and resolutions, assuming most functions normally associated with the legislative branch. The National Assembly consists of 220 deputies elected under a party list proportional representation system. The National Assembly has the authority to draft, debate, and pass legislation, but the executive branch often proposed and drafted legislation for the assembly’s approval. The MPLA retained its supermajority in the National Assembly in the August 2017 elections; however, opposition parties increased their representation by winning 32 percent of parliamentary seats, up from 20 percent in the 2012 elections.

Political parties must be represented in all 18 provinces, but only the MPLA, UNITA, and CASA-CE, to a lesser extent, had truly national constituencies. By law no political party may limit party membership based on ethnicity, race, or gender.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Of the 220 deputies in the national assembly, 60 were women. There were two female provincial governors, and 12 of 32 cabinet ministers were women. Some observers believed traditional and cultural factors prevented women from participating in political life to the same extent as men. The country has multiple linguistic groups, many of which were represented in government.

Benin

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law and constitution prohibit such practices, but such incidents occurred. According to the December 2017 report of a journalist who conducted an investigation of the country’s prisons, established inmates subjected new detainees to physical abuse, torture, and other degrading treatment. The report indicated that prison staff were aware of this situation, but the prison service denied the allegation.

On February 19, five police officers in Parakou beat a man to death who fled after being stopped for using a cell phone while driving. The police officers were arrested the day of the incident and charged with assault and battery causing death. On April 17, they appeared before a judge of the Court of Parakou who ordered they be held pending further investigation of the case. The officers remained in prison at year’s end.

In 2017 the United Nations received one allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse concerning a Beninese police officer serving with the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti. The investigation determined the allegation to be substantiated. The United Nations repatriated the individual, who was subsequently jailed in Benin.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, inadequate food, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding and lack of proper sanitation, potable water, and medical facilities posed risks to prisoners’ health. Authorities held juveniles at times with adults and pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, although not with the most violent convicts.

According to a 2017 Benin Bar Association report on the country’s prisons, conditions in the country’s 10 civil prisons were inhuman, with overcrowding, malnutrition, poor sanitation, and disease common. The inmate populations of eight of these prisons significantly exceeded capacity. There were deaths due to lack of medical care, neglect, and poor ventilation in cramped and overcrowded cells. Lighting was inadequate. Prisoners with mental disabilities lacked access to appropriate disability-related support. Prison authorities forced prisoners to pay “bed taxes” for spaces to sleep and made sick prisoners in the civil prison of Cotonou pay to visit the hospital.

The bar association report stated that the prison population as of November 2017 totaled 7,358 inmates (including pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners) and that pretrial detainees constituted 90 percent of the population. The numbers of detainees held in police stations and in military detention centers, however, were not included in these data.

Administration: Prison authorities allowed visitors, but, according to Watchdog on the Justice System in Benin, they charged visitors amounts ranging from 500 CFA francs to 1,000 CFA francs ($1 to $2).

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by human rights monitors. Religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) visited prisons, although some NGOs complained credentials were not systematically granted when they submitted requests to make visits. Organizations that visited prisons included the local chapter of Prison Fellowship, Caritas, Prisons Brotherhood, Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture, the French Development Agency, Rotaract (Rotary International), the International Committee of the Red Cross, Amnesty International, and Prisoners without Borders.

Improvements: The government made several improvements to detention conditions during the year. On August 29, Minister of Justice Severin Quenum oversaw the donation of medical equipment to prison health clinics. During the year the government established a pilot psychological assistance unit to provide mental health services to Cotonou Prison inmates; this was the first of several planned prison system units. Completion of construction of the Savalou Prison reduced overcrowding, increasing the total number of prisons in the country to 11.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention; however, security forces occasionally failed to observe these prohibitions. A person arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, is entitled to file a complaint with the liberty and detention chamber of the relevant court. The presiding judge may order the individual’s release if the arrest or detention was unlawful.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Beninese Armed Forces (FAB) are responsible for external security. The Republican Police, formed during the year through a merger of police and gendarmes, are under the Ministry of Interior and have primary responsibility for enforcing law and maintaining order in urban and rural areas.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces, and the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuses. Impunity was a problem, however. Police leadership often did not punish and sometimes protected officers who committed abuses. Individuals may file complaints of police abuse with police leadership, the lower courts, the mediator of the republic (ombudsman), or the Constitutional Court. In 2016, in an attempt to increase police accountability, the minister of interior established two telephone “Green Lines” that individuals may call to report police wrongdoing. The inspector general of the Republican Police Investigation Division is responsible for investigating serious, sensitive, and complex cases involving police personnel. The mandate of the division is to conduct administrative and judicial investigations involving police and to advise the director of the Republican Police on disciplinary action.

On March 1, the Constitutional Court ruled that the Republican Police Anti-Crime Squad in the city of Parakou and its commander violated the constitution and the African Charter of Human and People’s rights related to the inviolability of human life. The ruling was based on the fact that two individuals died and the Anti-Crime Squad seriously injured three others when it dispersed persons attending the induction ceremony of the king of Parakou, deemed illegal by the mayor of Parakou. The court also ruled that victims were entitled to reparations.

On May 2, the minister of interior and public security dismissed 27 heads of police and gendarme units following an audit that found they had mismanaged government funds. The audit stated the 27 police officers and gendarmes diverted the funds for purposes other than their intended purposes or used the funds without proper justification.

Military disciplinary councils deal with minor offenses committed by members of the military. The councils have no jurisdiction over civilians. The country has no military tribunal, so civilian courts deal with serious crimes involving the military.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution requires arrest warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized judicial official, and requires a hearing before a magistrate within 48 hours, but this requirement was not always observed. After examining a detainee, the judge has 24 hours to decide whether to continue to detain or release the individual. Under exceptional circumstances, or in arrests involving illegal drugs including narcotics, the judge may authorize detention beyond 72 hours not to exceed an additional eight days. Warrants authorizing pretrial detention are effective for six months and may be renewed every six months until a suspect is brought to trial. Detainees have the right to prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention, which was generally observed. Detainees were promptly informed of charges against them. Detainees awaiting judicial decisions may request release on bail; however, the attorney general must agree to the request. They have the right to prompt access to a lawyer. The government provided counsel to indigents in criminal cases. Suspects were not detained incommunicado, held under house arrest, or without access to an attorney.

There were credible reports gendarmes and police often exceeded the legal limit of 48 hours of detention before a hearing, sometimes by as much as a week. Authorities often held persons indefinitely “at the disposal of” the Public Prosecutor’s Office before presenting the case to a magistrate.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrests and detentions occurred. In January 2017 the Constitutional Court ruled that police violated the 48-hour limit on holding a suspect in a commercial dispute without a hearing before a magistrate. The court ruled that suspects may only be held for more than 48 hours if accused of violating a criminal law and only after appearing before a judge who must authorize the extension. On October 18, the Constitutional Court ruled on the pretrial detention of a detainee held since 2011 violated the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights because it was arbitrary and disregarded the detainee’s right to be tried within a reasonable time.

Pretrial Detention: The law defines the maximum length of pretrial detention for felony cases as no more than five years and for misdemeanors as no more than three years. Approximately 90 percent of inmates were pretrial detainees; 20 percent of pretrial detainees were held in excess of five years, according to a 2017 Benin Bar Association report. Inadequate facilities, poorly trained staff, and overcrowded dockets delayed the administration of justice. The length of pretrial detention frequently exceeded the maximum sentence for conviction of the alleged crime.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the government did not always respect this provision. Prosecuting officials at the Public Prosecutor’s Office are government appointed, making them susceptible to government influence. The judicial system was also subject to corruption, although the government made substantial anticorruption efforts, including the dismissal and arrest of government officials allegedly involved in corruption scandals. Authorities respected court orders.

On May 18, the National Assembly passed two bills amending and supplementing the judicial system and the criminal procedure code to create a specialized antiterrorism, drugs, and financial crimes court (CRIET). CRIET verdicts may be appealed to the Supreme Court, but its mandate is limited to considering whether procedures were followed and relevant laws applied. Observers within the judicial sector raised concerns that the bills establishing CRIET may have violated judicial impartiality, the right of appeal, and due-process principles.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

While the constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, judicial inefficiency and corruption impeded the exercise of this right.

The legal system is based on French civil law and local customary law. A defendant is presumed innocent. Defendants enjoy the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary, to a fair, timely, and public trial, to be present at trial, and to representation by an attorney. The court provides indigent defendants with counsel upon request in criminal cases. Government-provided counsel, however, was not always available, especially in cases handled in courts located in the north, since most lawyers lived in the south. Defendants who cannot understand or speak French are entitled to free interpretation services as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants enjoy the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; to confront witnesses; to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf; and to not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants may appeal criminal convictions to the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, after which they may appeal to the president for a pardon. Trials are open to the public, but in exceptional circumstances, the president of the court may decide to restrict access to preserve public order or to protect the parties. The government extends the above rights to all citizens without discrimination.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The judiciary exercised independence in civil matters. If administrative or informal remedies are unsuccessful, a citizen may file a complaint concerning an alleged human rights violation with the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court’s ruling is not binding on courts; citizens, however, may use rulings from the Constitutional Court to initiate legal action against offenders in regular courts. Adverse court rulings other than those of the Constitutional Court may be appealed to the Economic Community of West African States’ Court of Justice and the African Court on Human and People’s Rights. In 2016 the government filed a declaration with the African Union Commission recognizing the competence of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights to receive cases from NGOs and individuals.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights.

There were a large number of public and private media outlets, including two public and seven private television stations, three public and 50 private radio stations, and approximately 175 newspapers and periodicals. Many of these refrained from openly criticizing government policy.

There were reports the government inhibited freedom of the press.

Press and Media Freedom: The press and media were closely regulated, and the government considered itself to have an essential role in preventing the press from behaving in an “irresponsible” or “destabilizing” way. The High Authority for Audiovisual and Communication (HAAC) is a quasigovernmental commission with members appointed by the president, private media, and the legislature. HAAC has a dual and perhaps inherently contradictory role of providing for press freedom and a mandate to protect the country against “inflammatory, irresponsible, or destabilizing” media reporting.

On May 24, HAAC suspended the newspaper La Nouvelle Tribune (LNT) for publishing “abusive, outrageous, detrimental, and intrusive” language deemed offensive regarding the president’s private life. On June 3, LNT Editor-in-Chief Vincent Foly stated that the newspaper was specifically targeted for publishing opinion pieces criticizing Talon administration policy, not for criticism of the president personally. The local press, civil society, and press-watchdog organizations objected to LNT’s suspension. Editor Foly filed a civil suit alleging wrongdoing against HAAC President Adam Boni Tessi with the Court of Cotonou. On October 12, the court announced that the case was not within its jurisdiction.

In May 2017 the Court of Cotonou ordered HAAC to authorize the reopening of Sikka TV affiliate Ideal Production, which it had suspended in 2016. The court ordered HAAC to pay 50 million CFA francs ($90,252) in damages. The court decision did not allow Sikka TV to resume direct broadcasting; its broadcasts, however, were available via satellite or internet.

Independent media were generally active and expressed a variety of views without restriction; however, the press tended to criticize the government less freely and frequently than in previous years. An independent nongovernmental media ethics commission censured some journalists for unethical conduct, such as reporting falsehoods or inaccuracies or releasing information that was embargoed by the government.

The government owned and operated the most influential media organizations. HAAC controlled broadcast range and infrastructure. Private television and radio coverage was poorer due to inadequate equipment and limited broadcast ranges awarded to them by HAAC.

Most citizens were illiterate, lived in rural areas, and generally received news via radio. The state-owned National Broadcasting Company broadcast in French and in 18 local languages.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: HAAC publicly warned media outlets against publishing information related to legal cases pending before criminal courts because this could be interpreted as an attempt to influence court rulings. It was possible to purchase and thus influence the content of press coverage. HAAC warned media against such practices. Some journalists practiced self-censorship because they were indebted to government officials who granted them service contracts. Other journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear the government would suspend their media outlets. HAAC held public hearings on alleged misconduct by media outlets during the year.

Libel/Slander Laws: By law journalists may not be prosecuted for libel and slander but may face prosecution and fines for incitement of violence and property destruction, compromising national security through the press, or a combination of the two.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet. The digital code, however, criminalizes use of social media for “incitements to hatred and violence.” On October 2, the Court of Cotonou convicted Sabi Sira Korogone of incitement of hatred and violence, incitement of rebellion, and “racially motivated slander” for statements posted on a social media sites. The court sentenced him to imprisonment for one year and a fine of three million CFA francs ($5,415). There were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 14.4 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of assembly and association. Advance notification is required for demonstrations and other public gatherings. The government generally respected these rights. There were no instances of denial on political grounds.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right.

The government requires advance notification for use of public places for demonstrations. Authorities sometimes cited “public order” to prevent demonstrations by opposition groups, civil society organizations, and labor unions.

On May 22, the Constitutional Court ruled that the prefect of Littoral Modeste Toboula Department violated the constitution and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights related to freedom of assembly and public liberties. The court ruled he did so by issuing a decree on March 13 that restricted antigovernment demonstrations by requiring prior registration and approval by the Ministry of Interior. The court stated that requiring registration with the Ministry of Interior violated the enjoyment of fundamental liberties.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. There were, however, instances where the government violated freedom of association.

In March 2017 the Constitutional Court overturned a Council of Ministers decree banning the activities of university student groups as a violation of the right to freedom of association. The decree claimed that student groups were engaged in military training and intended to disrupt public security and peace. The court ruled that the government’s public order concerns did not justify the suspension of citizens’ constitutional rights.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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 2016 the country held the first and second rounds of the presidential election. The vote proceeded calmly and credibly despite minor technical irregularities. Local and international observers unanimously characterized the voting process as peaceful and orderly. Observers identified delays in the provision of voting materials at some polling stations and evidence of training gaps of polling agents but no anomalies that would cast the fundamental integrity of the election into doubt. In 2015 authorities conducted legislative elections for 83 National Assembly seats. Observers viewed the elections as generally free, fair, and transparent.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process. Cultural factors, however, limited women’s political participation. By custom and tradition, women assumed household duties, had less access to formal education, and were discouraged from involvement in politics. President Talon appointed only four female ministers to his 22-member cabinet and one woman among the prefects administering the country’s 12 geographic departments.

Botswana

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were reports of police using such tactics.  For example, in October a family reportedly accused the police of torturing their 28-year-old son to death while in police custody.  The police confirmed an individual had died, and investigations were ongoing.  Some laws prescribe corporal punishment for offenders.  Some human rights groups viewed these provisions as cruel and degrading; the Court of Appeals ruled these provisions do not violate the constitution’s provisions on torture or inhuman treatment.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards.

Physical Conditions:  Authorities occasionally held juveniles with adults, although only for a few days while the juveniles awaited transport.

The Francistown Center for Illegal Immigrants (FCII) is a dedicated facility for processing asylum and other immigration claims by individuals who entered the country illegally.  In December 2017 the INK Center for Investigative Journalism detailed allegations of authorities abusing asylum seekers in the FCII.  International observers noted women and children were housed in tents that provided insufficient protection from heat, cold, and wind.  There was no school at the center, and international observers expressed concern some children were separated from parents at a young age.

Administration:  Authorities investigated credible allegations of inhumane conditions brought by inmates against prison officials and took disciplinary or judicial action against persons responsible for abuses.  The law requires the minister of defense, justice, and security to appoint a committee to visit prisons on a quarterly basis, and allows religious authorities to visit with prisoners.  Prisoners in general may also attend religious services.

Independent Monitoring:  The government generally allowed international and local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to meet with prisoners and permitted independent human rights observers to visits prisons.  The International Committee of the Red Cross visited prisons.  In August diplomatic missions and UNICEF visited the FCII.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

Role of the Police and Security Apparatus

The Botswana Police Service (BPS), under the Ministry of Defense, Justice, and

Security, has primary responsibility for internal security.  The Botswana Defense Force (BDF), which reports to the president through the minister of defense, justice, and security, is responsible for external security and has some domestic security responsibilities.  The Directorate for Intelligence and Security Services (DISS), under the Office of the President, collects and evaluates external and internal intelligence, provides personal protection to high-level government officials, and advises the presidency and government on matters of national security.  Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the BPS, BDF, and DISS, and the government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption.  There were no reports of impunity involving security forces.

BPS officers received human rights training at the country’s International Law Enforcement Academy.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Police must produce an arrest warrant issued by a duly authorized magistrate upon the presentation of compelling evidence, except in certain cases, such as when an officer witnesses a crime being committed or discovers a suspect is in possession of a controlled substance.  DISS personnel have the power to enter premises and make arrests without warrants if the agency suspects a person has committed or is about to commit a crime.  While some civil society representatives criticized DISS under the Khama administration, claiming it did not receive sufficient independent oversight and posed a potential threat to civil liberties, observers generally welcomed the replacement of the DISS director and increased media engagement under President Masisi.

The law requires authorities to inform suspects of their rights upon arrest, including the right to remain silent, and to file charges before a magistrate within 48 hours.  Authorities generally respected these rights.  There were no reports of denial of a suspect’s right to an attorney during the first 48 hours after arrest and arraignment before a magistrate.  A magistrate may order a suspect held for 14 days through a writ of detention, which may be renewed every 14 days.  The law provides for a prompt judicial determination of the legality of a person’s detention.

Heavy court caseloads occasionally delayed this determination.  Authorities generally informed detainees of the reason for their detention, although there were some complaints this did not always occur.  There is a functioning bail system, and detention without bail was unusual except in murder cases, where it is mandatory.  Detainees have the right to contact a family member and hire attorneys of their choice, but most could not afford legal counsel.  There were no reports authorities held suspects incommunicado or under house arrest.

Pretrial Detention:  A writ of pretrial detention is valid for 14 days and is renewable every 14 days.  Some detainees, however, waited several weeks or months between the filing of charges and the start of their trials.  Pretrial detention in murder, rape, livestock theft, and robbery cases sometimes exceeded a year, but there were no reports of instances in which the length of detention equaled or exceeded the sentences actually imposed.  Delays were largely due to judicial staffing shortages and a backlog of pending cases.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.  Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, and authorities generally informed them promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals if he or she cannot understand the language of the court.  Trials in the civil courts are public, although trials under the National Security Act may be secret.  Defendants have the right to be present and consult with an attorney in a timely manner.  In capital cases the government provides legal counsel, or private attorneys work pro bono for indigent clients.  Courts tried those charged with noncapital crimes without legal representation if they could not afford an attorney.  As a result, many defendants were not aware of their procedural rights in pretrial or trial proceedings.  Defendants may question witnesses against them.  Defendants may present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf.  Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense and to appeal.  Defendants are not compelled to testify or confess guilt.  The constitution states these rights extend to all citizens.  Some NGOs provided limited, free legal assistance.

In addition to the civil court system, a customary or traditional court system also exists.  According to traditional practice, a tribal chief presides over most small villages.  While customary (traditional) courts enjoyed widespread citizen support and respect, they often did not afford the same due process protections as the formal court system.  Although defendants may confront, question, and present witnesses in customary court proceedings, they do not have legal counsel, and there are no standardized rules of evidence.  Customary trials are open to the public, and defendants may present evidence on their own behalf.  Tribal judges, appointed by the tribal leader or elected by the community, determine sentences.  Many tribal judges were poorly trained.  The quality of decisions reached in the customary courts varied considerably, and defendants often lacked a presumption of innocence.  Tribal judges applied corporal punishment, such as lashings on the buttocks, more often than did civil courts.  Those convicted in customary courts may file appeals through the civil court system.

A separate military court system does not try civilians.  Military courts have separate procedures from civil courts.  Defendants in military courts are able to retain private attorneys at their own expense and view evidence to be used against them.  Defendants in military court can have their cases transferred to the civilian judicial system.  Additionally, military personnel can take other military personnel to civilian civil court.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

In the formal judicial system, there is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, including for human rights cases, which includes a separate industrial court for most labor-related cases.  Administrative remedies were not widely available.  By mutual agreement of the parties involved, customary courts, which handle land, marital, and property disputes, tried most civil cases; they often did not afford the same due process protections as the formal judicial system.  The country has not ratified the protocol that established the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights, although individuals and organizations may file complaints regarding domestic decisions with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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:  In 2014 the ruling BDP won a majority of National Assembly seats in a general election deemed by international and domestic observers to be generally free and fair.  President Ian Khama retained the presidency, which he had held since 2008, until April 1, when Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi assumed the office at the end of Khama’s constitutionally limited 10 years in office.

Participation of Women and Minorities:  No laws limit the participation of women and minorities in the political process, and they did participate.  Nevertheless, observers suggested cultural constraints limited the number of women in government.  There were six women in the 65-seat National Assembly, one of whom was the speaker and five of whom served in the 30-member cabinet.  There were also two women in the 34-seat House of Chiefs.

While the constitution formally recognizes eight principal tribes of the Tswana nation, amendments to the constitution also allow minority tribes to be represented in the House of Chiefs.  The law provides that members from all groups enjoy equal rights.  In August, however, the UN special rapporteur on minority issues noted many tribes are unrecognized or unrepresented, and women are underrepresented in the traditional chieftaincy system.

Burkina Faso

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

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

Unknown assailants, but assumed to belong in some capacity to violent extremist organizations, waged attacks on security forces throughout the year. These included attacks on law enforcement, military, customs, and park ranger outposts, patrols, and the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) detonated under security vehicles. On March 2, in downtown Ouagadougou, terrorist organization Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) attacked National Army Headquarters and the French embassy, killing eight security personnel. Between August and October, dozens of Burkinabe, including three civilians, died in attacks conducted in the Est Region.

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 constitution and law prohibit such practices; in 2014 the National Assembly adopted a law to define and prohibit torture and all related practices.

On February 19, a provincial director of the national police, Alexandres Kawasse, assaulted an 11-year-old girl at his residence. His subordinates reported him, resulting in his arrest on February 23. Authorities relieved him of his duties and charged him with assault on a minor; a judicial police investigation was ongoing at year’s end.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and detention facilities were harsh and at times life threatening due to overcrowding and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Female prisoners had better conditions than those of men, in large part due to less crowding. Prisoners received two meals a day, but diets were inadequate, and inmates often relied on supplemental food from relatives. In some prisons overcrowding or severe overcrowding exacerbated inadequate ventilation, although some cells had electricity and some inmates had fans. Sanitation was rudimentary.

According to prison administration officials and medical staff, no prisoner deaths occurred during the year at the Central Prison in Ouagadougou (MACO) or the High Security Prison in Ouagadougou.

There were no appropriate facilities or installations for prisoners or detainees with disabilities, who relied on other inmates for assistance.

A human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) reported that prison guards at the MACO occasionally used excessive physical force, inflicting injuries on prisoners.

Food, potable water, sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, and medical care were inadequate in the majority of detention facilities across the country. Tuberculosis, HIV, AIDS, and malaria were the most common health problems among prisoners. For example, at the High Security Prison, there were three nurses employed to treat 673 detainees and prisoners, with no doctor present on site but available on an on-call basis. Detention conditions were better for wealthy or influential citizens, or detainees considered nonviolent.

Local media regularly reported on cases of detainees who had spent more than one year without trial.

Administration: There were no reports that authorities failed to investigate credible allegations of inhuman prison conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. Prison authorities regularly granted permission to representatives of local and international human rights groups, media, foreign embassies, and the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit prisons without advance notice.

Improvements: In November 2017 the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion sent a team to assess prison conditions and interview detainees, convicted prisoners, and prison guards in 95 percent of the country’s prisons and detention centers. Throughout the year the government funded an awareness and training campaign for prison administration staff. To address overcrowding, the government funded a building expansion at the prison in Bobo-Dioulasso. As of October, however, there was no evidence that these measures effectively reduced overcrowding. During the year the ministry also appointed a special advisor for gender and vulnerable populations in prisons.

To improve detention conditions, improve prisoner health, and facilitate social reintegration of prisoners, the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion launched a three-year prison reform project with EU support. Prison administration officials allowed NGOs and religious organizations regular access to prisoners to provide supplementary psychological and medical care.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court. Arbitrary arrests occurred, and judicial corruption and inadequate staffing of the judiciary deterred detainees from challenging the lawfulness of their arrest in court.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Internal Security and the Ministry of Defense are responsible for internal security. The Ministry of Internal Security includes the National Police and the gendarmerie. The army, which operates within the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for external security but sometimes assists with missions related to domestic security. Use of excessive force, corruption, widespread impunity, and lack of training contributed to police ineffectiveness. The government announced some investigations were in progress, and others had resulted in prosecutions. Inadequate resources also impeded police effectiveness.

The Military Justice Administration examines all cases involving killings by military personnel or gendarmes to determine whether they occurred in the line of duty or were otherwise justifiable. The administration refers cases deemed outside the line of duty or unjustifiable to civilian courts. Civilian courts automatically handle killings involving police. The gendarmerie is responsible for investigating abuse by police and gendarmes, but it rarely made public the results of its investigations.

NGOs and the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion conducted numerous training activities on human rights for security forces throughout the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

By law police and gendarmes must possess a court-issued warrant based on sufficient evidence before apprehending a person suspected of committing a crime, but authorities did not always follow these procedures. Authorities did not consistently inform detainees of charges against them. By law detainees have the right to expeditious arraignment, bail, access to legal counsel, and, if indigent, access to a lawyer provided by the government after being charged. A judge may order temporary release without bail pending trial. Authorities seldom respected these rights. The law does not provide detainees access to family members, although authorities generally allowed detainees such access through court-issued authorizations.

The law limits detention without charge for investigative purposes to a maximum of 72 hours, renewable for a single 48-hour period. In terrorism investigations, the law allows detention for a 10-day period. In cases not related to terrorism, police rarely observed the law, and the average time of detention without charge (preventive detention) was one week. Once authorities charge a suspect, the law permits judges to impose an unlimited number of consecutive six-month preventive detention periods while the prosecutor investigates charges. Authorities often detained defendants without access to legal counsel for weeks, months, or even years before the defendant appeared before a magistrate. There were instances in which authorities detained suspects incommunicado.

Arbitrary Arrest: On August 29, elite security forces arrested political and web activist Safiatou Lopez, an outspoken critic of the government, without a warrant, encircling her house at nightfall and flying an intelligence drone overhead. Without presenting any evidence, authorities charged her with an attempt to “destabilize the state.” At year’s end she remained in detention.

Pretrial Detention: Authorities estimated 46 percent of prisoners nationwide were in pretrial status. In some cases authorities held detainees without charge or trial for longer periods than the maximum sentence for conviction of the alleged offense. A pretrial release (release on bail) system exists, although the extent of its use was unknown.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law provides persons arrested or detained the right to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention. Prisoners who did so, however, reportedly faced difficulties due to either judicial corruption or inadequate staffing of the judiciary.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary was corrupt, inefficient, and subject to executive influence, according to NGOs. There were no instances in which the trial outcomes appeared predetermined, and authorities respected court orders. Legal codes remained outdated, there were not enough courts, and legal costs were excessive. Citizens’ poor knowledge of their rights further weakened their ability to obtain justice.

Military courts try cases involving military personnel charged with violating the military code of conduct. Rights provided in military courts are equivalent to those in civil criminal courts. Military courts are headed by a civilian judge, hold public trials, and publish verdicts in the local press.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law presumes defendants are innocent. Defendants have the right to be promptly informed and in detail of the charges, with free assistance of an interpreter. Trials are public but may be delayed. Judicial authorities use juries only in criminal cases. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and to legal representation, consultation, and adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to provide evidence. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but a refusal to testify often resulted in harsher decisions. Defendants may challenge and present witnesses, and they have the right of appeal. In civil cases where the defendant is destitute and files an appeal, the state provides a court-appointed lawyer. In criminal cases court-appointed lawyers are mandatory for those who cannot afford one. The law extends these rights to all defendants, but the government did not always respect these rights, due in part to popular ignorance of the law and a continuing shortage of magistrates and court-appointed lawyers.

The Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion claimed courts usually tried cases within three months, although human rights organizations reported major case backlogs. The 2011 “processing of criminal penalties in real time” reform to shorten pretrial detention allows the prosecutor and investigators (police and gendarmerie) to process a case prior to the criminal hearing. This countrywide approach allows authorities to inform defendants of the charges and trial date before authorities release them pending trial.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees during the year, although some arrests and detentions may have been politically motivated.

In December 2017 security forces arrested and detained Colonel Auguste Denise Barry on charges of “conspiracy to destabilize the state,” although the government did not provide any evidence to justify his arrest. On August 29, authorities provisionally released him without a trial.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent judiciary in civil matters, but it was often inefficient, corrupt, and subject to executive influence. As a result, citizens sometimes preferred to rely on the Office of the Ombudsman (see section 5, Government Human Rights Bodies) to settle disputes with the government.

The law provides for access to a court to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation, and both administrative and judicial remedies were available for alleged wrongs. Victims of human rights violations may appeal directly to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice, even before going through national courts. For civil and commercial disputes, authorities may refer cases to the ECOWAS Common Court of Justice and Arbitration in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. The courts issued several such orders during the year.

There were problems enforcing court orders in sensitive cases involving national security, wealthy or influential persons, and government officials.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. In cases of national security, however, the law permits surveillance, searches, and monitoring of telephones and private correspondence without a warrant.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government did not always respect this right. A 2015 law decriminalizes press offenses and replaces prison sentences with penalties ranging from one million to five million CFA francs ($1,800 to $9,200). Some editors complained that few newspapers or media outlets could afford such fines.

Despite the advent of the 2015 law, journalists occasionally faced criminal prosecution for libel and other forms of harassment and intimidation.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits persons from insulting the head of state or using derogatory language with respect to the office. On June 14, authorities arrested web activist Naim Toure after he criticized the government in a Facebook post for failing to deliver adequate medical care to soldiers recently wounded in the line of duty. On July 3, a judge sentenced Toure to two months in jail.

Press and Media Freedom: There were numerous independent newspapers, satirical weeklies, and radio and television stations, some of which strongly criticized the government. Foreign radio stations broadcast without government interference. Government media outlets–including newspapers, television, and radio–sometimes displayed a progovernment bias but allowed significant opposition participation in their newspaper and television programming.

All media are under the administrative and technical supervision of the Ministry of Communications, which is responsible for developing and implementing government policy on information and communication. The Superior Council of Communication (CSC) monitored the content of radio and television programs, newspapers, and internet websites to enforce compliance with standards of professional ethics and government policy. The CSC may summon journalists and issue warnings for subsequent violations. Hearings may concern alleged libel, disturbing the peace, inciting violence, or violations of state security.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In addition to prohibitions on insulting the head of state, the law also prohibits the publication of shocking images or material that demonstrates lack of respect for the deceased. Journalists practiced self-censorship, fearing that publishing blatant criticism of the government could result in arrest or closure their newspaper.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, although the CSC monitored internet websites and discussion forums to enforce compliance with regulations. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 16 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right.

In October 2017 national police arrested Pascal Zaida, a civil society leader and open government critic, for holding a demonstration to protest against the administration without a permit. National police issued a statement that they had denied his three prior requests to protest because the protest presented “a risk of disturbing public order.” Authorities released Zaida in November 2017 after 37 days in pretrial detention.

Political parties and labor unions may hold meetings and rallies without government permission, although advance notification and approval are required for public demonstrations that may affect traffic or threaten public order. If a demonstration or rally results in violence, injury, or significant property damage, penalties for the organizers include six months to five years’ imprisonment and fines of between 100,000 and two million CFA francs ($180 and $3,600). These penalties may be doubled for conviction of organizing an unauthorized rally or demonstration. Demonstrators may appeal denials or imposed modifications of a proposed march route or schedule before the courts.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the 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-country Movement: The government required citizens to carry a national identity document (ID), and it authorized officials to request the ID at any time. Without a national ID card, citizens could not pass between certain regions of the country and were subject to arrest and fines. On September 2, in Bobo Dioulasso, local police fired warning shots to stop vehicles in a wedding procession, resulting in the injury and hospitalization of two women.

Armed terrorists restricted movement of thousands of rural people in the north. In response to dozens of attacks by unknown armed assailants presumed to be terrorists, local authorities instituted a ban on motorcycle traffic from 7 p.m. until 5 a.m. in the Est and Nord Regions.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Attacks in the Nord and Est Regions caused a steep increase in the number of IDPs from 3,600 in October 2017 to 39,731 registered in October 2018, according to the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs. In response, the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion organized a training session August 29-31 in the northern town of Dori to educate development partners on the international human rights standards afforded to IDPs. The majority of IDPs were located in the Sahel, Nord, and Centre-Nord Regions.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, and Family, aided by the National Committee for Refugees (CONAREF), is the focal point for coordination of national and international efforts.

In 2012 fighting resumed in northern Mali between government forces and Tuareg rebels, resulting in the flight of more than 250,000 Malians to neighboring countries, including Burkina Faso. According to UNHCR, approximately 50,000 Malians–most of them Tuaregs and Arabs–fled across the border to Burkina Faso and registered with local authorities as displaced persons. Authorities granted all displaced persons from Mali prima facie refugee status, pending the examination of all applications individually. Authorities settled most of the refugees in Soum and Oudalan Provinces in the Sahel Region. The ministry, aided by CONAREF, was the government’s focal point to help coordinate all national and international efforts. During the year, refugees received an undetermined amount of government assistance.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR, more than 700,000 habitual residents were legally or de facto stateless, mostly due to a lack of documentation. During the year the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion worked with UNHCR to deploy mobile courts to remote villages in order to issue birth certificates and national identity documents to residents who qualified for citizenship. The goal was to register 32,000 during the year, but no final statistics were available.

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: In the 2015 national elections, Roch Mark Christian Kabore won the presidency with 53 percent of the popular vote. His party, the People’s Movement for Progress, won 55 of the 127 seats in the National Assembly. The Union for Progress and Change won 33 seats, and the former ruling party, the Congress for Democracy and Progress, won 18 seats. National and international observers characterized the elections as free and fair.

In the 2016 municipal and regional council elections, the postelection selection process of mayors by municipal councils was marred by clashes among political party activists, resulting in at least three deaths and dozens of injuries in Karangasso and Kantchari. As of September 20, authorities had taken no legal action against anyone involved in the violence.

The 2015 electoral code approved by the National Transitional Council (CNT) stipulated the exclusion of certain members of the former political majority. The code stated that persons who “supported a constitutional change that led to a popular uprising” are ineligible to be candidates in future elections. On July 30, the National Assembly passed a new electoral law that allows all political candidates to run for election and opened the vote to members of the Burkinabe diaspora in possession of a national identity card or passport.

Participation of Women and Minorities: There are no laws limiting the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Although the gender quota law requires political parties to name women to fill at least 30 percent of the positions on their candidate lists in legislative and municipal elections, no political party met this requirement during the May 2016 and the May 2017 make-up municipal elections. Parties and government officials said women were less engaged in politics, due to cultural and traditional factors. Women held five of 35 ministerial seats and 14 of 127 seats in the parliament.

Burundi

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

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

There were numerous reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, often against perceived supporters of the political opposition or those who exercised their lawful rights. The banned NGO Ligue Iteka, which continued operating from outside the country, documented 309 killings by the end of September, many allegedly committed by agents of the security services or members of the Imbonerakure. The assessments of Ligue Iteka and other human rights groups differed on the number of killings for which agents of the state or ruling party were likely responsible. Responsibility for arbitrary killings and exact statistics were difficult to determine due to the government’s restrictions on human rights monitors and civil society organizations (CSOs) and refusal of access to international bodies. Investigations and prosecutions of government officials and members of the ruling party who allegedly committed arbitrary or unlawful killings were rare.

The 2018 report of the UN Commission of Inquiry (UN COI), whose members were denied access to the country by the government but who conducted interviews with more than 400 witnesses living in exile, restated its conclusions from the previous year and found “reason to believe that arbitrary killings remain a widespread practice in Burundi” and that members of the National Intelligence Service (SNR), police, and Imbonerakure were mostly responsible for these killings. The UN COI reported that the practice of hiding bodies, including by weighing them down with stones and throwing them into rivers or by transporting them from one province or district to another to make it difficult to identify victims, persisted. As previously reported the UN COI noted that when bodies are found, they are often buried without an investigation. The commission stated that killings were increasingly taking place in a clandestine fashion rendering documentation more difficult. The report stated that the UN COI received no reports of killings on a scale commensurate with those in 2015 and 2016, with the exception of a May 11 armed group attack in Cibitoke province of a more severe nature. The report also stated that the UN COI had reasonable grounds to believe that crimes including killings, imprisonment, torture, sexual violence, and political persecution amounted to crimes against humanity. NGOs also reported numerous cases of extrajudicial killings committed by police, SNR, and military personnel, sometimes with involvement of local government officials. Local and international organizations also charged that members of the Imbonerakure were responsible for some unlawful killings, including summary executions.

Human rights organizations documented violence, including alleged killings, in advance of the May referendum. Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented the death of Simon Bizimana on March 14 following his arrest and alleged torture during a month-long detention in prison for refusing to register as a voter, which by law is not a crime. During a video, in which Bizimana was questioned by a government official prior to his arrest, he stated he would not participate in elections due to reasons of religious conscience. A hospital certificate stated that the cause of death was malaria, but witness accounts alleged his condition worsened following beatings with iron rods inflicted by police. HRW also documented the killing on February 24 of Dismas Sinzinkayo, a member of the nonrecognized Forces Nationales de Liberation party led by Agathon Rwasa (FNL-Rwasa), by members of the Imbonerakure following his refusal to show proof of voter registration. On May 13, during the two-week official campaign period before the referendum, a violent confrontation between members of Imbonerakure and FNL-Rwasa supporters in Kirundo province resulted in the death of two FNL-Rwasa members.

Burundian armed opposition groups, primarily operating from the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), conducted periodic cross-border forays into Burundi that resulted in killings. On May 11, an armed group crossed the border from the DRC and attacked the town of Ruhagarika in Cibitoke province, killing 26, including women and children. The government stated that some victims were burned alive. Following the incident, the government established a domestic investigative commission, but as of November it had not publicly released its findings. On September 26, police announced the arrest of an alleged leader of the May 11 attack. The individual, Dismas Ndayisaba, stated that he was a member of the armed group RED-Tabara and that the attack was ordered by Alexis Sinduhije, an opposition figure in exile associated with RED-Tabara. Spokespersons for Sinduhije denied the accusation.

As of mid-October there were at least 48 grenade attacks throughout the country, resulting in at least 17 fatalities. It was often difficult to identify perpetrators and motives behind the attacks. While some attacks specifically targeted police and other members of the security services with apparent political motives, others were likely motivated by personal or business vendettas. Responsibility for attacks was often unclear.

b. Disappearance

There were numerous reports that individuals were victims of politically motivated disappearances after they were detained by elements of the security forces or in kidnappings where the identities of the perpetrators were not evident.

In September the UN COI reported that the phenomena of arbitrary arrest and detention, including in secret locations, the concealment of bodies, and the impunity prevailing in the country continued to create a climate of secrecy conducive to enforced disappearance. The report also noted the persistence of allegations that individuals were arrested by members of the security services and killed “without, in certain cases, their bodies being found.” Members of the Imbonerakure, SNR, and police continued to be responsible for most of the disappearances. The 2018 UN COI report stated that commission members had received information regarding cases of alleged forced disappearances for which insufficient details were available to document the cases.

The September report found reason to believe that Bonaventure Havyarimana, Egide Habonimana, Lionel Hafashimana, Emmanuel Nyabenda, and Benius Mbanyenimanga were subjected to forced disappearance following their detention by members of the SNR on March 2. All five were members of the suspended opposition party Movement for Solidarity and Democracy (MSD). The report stated that SNR agents demanded ransoms from the victims’ relatives for their release and that they were allegedly killed despite payment of ransom.

Jean Bigirimana, a journalist for independent newspaper Iwacu, was abducted from his car in 2016. Bigirimana’s spouse was present at the abduction and stated publicly that SNR officers were responsible. As of October his whereabouts remained unknown. According to media reports, his spouse received several anonymous death threats in 2017 and subsequently fled the country with her children; the family continued to receive threats during the year.

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

The constitution and penal code prohibit cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but there were numerous reports government officials employed these practices. NGOs reported cases of torture committed by security services or members of the Imbonerakure. As of September Ligue Iteka reported 200 such cases, the majority allegedly committed by members of the Imbonerakure. According to HRW some Burundian refugees in other countries testified they had fled the country after they or their family members suffered rape and other sexual violence, torture, and illegal detention by members of the security forces.

In its 2018 report, the UN COI reported that torture and ill-treatment persisted and the methods employed remained consistent, while observing an “evolution in the profile of victims and perpetrators, as well as the goals pursued.” The report stated that since 2017 members of the Imbonerakure were the most frequent perpetrators of acts of torture but reported continued allegations of acts of torture by police officers, agents of the SNR, and Burundian National Defense Forces (BNDF) to a lesser extent. The report described acts of torture as primarily punitive, and aimed particularly at perceived political opponents. According to the UN COI, victims were beaten or kicked or were struck with stones, sticks, rods, metal bars or rifle butts, or were attacked with sharp objects such as machetes or knives. Some victims were burned with heated metal rods, including some who were tied up or handcuffed. In a number of cases, these acts were accompanied by death threats, intimidation, and verbal abuse.

Most such acts of torture and ill-treatment occurred in places of detention, including police or SNR holding cells, the Mpimba central prison in Bujumbura, and unofficial places of detention such as private homes. Several victims described conditions of detention in prisons and police cells that constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. For example, representatives of the nonrecognized FNL-Rwasa party and the Amizero Y’Abarundi coalition of political independents with which it was associated stated that security service members tortured detained members of the party, including individuals who participated in campaign activities prior to the May constitutional referendum.

Sexual violence remained pervasive and was often used as a means of torture to obtain information or confessions from detainees, although the COI and other observers assessed a trend toward sexual violence by government agents or members of the Imbonerakure being committed in private residences rather than in detention sites. A May report by HRW documented testimonies from Burundian refugees in Uganda and Tanzania that included accounts of acts of sexual violence committed by members of the Imbonerakure against political opponents in 2017 and during the year. Rape was also committed while police officers or members of the Imbonerakure arrested a victim’s spouse or relative accused of belonging to an opposition party.

The country has contributed peacekeepers to the African Union Mission in Somalia since 2008 and to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) since 2014. As of October there were almost 800 Burundian personnel serving in MINUSCA. The United Nations received three allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) against three members of the Burundian military contingent serving with MINUSCA as of September, including one allegation of the rape of a minor. The allegations were pending investigation as of September. Burundian authorities were also investigating other SEA allegations against MINUSCA peacekeepers from Burundi referred to them by the United Nations in 2016 and 2015, in compliance with requirements of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prisons were overcrowded, and conditions remained harsh and sometimes life threatening. Conditions in detention centers managed by the SNR and in local “lock-ups” managed by police generally were worse than in prisons, and there were allegations that police and members of the SNR committed acts of torture, beating, and mistreatment of detainees. Prisons did not meet the standards established by the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Mandela Rules).

Physical Conditions: The Office of Penitentiary Affairs reported that, as of September, there were 10,373 inmates, including 4,745 pretrial detainees, in 11 prisons, the majority of which were built before 1965, with the capacity to accommodate 4,194 inmates. Of the 10,373 inmates, 560 were women and 125 were juveniles. As of October authorities held 117 juveniles (most but not all of whom had been convicted; others were awaiting trial) in two juvenile rehabilitation facilities that opened in 2015; they were allowed to participate in recreational activities and received psychosocial support and preparation for eventual return to their families and communities. In addition, there were 82 children living with their incarcerated mothers. The most crowded prisons were Muramvya (30 miles from Bujumbura), where the inmate population was at 721 percent of capacity and Mpimba (in Bujumbura) which was at 513 percent of capacity. No information was available on the number of persons held in detention centers managed by the SNR or in communal jails operated by police. There was a prison for women in Kayanza. Authorities commonly held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. No data were available on the number of deaths in detention, reports of abuse by guards, or prisoner-on-prisoner violence. There were reports of physical abuse by government officials, lack of adequate medical treatment, and prolonged solitary confinement.

Prisons did not have adequate sanitation systems (toilets, bathing facilities), drinking water, ventilation, or lighting. Prisons and detention centers did not have facilities for persons with disabilities.

According to government officials and international human rights observers, many prisoners suffered from intestinal illnesses and malaria (which were also pervasive in the country’s general population). An unknown number died from disease. Each inmate received approximately 12 ounces of manioc and 12 ounces of beans daily; rations also included oil and salt on some days. Authorities expected family and friends to provide funds for all other expenses. Each prison was required to employ at least one qualified nurse and received at least one weekly visit by a doctor, but positions were sometimes vacant and prisoners did not always receive prompt access to medical care; inmates with serious medical conditions were sent to local hospitals.

Administration: Prison authorities allowed prisoners to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship, but they rarely investigated prisoners’ complaints. There were credible reports of mistreatment of prisoners, but no record that abusers were punished. Visitors were authorized to see prisoners in most cases.

Independent Monitoring: The 2018 UN COI report documented the continued existence of numerous secret, unofficial detention facilities, including one located in the headquarters of the SNR. No independent monitors were allowed to visit these secret facilities. The September 2016 UN Independent Investigation on Burundi (UNIIB) report concluded there were “reasonable grounds to believe” security forces and Imbonerakure had established 13 places of detention that were denied or unacknowledged by the prosecutor general, according to victims UNIIB had interviewed. In its response to the UNIIB report, the government challenged UNIIB’s “reasonable grounds to believe” there were unacknowledged detention centers by asserting there was no tangible evidence to support the allegations.

The government permitted visits requested by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the African Union, and the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (CNIDH). Monitors visited known official prisons, communal jails, and SNR detention centers regularly. Monitoring groups had complete and unhindered access to those prisoners held in known detention facilities. Since the government’s 2016 decision to suspend official cooperation with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) local office, the OHCHR was not allowed to conduct prison visits.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not observe these prohibitions. The law provides for a fine of 10,000 Burundian francs ($5.65) and imprisonment of 15 days to one year for any member of the security forces found guilty of involvement in arbitrary arrest. Human rights groups reported numerous arbitrary arrests and detentions, including some involving the participation of Imbonerakure members. The UN COI described an ongoing trend of arbitrary arrests and detentions during the period of its mandate, starting in 2015, but it did not provide statistics. As of September Ligue Iteka documented 1,182 cases it deemed to be arbitrary arrests but was not able to document the subsequent disposition of all cases. Although regulations obligated government officials to notify family members of an arrest and allow communication, there were documented cases wherein families of arrested individuals did not receive timely notification or were not allowed contact with detainees.

Among other reasons for arbitrary arrests or detentions, police arrested persons on accusations of “undermining state security, participation in armed banditry, holding illegal meetings, illegal detention of weapons, or simply because they were traveling to or from other provinces or neighboring countries,” according to the OHCHR.

In 2017 there were reportedly 15 cases of children detained for “participation in armed groups, participation in an insurrectional movement, or illegal possession of arms,” all receiving legal assistance through CSOs. Some of those detained were subsequently convicted and sentenced. Those convicted were placed in government-run rehabilitation centers in Ruyigi and Rumonge provinces for children in conflict with the law and received psychosocial support, recreational activities, and preparation for eventual return to their families and communities. As of October, 14 of the 15 children arrested in 2017 were released; one was serving a sentence at the center in Rumonge. There were no further reports of children arrested under these provisions as of October.

NGOs reported numerous cases of individuals arrested without due process and accused of being part of or intending to join the armed opposition. Members of the nonrecognized FNL associated with National Assembly First Vice President Agathon Rwasa (FNL-Rwasa), and his Amizero Y’Abarundi coalition of political independents, stated that security service members arrested party members in retaliation for their political activism and membership in the party, including for political activities during the official campaign period before the May constitutional referendum. Authorities charged some of those identified with the FNL with threats to state security, participation in rebellion, or illegal possession of firearms.

In July 2017 Germain Rukuki, a former employee of the banned NGO Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture-Burundi, was arrested by SNR officials and subsequently transferred to Ngozi Prison. Rukuki was accused of acts against state security and rebellion; international and local human rights organizations criticized the nature of his detention and the charges against him as politically motivated. On April 26, Rukuki was convicted and sentenced to 32 years’ imprisonment, which he appealed. As of November his appeal was in progress. In June Rukuki broke his leg during a volleyball game in prison; he requested and was allowed access to medical treatment at a hospital in Ngozi. During his recovery following his operation, he was returned to prison; Rukuki and his lawyers argued that he needed more time for recovery in hospital. His lawyers applied for a provisional release on humanitarian grounds, but it was not granted.

In November 2017 Nestor Nibitanga, a human rights monitor and former representative of the banned NGO Burundian Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detainees was arrested in Gitega and accused of acts against state security. On January 3–he was denied bail and on August 13–Nibitanga was convicted of the charges against him and sentenced to five years in prison; his lawyer stated that Nibitanga would appeal.

In June 2017 Emmanuel Nshimirimana, Aime Constant Gatore, and Marius Nizigiyimana, all employees of the NGO Speech and Action for the Raising of Consciousness and the Evolution of Mentalities (PARCEM) in Muramvya province were arrested and similarly charged with acts against state security. In March they were convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Their lawyers appealed the conviction; a hearing scheduled in July was postponed and had not been held by year’s end.

Numerous reports from human rights activists continued to detail instances in which persons arrested allegedly had to pay bribes to be released. The amount demanded typically ranged from 5,280 to 52,800 Burundian francs ($3 to $30). A September 2017 Amnesty International report recounted instances wherein persons arrested by security forces or detained by members of the Imbonerakure were subjected to extortion and asked to pay between 200,000 and two million Burundian francs ($115 to $1,150). The 2017 UN COI report stated that members of the SNR, police, judiciary, and Imbonerakure often demanded large sums of money for the release of detainees or for their transfer to official prisons.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police, which is under the Ministry of Public Security’s authority, is responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order. The armed forces, which are under the Ministry of Defense’s authority, are responsible for external security but also have some domestic security responsibilities. The SNR, which reports directly to the president, has arrest and detention authority. Members of the Imbonerakure, who have no official arrest authority, were involved in or responsible for numerous detentions and abductions, according to reporting by multiple human rights organizations, and the Imbonerakure regularly took over the role of state security agents. In such cases Imbonerakure members often turned over arrested individuals to members of the official security services, but in some cases harassed or committed acts of violence against detained individuals without subsequently turning them over. The September report of the UN COI stated that the SNR and police continued to be the principal perpetrators of human rights violations but highlighted the increasing role played by members of the Imbonerakure. The UN COI found that impunity for these crimes was widespread and perpetuated by the lack of an independent judiciary.

The 2005 constitution provides for equal numbers of Hutu and Tutsi in the military, police, and the SNR to prevent either of these ethnic groups from having disproportionate power that might be used against the other. The SNR, however, did not achieve equilibrium between Hutu and Tutsi members, as a large majority remained Hutu; a slight majority of the police were Hutu. The May constitutional referendum removed the SNR from the security services subject to ethnic quotas but maintained the quotas for other institutions; it also maintained a clause providing for a review of the quotas by the Senate at a future date. The composition of the BNDF remained close to the quota requirement.

Police were often poorly trained, underequipped, underpaid, and unprofessional. Local citizens widely perceived them as corrupt, often demanding bribes and engaging in criminal activity. The Anticorruption Brigade, which reports to the minister in Charge of Good Governance in the Office of the President, is responsible for investigating police corruption but was widely perceived to be ineffective.

A significant proportion of police were former rebels. Approximately 85 percent of police received minimal entry-level training but had no refresher training in the past five years, while 15 percent received no training. Wages were low and petty corruption widespread.

Police were heavily politicized and responsive to the CNDD-FDD. Police officials complained that members of the Imbonerakure had infiltrated their ranks. CSOs claimed the weaponry carried by some supposed police officers was not in the official arsenal. Some police officers prevented citizens from exercising their civil rights and were implicated in or responsible for summary executions, arbitrary arrests and detentions, enforced disappearances, acts of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and sexual violence. The September UN COI report stated that the Antiriot Brigade and the Protection of Institutions unit continued to be significant perpetrators of grave violations of human rights since 2015. The government rarely investigated and prosecuted these cases, which resulted in widespread police impunity and politicization.

In its response to the 2017 UN COI report, the government admitted that, “certain elements of the security forces have overstepped the framework of their competencies.” The government stated they had been held accountable by the justice system but provided no supporting documentation.

Mixed security committees, whose members came from local government, regular security services, and the citizenry, operated in towns and villages throughout the country. Local government authorities designed the committees to play an advisory role for local policymakers and to flag threats and incidents of criminality for local administration. Members of the Imbonerakure frequently occupied positions on the mixed security committees that were reserved for local citizenry, giving them a strong role in local policing, which permitted the ruling party to harass and intimidate opposition members and those perceived to favor the opposition on the local level. Government officials and a spokesperson for the CNDD-FDD confirmed that Imbonerakure members participated in mixed security committees. The mixed security committees remained controversial because lines of authority increasingly blurred between Imbonerakure members and police. Imbonerakure members reportedly detained individuals for political or personal reasons, despite having no legal powers of arrest; beat, extorted, tortured, and killed persons with impunity; and often handed individuals over to the SNR or police, indicating evidence that authorities knew of and failed to punish their conduct. According to reports by multiple human rights groups, Imbonerakure members set up roadblocks in many provinces, sometimes detaining and beating passersby and extorting money or stealing their possessions.

Independent observers generally regarded the BNDF as professional and politically neutral. The 2017 UN COI report, however, reported that military personnel were implicated in summary executions, arbitrary arrests, and torture; although the most recent COI report clarified the responsibility of BNDF members for torture in particular as “of a lesser measure.” Among the units involved in grave violations of human rights, the commission identified the Special Brigade for the Protection of Institutions, the Combat Engineer Battalion (Camp Muzinda), and the Support Battalion of the First Military Region (Camp Muha) in Bujumbura. The commission and other organizations reported that major decisions, including those that have given rise to gross violations of human rights, were allegedly made through parallel chains of command reporting to senior government and ruling party leadership.

The SNR’s mandate is to provide both external and internal security. It often investigated certain opposition political party leaders and their supporters. Many citizens perceived the SNR as heavily politicized and responsive to the CNDD-FDD. The UN COI and NGOs asserted SNR officials committed acts of torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearance, and arbitrary arrest and detention.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Arrests require warrants issued by a presiding magistrate, although police may arrest a person without a warrant by notifying a police supervisor in advance. Police have seven days to finish their investigation and transfer suspects to appear before a magistrate but may request a seven-day extension if they require additional investigation time. Police rarely respected these provisions and routinely violated the requirement that detainees be charged and appear before a magistrate within seven days of arrest.

A magistrate must either order the release of suspects or confirm the charges and continue detention, initially for 14 days, and for an additional seven days if necessary to prepare the case for trial. Magistrates routinely failed to convene preliminary hearings, often citing their heavy case backlog or improper documentation by police. The CNIDH identified some cases of prisoners held in detention without a preliminary hearing or in excess of the statutory limits for preventive detention in previous years but did not report publicly on the issue during the year. Officials acknowledged that the legal system struggled to process cases in a timely fashion and that lengthy pretrial detentions were common. A UN human rights team that visited SNR facilities in Bujumbura in 2016 reported that 25 of the 67 detainees they saw had been kept in custody beyond the prescribed maximum time. Due to suspension of the OHCHR’s memorandum of understanding in October 2016, it has been unable to verify conditions since then. There were reportedly instances in which police did not comply with magistrates’ orders to release suspects in detention, even when there was insufficient evidence to merit charges.

Lack of transportation for suspects, police, and magistrates was a frequently cited reason for the failure to convene preliminary hearings. This was a particular problem in the six provinces without prisons, where lack of transport prevented the transfer of suspects from the site of detention to the provincial court with jurisdiction over the case.

Judges have authority to release suspects on bail but rarely used it. They may also release suspects on their own recognizance and often did so. Suspects may hire lawyers at their own expense in criminal cases, but the law does not require legal representation, and the government did not provide attorneys for those unable to afford one. Prisons have solitary confinement facilities, and detainees were sometimes held in solitary confinement for long periods. Authorities on occasion denied family members prompt access to detainees, particularly those detainees accused of opposing the government.

The law provides for prisoners to have access to medical care and legal assistance. The SNR denied to lawyers access to detainees held at its headquarters in Bujumbura. The ICRC continued to have access to official prisons and detention centers. Several credible organizations, however, reported that the SNR, police, senior officials of the government, and other security organizations maintained clandestine holding cells to which no independent monitors, including the ICRC, were granted access. The September report of the UN COI documented continued cases of torture and mistreatment that occurred in secret, unofficial detention centers where national and international observers had no access.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law provides for a fine of 10,000 Burundian francs ($6) and imprisonment of 15 days to one year for security force members found guilty of arbitrary arrest. There was no evidence that this law had ever been applied. NGOs reported numerous instances of alleged arbitrary arrests wherein no underlying offense in law existed; Ligue Iteka alleged 1,182 such cases as of September. Comprehensive data were not available on the subsequent handling of the cases. Authorities released many within a day or two of their detention.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention remained a serious problem. The law specifies authorities may not hold a person longer than 14 days without charge. As of September, according to the director of prison administration, 47 percent of inmates in prisons and detention centers were pretrial detainees. The average time in pretrial detention was approximately one year, according to the Office of Penitentiary Affairs, and authorities held some without charge. Some persons reportedly remained in pretrial detention for nearly five years. In some cases the length of detention equaled or exceeded the sentence for the alleged crime. Inefficiency and corruption among police, prosecutors, and judicial officials contributed to the problem. For example, authorities deprived many persons of their legal right to be released on their own recognizance, because public prosecutors failed to open case files or files were lost. Others remained incarcerated without proper arrest warrants, either because police failed to complete the initial investigation and transfer the case to the appropriate magistrate or because the magistrate failed to convene the required hearing to rule on the charges.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release if found to have been unlawfully detained. There was no record that any person was able to challenge their arrest on these grounds during the year.

Amnesty: On January 31, a presidential decree announced an amnesty of prisoners who were serving sentences of less than five years and halving the sentences of others. The government announced the amnesty would affect approximately 2,000 prisoners; as of October, the government stated that 2,611 had been released under the decree. Some of those released, including members of opposition political parties, were reported to have been subsequently rearrested. The decree specifically excluded those imprisoned for the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, armed robbery, illegal possession of firearms, threatening the internal or external security of the state, voluntary homicide, being a mercenary, cannibalism, and all other crimes committed in association with organized gangs. In September civil society organizations raised concerns with Ombudsman Edouard Nduwimana that a number of persons who received presidential pardons or who finished their sentences remained in prison. Human rights activists claimed that there were delays in the release of some prisoners eligible under the decree, and members of the banned MSD party stated that more than 100 members of their party who met the degree criteria had not been released as of October.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, there were instances when authorities subjected members of the judiciary to political influence or bribery to drop investigations and prosecutions, predetermine the outcome of trials, or avoid enforcing court orders. According to the UN COI, the rules of criminal procedure were rarely observed. Warrantless arrests of political opponents were routinely carried out, pretrial detentions were illegally extended, and judges used confessions obtained under torture as a basis for convicting defendants.

The September report of the UN COI stated there was a long-standing lack of judicial independence. The executive branch frequently interfered with politically sensitive cases to protect members of the CNDD-FDD and the Imbonerakure by issuing orders to have them acquitted or released, or to have opponents of the government convicted and imprisoned. Prosecutors and members of the security services sometimes ignored court orders for the release of detainees after judges had determined that there were no legal grounds for holding them.

There were allegations the public prosecutor willfully ignored calls to investigate senior figures within the security services and national police. Serious irregularities undermined the fairness and credibility of trials, and the failure to prosecute members of the security forces accused of abuse created an atmosphere of impunity.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

By law defendants are presumed innocent. Panels of judges conduct all trials publicly. Defendants have the right to prompt and detailed information on the charges and free interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals, if necessary, although these rights were not always respected. Defendants have the right to a fair trial without undue delay and to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, although this did not always occur. Defendants have a right to counsel but not at the government’s expense, even in cases involving serious criminal charges. Few defendants had legal representation because few could afford the services of a lawyer. Some local and international NGOs provided legal assistance to some defendants. Defendants have a right to defend themselves, including questioning prosecution or plaintiff witnesses, calling their own witnesses, and examining evidence against them. Defendants also may present evidence on their own behalf and did so in the majority of cases. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The law extends the above rights to all citizens.

The right to a fair trial was often violated. The September UN COI report stated judges often accepted and based decisions on evidence collected through acts of torture. In January 2017, 20 individuals accused of participating in an armed group attack on the Mukoni military camp in Muyinga province were tried, convicted, and received prison sentences in an expedited procedure in the Superior Court of Muyinga. They were reportedly tried without access to counsel, and the court reportedly did not take into account signs that some had been subjected to torture. According to HRW those standing trial had badly swollen hands and feet, many were limping, one had his arm in a sling, and another vomited blood during the trial. The judge denied a defendant’s request that the trial be postponed because he had been tortured, and wanted to be treated before presenting his defense. The defendants were convicted and sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment and each fined five million Burundian francs ($2,900), approximately 10 times the average annual income in the country, with an increase of the sentences to 55 years in prison if they failed to pay the fine.

All defendants, except those in military courts, have the right to appeal their cases to the Supreme Court. The inefficiency of the court system extended the appeals process for long periods, in many cases for more than a year.

Procedures for civilian and military courts are similar, but military courts typically reached decisions more quickly. The government does not provide military defendants with attorneys to assist in their defense, although NGOs provided some defendants with attorneys in cases involving serious charges. Military trials generally are open to the public but may be closed for reasons such as national security or when publicity might harm the victim or a third party; for example, cases involving rape or child abuse. Defendants in military courts are entitled to only one appeal.

While many of the above rights were often violated, no rights were systematically denied to persons from specific groups.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

No verifiable statistic was available on the number of political prisoners or detainees; an estimate was unavailable due to the government’s suspension of the OHCHR’s activities and refusal to cooperate with or allow the UN COI access to the country. In 2016 the OHCHR estimated there were more than 500 political prisoners or detainees, but independent observers estimated that the number of political prisoners remained in the hundreds. The government denied it held persons for political reasons, citing instead acts against state security, participation in a rebellion, or inciting insurrection. Human rights groups stated that these charges were often a pretext for repressing members of political opposition parties and human rights defenders. Before, during, and after the campaign for the May constitutional referendum, members of opposition parties, particularly FNL-Rwasa, reported numerous instances of their members being detained for political activity. Some of those detained were subsequently released, some charged, and some remained in lengthy pretrial detention. In September 60 prisoners went on a hunger strike in response to a statement by the minister of justice claiming that there were no political prisoners in the country.

The UN COI reported that political opponents were often treated unfairly, they were arrested without warrants, and their rights were routinely violated during both the pretrial and trial stages, particularly through restrictions on access to counsel or obstruction of the work of counsel.

The director of prison affairs said he could not identify political prisoners, as they were incarcerated on charges just like ordinary criminals. In some cases, however, political prisoners were confined in separate cells.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations and may appeal decisions to an international or regional court. In 2016, five civil society organizations that the government closed in October 2016 contested the decision in the East African Court of Justice. As of November the case remained in process. In January the court denied an application by the complainants for a preliminary injunction overruling their closure pending the outcome of the case. In denying the application, the court concluded that the complainants had not demonstrated that their closure caused irreparable damage.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

In the wake of violence and repression, fear, hunger, insecurity, abuse, and severe economic hardship following the 2015 political crisis and harvest failures in early 2017, more than 400,000 Burundians fled to neighboring states, primarily Tanzania. As of November more than 54,000 had returned primarily from Tanzania through a formal process organized by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. There were reports that in some instances government officials and private citizens seized land owned or legally occupied by departing refugees since 2015, which complicated the reintegration of some of those who returned during the year. Some returnees also found that their houses were destroyed, either due to natural conditions or to intentional property destruction. In general, however, government officials prevented the occupation of lands belonging to refugees. Government officials cited specific instructions from President Nkurunziza in a 2015 speech to provide for the integrity of refugees’ property.

The National Commission for the Land and Other Properties (CNTB) was established in 2006 to resolve land ownership conflicts, particularly between returning refugees who had fled successive waves of conflict in the country and those who had remained. Land disputes were frequently a source of conflict given small plot sizes and the reliance of the vast majority of citizens on subsistence agriculture, and many government officials and civil society actors considered land conflict to be the top cause of killings in the country. In 2015 the president suspended the implementation of all decisions to expropriate taken by the CNTB due to violence associated with land disputes in Makamba province. The CNTB’s reported practice of generally restoring lands to returning refugees from Burundi’s past conflicts, many of whom were ethnic Hutu, led to accusations of ethnic favoritism. In January 2017 the president lifted the suspension, and the CNTB continued its work to resolve land ownership conflicts.

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

The constitution and law provide for the right to privacy and require search warrants, but authorities did not always respect these rights. The legislature passed into law a revised Criminal Procedures Code, which was officially promulgated in May. The revised law provided for warrantless searches when security services suspect acts of terrorism, fraud, trafficking in persons, illegal possession of weapons, trafficking in or consumption of drugs, or “infractions of a sexual nature.” The law requires that security services provide advance notice to prosecutorial officials but does not require approval. Human rights groups raised concerns that the breadth of exceptions to the warrant requirement and the lack of protections provided for in the law created risks of abuse. They also noted that by law warrants may be issued by a prosecutorial official without reference to a judicial authority, limiting judicial oversight of the decisions of police and prosecutors.

Police, SNR agents, and Imbonerakure members–sometimes acting as mixed security committees–set up roadblocks and searched vehicles for weapons. They conducted search-and-seizure operations throughout the year, with a particularly high number of reported searches in the weeks leading up to the May referendum. During these searches security agents seized weapons and household items they claimed could be used to supply an insurgency, including large cooking pots and mosquito nets. Members of the security forces also sought bribes in many instances, either during searches or in lieu of a search.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press but ban “defamatory” speech regarding the president and other senior officials, material deemed to endanger national security, and racial or ethnic hate speech. Restrictions on freedom of speech and press increased significantly following dissent against the president’s 2015 announcement that he would seek a third term in office and government accusations of media complicity in the 2015 failed coup. These restrictions continued and were applied to press outlets including those critical of the government or the human rights situation in the country. Journalists and outspoken critics reported harassment and intimidation by security services and government officials. Social media networks, primarily Twitter and WhatsApp, served as news outlets, often replacing traditional news outlets. Forces allied to the CNDD-FDD repressed media perceived as sympathetic to the opposition, including print and radio journalists, through harassment, intimidation, and violence.

Freedom of Expression: The Penal Code, passed in 2009, protects public servants and the president against “words, gestures, threats, or writing of any kind” that is “abusive or defamatory” or would “impair the dignity of or respect for their office.” The law also prohibits racially or ethnically motivated hate speech. The law mandates a penalty of six months to five years in prison and a fine of 10,000 to 50,000 Burundian francs ($5.65 to $28.35) for conviction of insulting the head of state. Some journalists, lawyers, NGO personnel, and leaders of political parties and civil society stated the government used the law to intimidate and harass them.

Press and Media Freedom: The government owned and operated daily newspapers in French and Kirundi, Le Renouveau and Ubumwe, and a radio/television station, Burundi National Television and Radio. The directors general of both outlets report to the Presidency. Rema FM, a CNDD-FDD radio station, also enjoyed support from the government, although it was technically independent. Radio Isanganiro was the country’s largest independent radio station. Iwacu, an independent newspaper that was generally critical of the government and its policies, continued to publish articles in French and English. The family of an Iwacu journalist who disappeared in 2016 reported that it received death threats throughout the year.

The National Communications Council (CNC) required Iwacu to close the comments section of its website and Le Renouveau to suspend publication of advertisements in English, in both cases stating that the publications’ contracts with the CNC did not allow such activities. The CNC later rescinded the suspension of Le Renouveau’s English advertisements following the negotiation of a revised contract. On October 12, the Ministry of Justice announced the suspension of the generally progovernment online news outlet Ikiriho in connection with a criminal complaint; subsequent media coverage indicated the complaint stemmed from alleged defamation of a Burundian employee of Kenya Commercial Bank.

In September 2017 the CNC announced a decision to withdraw the licenses of Radio Bonesha, Radio Publique Africaine (RPA), and Radio/Television Renaissance for breaches of their agreements with the CNC or for not abiding by content regulations. These three stations had been shuttered by the government in 2015 after unidentified men destroyed their broadcasting equipment following a failed coup. Radio Bonesha continued to operate a website and RPA continued to broadcast into the country from Rwanda.

In 2013 the government passed a media law that required journalists to reveal sources in some circumstances and prohibited the publication of articles deemed to undermine national security. In 2014 parliament revised the law following journalists’ successful appeal to the East African Court of Justice. The court’s decision caused parliament to remove from the media law some of its more draconian elements. Following the failed coup in 2015, the government invoked the law to intimidate and detain journalists. In September the government passed a law to regulate accreditation of journalists, by increasing the prerequisites to include minimum requirements for education and prior experience. Reporters who were able to continue working complained that government agents harassed and threatened media that criticized the government and the CNDD-FDD. Journalists had difficulty corroborating stories, as local sources were intimidated.

Violence and Harassment: The majority of independent journalists fled the country during and after the political crisis and crackdown in 2015; most had yet to return, citing threats to their safety. Several media outlets stated they received explicit threats that they would be closed if they published or broadcast stories critical of the government. The government detained or summoned for questioning several local journalists investigating subjects such as human rights violations, corruption, or refugees fleeing the country. Journalists experienced violence and harassment at the hands of security service members and government officials. On August 27, three journalists were attacked by police in a rural area while researching a land dispute between residents and the local government. The journalists reported that police prevented them from conducting their work, physically beat them, and confiscated their equipment. The CNC released a statement criticizing police actions.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government censors media content via restrictive press laws established by the CNC, an organization that is nominally independent but subject to political control. According to Freedom House, observers regarded the CNC as a tool of the executive branch, as it regularly issued politicized rulings and sanctions against journalists and outlets. In 2016 the CNC passed two decrees regarding media activity, one for domestic journalists and one for foreign outlets operating in the country. The first compels all journalists to register with the CNC annually. The second limits the access granted to international journalists and establishes content restrictions on the products disseminated by these outlets. Broadly interpreted laws against libel, hate speech, endangering state security, and treason also fostered self-censorship, including by journalists working for the national broadcaster. Those who did not self-censor reportedly faced “reassignment” to jobs where they did not have access to the public or were fired.

The CNC regulates both print and broadcast media, controls the accreditation of journalists, and enforces compliance with media laws. The president appoints all 15 members, who were mainly government representatives and journalists from the state broadcaster.

In May, just weeks before the constitutional referendum, the CNC levied a six-month suspension on two international media outlets, including the British Broadcasting Corporation, citing the outlets’ decision to publish “biased” information “contrary to the rules of the [journalistic] profession” and to employ journalists the government claimed were subject to Burundian arrest warrants. At the same time, the government issued a formal warning to several other outlets, including Radio France Internationale, although their broadcasts continued.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law prohibits the public distribution of information that exposes a person to “public contempt” and carry penalties of prison terms and fines. Conviction of treason, which includes knowingly demoralizing the military or the country in a manner that endangers national defense during a time of war, carries a penalty of life imprisonment. It is a crime for anyone knowingly to disseminate or publicize rumors likely to alarm or excite the public against the government or to promote civil war. It is illegal for anyone to display drawings, posters, photographs, or other items that may “disturb the public peace.” Penalties for conviction range from two months’ to three years’ imprisonment and fines. Some journalists, lawyers, and leaders of political parties, civil society groups, and NGOs stated the government used these laws to intimidate and harass them.

Nongovernmental Impact: Many members of the governing party’s youth wing, the Imbonerakure, collaborated with government security forces to inhibit freedom of expression. In some cases they were official members of mixed security councils, which comprise police, local administration officials, and civilians. Journalists and human rights defenders accused Imbonerakure members of acting as irregular security forces, using government resources to follow, threaten, and attack individuals they perceived as opposition supporters.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for the Media: In July the CNC announced it would consider lifting the suspension of the two international media outlets suspended in May, provided representatives of the outlets traveled to Burundi for negotiations with the council. The CNC had taken no further action as of October.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government sometimes restricted or disrupted access to the internet or censored online content. According to the International Telecommunication Union’s 2017 survey, 5.6 percent of residents used the internet. Some citizens relied heavily on social media platforms WhatsApp, Twitter, and Facebook on both internet and mobile telephone networks to get information concerning current events. There were no verifiable reports the government monitored email or internet chat rooms. Several journalists expressed feeling generally freer in their reporting online than in radio and other media more closely controlled by the government. Several radio stations that were closed after the failed coup continued to publish radio segments and articles online.

Some media websites were occasionally unavailable to internet users in the country. Publications affected included the newspaper Iwacu and also the online publication Ikiriho, prior to its suspension in October by the Ministry of Justice. There was no official comment on the outages; both the reason and mechanism remained unclear. In most cases, the outages lasted a few days before access was restored.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were allegations that hiring practices, student leadership elections, and provision of grades at the University of Burundi were subject to political interference in favor of CNDD-FDD members.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government severely restricted this right (see section 1.d.). The law requires political parties and large groups to notify the government with details prior to a public meeting and at least four days prior to a proposed demonstration, and allows the government to prohibit meetings or demonstrations for reasons of “public order.” When notified, authorities in most cases denied permission for opposition members to meet or demonstrate and dispersed meetings already underway. By contrast, supporters of the CNDD-FDD and government officials were regularly able to meet and organize demonstrations on short notice; these demonstrations were frequently large and included participation by senior officials.

Freedom of assembly was significantly restricted in the wake of the failed coup attempt in 2015, and these restrictions largely remained in place, with some notable exceptions. Members of the wing of the nonrecognized FNL-Rwasa and the Amizero Y’Abarundi coalition of independents stated that government officials harassed or arrested supporters for holding unauthorized meetings. Other political parties generally reported being unable to hold party meetings or conduct political activities outside Bujumbura, except during the official campaign period before the May referendum. Some opposition party members cited greater leeway, however, to conduct political meetings, such as party conferences than in the preceding three years. In September the FRODEBU-Sahwanya party conducted a congress in Bujumbura followed by a series of meetings in regions around the country; however, the party continued to be unable to conduct public events outside of Bujumbura.

During the official May 1-14 campaign period before the referendum, the Amizero Y’Abarundi coalition of independents led by Rwasa and some other opposition parties conducted large rallies throughout the country to publicize their opposition to, and advocate for votes against, the proposed constitutional changes. The events were widely publicized in media sources, through social media, and online, and there were no apparent constraints on Rwasa’s public discourse, which was critical of the government. There were some reports that individuals attending rallies subsequently faced arrest or harassment by government officials, security services, and members of the Imbonerakure.

Outside of the official campaign period, opposition actors continued to be restricted from conducting most political activities, and members of the Imbonerakure and security services arrested, harassed, and in some cases committed violence against individuals they alleged opposed passage of the referendum. Although government officials stated that restrictions on political speech outside of the campaign period were consistent with the Burundian Electoral Code, no such limitations were applied to government officials and members of the CNDD-FDD party, who between December and May conducted numerous events and media appearances, during which they promoted the referendum and the proposed constitutional changes.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association within the confines of the law, but the government severely restricted this right.

In January 2017 the government enacted a law constricting the liberties of international NGOs. The law includes requirements that international NGOs deposit a portion of their budgets at the Bank of the Republic of Burundi and that they maintain ethnic and gender balances in the recruitment of local personnel. The law contains several clauses that give the government considerable control over NGO selection and programming. In November 2017 an international NGO was instructed to suspend its agricultural programs due to a disagreement with the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock on program design; in September the NGO was reinstated following lengthy negotiations with the government. In December 2017 another international NGO was expelled for allegedly distributing rotten seeds.

On September 27, the government’s National Security Council announced a three-month suspension of international NGOs as of October 1. On October 2, the minister of the interior clarified that the government was suspending their operations until the NGOs provided documents demonstrating compliance with the country’s NGO and banking laws. The minister required NGOs to submit a copy of their cooperative agreement with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a memorandum of understanding with the appropriate technical ministry, a certification of compliance with banking regulations, and a plan to comply with the law’s ethnic and gender balances within three years. He stated that the ministry would review the files of each NGO as soon as it received their submissions, but that NGOs failing to provide documents within three months would be closed. Many organizations viewed the suspension as a politically motivated restriction on civil space. The suspension had an immediate and significant impact on NGO operations, including on the provision of basic services. Some international NGOs were allowed to continue medical and education programs during the suspension. As of mid-November the government had lifted the suspension on 38 NGOs, while the majority were either awaiting response to their compliance documents or still in the process of completing them.

In January 2017 the government also enacted laws governing domestic CSOs. The law requires CSOs to register with the Ministry of the Interior (or with provincial governments if they operate in a single province), a complex process that includes approval for an organization’s activities from the Ministry of the Interior and other ministries depending on their areas of expertise. There is no recourse when authorities deny registration. Registration must be renewed every two years. The law provides for the suspension or permanent closure of organizations for “disturbing public order or harming state security.”

In 2016 the government permanently banned five CSOs that it claimed were part of the political opposition. In 2016 the government announced its intention to ban Ligue Iteka, the country’s oldest human rights organization, for “sow(ing) hate and division among the population following a social media campaign created by the International Federation of Human Rights and Ligue Iteka in which a mock movie trailer accused the president of planning genocide.” The ban took effect in January 2017; Ligue Iteka continued to operate from Uganda and report on conditions in Burundi. At year’s end there were no further reported closings of domestic CSOs.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government severely restricted these rights.

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

In-country Movement: According to several news sources, the government enforced the use of “cahiers de menage,” booklets that listed the residents and domestic workers of each household in some neighborhoods of the capital. In numerous instances police arrested persons during neighborhood searches for not being registered in household booklets. Persons who attempted to cross the border to flee violence and reach refugee camps were sometimes stopped and turned back by police, the SNR, or Imbonerakure members. Stateless persons also faced restrictions on movement, because in addition to lacking identification documents, they may not apply for driver’s licenses and may not travel freely throughout the country.

The government strongly encouraged citizens to participate in community-level work projects every Saturday morning and imposed travel restrictions on citizens from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Authorities required permits for movement outside of one’s community during those hours, and police enforced the restrictions through roadblocks. There were reports that members of the Imbonerakure compelled individuals to engage in community work. Persons could obtain waivers in advance, and persons performing physical exercise were generally considered exempt. Foreign residents were exempt.

During the February 8-17 voter registration period organized by the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI), government officials, members of the security services, and members of the Imbonerakure pressured citizens to register as voters. In some instances this pressure included denial of freedom of movement to citizens who did not provide proof of registration, including denial of access to market areas. In July, as the government sought what it termed “contributions” from citizens, there were also reports that citizens who did not demonstrate proof of payment faced restrictions on freedom of movement from members of the Imbonerakure and local officials.

Local governments established checkpoints on roads throughout the country on a widespread basis officially for the collection of transit taxes on drivers and passengers; the checkpoints were often manned by police or members of the Imbonerakure. Checkpoints were also established for security purposes. There were frequent allegations that those staffing the checkpoints sought bribes before allowing vehicles to proceed. In some instances members of the Imbonerakure were accused of using the checkpoints to deny free movement to individuals for political reasons, such as failing to demonstrate proof of voter registration or proof of contributions for the funding of elections, for refusal to join the ruling party, or for suspicion of attempting to depart the country in order to seek refugee status.

Foreign Travel: The price of a passport was 235,000 Burundian francs ($133). Authorities required exit visas for foreign nationals who held nonofficial passports and who did not hold multiple-entry visas; these visas cost 48,000 Burundian francs ($28) per month to maintain. The majority of foreign nationals held multiple-entry visas and were no longer subject to this requirement. Stateless persons may not apply for a passport and may not travel outside the country.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) counted approximately 151,520 IDPs as of September. According to the IOM, 74 percent were displaced due to natural disasters while 26 percent were displaced for political or social reasons. Some IDPs reported feeling threatened because of their perceived political sympathies. Some IDPs returned to their homes, but the majority remained in IDP sites or relocated to urban centers. The government generally permitted IDPs at identified sites to be included in programs provided by UNHCR, the IOM, and other humanitarian organizations, such as shelter and legal assistance programs.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees.

UNHCR estimated 68,748 refugees were in the country as of September, with a further 5,148 in the process of seeking asylum. Of the refugees, approximately 68,200 were Congolese, including arrivals during the year; 4,371 of those in the process of seeking asylum were also Congolese. Continuing violence in the DRC prevented their return. Efforts to resettle Congolese refugees in third countries, begun in 2015, continued.

Employment: The employment of refugees was subject to restrictions. The government is a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention Related to the Status of Refugees and 1967 Protocol on the Status of Refugees, but with a reservation regarding the employment of refugees that meant Burundian nationals had preferred access to employment opportunities. In 2016 the government committed to lifting these reservations, but as of October had not taken steps to do so.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees residing in camps administered by the government and the United Nations and its partners received basic services. The large percentage of refugees residing in urban areas also accessed services, such as education, health care, and other assistance offered by humanitarian organizations.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and provided it to approximately 4,400 persons during the year. These individuals were primarily Congolese who crossed into the country from Lake Tanganyika in order to avoid fighting on the Fizi peninsula in January and did not subsequently seek refugee status but returned to the DRC during the year.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR an estimated 974 persons at risk of statelessness lived in the country. All were from Oman, were awaiting proof of citizenship from the government of Oman, and had lived in Burundi for decades. Most of those who remained at risk of statelessness had refused an offer of Burundian citizenship from the government if they could not get Omani citizenship. Stateless persons face limited freedom of movement because they were ineligible for driver’s licenses and passports.

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 country held legislative, communal, and presidential elections during 2015, but the international community and independent domestic organizations widely condemned the process as deeply flawed. Several progovernment CSOs observed and validated the elections. The UN Electoral Mission in Burundi was the sole international observer of the voting; the African Union (AU) and the EU declined to participate in the process. Intimidation, threats, and bureaucratic hurdles colored the campaigning and voting period, resulting in low voter turnout and a boycott by most opposition parties.

In December 2017 the government announced a referendum campaign for several constitutional amendments and repressed opposition activity related to the amendments. On May 17, the referendum took place. During the months leading up to the referendum, there were widespread instances of harassment, intimidation, threatening rhetoric, and some violence against real or perceived opponents of the amendments. There were widespread reports that citizens were forced to register as voters during the February voter registration period and make financial contributions to preparations for 2020 elections, including through acts of violence and denial of basic services. The vote itself was largely peaceful but opposition parties charged irregularities including the expulsion of accredited monitors from voting stations and during the vote tabulation process. The Constitutional Court rejected an appeal by the Amizero Y’Abarundi coalition of independents to contest the results provided by the CENI. No country or international organization officially observed the referendum, but a range of CSOs mostly representing progovernment viewpoints did observe the elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: During 2015 the government held four separate elections, including for communal councils and the National Assembly (June), president (July), the Senate (July), and village councils (August). Citing their inability to campaign fairly and freely, most opposition parties called on their adherents to boycott the elections. The CNDD-FDD won absolute majorities in the National Assembly and Senate.

The EU’s election observation mission reported that sufficient conditions for credible elections were not met. The AU also declined to send observers because the conditions were not conducive to credible, transparent, free, and fair elections. According to the International Crisis Group, CENI and the Ministry of the Interior created bureaucratic obstacles to opposition parties, including failing to recognize party leadership, refusing to permit legal party meetings, and favoring CNDD-FDD loyalists for positions on provincial and communal election committees.

In December 2017 President Nkurunziza announced a referendum to amend the constitution. During the speech he warned that opposition to holding the referendum was a “red line,” while stating that opponents of the constitutional changes would be able to make their case. Several government and ruling party officials subsequently made statements threatening individuals opposed to the referendum. In a December 2017 speech in Cibitoke province, Sylvestre Ndayizeye, a senior leader of the Imbonerakure, reportedly called on his colleagues to “identify and subdue” those who opposed the campaign. In April a video circulated on social media networks of a CNDD-FDD party official in Muyinga province, Melchiade Nzopfabarushe, threatening to kill opponents of the referendum and dispose of their bodies in Lake Tanganyika. Nzopfabarushe was arrested, charged with making violent threats and threats to state security, convicted, and sentenced to three years in prison on April 30. In June, following the referendum, his sentence was reduced on appeal and he was released from prison. Human rights activists reported other instances of party or government officials using violent rhetoric with no apparent repercussions.

There were numerous reports of members of the security services and the Imbonerakure arbitrarily arresting, harassing, or committing violence against individuals suspected of campaigning against the referendum, including supporters of opposition parties. In May HRW issued a report that documented human rights violations that targeted individuals who refused to contribute funds to finance the referendum vote and the 2020 elections or for not belonging to the ruling party. HRW stated that impunity for these acts was widespread and encouraged further abuse. The number of arrests of opposition members increased significantly in the months preceding the vote, although in many cases those arrested were released shortly thereafter.

In 2017 the government began a campaign to generate citizen contributions to a fund for elections, with the intention of domestically financing future elections. In December 2017 the government released a decree formalizing the campaign, under which amounts were to be automatically deducted from the salaries of civil servants. Deductions began in January. The decree specified that contributions from other citizens were to be voluntary but identified recommended contribution levels for salaried employees and for farmers. Beginning in July 2017, however, and increasing significantly following an announcement by the minister of the interior in June of relaunching efforts to generate contributions from citizens, government officials and members of the Imbonerakure pressured citizens to donate. There were reports of violence, harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and denial of freedom of movement of citizens who failed to demonstrate proof of payment.

There were widespread reports of compulsion for citizens to participate in the February 8-17 voter registration period, during which voters registered for both the referendum and 2020 elections. Members of the security services, local officials, and members of the Imbonerakure allegedly committed acts of violence, denied basic services, and denied of freedom of movement to citizens who could not demonstrate proof of registration. This included the arrest, alleged torture, and death of Simon Bizimana (see section 1.a). Members of the Imbonerakure closed a market in Makamba commune on February 12 and Rumonge commune on February 13, in each instance forcing vendors and customers to demonstrate proof of voter registration before being allowed to conduct business. There were numerous reports of school administrators threatening discipline against secondary school students who would be of voting age either for the referendum or by 2020 and who failed to register.

Political Parties and Political Participation: According to the law, to qualify for public campaign funding and compete in the legislative and presidential elections, parties needed to be “nationally based,” i.e. ethnically and regionally diverse, and demonstrate in writing they were organized and had membership in all provinces. The Ministry of the Interior recognized 32 political parties. Other de facto parties–including the FNL-Rwasa and Union for National Progress, led by Evariste Ngayimpenda–were officially unrecognized. These two unrecognized parties worked together in the form of a coalition of independent candidates called Amizero Y’Abarundi, which held 22 of the 121 seats in the National Assembly and five of the 21 seats on the Council of Ministers due to power-sharing provisions in the 2005 constitution. The revised constitution promulgated in June officially banned such coalitions and included other constraints on independent candidates for future elections, although Amizero Y’Abarundi continued to function and maintained its legislative and ministerial positions. As a result of this change, on September 14, Amizero Y’Abarundi leader Agathon Rwasa announced that he was seeking official accreditation for a new political party, the National Front for Liberty-Amizero Y’Abarundi. On November 8, the Ministry of the Interior responded with a letter stating that the proposed party acronym and insignia were too similar to those of an existing registered party, violating the law on political parties. On November 12, Rwasa filed an updated application; according to the 2011 law regulating political parties, the government was required to respond within two months.

Other parties, such as the Union for Peace and Development, were recognized by the Ministry of the Interior but were unable to operate due to intimidation and suppression by the government. In April 2017 the minister of the interior suspended the MSD. In August 2017 the minister filed a motion with the Supreme Court to ban the MSD permanently, accusing the party of support for acts of violence and creating a paramilitary wing in violation of the law on political party activities. The president of the MSD, Alexis Sinduhije, was associated with the armed opposition group Resistance for a State of Law in Burundi (RED-Tabara) and was captured on video advocating violence against the government. As of October the case remained pending without an official ruling from the court. The government issued arrest warrants for some members of the opposition group National Council for the Respect of the Arusha Accord and the Rule of Law, whom it accused of participation in the 2015 failed coup.

Ministry of the Interior interference in opposition party leadership and management contributed significantly to the weak and fractured nature of opposition parties. The government stated that the law allows only legally constituted political parties, coalitions of political parties, and independent candidates to run for office and that unrecognized leaders of parties and political actors not associated with a party could play no role in the political process. Two nonrecognized parties were able to compete with constraints through the Amizero Y’Abarundi coalition of independents. Other parties not recognized by the government, however, were largely unable to conduct political activities. The constitution’s ban on coalitions for independents further constrained the options of nonrecognized parties and risked disenfranchising them.

The constitution also included measures increasing restrictions on independent candidates, including a measure that prevented individuals from running as independents if they claimed membership in a political party within the previous year or if they had occupied a leadership position in a political party within the previous two years. The constitution also provided that independent candidates for the National Assembly must receive at least 40 percent of the vote in their district in order to be elected, a standard that did not apply to candidates representing political parties.

The new constitution removed provisions included in the 2005 constitution and the 2000 Arusha Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation that provided for representation in the Council of Ministers on a proportional basis for political parties or coalitions of independents that received at least 5 percent of the national vote in legislative elections. These provisions were intended to facilitate consensus-based decision making in the aftermath of the country’s 1993-2005 civil war. The revised constitution replaces one of the two vice president positions with a prime minister who has more authority than does a vice president. Under the constitution, the president has the authority to name a vice president who must be of a different ethnicity and party, a prime minister, and cabinet ministers. Whereas the previous vice president positions oversaw different ministerial portfolios, all ministers would report to the prime minister under the constitution while the vice president position would have more limited authority. As of November the revised executive structure had not been implemented, and government officials stated that it would be put in place following the elections in 2020.

Individuals often needed membership in, or perceived loyalty to, a registered political party to obtain or retain employment in the civil service and the benefits that accrued from such positions, such as transportation allowances, free housing, electricity, water, exemption from personal income taxes, and interest-free loans. During the year there were reports of individuals facing harassment, arbitrary arrest, and violence, including torture and killings, for refusing to join the CNDD-FDD at the hands of members of the Imbonerakure, government officials, or other ruling party supporters. These reports, along with the pressure placed on citizens to register as voters or to provide contributions for elections, led some observers to suggest that the space for citizens to support an opposition party or be apolitical was diminishing, constituting an impingement on freedom of expression and association.

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

The constitution reserves 30 percent of positions in the National Assembly, Senate, and Council of Ministers for women, and government institutions hired persons after the elections to meet gender, as well as ethnic, quota requirements. The 2017 international NGO law extended this quota to NGO employment as well. Women were not well represented in political parties and held very few leadership positions. Some observers believed that traditional and cultural factors kept women from participating in politics on an equal basis with men.

The constitution provides for representation in all elected and appointed government positions for the two largest ethnic groups. The Hutu majority is entitled to no more than 60 percent of government positions and the Tutsi minority to no less than 40 percent. The law designates three seats in each chamber of parliament for the Twa ethnic group, which makes up approximately 1 percent of the population.

Cabo Verde

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. Media, however, reported instances of physical violence. The most common types of abuses were excessive force and aggression against persons arrested and detained by police and against prisoners by prison agents. In most cases the National Police Council took action against abusers. The National Commission for Human Rights and Citizenship (CNDHC) followed up with the National Police when it received information about abuses perpetrated by police agents. In the first quarter of 2017, 23 cases of abuse were registered, a significant increase over the first eight months of 2016.

Prisoners complained of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. In all prisons authorities isolated newcomers in small, cramped cells for up to 30 days. This isolation was intended to allow new inmates time to adjust and to determine if they had communicable diseases. Inmates in isolation had limited access to visitors and prison activities. The isolation cells were small, dark, not well ventilated, unfurnished, and crowded. Similar cells were used for punishment. Additionally, prisoners complained of dehumanizing conditions resulting from poor infrastructure, in particular lack of sanitation.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening due to gross overcrowding, inadequate housing, and health and sanitation conditions.

Physical Conditions: There were five prisons in the country; three of the five had populations that substantially exceeded capacity (indicated in parentheses). The Central Prison of Praia (CCP) had 1,054 inmates (880), the Central Prison of Sao Vicente 263 (180), and the regional prisons of Santo Antao 26 (50), Sal 143 (250), and Fogo 63 (50). The Orlando Pantera Center housed juvenile detainees who were under age 16 at time of sentencing. The regional prison on Fogo did not have external walls, although the Directorate General for Prison Systems began a large-scale infrastructure project on the Fogo prison to include external walls. External walls were added to the prison on Sal during the year. Several of the prisons did not have reliable electricity. The regional prison on Sal had no access to an electric grid or piped water; it ran a generator at night, and water was brought in trucks. The kitchen at the prison was completed during the year, but the armed forces continued to prepare and deliver food for prisoners. Isolation cells in the older prisons, specifically those on Fogo and Santo Antao, were cramped, crowded, unfurnished, lacked sanitary facilities (toilets, sinks, and showers, and adequate drainage) and had no natural light because their windows were blocked with bricks. In September the minister of justice and labor suspended the practice of putting all new arrivals at the prisons into solitary cells for a 30-day adjustment period because the practice was not consistent with the law’s assumption of innocence until proven guilty.

From January through August 2017, there were three deaths reported in prison.

Prisoners also complained of inadequate sanitation, ventilation, lighting, and heating. Not all prisoners had mattresses and beds; some slept on thin blankets on concrete floors. Shower and toilet facilities were inadequate and unsanitary; however, prison directors provided personal hygiene kits and prioritized improvements to the showers and toilets. There was standing water in the toilet and shower areas. Conditions in general were inadequate for inmates with mental disabilities or substance addictions. There were too few corrections officers to deal with the growing number of such prisoners. Conditions were markedly better for female prisoners, who generally had significantly more space and better sanitary conditions than male prisoners.

At the CCP and the central prison on Sao Vicente, inmates were separated by trial status, sex, and age, but in regional prisons lack of facilities prevented authorities from separating inmates. In the Fogo regional prison, all 11 cells and the isolation cells housed youths and adults together. In the Santo Antao regional prison, inmates were separated according to status and crime.

Most prisoners received adequate food and clean water three times per day, although prisoners in the CCP complained that the new director restricted food from outside that had been brought in to supplement prison food.

Administration: There were no prison ombudsmen to respond to complaints, but prisoners’ complaints did reach the CNDHC via regular visits by the CNDHC to the prisons, written communication from the prisoners, social media, and phone calls from prisoners to the CNDHC. Prisoners’ relatives also reported complaints to the CNDHC, and corrections officials stated all had been investigated and either disproven or corrected. To date, the CNDHC has received three complaints. Prison agents were insufficient in number and did not receive appropriate support to do their jobs. Some complained of a need for psychological support because of the emotional and physical stress of their jobs.

Prison directors at Fogo and CCP stated religious activities were permitted for all religious groups. The CCP director stated that during the year regular religious visits for Muslims were scheduled. In the regional prison on Sao Vicente, the director stated Muslim religious services sometimes fall outside of regular prison working hours for much of the staff, complicating the prison’s ability to accommodate them.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted formal visits by international human rights monitors to the prisons and individual prisoners. Local nongovernmental organizations and members of the press made frequent visits to prisons to record conditions.

Improvements: Access to education within the prison system improved, resulting in a 100 percent graduation rate from elementary school (equivalent) in the prison of Praia and strong results in other prisons. Prison services promoted this social integration policy in conjunction with the Ministry of Education.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge in court the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police, under the control of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, is responsible for law enforcement. The Judiciary Police, under the Ministry of Justice, is responsible for major investigations. The armed forces, under the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for protecting the national territory and sovereignty of the country. Logistical constraints, including a shortage of vehicles and communications equipment, and poor forensic capacity limited police effectiveness.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the armed forces and police (including the Coast Guard, National Guard, National Police, and Judiciary Police), and the government had somewhat effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption.

There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

Authorities investigated abuses by police, and most investigations resulted in legal action against those responsible or in the case being dismissed. In the first quarter of 2017, the National Police Council received 23 reports of police violence; most cases concerned physical abuse. The National Police Disciplinary Board reviewed the cases.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The National Police may not make arrests without a warrant issued by the Attorney General’s Office, unless police apprehend the person in the act of committing a felony. Neither the National Police nor Judiciary Police have the authority to conduct investigations unless mandated by the Attorney General’s Office. Even if there is incriminating evidence, suspected criminals are not arrested until a decision is made by the Attorney General’s Office. The law stipulates a suspect must be brought before a judge within 48 hours of arrest. In most cases, however, detainees waited longer. The CNDHC reported that detainees remanded to preventive detention on islands without prisons waited in police holding cells until they could be transferred to islands with prisons. In at least one case, a detainee in preventive detention waited four months in a holding cell on Boa Vista for transportation (ticket and escort availability). The law provides a detainee the right to prompt judicial determination of the legality of the detention, and authorities respected this right. Attorneys inform detainees of the charges against them. There is a functioning bail system. Authorities allowed detainees prompt access to family members and to a lawyer of the detainee’s choice if the detainee could afford it. For a detainee or family unable to pay, the Cabo Verdean Bar Association appoints a lawyer.

The judicial system was overburdened and understaffed, and criminal cases frequently ended when charges were dropped before a determination of guilt or innocence was made.

Pretrial Detention: The director of the CCP noted that if detainees remained six months in prison without any judicial progress, they would be released according to the law. As of September 30, there were 491 persons in preventive detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. The judicial system, however, was slow because it was overwhelmed by the number of cases, lacked sufficient staffing, and was inefficient.

There is a military court, which by law may not try civilians. The military court provides the same protections as civil criminal courts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Criminal defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence. They have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary, from the moment charged through all appeals. The law provides for the right to a fair and public nonjury trial without undue delay, but cases often continued for years. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Free counsel is provided for the indigent in all types of cases. Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to confront or question witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence in their defense, the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and the right to appeal regional court decisions to the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ). The law extends the above rights to all citizens.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Courts are impartial and independent and handle civil matters including lawsuits seeking damages for, or an injunction ordering the cessation of, a human rights violation. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human right bodies. Both administrative and judicial remedies are available, although administrative remedies are rare.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Censorship or Content Restriction: Journalists practiced limited self-censorship, apparently largely due to their desire to eventually work for public sector media.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 57 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful 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 www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

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.

Any foreigners residing in the country for more than three years may vote in municipal elections. Any residents from a member country of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP)–which includes Angola, Brazil, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, and Timor-Leste–may vote in municipal elections regardless of how long they have resided in Cabo Verde. Only citizens, including those living outside the country, may vote in legislative and presidential elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In the 2016 legislative elections, individuals and parties were free to declare their candidacies and candidates for a total of 72 seats. The main opposition party, Movement for Democracy (MpD), won 40 seats in the National Assembly with approximately 53 percent of the vote, returning the party to power for the first time in 15 years. The former governing party, African Party for the Independence of Cabo Verde (PAICV), won 29 seats with 37 percent, and the Union for a Democratic and Independent Cabo Verde won the remaining three seats with 6 percent of the vote. International observers characterized these elections as generally free and fair.

The most recent presidential election took place in 2016. Jorge Carlos Fonseca, the MpD candidate, who had the support of the PAICV, won the election with approximately 74 percent of the vote.

Election observers from the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) characterized these elections as free, transparent, and credible. Observers noted some irregularities, however, including voters being pressured near polling stations to vote for certain candidates and allegations of vote buying.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minorities, and they did participate. Women’s participation fell in positions within the central government but remained somewhat high on the SCJ, and especially in prosecutorial positions. At the local level, in community associations and on city councils, women had less representation than men. Women held 17 of the 72 National Assembly seats and occupied three of the 11 cabinet-level positions in government ministries. Women filled three of the eight seats on the SCJ, including the presidency.

Cameroon

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

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings through excessive use of force in the execution of official duties.

In July, Human Rights Watch reported that, during government operations in 12 villages in the Northwest and Southwest Regions between January and April, government security forces shot and killed more than a dozen civilians, including at least seven persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities who had difficulty fleeing.  On May 25, in Menka-Pinyin, Santa Subdivision of the Northwest Region, elements of the Gendarmerie, the 51st Motorized Infantry Brigade, and the Special Operations Group of the National Police carried out a raid on a location believed to harbor Anglophone activists, killing 27 persons, according to official sources.  Security forces battling Anglophone secessionists in the Northwest and Southwest Regions allegedly killed two clerics.  Anglophone separatists attacked and killed several dozen civilians considered loyal to the central government and members of defense and security forces in these two regions.  According to the government’s Emergency Humanitarian Assistance Plan, as of June 11, the death toll attributed to separatists within defense and security forces was 84, including 32 members of defense forces, 42 gendarmes, seven policemen, two prison guards, and one Eco-guard, some of whom were mutilated or decapitated and their bodies exhibited on social media.  Civilian victims included the following:  the chief of Esukutan in Toko Subdivision of the Southwest Region, murdered on February 5; the divisional officer for Batibo in the

Northwest, abducted on February 11 and subsequently killed; and Ashu Thomas Nkongho, discipline master of the government bilingual high school in Kossala, Meme Division of the Southwest Region, killed on school premises on April 25.  Unidentified gunmen killed a local chief in a church and a priest, supposedly because of their alleged opposition to secession by the Northwest and Southwest Regions.

Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA) continued killing civilians, including members of vigilance committees, which were organized groups of local residents cooperating with government forces in the fight against Boko Haram, and members of defense and security forces in the Far North Region.  According to the L’Oeil du Sahel newspaper, as of June 30, at least 153 civilians and 12 members of defense and security forces had been killed in the attacks.

b. Disappearance

Government security forces were widely believed to be responsible for disappearances of suspected Anglophone separatists, with reports of bodies dumped far from the site of killings to make identification difficult.  According to credible nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the government did not readily account for some of the activists arrested in connection with the Anglophone crisis.  Family members and friends of the detainees were frequently unaware of the missing individuals’ location in detention for a month or more.  For example, authorities held incommunicado Ayuk Sisiku Tabe, the “interim president” of the so-called Republic of Ambazonia, along with 46 other Anglophone separatists, from January 29 until late June when they were allowed to meet with their lawyers and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

In an August 24 release, Ekombo Favien, vice president of human rights NGO

Frontline Fighters for Citizen Interests (FFCI), announced the disappearance of FFCI national president Franklin Mowha.  According to the release, Mowha arrived in Kumba, Southwest Region, on August 2 to monitor human rights abuses.  He was last seen leaving his hotel room on August 6.  Ekombo indicated that authorities had previously targeted Mowha on several occasions because of his human rights reporting.

Boko Haram insurgents kidnapped civilians, including women and children, during numerous attacks in the Far North Region.  According to L’Oeil du Sahel, as of June 30, at least 51 civilians had been victims of Boko Haram abductions, and some of them remained unaccounted for.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were reports that security force members beat, harassed, or otherwise abused citizens, including separatist fighters.  Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch documented several cases in which security forces severely mistreated suspected separatists and detainees.

Amnesty International reported in July 2017 on the cases of 101 individuals whom security forces allegedly tortured between March 2013 and March 2017 in detention facilities run by the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) and the General Directorate of Counter Intelligence (DGRE).  While most of the cases documented involved persons arrested in 2014 and 2015 and allegedly tortured between 2014 and 2016, Amnesty International asserted that the practice continued into 2017.  It stated that torture took place at 20 sites, including four military bases, two intelligence centers, a private residence, and a school.  Specific sites named in the report included the BIR bases in Salak, Kousseri, and Kolofata in the Far North Region, and DGRE facilities in Yaounde.  As of October the government had not shared results of its internal investigations but claimed it had investigated some, if not all, of the allegations.

Human Rights Watch documented the case of 22-year-old Fredoline Afoni, a thirdyear student at the Technical University of Bambili whom security forces beat to death on January 29.  Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that Fredoline was home near Kumbo in the Northwest Region when he received a telephone call requesting that he pick up luggage at a nearby junction.  Once at the location, persons dressed in civilian clothes forcefully took him away by truck.  A truck belonging to the gendarmerie subsequently drove through the same junction with Fredoline sitting in the back, naked and handcuffed, with signs of having been badly beaten.  Individuals reportedly appeared at a relative’s home and collected Fredoline’s laptop and cell phone.  Fredoline’s uncle subsequently discovered that he was in gendarmerie custody.  The uncle reportedly told Human Rights Watch that he discovered the victim’s naked and decaying corpse outside the local mortuary three days later.  After a postmortem examination, the medical professional who examined the body told Human Rights Watch that Fredoline died as a result of his beatings.

Social media diffused a video in June showing security force members at the

Cameroon Protestant College of Bali in the Northwest Region forcing two girls to crawl through the mud while referring to them as Ambazonian spies.  Media reports indicated that the gendarmes were arrested and placed in detention and were awaiting trial by the military tribunal, but there was no further information on the case.

Press reporting indicated there were cases of rape and sexual abuse by persons associated with the government and separatists in Anglophone regions.  For example, there were credible reports that on July 3, during security operations in Bamenda, Northwest Region, first-class soldier Mbita Arthur allegedly raped a female victim he called aside for a routine national identity check.  The soldier was arrested, although there was no further information on the case.

During the year the United Nations reported that it received five allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from Cameroon deployed in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).  Three cases alleged sexual exploitation (exploitative relationship, transactional sex), and three cases sexual abuse (rape), one of which involved minors.  Several allegations each referred to more than one alleged perpetrator, more than one victim, or both.  Investigations both by the United Nations and the government were pending.  Interim action by the United Nations was taken in one case.  Nine allegations reported previously were pending.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening.

Physical Conditions:  Overcrowding remained a significant problem in most prisons, especially in major urban centers.  Officials held prisoners in dilapidated, colonial-era prisons, where the number of inmates was as much as five times the intended capacity.  Prisons generally had separate wards for men, women, and children.  Authorities often held detainees in pretrial detention and convicted prisoners together.  In many prisons toilets were nothing more than common pits.  In some cases women benefitted from better living conditions, including improved toilet facilities and less crowded living quarters.  Authorities claimed to hold sick persons separately from the general prison population, but this was often not the case.

According to prison administration officials, the country had 79 operational prisons, with an intended capacity of 17,915 but which held close to 30,000 inmates as of June.  For example, the central prison in Ngaoundere, Adamawa Region, was initially designed to accommodate 150 inmates.  Successive expansions raised the capacity to 500 inmates.  As of June 19, the prison held 1,600 inmates, more than two-thirds of whom had not been convicted of any crime.  A third of the inmates were awaiting trial, hearings had begun for another third, and one-third had been convicted.

The quality of food, access to potable water, sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, and medical care were inadequate.  As a result illness was widespread.  Malnutrition, tuberculosis, bronchitis, malaria, hepatitis, scabies, and numerous other untreated conditions, including infections, parasites, dehydration, and diarrhea, were rampant.  The number of deaths associated with detention conditions or actions of staff members or other authorities was unknown.

Physical abuse by prison guards and prisoner-on-prisoner violence were problems.  Corruption among prison personnel was reportedly widespread.  Visitors were at times forced to bribe wardens to be granted access to inmates.  Prisoners bribed wardens for special favors or treatment, including temporary freedom, cell phones, beds, and transfers to less crowded areas of the prisons.  Due to their inability to pay fines, some prisoners remained incarcerated after completing their sentences or after they had received court orders of release.

Administration:  Independent authorities often investigated credible allegations of mistreatment.  Visitors needed formal authorization from the state counsel; without authorization, they had to bribe prison staff to communicate with inmates.  In addition visits to Boko Haram suspects were highly restricted.  Some detainees were held far from their families, reducing the possibility of visits.  Authorities allowed prisoners and detainees to observe their religions without interference.

As in 2017, authorities allowed NGOs to conduct formal education and other literacy programs in prisons.  At the principal prison in Edea, Littoral Region, the NGO Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture sponsored a Literacy and Social Reintegration Center that provided primary and lower secondary education to inmates.  Because of the sociopolitical unrest in the Southwest Region, Human IS Right, a Buea-based civil society organization, and the NGO Operation Total Impact discontinued their formal education and reformation education program in the principal prisons in Buea and Kumba.  The central prison in Garoua, North Region, continued to run a full-cycle primary school.

Independent Monitoring:  Unlike in the previous year, the government restricted international humanitarian organizations’ access to prisoners in official prisons.

For example, as of June authorities had not allowed the ICRC access to its target prisons and detention centers.  On July 3, however, the ICRC was able to visit the 47 Anglophone separatists repatriated from Nigeria, and some of the detainees delivered messages through the organization to their families.  The National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms (NCHRF) and the Commissions for Justice and Peace of the Catholic archdioceses also conducted prison visits but were denied access to some detention centers.  In January NCHRF members visited prisons in Monatele in the Center Region; Bertoua, Doume, and AbongMbang in the East Region; and Maroua in the Far North Region.  The NCHRF reported that it did not have access to some prisons in Yaounde, including those hosting the 47 suspected separatists repatriated from Nigeria.  The NCHRF also alleged authorities did not grant access to a victim who was shot and admitted at the Yaounde Emergency Center.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide the right to challenge the lawfulness in court of an arrest or detention.  The law states that, except in the case of an individual discovered in the act of committing a felony or misdemeanor, the officials making the arrest shall disclose their identity and inform the person arrested of the reason.  The law also provides that persons arrested on a warrant shall be brought immediately before the examining magistrate or the president of the trial court who issued the warrant, and that the accused persons shall be given reasonable access to contact their family, obtain legal advice, and arrange for their defense.  The law provides that any person who has been illegally detained by the police, the state counsel, or the examining magistrate may receive compensation.  On several occasions the government did not respect these provisions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police, DGRE, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Territorial Administration, and, to a lesser extent, presidential guard are responsible for internal security.  The Ministry of Defense–which includes the gendarmerie, army, and the army’s military security unit–reports to the Office of the Presidency, resulting in strong presidential control of security forces.  The army is responsible for external security, while the national police and gendarmerie have primary responsibility for law enforcement.  Historically the gendarmerie has responsibility in rural areas.  Increasingly in the Anglophone regions, responsibility for security in the rural areas is left to another security force, the BIR.  The BIR falls outside the purview of conventional forces.  The national police–which includes public security, judicial, territorial security, and frontier police–reports to the General Delegation of National Security (DGSN), which is under the direct authority of the presidency.  The government took some steps to hold police accountable for abuses of power.  Police remained ineffective, poorly trained, and corrupt.  Impunity continued to be a problem.

Civilian authorities maintained some control over the police and gendarmerie, and the government had some mechanisms in place to investigate and punish abuse and corruption.  The DGSN and gendarmerie investigated reports of abuse and forwarded cases to the courts.  Lesser sanctions were handled internally.  The DGSN, Ministry of Defense, and Ministry of Justice stated that members of security forces were sanctioned during the year for committing abuses, but few details were known about investigations or any subsequent accountability.

The national gendarmerie and the army have special offices to investigate abuse.  The secretary of state for defense and the minister delegate at the presidency are in charge of prosecuting abusers.  The minister delegate of defense refers cases involving aggravated theft, criminal complicity, murder, and other major offenses to the military courts for trial.

In March authorities opened an investigation into the case of taxi driver Jean Nga Mvondo, who died a few hours after the Ngousso gendarmerie brigade in Yaounde released him from detention.  Pending the outcome of the investigation, on March 23, the secretary of state in charge of the National Gendarmerie (SED) relieved the brigade commander of his duties.

As reported above, on July 24, the minister delegate for defense announced that the gendarmerie in Bamenda, Northwest Region, arrested first class soldier Mbita Arthur and referred him to the office of the Bamenda military court prosecutor.  The minister also promised to take disciplinary action against the soldier in accordance with the law.  Mbita Arthur allegedly raped a female victim on July 23.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires police to obtain a warrant before making an arrest, except when a person is caught in the act of committing a crime, but police often did not respect this requirement.  The law provides that detainees be brought promptly before a magistrate, although this often did not occur.  Police may legally detain a person in connection with a common crime for up to 48 hours, renewable once.  This period may, with the written approval of the state counsel, be exceptionally extended twice before charges are brought.  Nevertheless, police and gendarmes reportedly often exceeded these detention periods.  The law also permits detention without charge for renewable periods of 15 days by administrative authorities such as governors and civilian government officials serving in territorial command.  The law provides for access to legal counsel and family members, although police frequently denied detainees access to both.  Contrary to the wide-reaching antiterror law, civilian law prohibits incommunicado detention, but it occurred, especially in connection with the sociopolitical unrest in the two Anglophone regions.  The law permits bail, allows citizens the right to appeal, and provides the right to sue for unlawful arrest, but these rights were seldom respected.  On August 8, Supreme Court Chief Judge Daniel Mekobe Sone commissioned the first members of the Compensation Commission for Illegal Detention, a body created to provide citizens with recourse if they believe they were wrongfully detained.

Arbitrary Arrest:  Police, gendarmes, BIR soldiers, and government authorities reportedly continued to arrest and detain persons arbitrarily, often holding them for prolonged periods without charge or trial and at times incommunicado.  “Friday arrests,” a practice whereby individuals arrested on a Friday typically remained in detention until at least Monday unless they paid a bribe, continued.  There were several reports by media and NGOs that police or gendarmes arrested persons without warrants on circumstantial evidence alone, often following instructions from influential persons to settle personal scores.  There were also credible reports that police or gendarmes arbitrarily arrested persons during neighborhood sweeps for criminals and stolen goods or arrested persons lacking national identification cards, especially in connection with the Anglophone crisis and the fight against Boko Haram.

There were credible reports that authorities held some suspects in the Anglophone crisis for long periods without notifying them of the charges.  For example, authorities detained Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, the president of the Anglophone separatist movement, and 46 others incommunicado and without official charge for close to six months.  The suspects were arrested in Nigeria on January 5 and extradited to Cameroon on January 25.  Defense lawyers considered the arrest and extradition illegal and filed an application for immediate release with the Mfoundi High Court in Yaounde.  On August 30, the judge dismissed the application on procedural grounds.  The court eventually heard the case on November 1 and delivered a verdict denying the release of Sisiku Ayuk Tabe and the nine other leaders of the Anglophone separatist movement on November 15.

Pretrial Detention:  The law provides for a maximum of 18 months’ detention before trial, but many detainees waited years to appear in court.  No comprehensive statistics were available on pretrial detainees.  According to prison authorities, as of June the central prison in Ngaoundere, Adamawa Region, housed approximately 1,600 inmates, two-thirds of whom were pretrial detainees and appellants.  Some pretrial detainees had been awaiting trial for more than two years.  The increase in pretrial prison populations was due in large part to mass arrests of Anglophone activists and persons accused of supporting Boko Haram, staff shortages, lengthy legal procedures, lost files, administrative and judicial bottlenecks, including procedural trial delays, corruption, negligence, and court fees.

The NGO Human IS Right documented the case of 24-year-old Beng Pascal Ngong, who was detained without judgement at the Buea Central Prison for more than 26 months.  Police arrested Beng in 2015 for allegedly not possessing a national identity card, an offense punishable with imprisonment from three to 12 months, a fine of 50,000 to 100,000 CFA francs ($85 to $170), or both.  Following a habeas corpus request filed by the NGO Human IS Right, judicial authorities ultimately released Beng on March 21, after more than double the duration of the sentence he would have served had he been prosecuted and convicted.  Until his release Beng Pascal had never appeared before a judge.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law ostensibly provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary is under and often controlled by the president and, by proxy, the ruling party.  Individuals reportedly accused innocent persons of crimes, often due to political motivations, or caused trial delays to settle personal scores.  Authorities generally enforced court orders.

Musa Usman Ndamba, the national vice president of the Mbororo Social and

Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA), was prosecuted for

“propagation of false information” and “false oath,” although he submitted strong evidence that he was not associated with the offense.  He continued to suffer judicial harassment by Baba Ahmadou Danpullo, a businessman and member of the central committee of the ruling CPDM, who pressured the court to continue to hear the case after various instances in which it had been dismissed.  On May 11, the Court of First Instance in Bamenda sentenced Usman Ndamba to six months’ imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 CFA francs ($850) after more than 60 hearings that began in 2013.  Human rights defenders believed Danpullo used the judicial system to discourage Usman Ndamba from defending the rights of the minority Mbororo community of nomadic cattle herders.

Despite the judiciary’s partial independence from the executive and legislative branches, the president appoints all members of the bench and legal department of the judicial branch, including the president of the Supreme Court, and may dismiss them at will.  The court system is subordinate to the Ministry of Justice, which in turn is under the president.  The constitution designates the president as “first magistrate,” thus “chief” of the judiciary, making him the legal arbiter of any sanctions against the judiciary.  The constitution specifies the president is the guarantor of the legal system’s independence.  He appoints all judges, with the advice of the Higher Judicial Council.  While judges hearing a case are technically to be governed only by the law and their conscience as provided for by the constitution, in some matters they are subordinate to the minister of justice or to the minister in charge of military justice.  With approval from the minister of justice, the Special Criminal Court may drop charges against a defendant who offers to pay back the money he is accused of having embezzled, which essentially renders the act of corruption free of sanctions.

Military courts may exercise jurisdiction over civilians for offenses including the following:  offenses committed by civilians in military establishments; offenses relating to acts of terrorism and other threats to the security of the state, including piracy; unlawful acts against the safety of maritime navigation and oil platforms; offenses relating to the purchase, importation, sale, production, distribution, or possession of military effects or insignia as defined by regulations in force; cases involving civil unrest or organized armed violence; and crimes committed with firearms, including gang crimes, banditry, and highway robbery.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public hearing, without undue delay, in which the defendant is presumed innocent, but authorities did not always respect the law.  Criminal defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free assistance of an interpreter.  Many pretrial suspects were treated as if they were already convicted, frequently held in the same quarters as convicted criminals, and denied visits.  Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney of their choice, but in many cases the government did not respect this right, particularly in cases of individuals suspected of complicity with Boko Haram or Anglophone separatists.  When defendants cannot pay for their own legal defense, the court may appoint counsel at the public’s expense; however, the process was often burdensome and lengthy, and the quality of legal assistance was poor.  Authorities generally allowed defendants to question witnesses and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf.  Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt.  Defendants may appeal convictions.  In at least one case, authorities did not give the victim a chance to confront the offender and present witnesses and evidence to support his case.

In August the High Court for Mfoundi in Yaounde allegedly released a person suspected of trafficking in persons who had been in pretrial detention since 2016.  The victim, Lilian Mbeng Ebangha, returned from Kuwait in 2015 and filed a lawsuit against her alleged trafficker, a pastor of Shiloh Liberation Ministries International.  After preliminary investigations the case was sent to trial in 2016 and thereafter had more than 20 adjournments.  Each time a hearing was scheduled in Yaounde, Ebangha travelled from Douala to attend.  The alleged offender was released in August or September, but it was unconfirmed whether there was a court decision on the matter.  The victim stated that her trafficker had called her to inform her of his release.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of newly identified political prisoners or detainees, and no statistics were available on the number of political prisoners.  Previously reported political prisoners were detained under heightened security, often in SED facilities.

Some were allegedly held at DGRE facilities and at the principal prisons in Yaounde.  The government did not permit access to such persons on a regular basis, or at all, depending on the case.

Former minister of state for territorial administration Marafa Hamidou Yaya, convicted in 2012 on corruption charges and sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment, remained in detention.  In May 2016 the Supreme Court reduced the sentence to 20 years.  In June 2016 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a decision qualifying Marafa’s detention “a violation of international laws” and asked the government to immediately free and compensate him for damages suffered.  The United Nations noted there were multiple irregularities in the judicial procedure.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens and organizations have the right to seek civil remedies for human rights violations through administrative procedures or the legal system; both options, however, involved lengthy delays.  Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse decisions domestically or to regional human rights bodies.  There were no reports that the government had failed to comply with civil case court decisions pertaining to human rights.  A number of labor rights-related cases involving government entities were ongoing as of the end of August.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government continued to compensate relocated families over the past few years in connection with infrastructure projects, including the Kribi Sea Port and the Yaounde-Douala highway projects.  There were no reported developments in the cases of corrupt officials who had misappropriated money the government had earmarked for compensation previously.  There was no report of intentional targeting of particular groups for discriminatory treatment.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, these rights were subject to restriction for the “higher interests of the state,” and there were credible reports police and gendarmes abused their positions by harassing citizens and conducting searches without warrants.

The law permits a police officer to enter a private home during daylight hours without a warrant only if pursuing a person suspected of or seen committing a crime.  Police and gendarmes often did not comply with this provision and entered private homes without warrant whenever they wished.

An administrative authority, including a governor or senior divisional officer, may authorize police to conduct neighborhood sweeps without warrants, and this practice occurred.

Police and gendarmes sometimes sealed off a neighborhood, systematically searched homes, arrested persons, sometimes arbitrarily, and seized suspicious or illegal articles.  For example, in the early hours of July 10, police and gendarmes conducted a cordon-and-search operation in the neighborhoods of Ndobo at Bonaberi in the Douala IV Subdivision, Littoral Region, arrested dozens of individuals, and detained those found in possession of, or consuming, narcotics.  On July 26, police conducted a similar operation in the neighborhood of Biyem Assi in Yaounde 6 Subdivision.  They searched houses, requested residents to produce receipts for appliances found in their possession and in some cases confiscating those for which the occupants could not produce receipts, and arrested dozens of individuals.  In both cases security forces detained citizens without national identity cards until their identities could be established.  The areas in question have a high concentration of Anglophones, and most of the individuals arrested in the July 10 and 26 incidents were Anglophones.  Anecdotal reports suggested that with the protracted insecurity in some regions, authorities often forcefully accessed private communications and personal data by exploiting the telephones and computer devices of targeted individuals, during both cordon-andsearch and regular identity-control operations.

On September 28 police and gendarmes conducted raids in various neighborhoods in Yaounde.  Police raided neighborhoods with heavy Anglophone populations, setting up temporary checkpoints and requesting citizens to provide identification.  Some individuals were required to enter a security vehicle and were brought to local police stations, where their identities were verified once more before being released.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government often restricted this right.

Freedom of Expression:  Government officials penalized individuals or organizations that criticized or expressed views at odds with government policy.  Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately frequently faced reprisals.  On several occasions the government used the law requiring permits or government notification of public protests to stifle discourse, and many civil society and political organizations reported increased difficulty in obtaining approval to organize public gatherings.  The government attempted to impede criticism by monitoring political meetings.

During the year the divisional officer for Yaounde V banned public conferences that Hilaire Kamga, an elections expert, intended to organize at Felydac Hotel on February 15 and June 13 to address the issues of voter registration and peaceful transition.  The divisional officer claimed the event was likely to disturb public order.

In September the senior divisional officer for Mfoundi, which encompasses the greater Yaounde area, pressured Hilton Hotel management to cancel a symposium entitled “Digital Rights and Elections in Cameroon,” organized by Paris-based Internet without Borders and Lagos-based Paradigm Initiative, days before it was to take place.  Eventually, organizers secured a different hotel without any difficulty.

On June 15, authorities prevented the opposition party, the Cameroon Renaissance

Movement (CRM), from presenting a documentary on presidential candidate Maurice Kamto.  The CRM booked Massago Hotel in Yaounde as the venue for the event.  Hotel management asked CRM leaders to leave the premises a few hours before the beginning of the documentary showing, allegedly following intimidation and threats from authorities.

Press and Media Freedom:  Independent media was active and expressed a wide variety of views, although there were restrictions especially on editorial independence, in part due to stated security concerns related to the fight against Boko Haram and the crisis in the two Anglophone regions.  Journalists reported practicing self-censorship to avoid repercussions for criticizing the government, especially on security matters.  According to the 2018 Press Freedom Index by Reporters without Borders, authorities imposed a climate of fear and selfcensorship on media practitioners.  Journalists faced significant hurdles, some of which led to exorbitant fines, and in some cases, jail terms.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least seven journalists were in prison.  One was Thomas Awah Junior, who was arrested in Bamenda, Northwest Region, on January 2.  He wrote for the monthly Aghem Messenger magazine and was sentenced to 11 years in prison on May 25 for acts of terrorism against the nation, secession, revolution, and propagation of disinformation through digital means.  Awah Junior was incarcerated at Kondengui Central Prison in Yaounde.  Pictures of a severely emaciated Awah were widely circulated on social media in September.  At the end of September, he was transported to a hospital in Yaounde to be treated for tuberculosis and pneumonia.

Violence and Harassment:  Police, gendarmes, and other government agents arrested, detained, physically attacked, and intimidated journalists for their reporting.

As in the previous year, authorities arrested journalists in connection with their reporting on the Anglophone crisis.  According to reports by credible organizations, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, on March 20, police arrested Akumbom Elvis McCarthy, a news broadcaster for Abakwa FM Radio, a privately owned media outlet based in Bamenda, Northwest Region.  McCarthy was allegedly taking pictures of police harassing taxi drivers.  He reported in Pidgin English for the Media House, which also publishes news on its Facebook page.  Judicial police detained the news broadcaster for three weeks before referring him to the military tribunal.  The tribunal decided to remand McCarthy into custody for a renewable six-month period while police investigated claims that he reported separatist propaganda.

Censorship or Content Restrictions:  Based on a 1990 law on social communication, the Ministry of Communication requires editors to deposit two signed copies of their newspapers within two hours after publication.  Journalists and media outlets practiced self-censorship, especially if the National

Communication Council (NCC) had suspended them previously.  The NCC issued warnings and suspensions during the year.  It declared that radio and television broadcasts of political debates during the period of March 10-24 were suspended, alleging that such discussions might cause conflict ahead of the March 25 senate election.  It later clarified that this directive applied only to state-owned media outlets.  Magic FM, a private media outlet, decided to broadcast its Magic Attitude political discussion program.  Galaxy FM, another private media outlet, also continued broadcasting political discussion shows through its popular Frenchlanguage political program, Au Coeur de la Republique.

On March 15, the NCC issued eight separate decisions, warning or suspending journalists, media outlets, and programs for one to three months.  Most were sanctioned for publishing statements deemed unfounded and offensive, which was considered a breach of professional ethics in mass communication.  The media outlets included WB1 Radio, L’Orphelin, Horizon Plus, l’Essentiel du Cameroon, and Watch Dog Tribune.  In all cases the alleged breaches occurred in 2017.

Libel/Slander Laws:  Press freedom is further constrained by strict libel laws.  These laws authorize the government, at its discretion and the request of the plaintiff, to criminalize a civil libel suit or to initiate a criminal libel suit in cases of alleged libel against the president or other high government officials.  Such crimes are punishable by prison terms and heavy fines.  The libel law places the burden of proof on the defendant.  The government contended libel laws were aimed at safeguarding citizens whose reputations could be permanently damaged by defamation.  There were no reports the government or public figures used laws against libel or slander to restrict public discussion during the year.

INTERNET FREEDOM

According to Internet World Stats (IWS), there were 6,128,422 Internet users in December 2017, representing penetration rates of 24.8 percent.  There are currently no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.  The government, however, has repeatedly disrupted access to the internet.

The country experienced its first internet shutdown in January 2017, after Anglophone teachers, lawyers, and students went on strike over alleged social bias in favor of Francophones.  The government issued a countrywide internet shutdown, which lasted 93 days.  Educational, financial, and health-care institutions as well as businesses that relied on internet access were stunted.  International bodies applied pressure to the government to restore internet access.  Despite internet access being restored in April 2017, there were continuing reports of network instability.

In October 2017 the government effected a second internet blockade, targeting social media and apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook.  This continued to affect the country economically, and many citizens were forced to travel back and forth to regions with internet access for business or information.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Although there were no legal restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, state security informants reportedly continued to operate on university campuses.

There were a few reports of security personnel disrupting student extracurricular activities.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited and restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Although the law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government often restricted this right.  The law requires organizers of public meetings,

demonstrations, and processions to notify officials in advance but does not require prior government approval of public assemblies, nor does it authorize the government to suppress public assemblies that it has not approved in advance.  Nevertheless, officials routinely asserted the law implicitly authorizes the government to grant or deny permission for public assemblies.  The government often refused to grant permits for gatherings and used force to suppress assemblies for which it had not issued permits.  Authorities typically cited “security concerns” as the basis for deciding to block assemblies.  The government also prevented civil society organizations and political parties from holding press conferences.  Police and gendarmes forcibly disrupted meetings and demonstrations of citizens, trade unions, and political activists throughout the year, arrested participants in unapproved protests, and blocked political leaders from attending protests.

On March 9, in Yaounde, police arrested approximately 20 women who participated in a rally, holding up a banner that read, “Stand Up for Cameroon.”  According to the organizers of the rally, including Edith Kabang Walla, the president of the Cameroon People’s Party (CPP), the event was aimed to call attention to the deteriorating sociopolitical situation in the country.  Police released the women after keeping them for a few hours at the judicial police’s regional headquarters.

Authorities also banned some political rallies.  In April the divisional officer of Fokoue in Menoua Division, West Region, banned a meeting meant to encourage voter registration by the CRM opposition party.  The CRM claimed they notified the divisional officer that they were organizing an event on April 11.  This event would have been 10th in a series organized in conjunction with Elections Cameroon, the organization that oversees and administers elections, to encourage more persons to register to vote.  The divisional officer initially told CRM leaders the meeting might not be authorized because April 11 was a market day.  On April 9, he reportedly changed his mind and instead referred CRM’s leaders to the mayor, whom he said had control over the market place.  Organizers said they had contacted the mayor, who said she had planned to conduct a tax collection exercise in the market that day and turned down the request.  Further, in June the mayor of Bagangte banned a rally by the CRM at the local ceremonial ground and reportedly justified his decision by saying that the ceremonial ground was meant only for exceptional events and official ceremonies.  CRM officials said the ruling CPDM held a meeting at the venue a few days earlier.  Authorities also banned rallies by the CRM in Baham and Bandjoun in the West Region.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, but the law also limits this right.  On the recommendation of the senior divisional officer, the Ministry of Territorial Administration may suspend the activities of an association for three months on the grounds that the association is disrupting public order.  The minister may also dissolve an association if it is deemed a threat to state security.  National associations may acquire legal status by declaring themselves in writing to the ministry, but the ministry must explicitly register foreign associations and religious groups.  The law imposes heavy fines for individuals who form and operate any such association without ministry approval.  The law prohibits organizations that advocate a goal contrary to the constitution, laws, and morality, as well as those that aim to challenge the security, territorial integrity, national unity, national integration, or republican form of the state.

Conditions for recognition of political parties, NGOs, or associations were complicated, involved long delays, and were unevenly enforced.  This resulted in associations operating in legal uncertainty, their activities tolerated but not formally approved.

Unlike in 2017 the government did not ban any organizations during the year.  On July 18, however, Minister of Territorial Administration Paul Atanga Nji unilaterally designated three political figures as spokespersons for three opposition political parties, disregarding these parties’ own hierarchies and internal elections.  The minister stated the three parties, the Cameroon People’s Party (CPP), the

Union of the Peoples of Cameroon (UPC), and the African Movement for a New Independence and Democracy (Manidem), were suffering from persistent internal crises.  He urged administrative command officers nationwide to authorize only events organized by the appointees.  On July 20, all three appointed leaders joined 17 other nominally “opposition” leaders to rally with their parties behind President Biya for the October 7 presidential election.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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.  President Biya and the majority CPDM party, however, exerted strong influence over key elements of the political process, including the judiciary and Elections Cameroon (ELECAM), the election organizing body.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections:  In the senate and presidential elections held during the year, the

CPDM garnered the majority of votes, except in the Northwest, where it lost to the Social Democratic Front (SDF).  The CPDM remained dominant in state institutions, partially due to strategic redrawing of voter districts, use of government resources for campaigning, interference with the right of opposition parties to organize and publicize views during electoral campaigns, and privileges associated with belonging to the ruling party.

The country conducted a presidential election on October 7, against the backdrop of protracted sociopolitical unrest in the two Anglophone regions and insecurity in the Far North due to attacks by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA.  Eight candidates took part in the election; a ninth dropped out just before election day to support a rival opposition candidate.  The election was marred by irregularities, including intimidation of voters and representatives of candidates at polling sites, late posting of polling sites and voter lists, ballot stuffing, voters with multiple registration, and a lack of transparency in the vote tallying process.  In the countdown to the election, government-sponsored media outlets CRTV and Cameroon Tribune produced three times as much programming for the president as for the other eight candidates; in addition the ruling party violated the electoral code by blanketing cities with larger than regulation-sized campaign posters.  While not illegal under law, government workers and financial resources were committed to supporting the incumbent’s campaign.  President Biya was re-elected with 71.28 percent of votes cast.

On March 25, the country held its second senate elections.  The ruling CPDM won 63 of the 70 elected seats, while the opposition SDF won seven elected seats.  The president, in accordance with the constitution, appointed an additional 30 senators, including 24 from the CPDM, two from the National Union for Democracy and Progress (UNDP), and one each from four other nominal opposition parties, including Union of the People of Cameroon (UPC), National Alliance for Democracy and Progress (ANDP), Movement for the Defense of the Republic

(MDR), and Cameroon National Salvation Front (FSNC).  Overall, seven political parties were represented in the senate.  The March 25 senate elections were considered peaceful and within the boundaries of the legal framework that heavily favors the ruling party.

In 2013 the country held simultaneous legislative and municipal elections, with 29 parties participating in the legislative elections and 35 in the municipal elections.  The CPDM won 148 of 180 parliamentary seats and 305 of 360 municipal council positions.  New legislative and municipal elections were expected during the year.  In July the parliament adopted, and the president promulgated, a law to extend the term of office of members of the National Assembly by one year.  On July 11, the president signed a decree extending the term of office of municipal councilors for 12 months, effective from October 15.

Political Parties and Political Participation:  As of September the country had 305 registered political parties.  Membership in the ruling political party conferred significant advantages, including in the allocation of key jobs in state-owned entities and the civil service.  The president appoints all ministers, including the prime minister, the governors of each of the 10 regions, and important lower-level members of the 58 regional administrative structures.  The president also appoints 30 of the 100 senators, and most of the appointees were from the ruling party.

Human rights organizations and opposition political actors considered the drawing of voter districts and distribution of parliamentary or municipal councilors’ seats unfair, stating that it is not fair to begin with and does not take changes in population into account.  Consequently, smaller districts sometimes were allocated more seats than more populated constituencies.  Managers of state-owned companies and other high-level government officials used corporate resources to campaign for candidates sponsored by the ruling party in both senate and presidential elections to the detriment of the other candidates.  Traditional rulers, who receive salaries from the government, openly declared their support for President Biya prior to the presidential election.  Further, authorities frequently sought excuses not to grant opposition parties permission to hold rallies and meetings, while the ruling CPDM held meetings at will.

Participation of Women and Minorities:  No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process.  The law provides that lists of candidates for legislative and municipal elections should take into account the sociological components of the constituency, including gender.  Cultural and other factors, however, reduced women’s political participation compared to that of men.

Women remained underrepresented at all levels of government.  Two women submitted their candidacy for the October 7 presidential election, but neither met the requirements.  Women occupied 26 of 374 council mayor positions; 81 of 280 parliamentary seats; 11 of 63 cabinet positions; and other senior level offices, including territorial command and security and defense positions.  With the voting age set at 20, youth older than age 18 and younger than 20 are not allowed to vote.  The minority Baka, a nomadic Pygmy people, were not represented in the senate, national assembly, or higher offices of government.

Central African Republic

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

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year. There were, however, several reports that armed groups committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in which government agents were implicated, according to reports by MINUSCA.

Armed rebel groups, particularly members of the various factions of ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka, killed civilians, especially persons suspected of being members or sympathizers of opposing parties in the conflict (see section 1.g.). The killings, often reprisals in nature, included summary executions and deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

In May members of an armed group killed 26 persons and wounded more than 200 others in an attack on the Notre Dame Church of Fatima in the sixth district of Bangui. Separate confrontations on May 14 and 15 between the Union for Peace (UPC) and Anti-balaka elements in Bambari resulted in 32 dead and 23 wounded civilians and armed group members. Clashes among rival groups in Bangui’s PK5 neighborhood on May 23 resulted in deaths of 12 civilians.

There were numerous killings of civilians by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel group that operated in eastern regions of the country, and other armed groups including the Anti-balaka, Reclamation, Return, and Rehabilitation (3R), Revolution and Justice (RJ), the Patriotic Movement for the Central African Republic (MPC), UPC, the Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic (FPRC), and the Democratic Front of the Central African People (FDPC) (see section 1.g.).

According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Invisible Children, the LRA perpetrated at least 22 attacks on civilians in the Mbomou Uele border region in January. Five civilians were killed and 26 abducted. In February the LRA reportedly committed 30 attacks, killing at least 15 civilians and abducting 25 others.

The 3R, MPC, UPC, FPRC, and Anti-balaka groups participated in ethnic killings related to cattle theft (see section 6).

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. There were reports that forces from the ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups were responsible for politically motivated disappearances. Those abducted included police and civilians (see section 1.g.).

There were many reports of disappearances committed by the LRA for the purposes of recruitment and extortion (see section 1.g.).

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

Although the law prohibits torture and specifies punishment for those found guilty of physical abuse, there were reports from NGOs that soldiers of the Central African Armed Forces (FACA), gendarmes, and police were responsible for torture.

In February the Central Office for the Repression of Banditry (OCRB) in Damala assaulted a 40-year-old woman after she came to plead for the release of her son who had been arrested following the theft of a motorcycle. A medical report documented the woman’s injuries.

There were reports of impunity for inhuman treatment, including torture, according to credible NGO sources, and abuse and rape of civilians, that resulted in deaths by forces from the ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, LRA, and other armed groups (see section 1.g.).

The United Nations reported that it received eight allegations between January and August of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers that were deployed to MINUSCA. These allegations involved peacekeepers from Cameroon, Morocco, Niger, and Burundi. Of the eight allegations, seven involved minors and all were pending investigations by the United Nations or the troop contributing country.

According to the United Nations, three allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against MINUSCA peacekeepers from Mauritania reported in 2017 were pending. Two cases alleged sexual abuse (sexual assault or rape), involving minors. In both cases the United Nations repatriated the peacekeepers in question. The other case alleged sexual exploitation (exploitative relationship). Investigations by the Mauritanian government were pending.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) independent expert and international NGOs, detention conditions in prisons did not generally meet international norms and were often inhuman.

MINUSCA detained and transferred to government custody several medium and high-level armed group members.

Physical Conditions: The government operated three prisons in or near Bangui: Ngaragba Central Prison, its high-security Camp de Roux annex for men, and the Bimbo Women’s Prison. A combination of international peacekeepers, FACA, prison officers trained by MINUSCA and the Ministry of Justice, and judicial police guarded both men’s and women’s prisons. Six prisons were operational outside the Bangui area: Bouar, Berberati, Bimbo, Bossangoa, Bambari, and Mbaiki. In other locations including Bossembele and Boda, police or gendarmes kept prisoners in custody. Most prisons were extremely overcrowded. Necessities, such as food, clothing, and medicine, were inadequate and were often confiscated by prison officials. Prisons lacked basic sanitation and ventilation, electricity, basic and emergency medical care, and sufficient access to potable water. Diseases were pervasive in all prisons. Official statistics regarding the number of deaths in prison were not available. Conditions were life threatening and substantially below international standards. The national budget did not include adequate funds for food for prison inmates.

Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, juveniles with adults, and failed to separate prisoners by gender. In Bangui, however, prisoners were separated by gender. Smaller prisons in cities such as Bouar, Mbaiki, Berberati, and Bossangoa segregated male from female prisoners, but conditions were substantially below international standards. Female prisoners were placed in facilities without ventilation or electricity. All detainees, including pregnant women, slept on thin straw mats on concrete floors.

There were no detention centers or separate cells in adult prisons for juvenile offenders. The Ngaragba Prison reported 32 juveniles held there. The accusations ranged from murder to witchcraft and petty crimes. Police and gendarmes held individuals beyond the statutory limits for detention before imposing formal charges.

Administration: MINUSCA is extensively involved in the administration of prisons. MINUSCA personnel staffed the prisons in Bangui, Boura, and Bambari. Prison detainees have the right to submit complaints of mistreatment, but victims rarely exercised this option due to the lack of a functioning formal complaint mechanism and fear of retaliation from prison officials. Authorities seldom initiated investigations of abuse in prisons.

Prisons were consistently underfunded with insufficient operating resources for the care of prisoners. There were reports that complainants paid police or gendarmes fees for their complaints to be heard. Additionally, prison guards and administrators were accused of charging prisoners, prisoners’ family members, and other visitors unofficial fees.

Independent Monitoring: In January, February, and July, the government permitted monitoring by UNHCR independent experts and international donors. The government also permitted monitoring by the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Council Independent Expert on Human Rights in the CAR.

Improvements: In April the government and agencies of the United Nations launched a nationwide recruitment of 300 new prison officers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government sometimes observed these requirements.

The judicial system had gradually expanded its presence beyond Bangui to other cities, notably Bouar, Berberati, Bossangoa, and Mbaiki. There were, however, reports of arbitrary detention and lengthy pretrial detention. Ongoing challenges included a lack of affordable legal representation and an unresponsive judiciary system.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Police and gendarmes have responsibility for enforcing law and maintaining order. Prior to the conflict, police and gendarmes maintained limited or no presence in many areas. During the violence that commenced in 2013, police and gendarmes were targeted by Seleka forces, prompting their withdrawal from the interior. Since 2014 the police and gendarmerie have gradually increased their presence in several previously vacated towns. Deployed officers, however, remained poorly trained, under resourced and supplied with poorly functioning arms and insufficient ammunition for their tasks. Local commanding officers purchased necessities and office supplies with their own funds.

Impunity remained persistent throughout the country. Contributing factors included poorly trained officials, inadequate staffing, and insufficient resources. Additionally, claims of corruption among top government officials, delayed receipt of salaries for law enforcement and judiciary employees, and threats from local armed groups if officials arrested or investigated members persisted.

MINUSCA’s uniformed force of 11,846 military personnel, police officers, and military observers were tasked to protect the civilian population from physical violence within its capabilities and areas of deployment. MINUSCA’s 1,896 police officers were authorized to make arrests and transfer persons to national authorities.

In March the CAR internal security forces launched their first training program since 2009 for new police and gendarme recruits. The program had 250 police recruits, 60 of whom were women, and 250 gendarmes, 56 of whom were women.

The Mixed Unit for Rapid Intervention and Repression of Sexual Violence against Women and Children (UMIRR) arrested three police officers from the OCRB for torturing a woman (see section 1.c.).

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Judicial warrants are not required for arrest. The law, however, stipulates that authorities must inform detainees of their charges and present them before a magistrate within 72 hours. This period is renewable once, for a total of 144 hours. The only exceptions are suspects involving national security. Authorities often did not respect these deadlines, in part due to poor recordkeeping, inefficient and slow judicial procedures, and insufficient number of judges.

Authorities sometimes followed legal procedures in cases managed by gendarmes or local police. Many detainees could not afford a lawyer. Although the law provides that a lawyer be provided for those unable to pay in felony cases where a sentence of 10 years or more could be imposed, lawyers are not provided for nonfelony cases. Remuneration for state-provided attorneys was 5,000 CFA francs ($8.85) per case, which deterred many lawyers from taking such cases. Led by the CAR bar association, defense lawyers protested and went on strike for higher remuneration, and the government negotiated an increased rate. For individuals detained by ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka and placed in illegal detention centers, legal procedures were not followed and access to lawyers was not provided.

Prosecution of persons subject to sanctions by the UN Sanctions Committee seldom occurred.

Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. Arbitrary arrest was a serious problem, however, and some ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka groups arbitrarily targeted and detained individuals.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was a serious problem; specific reliable data was not available.

Although recordkeeping of arrests and detentions was poor, the slow investigation and processing of a case was the primary cause of pretrial detention. The judicial police force charged with investigating cases was poorly trained, understaffed, and had few resources, resulting in poorly processed cases with little physical evidence. The court system did not hold the constitutionally mandated two criminal sessions per year. The judges resisted holding sessions out of security concerns and insisted on receiving stipends beyond their salaries.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Although the law provides detainees the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in court, in practice, many detainees were not able to exercise this right due to a lack of affordable legal services and an unresponsive justice system.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, there was a lack of independence between the judiciary and political actors. In 2013 the Seleka destroyed court buildings and records throughout the country, leaving the judicial system barely functional. In March 2017 the president issued a decree that appointed eight members to the Constitutional Court, four of whom, including the president of the court, were women. The courts in Bangui and some other major cities, notably Bouar, Berberati, Bossangoa, Mbaiki, Boda, and Bimbo, resumed operation, but the deployment of magistrates and administrators outside Bangui was limited. Many judges were unwilling to leave Bangui, citing security concerns, the inability to receive their salaries while in provincial cities, and the lack of office spaces and housing.

Corruption was a serious problem at all levels. Courts suffered from inefficient administration, understaffing, shortages of trained personnel, salary arrears, and lack of resources. Authorities, particularly those of high rank, did not always respect court orders.

In May the National Assembly adopted the rules of procedure and evidence for the Special Criminal Court (SCC); the SCC officially launched investigations in October. The SCC was established by law in 2015 in the domestic judicial system, which operates with both domestic and international participation and support. The SCC has jurisdiction over serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

Operations of the Courts of Appeals for criminal courts in two of the country’s three judicial districts, Western district based in Bouar and Central district based in Bangui, held criminal sessions during the year. The Bouar criminal session adjudicated 65 cases involving 108 individuals, with 20 accused appearing in court and 88 convicted in absentia. In December 2017 the criminal session in Bangui adjudicated 27 criminal cases, and the July-August session adjudicated 26 cases. Fifteen cases went to trial and 11 were retained for the next criminal session.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The penal code presumes defendants innocent until proven guilty. Trials are public, and defendants have the right to be present and consult a public defender. Criminal trials use juries. The law obliges the government to provide counsel for indigent defendants; this process delayed trial proceedings due to the state’s limited resources. Defendants have the right to question witnesses, present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, and file appeals. The government sometimes complied with these requirements. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges (with free interpretation as necessary) from the moment charged through all appeals, to receive adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Authorities however, seldom respected these rights.

With the assistance of MINUSCA and international donors, the government began the process of establishing the SCC, which is tasked to investigate and prosecute serious human rights violations. It has a focus on conflict-related and gender-based crimes. The internationally nominated chief prosecutor for the court took office in May 2017. More than a dozen international and national positions within the court, including judges, prosecutors, and clerks, were filled.

Criminal hearings resumed in Bouar and in Kaga-Bandoro.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but citizens had limited access to courts in order to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation. In 2015 the civil courts resumed operations with regular sessions. There is no system for protecting victims and witnesses from intimidation and insecurity. Consequently, victims, who often lived side-by-side with perpetrators, were reluctant to testify against perpetrators because there was no guarantee of their safety and a credible judicial process.

In January the Criminal Court of Bangui found former Anti-balaka leader Rodrigue Ngaibona, also known as “Andilo,” guilty of five counts of criminal acts including assassinations, aggravated theft, criminal conspiracy, illegal possession of weapons, and theft. He was sentenced to life in prison with forced labor.

The court found another armed group leader, Ahmad Tidjani, and 10 members of the former Seleka guilty of criminal conspiracy, possession of weapons of war, undermining the internal security of the State and rebellion.

Several civil courts were operational in Bangui and other prefectures in the western region.

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

The law prohibits searches of homes without a warrant in civil and criminal cases, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression and the press. The government generally respected these rights.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. All print media in the country were privately owned. Radio was the most widespread medium of mass communication. There were a number of alternatives to the state-owned radio station, such as Radio Centrafrique. Independent radio stations operated freely and broadcast organized debates and call-in talk shows that were critical of the government, election process, ex-Seleka, and Anti-balaka militias. International media broadcast within the country.

Public discussion and political debates were generally free from state authorities’ influence. Freedom of expression, however, was inhibited due to the risk of retaliation by armed groups for expressing opinions opposing their ideologies.

The government monopolized domestic television broadcasting, with coverage typically favorable to government positions.

In July unknown actors killed three Russian journalists near Sibut, a city 124 miles north of the capital. The motivation for the killing is still unknown.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. There were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 4 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no reports that the government restricted academic freedom or cultural events. The country’s sole university was open.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, including the right to participate in political protests. The government, however, denied most requests to protest that were submitted by civil society groups, citing insecurity in Bangui.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

A law prohibiting nonpolitical organizations from uniting for political purposes remained in place. In May the government briefly detained opposition leader Joseph Bendounga following a march in Bangui. The attorney general reiterated that the detention was justified because the march was not authorized.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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: After several postponements, the country held a constitutional referendum in December 2015 followed by the first round of presidential and legislative elections. None of the 30 presidential candidates obtained more than the 50 percent of the votes required to avoid a second round, which was held in February 2016. In January 2016 the Transitional Constitutional Court annulled the December 2015 legislative elections due to widespread irregularities and voter intimidation and fraud and ordered new elections. The rescheduled first-round legislative elections also took place in February 2016, with a second round held in March 2016. The National Assembly convened in May 2016; elections for the Senate were not held, and no date for them has been announced. Central African refugees and members of the diaspora in some neighboring states were able to participate in the elections.

The 2015 constitutional referendum led to the adoption of a new constitution with 93 percent of the votes cast in favor; voter turnout was 38 percent.

The first round of presidential and legislative elections took place in December 2015 with a turnout of 62 percent. Refugees located in Cameroon, the Republic of the Congo, and Chad were able to vote. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, however, did not allow the estimated 112,000 Central African refugees in its territory to vote.

A total of 415 appeals were lodged contesting the results of the legislative elections, leading the Transitional Constitutional Court to invalidate the ballot and require a new first round of elections. The appeals were based primarily on allegations of irregularities and fraud, corruption, and intimidation of voters and candidates. The second round of the presidential election and the new first round of the legislative elections took place in February 2016. Observers noted a marked improvement in the conduct of the ballot, as the majority of polling stations opened on time and were properly equipped. The Transitional Constitutional Court announced the final results of the presidential election on March 1, 2016, confirming the victory of independent candidate Faustin-Archange Touadera with 62.7 percent of the vote over Anicet-George Dologuele, who had 37.3 percent of the vote. The turnout was 58.9 percent. Dologuele quickly conceded defeat and called upon his supporters to accept the results of the vote. The inauguration of President Touadera took place in March 2016.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Five of the 34 cabinet members were women, as was the senior presidential advisor for national reconciliation. There were 12 women among the 140 members of parliament. Some observers believed traditional attitudes and cultural practices limited the ability of women to participate in political life on the same basis as men.

In 2016 the National Assembly passed a gender equality law. The law outlaws gender discrimination and establishes quotas for women’s representation in elective offices, and public and private institutions. It also establishes an independent National Observatory for Male/Female Equality to monitor compliance.

There were seven Muslim members, including one Fulani member of the cabinet. Societal and legal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons prevented them from working to see their interests represented in the political sphere.

Chad

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

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

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings. Human rights groups credibly accused security forces of killing and torturing with impunity, according to Freedom House.

Interethnic violence resulted in deaths (see section 6).

In April, following recommendations of judges investigating the cases, a court authorized the release of 118 Boko Haram suspects whom the government had insufficient evidence to detain. The remaining detainees with alleged terrorist charges were in Koro-Toro prison awaiting trial. The approximately 16 children and women the government held in 2017 in the Amsinene prison were released in June. The children had been kept in custody not because of their involvement in any criminal offense, but because no other child care was available.

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

Although the constitution prohibits such practices, there was anecdotal evidence that the government continued to employ them.

General Mahamat Abdoulkader Oumar, aka Baba Ladehe, a former Chadian rebel arrested in 2014 by UN forces in the Central African Republic (CAR) and turned over to Chadian authorities, remained imprisoned in Koro-Toro pending hearings. According to his lawyers, he was denied access to medical treatment while his health deteriorated. In August, Radio France Internationale (RFI) reported the representative of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) was concerned about Baba Ladehe’s health and questioned Ladehe’s continued detention after an order of President Deby amnestied all rebels on the proclamation of the Fourth Republic. Baba Ladehe was accused of armed robbery, illegal possession of weapons, assassination, rebellion, and criminal conspiracy. He had spent more than four years in prison without trial.

In April Amnesty International decried authorities’ use of torture, describing a case in which ruling party authorities beat journalist and activist “Mahadine” and subjected him to electric shocks while he was in detention.

On October 3, the Chadian Convention for the Defense of Human Rights (CTDDH) denounced the acts of General Mahamat Saleh Brahim, commander of the Chadian National Nomadic Guard operating in Ngouri, Lake Chad region. According to the secretary general of the CTDDH, General Saleh Brahim arrested 15 village chiefs because they refused to sign a document to renounce their right of land ownership. General Brahim had previously put the village chiefs in the sun for more than four hours before sending them to prison, subjecting them to humiliating and degrading treatment.

Security forces used excessive force against demonstrators.

On September 17, former government employees demonstrated in front of the public treasury in N’Djamena, claiming salary arrears. National police dispersed them with tear gas. Witnesses and local newspapers reported that police arrested and wounded several protesters.

According to the United Nations, two allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from Chad reported prior to 2018 were pending. The cases alleged sexual exploitation (exploitative relation) and sexual assault (against a child) involving peacekeepers deployed in the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Investigations by both the United Nations and Chad were pending.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in the country’s 41 prisons remained harsh and potentially life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: According to a Justice Ministry official, there were approximately 8,700 inmates. They were vulnerable to diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria. Prison overcrowding remained a serious problem. Despite the near doubling of the prison population since 2012, no new facilities had been constructed. Authorities did not separate juveniles from adult male prisoners, and sometimes held children with their inmate mothers. Authorities did not always separate male and female prisoners, and held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Regional prisons were crumbling, overcrowded, and without adequate protection for women and youth. They reportedly received insufficient funding to feed inmates.

Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported food, potable water, sanitation, and health services were inadequate. Prison guards, who were not regularly paid, sometimes released prisoners if bribed. Provisions for heating, ventilation, and lighting were inadequate or nonexistent. The law stipulates a doctor must visit each prison three times a week, but authorities lacked resources to comply. The few prisons that had doctors lacked medical supplies. Family members of detainees frequently provided them with food, soap, medicine, and other supplies. NGOs reported that government officials forced prisoners to work on their private enterprises as a source of free labor.

No estimate of deaths in prisons or detention centers was available.

After a 2017 visit, President Deby stated that he had observed alarming conditions at Amsinene prison. In a press conference, he stated the prison was seriously overcrowded and the situation had deteriorated. The director of the penitentiary reported the prison held 2,027 inmates, including 92 underage detainees and 49 women. He said poor conditions contributed to the physical and mental deterioration of most detainees, which was compounded by socioeconomic and cultural factors that impacted an inmate’s chance to receive food or medicine from a family or tribal network.

Administration: There was no functioning mechanism by which prisoners could submit complaints about prison conditions to judicial authorities. Although NGOs denounced prison conditions, they did not file a case against the government, and there is no formal complaint process outside of the courts. There was no data available on prisoner access to the requirements of religious observance or practice.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit prisons, and the ICRC conducted such visits during the year. At the maximum-security Koro-Toro prison, where few families visited due to its distance from N’Djamena, the ICRC visited every four to six weeks.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not always observe these prohibitions. The law does not provide for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, or to obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. In its Freedom in the World 2018 report, Freedom House stated security forces “routinely ignore” constitutional protections regarding detention. Police and gendarmes also detained individuals for civil matters, contrary to law. There were reports that officials held detainees in police cells or in secret detention facilities.

The director of Air Inter One, a private airline company, Mathias Tsarsi, had been detained since September 2017. He was charged with financing terrorism, money laundering, forgery, and the use of forgery. Tsarsi was also accused of using an A-340 Airbus aircraft registered in Chad for arms trafficking between Syria, Kazakhstan, and the United States. According to his lawyers, the alleged Airbus A-340 did not belong to Air Inter One.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The military (ANT), gendarmerie, national police, the Chadian National Nomadic Guard (GNNT), and National Security Agency (ANS) are responsible for internal security. A specialized gendarmerie unit, the Detachment for the Protection of Humanitarian Workers and Refugees (DPHR), is responsible for security in refugee camps for both refugees and humanitarian workers. The ANT reports to the Ministry of Defense. The national police, GNNT, and DPHR are part of the Ministry of Public Security and Immigration. The ANS reports directly to the president.

Security forces were corrupt and involved in extortion. According to media reports, police also were involved in violence and arms trafficking. Impunity was a problem. Local media and civil society organizations reported that members of the judicial police, an office within the national police with arrest authority, did not always enforce domestic court orders against military personnel or members of their own ethnic groups. There were isolated reports of former soldiers posing as active-duty soldiers and committing crimes with government-issued weapons.

On May 22, following an ordinance for release of three detainees against whom no charges were made, a commander of gendarmes carried out an assassination attempt on a lawyer and his clients, allegedly under the instruction of the governor of Doba, who believed the court mismanaged the case, RFI reported. After Governor of Doba Adam Nouky Charfadine was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in July, the Appeals Court delivered its verdict. Adam Nouky Charfadine was convicted of infringement of freedom, encroaching on justice and discrediting a court decision. He was sentenced to two years’ suspended prison time and a fine of 500,000 CFA francs ($850). His codefendants were sentenced to the same suspended prison time penalty and fined 250,000 CFA francs ($425) each.

Two gendarmerie entities, the National Judiciary Investigations Section and the Special Intervention Squad of the Gendarmerie, investigate all gendarmerie, GNNT, and army killings to determine whether they occurred in the line of duty or were otherwise justifiable. The Judicial Police investigate police killings.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Although the law requires a judge to sign and issue arrest warrants before arrests may take place, this did not always occur, according to local media. By law detainees must be charged within 48 hours or released, unless the procurer (investigating magistrate) authorizes an extension of detention for investigative purposes. Nevertheless, authorities often did not make judicial determinations promptly. According to justice representatives, at least 20 to 25 percent of inmates were in long-term pretrial detention. The law allows for bail and access to counsel, but there were cases in which authorities provided neither. In some cases authorities denied detainees visits from doctors. While the law provides for legal counsel for indigent defendants and prompt access to family members, this rarely occurred, according to justice representatives. Authorities occasionally held detainees incommunicado.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces arbitrarily arrested journalists, demonstrators, critics of the government, and other individuals, according to local media.

Le Visionaire newspaper reported that on August 4, police arrested the director of Radio FM Nada, Beinde Bessande Sylver; the CEO of the English Learning Center, Bendiguim Eric; and the director of the Poly Handicraft Institute of Chad, Mbaihoremem Joachim. They reportedly trained 1,000 young persons in digital technology, reproductive health, and entrepreneurship, which led to their arrest. The prefect of Moundou accused the men of usurping the title of journalist, saying, “They are not allowed to train young people, it is illegal.” All three were released on September 7, following the decision of the public prosecutor of the court of Moundou.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem, despite government efforts to address it. Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees without charge for years, particularly for felonies allegedly committed in the provinces, because the court system only had the capacity to try criminal cases in the capital, according to a Ministry of Justice official. The length of detention sometimes equaled or exceeded the sentence for conviction of the alleged crime. Lengthy pretrial detention was exacerbated by an overworked and underresourced judiciary susceptible to corruption.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judiciary was underfunded, overburdened, corrupt, and subject to executive interference. Members of the judiciary sometimes received death threats or were demoted for not acquiescing to pressure from officials, according to representatives of the bar association. Government personnel, particularly members of the military, often were able to avoid prosecution. Courts were generally weak and in some areas nonexistent. Judicial authorities did not always respect court orders.

In July the prosecutor of the republic at the court of Iriba, in the eastern region, was threatened with death after the assassination of two defendants in that court. Minister of Justice Djimet Arabi told the French Press Agency that “while the prosecutor was speaking to an alleged criminal in his office during a hearing, men came to shoot the defendant. Then they went out to shoot another one who also came for a hearing,” according to the minister. Threatened by the relatives of the two victims, “The prosecutor took refuge with the prefect, whom we asked to protect him,” said Djimet Arabi.

“We deplore and condemn the threats hanging over the Chadian magistrates,” said Djonga Arafi, secretary general of the Trade Union of Magistrates of Chad.

On May 22, following an ordinance for release of three detainees against whom no basis for arrest was found, a commander of gendarmes carried out an assassination attempt on a lawyer and his clients allegedly under the instructions of the governor of Doba, who believed the court mismanaged the case, according to RFI. After the governor of Doba, Adam Nouky Charfadine, was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in July, the Appeals Court delivered its verdict. Adam Nouky Charfadine was convicted of infringement of freedom, encroaching on justice, and discrediting a court decision. He was sentenced to two years’ suspended imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 CFA francs ($850). His codefendants were sentenced to the same suspended confinement penalty and 250,000 CFA francs each ($425). According to a representative of the bar association, the sentences were very lenient compared to previous sentences.

A judicial oversight commission has the power to investigate judicial decisions and address suspected injustices. The president appointed its members, increasing executive control of the judiciary.

The legal system is based on the French civil code, but the constitution recognizes local customary law in places where it is long established, provided it does not interfere with public order or constitutional provisions for equality of citizens. Courts tended to blend the formal French-derived legal code with traditional practices. Local customs often supersede Napoleonic law. Residents of rural areas and refugee/internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps often lacked access to formal judicial institutions, and legal reference texts were unavailable outside the capital or in Arabic. In minor civil cases, the population often relied on traditional courts presided over by village chiefs, canton chiefs, or sultans. Penalties in traditional courts sometimes depended on the clan affiliations of the victim and perpetrator. Decisions of traditional courts may be appealed to a formal court.

The constitution enacted in April states that there is a military court system. It comprises two courts: the Military Court, similar to the First Instance Court, and the High Military Court, acting as an appellate court.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for a presumption of innocence. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them and to be provided free interpretation; these rights, however, were seldom respected, according to local media. Trials are public. Only criminal trials used juries, but not in politically sensitive cases. While defendants have the right to consult an attorney in a timely manner, this did not always occur. By law indigent persons have the right to legal counsel at public expense in all cases, although this seldom occurred, according to legal experts. Human rights groups sometimes provided free counsel to indigent clients. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to question witnesses and present witnesses and evidence. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but the government did not always respect this right, according to lawyers. Defendants have the right to appeal court decisions.

In some areas growing Islamic legal tradition influenced local practice and sometimes impacted legal interpretation. For example, local leaders may apply the Islamic concept of dia, which involves a payment to the family of a crime victim. The practice was common in Muslim areas. Non-Muslim groups challenged the practice, asserting it was unconstitutional.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

According to the NGO Movement Citizen Action for the Integral Application of Amnesty in Chad (ACAIAT) November report, there were at least 72 political detainees. The list released by ACAIAT showed some detainees had spent seven years and seven months in prison, while the shortest time in prison was one year. All were awaiting trial. According to criminal law, the detainees should have been released because of their lengthy pretrial detention. The representative of ACAIAT said was a politically motivated detention.

Media reported the secret detention of two high-ranking intelligence officers by the government, but further verification was not possible.

Unlike in the previous year, there were no confirmed reports of new political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Lawsuits for human rights violations may be brought before a criminal court, but compensation is addressed by a civil court. Administrative and judicial remedies, such as mediation, are available. The judiciary was not always independent or impartial in civil matters, and some legal professionals were coerced in order to manipulate legal decisions, according to representatives of the bar association.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports of the government demolishing homes without due process.

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

Although the constitution provides for the right to privacy and inviolability of the home, the government did not always respect these rights. It was common practice for authorities to enter homes without judicial authorization and seized private property without due process. Security forces routinely stopped citizens to extort money or confiscate goods.

A government decree prohibits possession and use of satellite telephones.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of opinion, expression, and press, but the government severely restricted these rights, according to Freedom House. Authorities used threats and prosecutions to curb critical reporting, after ruling party powers were expanded under the constitution of the fourth republic.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits “inciting racial, ethnic, or religious hatred,” which is punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine of one million to three million CFA francs ($1,700 to $5,100).

Press and Media Freedom: The government subsidized the only daily newspaper and owned a biweekly newspaper. Government and opposition newspapers had limited readership outside the capital due to low literacy rates and lack of distribution in rural areas.

According to Freedom in the World 2016, “broadcast media were controlled by the state, and the High Council of Communication exerted control over most content on the radio,” which remained the most important medium of mass communication. The government-owned Radio Diffusion Nationale Tchadienne had several stations. There were approximately a dozen private stations, which faced high licensing fees and threat of closure for coverage critical of the government, according to Freedom House. The number of community radio stations that operated outside of government control continued to grow, and radio call-in programs broadcast views of callers that included criticism of the government.

The country had three television stations–one owned by the government and two that were privately owned.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities reportedly harassed, threatened, arrested, and assaulted journalists for defamation.

According to NGOs, human rights defenders and journalists were threatened, harassed, and intimidated by either anonymous individuals or those identifying themselves as members of the security services.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized those who published items counter to government guidelines, sometimes by closing media outlets, such as a local radio station in the southern town of Bongor, which reopened in July. Some journalists and publishers practiced self-censorship.

Libel/Slander Laws: Despite a 2010 media law that abolished prison sentences for defamation or insult, authorities arrested and detained persons for defamation.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet and directly censored online content, such as Facebook. There was widespread speculation that the government monitored private online communications, as when activists were arrested for postings on social media.

Beginning in March the internet connection was heavily restricted so that users could no longer connect to the most-used social networks. According to lawyers for internet service providers, the decision to restrict access to the internet followed instructions given by authorities. RFI reported the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority stated it had received an order from the Ministry of the Interior to implement this censorship on social networks.

On April 6, a court in N’Djamena ordered the release of journalist Tadjadine Mahamat Babouri, known as Mahadine, who had been detained since 2016 after having posted several videos on Facebook criticizing the government’s mismanagement of public funds. In March the government dropped the original charges of undermining the constitutional order, threatening territorial integrity and national security, and collaborating with an insurrection movement for the much lesser charge of defamation, and the court recognized that he had long passed the limit for preventive detention and ordered his release.

The government blocked access to international data roaming allegedly for security reasons; the government claimed criminals and terrorists from Nigeria and Cameroon were using international roaming to communicate with each other while in Chad. The government also claimed the blockages were due to technical problems, a claim met with widespread skepticism.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 6.5 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly in limited circumstances, the government did not respect this right. The government regularly interfered with opposition protests and civil society gatherings. The law requires organizers to notify the Ministry of Public Security and Immigration five days in advance of demonstrations, although groups that provided advance notice did not always receive permission to assemble. The law also requires opposition political parties to meet complicated registration requirements for party gatherings. Following the 2015 Boko Haram attacks, the ministry often denied permission for large gatherings, including social events such as weddings and funerals.

The Ministry of Administration, Public Security, and Local Governance banned the peaceful march planned by lawyers and notaries for June 16, and it did not happen. The march was intended to demand the government turn former governor of Logone Oriental and his accomplices over to the justice system. Former governor Adam Nouky Charfaddine and some military personnel were accused of the assassination attempt on a lawyer, as well as kidnapping and illegally detaining three individuals released by courts.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. While an ordinance requires the Ministry of Public Security and Immigration to provide prior authorization before an association, including a labor union, may be formed, there were no reports the ordinance was enforced. The ordinance also allows for the immediate administrative dissolution of an association and permits authorities to monitor association funds.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens with the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, but the government limited this right. The executive branch dominated the other branches of government.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In the 2016 presidential election, President Deby won a fifth term with 59.92 percent of the vote; Saleh Kebzabo placed second with 12.8 percent. While the election was orderly and had a high voter turnout, it was neither free nor fair, and there were numerous irregularities. According to the African Union, staff at polling stations was not adequately trained, 81 percent of ballot boxes observed had not been checked to see if they were empty at the start of polling, and 10 percent of polling stations did not provide secrecy in voting. Runner-up Kebzabo refused to accept the outcome of the vote, stating that it was an “electoral stickup.” Other opposition politicians cited alleged ballot stuffing and the disappearance of ballot boxes.

Some military personnel were required to vote in the open, in front of colleagues and superiors. According to pan-African television channel Africa 24, more than two dozen military members were reportedly jailed and beaten for refusing to vote for the president. FM Liberte coverage included opposition calls for the Independent National Electoral Commission to discount the results of military voting pending investigation.

Security forces detained, tortured, and held incommunicado opposition members, according to human rights organizations and local press.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were 138 registered political parties, of which more than 100 were associated with the dominant MPS party. Changes to the electoral law after the 2018 pronouncement of the Fourth Republic mandate complicated and increased the cost of party registration, outreach, and participation procedures, which opposition leaders attributed to the government’s attempt to limit dissent.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process. Fourth Republic ordinances decree leadership of all political parties must include at least 30 percent women. Cultural factors, however, limited women’s political participation. Ethnicity influenced government appointments and political alliances. Political parties and groups generally had readily identifiable regional or ethnic bases. Northerners, particularly members of the president’s Zaghawa ethnic group, were overrepresented in key institutions, including the military officer corps, elite military units, and the presidential staff.

Comoros

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

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

There was a report that the government or its agents committed an arbitrary or unlawful killing.

In late September a recently released detainee died allegedly due to torture (see section 1.c.).

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 constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were reports that government officials employed them.

Media reports alleged a 30-year-old prison detainee died on September 30, days after having been released from Mutsamudu’s Koki Prison, due to torture he allegedly endured, and harsh conditions. Family members reported they would not make an official complaint due to fear of reprisals.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions remained poor. The national prison in Moroni is the largest of three prisons in the country. The other two are in Anjouan and Moheli. Military detainees were held in military facilities. National or individual island authorities used various detention facilities as deemed appropriate, and detainees could be transferred from either Anjouan or Moheli to the national prison in Moroni, depending upon the nature of their offenses.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a problem. As of December the Moroni prison held 135 inmates, but according to International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) standards, the capacity was 60 inmates. Koki Prison on Anjouan held 90 inmates. Its capacity is not known but all prisoners are kept in only one of the two prison buildings, consisting of three rooms each 215 square feet and a single toilet, and the second building is unused.

The law on child protection provides for juveniles ages 15 to 18 to be treated as adults in the criminal justice system. Juveniles and adult prisoners were held together. As of December there were three juvenile male inmates in the Moroni prison held with adults. That prison also held two adult female prisoners in a separate cellblock. The Anjouan prison held three adult female prisoners in a separate area and no minors. Detainees and prisoners normally received a single meal per day consisting of 1.8 ounces of rice and one egg (Moroni) or red beans when available (Anjouan). Those who did not receive additional food from family members suffered. Other common problems included inadequate potable water, sanitation, ventilation and lighting, and medical facilities. The prison in Moroni has a nurse on staff and a visiting doctor; prisoners in Koki said they were sometimes allowed to leave the prison if they needed medical care.

There were multiple reports that the writer Said Ahmed Said Tourqui (known as SAST), arrested in August for his role in an alleged coup plot, was being held in a prison cell so small he could neither lie down nor stand straight, and that he was being denied medical treatment, visitations, and clean water and sanitation. As of December, however, he was with the general population in Moroni and appeared to be in reasonably good health. Some media reports suggested that four other less well known detainees arrested for the same incident were suffering the same conditions.

Administration: Prisoners could submit complaints without censorship, but investigations or follow-up actions almost never occurred.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted the ICRC to monitor prisons. Authorities required that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) request a visit permit from the prosecutor general.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these provisions, although there were some arbitrary arrests during the year.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Development Army and the Federal Police have responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. The National Development Army includes both the Gendarmerie and the Comorian Defense Force and reports to the president’s cabinet director for defense. The National Directorate of Territorial Safety, which oversees immigration and customs, reports to the minister of interior, information, and decentralization. The Federal Police report to the minister of interior. The Gendarmerie’s intervention platoon also may act under the authority of the interior minister. When the Gendarmerie serves as the judicial police, it reports to the minister of justice.

Each of the three islands had a local police force under the authority of its own minister of interior, or commissaire of the interior, but these positions were abolished under the new constitution approved in a July 30 referendum, although the governorates continued to resist complying with this change.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over police, and the government had mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. Nevertheless, police used excessive force, and impunity was a problem. The ability of the army to investigate abuses by its personnel was uncertain.

On January 20, according to media reports, during routine patrols near Moroni, Grande Comore, the Gendarmerie intervention platoon detained 29 individuals who were not carrying identification and brought them to the military camp at Mde, where they were allegedly tortured and beaten. Eventually they were released, and when photos of injuries surfaced on Facebook, the commander of the Gendarmerie’s forces on Grande Comore reported an investigation was under way and that wrongdoers would be punished. On January 28, President Azali also insisted there should be an investigation. The government reported, however, that the investigation revealed no evidence of torture and provided no further information.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires judicial arrest warrants as well as prosecutorial approval to detain persons longer than 24 hours without charge. The law provides for the prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention and for detainees to be informed promptly of the charges against them. A magistrate informs detainees of their rights, including the right to legal representation. These rights were inconsistently respected. The bail system prohibits those for whom bail is posted from leaving the country. Some detainees did not have prompt access to attorneys or their families. According to press reporting, former president Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, under arrest for charges relating to an economic citizenship passport program, was denied the right to confidential counsel with his lawyer.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary arrest. For example, there were multiple press reports of suspects’ wives being held for one or two days in the hopes that this would convince their husband to turn himself in.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. By law, pretrial detainees may be held for no more than four months, although many were held longer. A magistrate or prosecutor may extend this period. Detainees routinely awaited trial for extended periods for reasons including administrative delay, case backlog, and time-consuming collection of evidence. Some extensions continued for several years. Defense attorneys occasionally protested such judicial inefficiencies.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: A person arrested or detained may challenge the legal basis of the detention, and the law provides for monetary damages if a court finds a detention improper. During the year former president Sambi challenged the basis for his detention under house arrest, although as of late October, he still awaited a ruling. Meanwhile, Sambi was under provisional detention, pending an eventual trial.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. Judicial inconsistency, unpredictability, and corruption were problems.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides all defendants with the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly of charges and to a timely trial, but lengthy delays were common. The legal system incorporates French legal codes and sharia (Islamic law). Trials are open to the public, and defendants are presumed innocent. Trials are by jury in criminal cases. Defendants have the right to consult an attorney, and indigent defendants have the right to counsel provided at public expense, although the latter right was rarely observed. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, question witnesses, and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Although the law provides for the assistance at no charge of an interpreter for any defendant unable to understand or speak the language used in court, none was provided. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. There is an appellate process.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were reports of political prisoners or detainees. Opposition and some national and international media outlets used the term “political prisoner” in reference to writer Said Ahmed Said Tourqui, also known as “Sast,” and four others arrested in August for involvement in an alleged planned coup d’etat. Others arrested in the case included deputy army chief of staff Colonel Ibrahim Salim. According to media, they were charged with conspiracy, attack on state security, conspiracy in an attempted coup d’etat, unlawful weapons possession and complicity, and nonreporting of an attempted crime. Police allegedly recovered weapons and a large amount of cash, but there were no reports any of the individuals involved had committed any acts of violence. On December 17, four individuals, including Tourqui, Ibrahim Salim, and former Vice President Djaffar Said Ahmed Hassane, who has taken refuge in Tanzania, were sentenced to life with hard labor for allegedly plotting against the state.

Civil aviation official Ismael Ahmed Kassim and Hamada Almoutawakil were detained since February for their alleged involvement in placing nails on the Moheli runway prior to the planned landing of President Azali’s plane. Kassim became aware of the nails and alerted the incoming pilot not to land. After authorities detained as many as 45 persons for the incident and allegedly abused and tortured them (per media reports), only Kassim and Almoutawakil remained in prison. On December 13, they were sentenced to prison terms of eight years and five years, respectively.

Civil society, government officials, and political parties on Anjouan reported cases of political prisoners, primarily from opposition political parties based on Anjouan. These officials estimated the number of political prisoners ranged from 11 to 200 detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through an independent, but corrupt court system. By law individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies. Court orders were inconsistently enforced.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press, but there were some limitations on press freedom.

Freedom of Expression: In July the country adopted a new constitution, which establishes Islam as the state religion and notes, “the state will draw on Sunni principles and rules, and Shafi’i rites which regulate belief and social life.” The law establishes Sunni Islam under the Shafi’i doctrine as the “official religious reference” and prohibits the performance of non-Sunni religious rituals in public places on the basis that such religious practices would “affront” society’s cohesion and endanger “national unity.” The law does not permit an imam or preacher to preach or lead prayer, regardless of location, without prior approval.

Press and Media Freedom: The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government did not always respect this right. Some journalists on all three islands practiced self-censorship.

Violence and Harassment: Some journalists were subjected to violence or harassment by government authorities due to their reporting.

On August 2, Faiza Soule Youssouf, chief editor of the government daily newspaper Al-Watwan, was accused by Interior Minister Mohamed Daoudou of tarnishing the country’s image by publishing a video on Facebook of a July 30 incident in which referendum opponents severed the hand of a gendarme who was securing the polling station. A week after the interior minister’s accusation, Youssouf was dismissed for alleged “serious misconduct, incitement to the rebellion of journalists, and abandoning of post.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: According to press reports, in January the Gendarmerie detained two managers of Grande Comore-based Radio Kaz, allegedly to question them on the whereabouts of journalist Oubeidillah Mchangama. In July, after reports that journalists on Radio Kaz had made insulting statements regarding the interior minister, the National Council for Press and Audiovisual Media (CNPA) sanctioned the station for having violated information code guidelines. On August 21, the central prefecture suspended the station’s right to broadcast. On September 19, the CNPA made the suspension permanent, and the national regulator ANRTIC withdrew the station’s frequency, 107 FM.

Mchangama and fellow broadcaster Abdillah Abdou Hassane (“Agwa”) of Radio Baraka FM, which police shut down in late 2016 after Hassane was found guilty of defamation, remained in hiding as of September.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 8 percent of individuals used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government did not always respect these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

On June 21, a peaceful march by the Mouvement du 17 Fevrier in Fomboni, Moheli, was dispersed by the police due to lack of Interior Ministry authorization, despite the claim by organizers that they had authorization from the mayor of Fomboni. The next day, opposition leaders Moustoifa Said Cheikh, Ahmed Wadaane, and Ibrahim Razida, were arrested for their role in the march and charged with mobbing, disturbing public order, and holding an unauthorized protest. On July 2, they were found guilty and sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment and a fine of 150,000 Comorian francs ($358), but they were released after 20 days.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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, and citizens exercised that ability.

Elections and Political Participation

During the year a referendum modified the constitution, which had provided for a rotating union government presidency once every five years, in which each of the country’s three islands took a turn at holding a primary to select three presidential candidates for national election. The new constitution removes the limitation on presidential candidates to those residing on a particular island in an election year and allows the incumbent to run for a second term. Aside from the rotation provision that was modified during the year, anyone meeting constitutional requirements of age, residency, citizenship, and good moral character may run for office.

Recent Elections: In 2015 free and fair legislative elections were held. In April 2016 presidential and gubernatorial elections were held. Incumbent candidates claimed some irregularities, including the theft of ballots on Anjouan. They filed complaints at the Constitutional Court requesting the vote be repeated for both presidential and gubernatorial candidates. They alleged the opposition stole and destroyed approximately 3,000 ballots in Anjouan. The Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and a third round of voting was conducted successfully at 13 polling stations in Anjouan.

On July 30, the government held a constitutional referendum to extend presidential term limits and end the system of rotation among the country’s three islands. On August 6, the Supreme Court declared that the referendum passed with 92 percent support with a participation rate of 62 percent. The opposition, which boycotted the referendum, rejected those results and accused the government of ballot stuffing. Despite irregularities observed at some polling stations (a gendarme had his hand severed and some ballots boxes were destroyed), the Supreme Court declared the referendum to be generally free and fair. As of November members of the opposition continued to reject the legitimacy of the referendum and the new constitution.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women, members of minorities, or both in the political process, and they did participate. Some observers believed that traditional and cultural factors prevented women from participating in political life on an equal basis with men. For example, only one of the 33 seats in the national legislature was filled by a woman in the 2015 election, and only two of the 12 ministers appointed to the cabinet on August 28, were women.

Cote d’Ivoire

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. Human rights groups reported torture and other mistreatment of persons arrested and taken into security force custody. There were reports that government officials employed inhuman or degrading treatment.

Prison authorities acknowledged that abuse might happen and go unreported as prisoners fear reprisals. Human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) sources reported mistreatment of detainees associated with the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) political party.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and unhealthy due to insufficient food, gross overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, and lack of medical care.

Physical Conditions: Severe overcrowding continued in many prisons. For example, the prison at Man was estimated to be at 10 times the capacity prior to a transfer of 300 prisoners from Man. The central prison of Abidjan was built to hold approximately 1,500 prisoners but held 5,728. Reports from other prisons also indicated the number of inmates exceeded capacity. In at least one prison, the inmates slept packed head-to-toe on the floor.

Authorities held men and women in separate prison wings, held juveniles with adults in the same cells in some prisons, and usually held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners. The children of female inmates often lived with their mothers in prison, although prisons accepted no responsibility for their care or feeding. Inmate mothers received help from local and international NGOs. There were generally no appropriate services for mentally ill inmates, and they were held together with the general prison population. A human rights NGO reported that prominent prisoners or those who had been politically active had slightly better living conditions than other prisoners.

According to prison authorities, 39 prisoners died during the year, all from natural causes.

Large prisons generally had doctors, while smaller prisons had nurses, but it was unclear whether prisoners had access to these medical professionals at all times. Prison authorities reported that two doctors spend the night at Abidjan’s main prison and were always available for urgent cases, but human rights groups alleged prisoners had to rely upon guards to allow them to see medical staff at night. Prisoners with health crises were supposed to be sent to health centers with doctors, and prison authorities claimed they approved medical evacuations of prisoners. Where the prison did not have a vehicle, the prison authorities in some prisons said they cooperated with the local gendarmes or emergency services for transportation to hospitals.

Critical health care for prisoners, however, was not always immediately available. Charities or religious organizations sometimes financed prisoners’ medical care. Prison pharmacies often provided medicine for diseases such as malaria, but not the more expensive medicines for illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension. In some cases prison pharmacists would write a prescription, and a family member would fill it. At one prison, authorities said the prison officials themselves would buy the medications at a local pharmacy out of the prison budget. The prison director also said some prison guards had nursing training and he authorized them to wake the doctor in the middle of the night if a prisoner needed urgent medical care. According to prison authorities, it was the Ministry of Health, not prison authorities, who decided which pharmaceuticals a prison pharmacy should receive.

Prison authorities reported difficulty in keeping mattresses free from pests in some prisons, leading authorities to remove the mattresses. Poor ventilation and high temperatures, exacerbated by overcrowding, were problems in some prisons. While potable water generally was available in prisons and detention centers, water shortages could occur due to disagreements among the prisoners about how to allocate it. When one city experienced water shortages, prison authorities had trucks bring in water.

Approximately 23 percent of the prison population was in preventive detention. According to human rights groups, physical abuse occurred, and conditions were inhuman in police and gendarmerie temporary detention facilities, with detainees in close proximity to extremely unsanitary toilets. The 48-hour limit for detention without charge was often ignored and renewed, with the average time being eight to nine days. Officials sometimes listed the date of detention as several days later than the actual date of arrest while conducting an investigation to conceal the length of time the prisoner was actually in temporary detention.

Wealthier prisoners reportedly could buy food and other amenities, as well as hire staff to wash and iron their clothes. The government allotted 400-450 CFA francs ($0.72-$0.81) per person per day for food rations, which was insufficient. The prison budgets generally did not increase with the number of prisoners, although prison authorities said funding followed prisoners who were transferred to alleviate overcrowding. Families routinely supplemented rations if they lived within proximity of the prison or detention center, bringing food from the outside during the four visiting days of the week.

Information on conditions at detention centers operated by the Directorate for Territorial Surveillance (DST) was not readily available.

Administration: Prisoners could submit complaints to judicial authorities, although there was no process for handling the complaints. Prison authorities had limited capacity to investigate and redress allegations of poor detention conditions, but NGOs reported that they improved hygiene and nutrition. Prison administrators continued to detain or release prisoners outside normal legal procedures.

Authorities generally permitted visitors in prisons on visiting days. Prisoners’ access to lawyers and families was allegedly nonexistent in detention centers operated by the DST.

In late November, five prison guards in Bouake became involved in a violent altercation with local university students. The incident, which involved local armed forces who joined the guards, stemmed from a dispute earlier in the day and ended with five students being shot, although authorities had not determined who fired the shots.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted the United Nations and local and international NGOs adequate access to prisons but not to detention centers run by the DST. Local human rights groups reported having access to prisons when they formally requested such in advance, although Amnesty International reported that its requests to visit prisons had not been approved since 2013, when it produced a critical report.

Improvements: In the main prison in Abidjan, a prisoners’ rights organization with international funding was working with prison authorities to build and equip a training center for cooking and hairdressing in the section for prisoners who are minors.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but both occurred. The DST and other authorities arbitrarily arrested and detained persons, often without charge. They held many of these detainees briefly before releasing them or transferring them to prisons and other detention centers, but they detained others for lengthy periods. Generally, the limit of 48 hours pretrial detention by police was not enforced. Police detained citizens beyond 48 hours before releasing them or presenting them to a judge. There were several incidents of detention in undisclosed and unauthorized facilities.

Although detainees have the right to challenge in court the lawfulness of their detention and to obtain release if found to have been unlawfully detained, this rarely occurred. Most detainees were unaware of this right and had limited access to public defenders.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Police (under the Ministry of Interior and Security) and gendarmerie (under the Ministry of Defense) are responsible for law enforcement. The Coordination Center for Operational Decisions, a mixed unit of police, gendarmerie, and the Armed Forces of Cote d’Ivoire (FACI) personnel, assisted police in providing security in some large cities. The FACI (under the Ministry of Defense) is responsible for national defense. The DST (under the Ministry of Interior and Security) has responsibility for countering external threats. The national gendarmerie assumed control from the FACI for security functions on national roadways. FACI forces lacked adequate training and equipment and had a weak command and control structure. Corruption was endemic and impunity, including for allegations of rape and sexual assault, was widespread among the FACI and other security forces, such as police and gendarmerie.

In early January soldiers shot at a vehicle carrying a former rebel aligned with a ruling party minister, killing one person. Also in early January, 230 soldiers and gendarmes accused of misconduct, including desertion and breach of discipline, were removed from the army. Heavy gunfire erupted in January at two military bases in the country’s second-largest city, when soldiers reportedly demanded payment of bonuses and the departure of a security battalion in addition to training and promotions. In May, 2,168 soldiers of 2,211 soldiers, including three military officers, accepted payouts to retire. This was the second group of soldiers retired as part of a plan to cut costs and bring under control a military that launched two mutinies in 2017.

In August the government appointed a leader of a former rebel movement that controlled half of the country during the 2002 rebellion as the governor of Bouake, a central city home to previous unrest.

Dozos (traditional hunters) assumed an informal security role in some village communities, especially in the north and west, but they were less active than in the past and had no legal authority to arrest or detain. The government discouraged the dozos, whom most residents feared, from assuming security roles.

Military police and the military tribunal are responsible for investigating and prosecuting alleged internal abuses perpetrated by the security services.

Security forces failed at times to prevent or respond to societal violence, particularly during intercommunal clashes.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law allows investigative magistrates or the national prosecutor to order the detention of a suspect for 48 hours without bringing charges. Nevertheless, police often arrested individuals and held them without charge beyond the legal limit. In special cases, such as suspected actions against state security or drugs, the national prosecutor can authorize an additional 48-hour period of preventive custody. An investigating magistrate can request pretrial detention for up to four months at a time by submitting a written justification to the national prosecutor. First-time offenders charged with minor offenses may be held for a maximum of five days after their initial hearing before the investigative magistrate. Repeat minor offenders and those accused of felonies may be held for six and 18 months, respectively.

While the law provides for informing detainees promptly of the charges against them, this did not always occur, especially in cases concerning state security and involving the DST. In other cases magistrates could not verify whether detainees who were not charged had been released. A bail system exists but was used solely at the discretion of the trial judge. Authorities generally allowed detainees to have access to lawyers. In cases involving national security, authorities did not allow access to lawyers and family members. For other serious crimes, the government provided lawyers to those who could not afford them, but offenders charged with less serious offenses often had no lawyer. Attorneys often refused to accept indigent client cases they were asked to take because they reportedly had difficulty being reimbursed. Human rights observers reported multiple instances in which detainees were transferred to detention facilities outside their presiding judge’s jurisdiction, in violation of the law. Detained persons outside of Abidjan, where the vast majority of the country’s 600 attorneys reside, had particular difficulty obtaining legal representation.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law does not sanction arbitrary arrest, but authorities used the practice.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was a major problem. According to government figures, as of September approximately one-third of all prison inmates in the country and almost half of the inmates at Abidjan’s central prison were in pretrial detention including 55 minors, with 20 more minors detained for oversight. In many cases the length of detention equaled or exceeded the sentence for the alleged crime. For example, some persons remained in pretrial detention for up to eight years. Inadequate staffing in the judicial ministry, judicial inefficiency, and lack of training contributed to lengthy pretrial detention. There were reports of pretrial detainees receiving convictions in their absence from court, with prison authorities claiming that their presence was not necessary, and sometimes detainees were not given sufficient notice and time to arrange transportation. Human rights groups reported mistreatment of detainees who were arrested and in custody of the DST before being sent to Abidjan’s main prison.

Amnesty: In August, President Ouattara announced an immediate amnesty for 800 prisoners held in connection with the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis, including several former cabinet members, military officers, and Simone Gbagbo, the wife of former president Laurent Gbagbo.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and although the judiciary generally was independent in ordinary criminal cases, the government did not respect judicial independence. The judiciary was inadequately resourced and inefficient. The continued lack of civilian indictments against pro-Ouattara elements for crimes during the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis indicated the judiciary was subject to political and executive influence. There were also numerous reports of judicial corruption, and bribes often influenced rulings. By early December no magistrate or clerk had been disciplined or dismissed for corruption. On the other hand, magistrates who advocated independence or acted in a manner consistent with judicial independence were sometimes disciplined. For example, in July, two magistrates were dismissed from their jobs after they spoke out about the importance of independence in the judiciary, ethics, and “victor’s justice.” They fled the country following harassment by security forces.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary did not enforce this right. Although the law provides for the presumption of innocence and the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges (with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals), the government did not always respect this requirement. In the past assize courts (special courts convened as needed to try criminal cases involving major crimes) rarely convened. Starting in 2015, however, they convened for one session per year in several cities to hear a backlog of cases. Defendants accused of felonies have the right to legal counsel at their own expense. Other defendants may also seek legal counsel. The judicial system provides for court-appointed attorneys, although only limited free legal assistance was available; the government had a small legal defense fund to pay members of the bar who agreed to represent the indigent. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants may present their own witnesses or evidence and confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses. Lack of a witness protection mechanism was a problem. Defendants cannot be legally compelled to testify or confess guilt, although there were reports such abuse sometimes occurred. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, but courts may try defendants in their absence. Those convicted had access to appeals courts in Abidjan, Bouake, and Daloa, but higher courts rarely overturned verdicts.

Military tribunals did not try civilians or provide the same rights as civilian criminal courts. Although there are no appellate courts within the military court system, persons convicted by a military tribunal may petition the Supreme Court to order a retrial.

The relative scarcity of trained magistrates and lawyers resulted in limited access to effective judicial proceedings, particularly outside of major cities. In rural areas traditional institutions often administered justice at the village level, handling domestic disputes and minor land questions in accordance with customary law. Dispute resolution was by extended debate. There were no reported instances of physical punishment. The law specifically provides for a “grand mediator,” appointed by the president, to bridge traditional and modern methods of dispute resolution.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government denied that there were political prisoners, although President Ouattara recognized in August there were prisoners indicted for “offenses connected to the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis,” a statement widely interpreted as recognition that political prisoners existed. In 2017 an Abidjan jury found Simone Gbagbo, the wife of former president Laurent Gbagbo, not guilty of crimes against humanity stemming from the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis. She had been in custody since 2011. Although Simone Gbagbo was released from prison under the August amnesty, it was unclear who or how many other persons were released.

In March authorities arrested 18 supporters of an opposition alliance and detained them at Abidjan’s main prison.

In July a prominent imam was arrested and imprisoned on terrorism charges after criticizing the president for lack of progress in helping the poor and advocating for Muslim schools. Authorities released him after several weeks.

Some political parties and local human rights groups claimed members of former president Gbagbo’s opposition party FPI, detained on charges including economic crimes, armed robbery, looting, and embezzlement, were political prisoners, especially when charged for actions committed during the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis. A government-created platform to discuss detainees and other issues concerning the opposition did not meet during the year.

Authorities granted political prisoners the same protections as other prisoners, including access by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but the judiciary was subject to corruption, outside influence, and favoritism based on family and ethnic ties. Citizens may bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation, but they did so infrequently. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies. The judiciary was slow and inefficient, and there were problems in enforcing domestic court orders.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

In May local police destroyed homes, forcibly evicting a number of persons from a gentrifying neighborhood in Abidjan. Because residents had been informed by official notice that they had until July to move, most residents, including children and the elderly, were unprepared and without alternative lodging during the rainy season. The demolition disrupted the students’ exams and hindered the possibility for some to advance to the next grade.

In July, one person was killed and several others injured as police clashed with youths after more than 20,000 persons were evicted from their homes in an Abidjan neighborhood local authorities believed to be unsafe and illegally occupied, according to news reports. Human rights groups reported that due process was not followed.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government did not always respect these prohibitions. The law requires warrants for security personnel to conduct searches, the prosecutor’s agreement to retain any evidence seized in a search, and the presence of witnesses in a search, which may take place at any time. Police sometimes used a general search warrant without a name or address. The FACI and DST arrested individuals without warrants.

Some leaders of opposition parties reported that authorities had frozen their bank accounts, although they were not on any international sanctions’ list and courts had not charged them with any offenses. It was unclear whether frozen bank accounts of those pardoned by the president in the August amnesty were reactivated. Human rights groups reported that the bank account of a minister’s opponent in the October municipal election was frozen.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, but the government restricted both. The National Press Authority, the government’s print media regulatory body, briefly suspended or reprimanded newspapers and journalists for statements it contended were false, libelous, or perceived to incite xenophobia and hate.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits incitement to violence, ethnic hatred, rebellion, and insulting the head of state or other senior members of the government. In January Michel Gbagbo, son of former president Laurent Gbagbo, was charged with disclosing false information, stemming from comments he made to a news website in 2016, when he said 250 persons were still in prison following the 2010-11 political crisis.

In January a local politician of Lebanese origin, “Sam l’Africain,” was released from Abidjan’s main central prison. He was arrested in March 2017 after proclaiming at a political rally that he, with an Ivoirian wife, was just as Ivoirian as President Ouattara, who has a French wife and had a parent from Burkina Faso. He was sentenced to six months in prison for insult and slander towards “people belonging to an ethnic group,” then fined and sentenced to another five years and revocation of his civic rights for fraud.

Press and Media Freedom: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. A law bans “detention of journalists in police custody, preventive detention, and imprisonment of journalists for offense committed by means of press or by others means of publication.” The law, however, provides “fines ranging from one million to three million CFA francs ($1,800 to $5,400) for anybody found guilty of committing offenses by means of press or by others means of publication.” Newspapers aligned politically with the opposition frequently published inflammatory editorials against the government or fabricated stories to defame political opponents. The High Audiovisual Communications Authority oversees the regulation and operation of radio and television stations. There were numerous independent radio stations. The law prohibits transmission of political commentary by community radio stations, but the regulation authority allows community radio stations to run political programs if they employ professional journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government influenced news coverage and program content on television channels and public and private radio stations. Journalists with the state-owned media regularly exercise self-censorship to avoid sanctions or reprisals from government’s officials.

National Security: Libel deemed to threaten the national interest is punishable by six months to five years in prison.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 44 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government sometimes restricted the freedom of peaceful assembly.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government did not always respect this right. The law requires groups that wish to hold demonstrations or rallies in stadiums or other enclosed spaces to submit a written notice to the Ministry of Interior three days before the proposed event. Numerous opposition political groups reported denials of their requests to hold political meetings and alleged inconsistent standards for granting public assembly permissions. In some instances public officials stated they could not provide for the safety of opposition groups attempting to organize both public and private meetings.

In May, 21 students protesting poor living conditions were arrested following a clash with police in Abidjan and released after several days. In September stone-throwing students affiliated with a student union clashed with police on the campus of Houphouet-Boigny University in Abidjan as they protested education fees. The students disrupted traffic throughout the city, and police forces fought back using tear gas and sound grenades.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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: In legislative elections held in 2016, the ruling government coalition won 66 percent of the 255 National Assembly seats. The main opposition party, which boycotted the 2011 legislative elections, participated and won seats. The elections were considered peaceful, inclusive, and transparent. In the 2015 presidential election, President Alassane Ouattara was re-elected by a significant majority. International and domestic observers judged this election to be free and fair.

In 2016 the government conducted a referendum on a new constitution to replace the postmilitary coup constitution of 2000. The process for drafting the new constitution–and to a certain extent the content itself–was contentious. Opposition parties and some local and international organizations claimed the process was neither inclusive nor transparent, and they criticized the new text for strengthening the role of the executive branch. Despite an opposition boycott, the referendum passed overwhelmingly in a peaceful process that was inclusive and generally transparent.

Prior to senatorial elections in March, security forces used tear gas on two occasions to disperse protesters associated with the opposition. Days prior to the election, the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) declared it would restrict observers from remaining in the voting stations throughout the day but reversed the decision before the election. Civil society observers received accreditation badges one day before the election. Diplomatic observers and local civil society groups judged the elections to be peaceful and credible.

In October the government held municipal and regional elections, which were marred by allegations of fraud, intimidation, harassment, vote buying, and violence, resulting in four deaths. In most areas the ruling government party edged out independent and opposition candidates. One faction of the main opposition party participated and won seats; the other faction boycotted because the CEI had not been reformed as recommended by an African Union court. At least one major human rights group that requested accreditation to observe the elections was not allowed to send observers to polling places. Observers noted nationwide technical difficulties with tablets intended to confirm voters’ identities and eligibility through fingerprint scans. Special elections took place in December in eight localities after the Supreme Court annulled their October results. Observers also judged these elections were marred by violence and allegations of fraud despite a heavy presence of security forces.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law prohibits the formation of political parties along ethnic or religious lines. Ethnicity, however, was often a key factor in party membership, and the appearance of ethnicity playing a role in political appointments remained, as well. Opposition leaders reported denials of their requests to hold political meetings and alleged inconsistent standards for granting public assembly permits.

In July, one person died and three others were wounded following a clash among members of Rally for Cote d’Ivoire, a movement close to National Assembly President Guillaume Soro.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Cultural and traditional beliefs, however, limited the role of women. Of 253 national assembly members, only 29 were women.

Members of the transgender community reported difficulty obtaining identity and voting documents. Electoral staff and fellow voters at polling sites were observed assisting voters with disabilities, such as those who were unable to walk up the stairs.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

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

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

There were numerous reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

The state security forces (SSF) committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in operations against RMGs in the east and in the Kasai region (see section 1.g.). According to the UN Joint Office of Human Rights (UNJHRO), security forces were responsible for 389 extrajudicial killings across the country as of year’s end. Many of these extrajudicial killings occurred in the Kasais, where the SSF fought Kamuina Nsapu and other antigovernment militias. RMGs were responsible for at least 780 summary executions.

On January 21 and February 25, security forces used lethal and disproportionate force to disrupt protests led by Roman Catholic and some Protestant church leaders in support of credible elections and implementation of the December 2016 Agreement. During the two days of protests, UN observers and others witnessed members of the Republican Guard and other members of security forces fire directly at protesters, resulting in seven deaths on January 21 and two on February 25. Among those killed on January 21 was Therese Kapangala, a 24-year-old studying to become a nun, who was shot and killed outside her church in a Catholic parish in Kinshasa. During protests organized by the Catholic Lay Committee on February 25, state security forces killed two persons, including local human rights activist Rossy Mukendi Tshimanga, who was shot by a rubber bullet inside a church compound. From August 3 to 7, the SSF used tear gas and live bullets to disperse protests, resulting in the deaths of three persons, including two children, and the injury of at least two persons by police.

In March a joint report by the UN human rights office in Kinshasa (JHRO) and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) covering January 2017 through January stated that the SSF used illegal, systematic, and disproportionate force against protesters, resulting in 47 civilian deaths. On November 12 and 15, police were responsible for the deaths of two students who were protesting against a teachers’ strike at the University of Kinshasa.

On July 4, the OHCHR released a report on abuses in the Kasais region that accused RMGs Kamuina Nsapu and Bana Mura and the SSF of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Based on interviews with 524 persons, the experts’ report accused the military of cooperation with Bana Mura militia and an excessively violent response to conflict in the region, particularly the 2101st Regiment that was redeployed to Kananga from North Kivu in 2007 when it was part of the Fifth Integrated Brigade. The report estimated that the conflict, which was most violent in 2017, resulted in “thousands of deaths and a disastrous human rights situation” and displaced 1.4 million persons. Among other incidents, the report documented an SSF attack in May 2017 in Tshikulu that resulted in the summary execution of at least 79 civilians, including at least 19 children. On September 15, a regional civil society development network in the Kasai region released a report stating that in March 2017 the SSF killed 264 civilians in the village of Nganza during antimilitia operations.

RMGs committed arbitrary and unlawful killings throughout the year (see section 1.g.). Numerous armed groups recruited and used children as soldiers and human shields and targeted the SSF, members of the government, and others.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances attributable to the SSF during the year. Authorities often refused to acknowledge the detention of suspects and in several cases detained suspects in unofficial facilities, including on military bases and in detention facilities operated by the National Intelligence Agency (ANR). The whereabouts of some civil society activists and civilians arrested by the SSF remained unknown for long periods.

RMGs kidnapped numerous persons, generally for forced labor, military service, or sexual slavery. Many of these victims disappeared (see section 1.g.). In July the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) confirmed that 66 persons were previously kidnapped in Kasai Province by the Bana Mura, a RMG supported by the government, and used as sexual slaves. The kidnapped included two women, 49 girls, and 15 boys who had been in captivity since as early as April 2017. The government denied the findings, claiming the information was false.

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

The law criminalizes torture, but there were credible reports that the SSF continued to torture civilians, particularly detainees and prisoners. In November the British nongovernmental organization (NGO) Freedom from Torture reported that torture was widespread both inside and outside conflict zones in DRC. It had accumulated witness testimony of almost 900 cases of torture from DRC, including 74 cases from 2013 to 2018. The report states, “Torture is used predominantly as a form of punishment for political and human rights activism, and as a deterrent against future involvement.” Throughout the year activists circulated videos of police beating unarmed and nonviolent protestors.

As of October 10, the United Nations reported that it had received 15 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against military, police, and civilian personnel deployed with MONUSCO during the year. Of these cases, 11 involved allegations of an exploitative relationship; three involved allegations of transactional sex; two involved the alleged rape of a child, and one involved sexual assault. As of October 10, all investigations were pending. The United Nations also reported that Bangladeshi peacekeepers were involved in sexual exploitation and abuse while deployed in MONUSCO from 2015 to 2017. The peacekeepers in question were repatriated by the United Nations, and investigations by Bangladeshi government were pending at the end of the year.

The United Nations reported that during the year it received one allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse against a peacekeeper from the DRC while he was deployed in United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central Africa Republic. The case alleged rape of a minor. Investigations by both the United Nations and the DRC were still pending as of year’s end. Twenty-six allegations reported prior to 2018 remained pending, in many cases awaiting additional information by the DRC. The cases included 17 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of minors.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in most prisons throughout the country worsened during the year, aggravating the already harsh and life threatening conditions due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. Even harsher conditions prevailed in small detention centers run by the ANR, Republican Guard (RG), or other security forces, which often detained prisoners for lengthy pretrial periods without access to family or legal counsel. Some civil society activists arrested in Kinshasa were reportedly held in an underground cell operated by the RG at a military camp.

Physical Conditions: Serious threats to life and health were widespread and included violence (particularly rape); food shortages; and inadequate potable water, sanitation, ventilation, temperature control, lighting, and medical care. Poor ventilation subjected detainees to extreme heat. Central prison facilities were severely overcrowded, with an estimated occupancy rate of 200 percent of capacity. For example, Makala Central Prison in Kinshasa, which was constructed in 1958 to house 1,500 prisoners, held as many as 8,500 inmates during the year. In September, Radio Okapi reported there were 7,400 inmates at Makala. Authorities generally confined men and women in separate areas but often held juveniles with adults. Women were sometimes imprisoned with their children. In July local NGO Rural Action for Development reported that 13 infants suffered from malnutrition and other diseases due to poor conditions while held with their mothers in Munzenze Prison in Goma. Authorities rarely separated pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners.

Because inmates had inadequate supplies of food and little access to water, many relied exclusively on relatives, NGOs, and church groups to bring them sustenance. The United Nations reported 223 individuals died in detention during the year, a 10-percent increase compared with the 201 deaths recorded in 2017. These resulted from malnutrition, poor hygienic conditions, and lack of access to proper medical care. From January to June, cholera and tuberculosis epidemics aggravated the already overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, leading to a 20 percent increase in deaths in detention compared with the same period in 2017. In July, five prisoners died from severe diarrhea and malnutrition due to poor sanitation and inadequate medical services in Tshela Prison in Kongo Central. In January, MONUSCO reported that 57 inmates in Manono Prison in Tanganyika Province suffered from malnutrition and that prisoners had endured 10-14 days without food.

Most prisons were understaffed, undersupplied, and poorly maintained, leading to corruption and poor control of the prison population that contributed to prison escapes. On March 21, media reported that two police officers were sentenced to life in prison by a military court for their involvement in a March 18 prison break in Lubumbashi, Haut Katanga province. The United Nations reported that at least 801 individuals escaped detention centers during the year, a significant decrease from the number of 5,926 escapees in 2017.

Authorities often arbitrarily beat or tortured detainees. On September 13, police arrested seven members of the local civil society group Les Congolais Debout! (Congolese Awake!) at the University of Kinshasa while they were campaigning against the use of voting machines on grounds that the seven were carrying out political activities in what is supposed to be an apolitical environment. After reportedly being beaten, whipped, and forced to clean toilets with bare hands while in police custody, their attorney said they were transferred to an ANR cell and, as of November 15, remained in detention without charges.

RMGs detained civilians, often for ransom, but little information was available concerning detention conditions (see section 1.g.).

Administration: Some prison directors could only estimate the numbers of detainees in their facilities. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited an unknown number of prisoners. Authorities denied access to visitors for some inmates and often did not permit inmates to contact or submit complaints to judicial authorities. Directors and staff generally ran prisons for profit, selling sleeping arrangements to the highest bidders and requiring payment for family visits.

Independent Monitoring: The government regularly allowed the ICRC, MONUSCO, and NGOs access to official detention facilities maintained by the Ministry of Interior but consistently denied access to facilities run by the RG, ANR, and the intelligence services of the military and police.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention, but both the SSF and RMGs routinely arrested or detained persons arbitrarily (see section 1.e.).

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Congolese National Police (PNC) operates under the Ministry of Interior and has primary responsibility for law enforcement and public order. The PNC includes the Rapid Intervention Police and the Integrated Police Unit. The ANR, overseen by the presidency, is responsible for internal and external intelligence. The Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) and the military intelligence service operate under the control of the Ministry of Defense and are primarily responsible for external security but in reality focus almost exclusively on internal security. The presidency oversees the RG, and the Minister of Interior oversees the Directorate General for Migration, which, together with the PNC, are responsible for border control. Military magistrates are responsible for the investigation and prosecution of all crimes allegedly committed by SSF members, whether or not committed in the line of duty. Civilians may be tried in military tribunals if charged with offenses involving firearms. The military justice system often succumbed to political and command interference, and security arrangements for magistrates in areas affected by conflict were inadequate. Justice mechanisms were particularly ineffective for addressing misconduct by mid- and high-ranking officials due to a requirement the judge of a military court must outrank the defendant.

Elements of the SSF were undisciplined and corrupt. According to the United Nations, state agents were responsible for 61 percent of the human rights violations documented during the year. PNC and FARDC units regularly engaged in illegal taxation and extortion of civilians. They set up checkpoints to collect “taxes,” often stealing food and money and arresting individuals who could not pay bribes. The FARDC suffered from weak leadership, poor operational planning, low administrative and logistical capacity, lack of training, and questionable loyalty of some of its soldiers, particularly in the East. Nonprofit organizations and the United Nations reported regular instances of extortion, sexual-based violence, including gang rape, arbitrary arrests, and violent assaults by the SSF on Congolese migrants and expelled refugees returning from Angola in October.

Although the military justice system convicted some SSF agents of human rights abuses, impunity remained a serious problem. The government maintained joint human rights committees with MONUSCO and used available international resources, such as the UN-implemented technical and logistical support program for military prosecutors as well as international NGO-supported mobile hearings.

Military courts convicted some SSF agents of human rights violations. The United Nations reported that the government convicted at least 120 FARDC soldiers and 66 PNC officers for crimes constituting human rights violations during the year. On July 26, the mobile High Military Court in Bukavu sentenced on appeal three convicted high-ranking FARDC officers for various crimes against humanity: Colonel Julius Dhenyo Becker to two years in prison, a sentence that observers criticized for its relative leniency; Lieutenant Colonel Maro Ntuma to 20 years in prison for conviction of crimes including murder; and Colonel Bedi Mobuli to life in prison for conviction of crimes against humanity and crimes of war, including rape and murder. On October 20, the Military Tribunal of Ituri convicted and sentenced Sergeant Bienvenue Mugisa Akiki to death for the October 16 murder of four civilians in Djugu territory of Ituri Province.

The trial continued for individuals accused of involvement in the March 2017 killings of UN experts Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan. After a delay of several months, the military prosecution began to call key suspects to testify, and, on December 7, arrested a military colonel and announced he was a suspect in the killings. Other key suspects have been called to testify although not all have been apprehended.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

By law arrests for offenses punishable by more than six months’ imprisonment require warrants. Detainees must appear before a magistrate within 48 hours. Authorities must inform those arrested of their rights and the reason(s) for their arrest, and they may not arrest a family member in lieu of the suspected individual. Authorities must allow arrested individuals to contact their families and consult with attorneys. Security officials, however, routinely violated all of these requirements.

While the law provides for a bail system, it generally did not function. Detainees who were unable to pay were rarely able to access legal counsel. Authorities often held suspects incommunicado, including in unofficial detention centers run by the ANR, military intelligence, and the RG, and refused to acknowledge these detentions.

Prison officials often held individuals longer than their sentences due to disorganization, inadequate records, judicial inefficiency, or corruption. Prisoners unable to pay their fines often remained indefinitely in prison (see section 1.e.).

In 2014 the PNC issued a decree reforming arrest and detention procedures. The decree required the PNC to verify facts before arresting individuals, separate men from women, and provide sanitary detention centers. Some improvements in recently rehabilitated detention centers were noted although authorities did not consistently implement the decree, including the holding of men and women together.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security personnel arrested and detained numerous civil society activists, journalists, and opposition party members who criticized the government, occasionally under the pretext of state security, and often denied them due process, such as access to an attorney (see sections 1.a., 2.a., and 5). Throughout the year security forces regularly held protestors and civil society activists incommunicado and without charge for extended periods. The United Nations reported the SSF arbitrarily arrested at least 2,933 persons across the country from January through August. In September the UNJHRO reported that at least 561 women were victims of arbitrary arrest from January through August.

In November 2017 civil society activist and member of the opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) party Christian Lumu, was arrested and then transferred to an ANR detention cell. He was held without charge and on November 28, was transferred to a military prison where he remained as of December 31. Witnesses stated that he received electric shocks and was beaten while in detention.

On January 21, more than 100 persons were arbitrarily arrested across the country according to the United Nations, for participation in peaceful demonstrations organized by Catholic and some Protestant church leaders in support of credible elections and implementation of the December 2016 Agreement. On February 25, the United Nations reported that at least 7,194 persons were arbitrarily arrested during protests organized by the Catholic Lay Association. The United Nations reported at least 89 persons, including one minor, were arrested and kept under preventive detention during protests organized in support of opposition politician Moise Katumbi in Lubumbashi and Kasumbalesa in Haut Katanga province on August 3-7.

Police sometimes arbitrarily arrested and detained persons without filing charges to extort money from family members or because administrative systems were not well established.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention, ranging from months to years, remained a problem. NGOs estimated that at least three quarters to four-fifths of the prison population was in pretrial detention. Judicial inefficiency, administrative obstacles, corruption, financial constraints, and staff shortages also caused trial delays. On September 15, a report by the regional civil society development network CRONGD documented that, of 461 persons arrested in March 2017 on suspicion of RMG involvement, 44 were in detention without charge.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention; however, few were able to obtain prompt release and compensation.

Amnesty: A total of 148 persons were released following the signing of four executive orders by the minister of justice in January and February. Two of the executive orders applied the law on amnesty of 2014 (43 persons released) and the two others granted conditional release to persons sentenced for participation in an insurrectional movement, war crimes, and political offenses.

On December 29, Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba announced the pardon of “several hundred” prisoners for the New Year and said these individuals would be released. The prisoners were not released by year’s end.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judiciary was corrupt and subject to influence. Officials and other influential individuals often subjected judges to coercion. On August 16, the minister of justice claimed to have issued an international arrest warrant for businessman and opposition politician Moise Katumbi, who was convicted in 2015 of real estate fraud despite a Catholic Council of Bishops (CENCO) 2017 report concluding that the SSF pressured judicial officials to convict him. It was not clear that any warrant was actually issued. CENCO also concluded that a similar property fraud case against opposition member and businessman Jean-Claude Muyambo was equally unfounded and amounted to “judicial harassment.” Muyambo, who claimed to have permanent damage to his foot following beatings during his arrest in 2015, was sentenced to five years in prison in 2017 and ordered to pay 1,580,000 Congolese francs ($9,900) in damages for conviction of breach of trust and illegal retention of documents. Muyambo was among the prisoners slated to be released by the justice ministry on December 30, but he remained in prison at year’s end.

A shortage of judges hindered the government’s ability to provide expeditious trials, and judges occasionally refused transfers to remote areas where shortages were most acute because the government could not support them there. Authorities routinely did not respect court orders. Disciplinary boards created under the High Council of Magistrates continued to rule on numerous cases of corruption and malpractice each month. Many of these rulings included the firing, suspension, or fining of judges and magistrates. One judge on the High Council said its March investigation into corruption concluded that 250 magistrates were guilty of counterfeiting, including fake diplomas, and failure to pass the recruitment test.

A recruitment drive during the year, however, increased to 3,000 the number of military and civilian judges, and in July the minister of justice announced the recruitment of appellate court judges throughout the country. That same month, three members of the nine-member constitutional court were inducted, including one advisor to the president and another prominent member of the president’s ruling party.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for a presumption of innocence, but this was not always observed. Authorities are required to inform defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary, but this did not always occur. The public may attend trials at the discretion of the presiding judge. Defendants have the right to a trial within 15 days of being charged, but judges may extend this period to a maximum of 45 days. Authorities only occasionally abided by this requirement. The government is not required to provide counsel in most cases, with the exception of murder trials. While the government regularly provided free legal counsel to indigent defendants in capital cases, lawyers often did not have adequate access to their clients. Defendants have the right to be present and to have a defense attorney represent them. Authorities occasionally disregarded these rights. Authorities generally allowed adequate time to prepare a defense, although there were few resources available. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present evidence and witnesses in their own defense, but witnesses often were reluctant to testify due to fear of retaliation. Defendants are not compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal, except in cases involving national security, armed robbery, and smuggling, which the Court of State Security usually adjudicates. These rights extend to all citizens.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were numerous reports of political prisoners and detainees. Authorities charged political prisoners with a variety of offenses, including offending the person or threatening the life of the head of state, inciting tribal hatred or civil disobedience, spreading false rumors, treason, and attacking state security. While the government permitted international human rights and humanitarian organizations and MONUSCO access to some of these prisoners, authorities always denied access to detention facilities run by the RG, military intelligence, and the ANR (see section 1.c.).

As of year’s end, the United Nations estimated that at least 71 persons were held in detention for their political opinions or legitimate citizens’ activities, although the United Nations reported that many more persons deemed political prisoners might be held in unreported locations. A local NGO, Congolese Association for Access to Justice (ACAJ), reported at the UN Security Council on November 13 that 54 political prisoners were in detention. On September 25, a court sentenced activists Carbone Beni and three other members of the citizen movement Filimbi to 12 months in prison for offenses against the head of state, undermining state security, and distributing subversive material. They were originally arrested in December 2017 following advocacy for peaceful protests organized by the Catholic Church in support of the December 2016 Agreement and credible elections. They were held without charge in ANR cells for nearly six months before they were taken to the Prosecutor General’s Office in Kinshasa for questioning and transferred to Makala Prison. Observers criticized the proceedings for presenting confessions obtained under duress and for fabricating evidence. An international human rights NGO stated that police and intelligence agents beat the Filimbi members while they were in detention and during interrogation. On December 25, Beni and the three other Filimbi members were released for time served.

On July 16, Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe announced the government had liberated 4,019 prisoners as part of the December Agreement’s “confidence building” measures. Most of the prisoners, however, were released some time earlier under the terms of the 2013 Nairobi agreement between rebel group M23 and the government and were not political prisoners.

In August, four civil society activists who were arrested in July 2017 for attempting to march and deliver a letter to the Lubumbashi Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) office were convicted of disturbing the peace and sentenced to eight months in prison. In November 2017 a fifth member of this group, NGO activist and human rights lawyer Timothee Mbuya, was convicted of provocation and incitement of disobedience and sentenced to 12 months in prison. Mbuya served six months in jail before he was released on February 13 while the four other activists were released shortly before him.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals may seek civil remedies for human rights violations within the civil court system. Most individuals, however, preferred to seek redress in the criminal courts.

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

Although the law prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, the SSF routinely ignored these provisions. The SSF harassed and robbed civilians, entered and searched homes and vehicles without warrants, and looted homes, businesses, and schools. The United Nations previously reported that FARDC soldiers conducted door-to-door searches in the Nganza commune of Kananga, Kasai Central Province, in March 2017 looking for suspected Kamuina Nsapu militia sympathizers. The OHCHR report on the Kasais released in July attributed 89 civilian deaths, including at least 11 children, to the March 2017 FARDC operation (See 1.a.).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech, including for the press. The press frequently and openly criticized public officials and public policy decisions. Individuals generally could criticize the government, its officials, and other citizens in private without being subject to official reprisals. Public criticism, however, of government officials, the president, or government policies regarding elections, democracy, and corruption sometimes resulted in intimidation, threats, and arrest. The government also prevented journalists from filming or covering some protests and refused to renew or grant visas for several foreign media correspondents.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits insulting the head of state, malicious and public slander, and language presumed to threaten national security. Authorities sometimes detained journalists, activists, and politicians when they publicly criticized the government, the president, or the SSF. Plainclothes and uniformed security agents allegedly monitored political rallies and events.

Press and Media Freedom: The law mandates the High Council for the Audiovisual and Communications (CSAC) to provide for freedom of the press and equal access to communications media and information for political parties, associations, and citizens. A large and active private press functioned predominantly in Kinshasa, although with some representation across the country, and the government licensed a large number of daily newspapers. Radio remained the principal medium of public information due to limited literacy and the relatively high cost of newspapers and television. The state owned three radio stations and three television stations, and the president’s family owned two additional television stations. Government officials, politicians, and to a lesser extent church leaders, owned or operated the majority of media outlets.

The government required newspapers to pay a one-time license fee of 250,000 Congolese francs ($156) and complete several administrative requirements before publishing. Broadcast media were also subject to a Directorate for Administrative and Land Revenue advertisement tax. Many journalists lacked professional training, received little or no set salary, could not access government information, and exercised self-censorship due to concerns of harassment, intimidation, or arrest.

In November local NGO Journalists in Danger (JED) reported 121 cases of attacks on media from November 2017 to October and attributed 77 percent of these attacks to government agents, including nearly half to state security forces. JED reported that the number of attacks on media had not changed from 2017. JED reported 53 cases of arrests of journalists, including 15 who remained in detention for more than the legal limit of 48 hours without being charged. In September the District Court of Kinshasa found editor of satirical newspaper Le Grognon Tharcisse Zongia guilty by default of criminal defamation charges for accusing Barthelemy Okito, secretary general of the Sports Ministry, of embezzling public funds meant for the national football team. He was sentenced to one year in prison.

Violence and Harassment: Local journalists were vulnerable to intimidation and violence by the SSF. On July 6, Bukavu correspondent for Africanews Gael Mpoyo and his family went into hiding after receiving multiple death threats for posting a documentary film concerning the forcible eviction of residents in Mbobero from a property belonging to President Kabila.

The 121 documented press freedom violations reported by JED included 53 journalists detained or arrested, 30 cases of journalists threatened or attacked, and 21 instances of authorities preventing the free flow of information. Other incidents included efforts to subject journalists to administrative, judicial, or economic pressure. At year’s end the government had not sanctioned or charged any perpetrator of press freedom violations.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: While the CSAC is the only institution with legal authority to restrict broadcasts, the government, including the SSF and provincial officials, also exercised this power. Some press officers in government agencies allegedly censored news articles by privately owned publications. Privately owned media increasingly practiced self-censorship due to fear of potential suppression and the prospect of the government shutting them down as it had done previously to a handful of major pro-opposition media outlets.

Media representatives reported they were pressured by the government not to cover events organized by the opposition or news concerning opposition leaders.

Libel/Slander Laws: The national and provincial governments used criminal defamation laws to intimidate and punish critics. For example, during the year Minister of Kasai Oriental Alphonse Ngoyi Kasanji charged television journalist Eliezer Ntambwe with defamation for an accusation during an interview that the governor had stolen a 35-carat diamond. Ntambwe was arrested on April 2, but released on April 11 after the governor withdrew his charge.

National Security: The national government used a law that prohibits anyone from making general defamatory accusations against the military to restrict free speech.

Nongovernmental Impact: RMGs and their political wings regularly restricted press freedom in the areas where they operated.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Some private entrepreneurs made moderately priced internet access available through internet cafes in large cities throughout the country. Data-enabled mobile telephones were an increasingly popular way to access the internet. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 8.6 percent of individuals in the country used the internet in 2017.

According to Freedom House, there were reports that government authorities disrupted access to news coverage to prevent critical reports on the government and government figures.

On December 30, 2017, the day before planned protests calling on President Kabila to step down, Posts and Telecommunications Minister Emery Okundi Ndjovu directed internet providers and cell phone companies to “suspend” short message service and internet service throughout the country “for reasons of State security.” On January 1, internet access was restored. The government cut most internet service from January 21 to January 24 during church-led protests calling on the government to hold elections and implement the December 2016 Agreement. The government cut internet service again on February 25 during additional protests. On December 31, the day after nationwide elections, the government cut internet again. The internet remained blocked at year’s end. Authorities continued to reserve the right to implement internet blackouts, citing a 2002 act that grants government officials the power to shut down communications and conduct invasive surveillance. Additionally, the Criminal Code of 1940 and Press Freedom Act of 1996 have been used to restrict freedom of expression.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government frequently restricted this right and prevented those critical of the government from exercising their right to peaceful assembly. The law requires organizers of public events to notify local authorities in advance of the event. The government maintained that public events required advance permission and regularly declined to authorize public meetings or protests organized by opposition parties or civil society groups critical of the government. The government did, however, authorize protests and assemblies organized by progovernment groups and political parties. During the year the SSF beat, detained, or arrested persons participating in protests, marches, and meetings. The SSF also used tear gas, rubber bullets, and at times live ammunition, resulting in numerous civilian deaths and injuries.

According to MONUSCO there were 633 violations of democratic space from January through August. These included restrictions on freedom of assembly, the right to liberty and security of person, and of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

On March 19, a joint report of the UNJHRO and the OHCHR for 2017 stated that the SSF used illegal, systematic, and disproportionate force against protesters, resulting in 47 civilian deaths and several hundred wounded during protests. The report stressed the illegality of government prohibitions on public demonstrations and accused the FARDC’s 11th Rapid Reaction Brigade and the Republican Guard of grave violations of human rights for indiscriminately using live rounds specifically against civilians in August 2017 after members of the RMG Bundu dia Kongo separatist group attacked police and civilians in Kinshasa. The report also cited instances of threats and intimidation against protestors by government officials and outlined specific attacks and restrictions against UNJHRO personnel. The report confirmed at least nine deaths during December 2017 demonstrations, at least 98 wounded, and 185 arbitrarily arrested. For the January 21 demonstrations, the report cited at least seven persons killed, 67 wounded, and at least 121 persons arbitrarily arrested, including four children. The report also stressed that security force members were rarely, if ever, held accountable for disproportionate use of force during protests. It stated the United Nations was aware of only a few instances in which security force members were held accountable, including the case of one police officer who was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in Bukavu for conviction related to his actions during a protest in July 2017.

In March government and civil society representatives released a report of investigations into abuses related to protests during December 2017, on January 21, and on February 25, alleging 14 deaths, 65 injuries, and 40 persons arrested, detained, and in some cases tortured.

In Kinshasa opposition parties were regularly allowed to hold political rallies. On April 24, the opposition UDPS party held a rally in the capital. On September 29, opposition parties held a rally in Kinshasa, but reports and photographs showed that the government sought to deter attendance by halting public transportation, raising fuel prices, and dumping garbage near the site of the rally.

The government, which must simply be informed of nonviolent demonstrations and is not vested with authorizing their occurrence, consistently prohibited nonviolent demonstrations elsewhere in the country, notably in Lubumbashi, Kananga, and Goma. On October 13, government officials and the SSF blocked opposition leaders from organizing a political rally in Lubumbashi to highlight concerns regarding the electoral process. The SSF prevented opposition leaders from accessing a residence of the rally leader and fired live ammunition into the air while opposition members attempted to reach the planned rally point. From November 21 to election day on December 30, the JHRO recorded 16 election-related deaths. This included three deaths in Lubumbashi on December 11, one death in Tanganyika on December 12, one death in Mbuji-Mayi on December 13, one death in Kisangani on December 14, one death in Tshikapa on December 18, one death in Lubumbashi on December 19, six deaths in Tanganyika on December 27, one death in Beni on December 28, and one death in South Kivu province on election day on December 30.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. Civil society organizations and NGOs are required to register with the government and may receive funds only through donations; they may not generate any revenue, even if it is not at a profit. The registration process is burdensome and very slow. Some groups, particularly within the LGBTI community, reported the government had denied their registration requests.

During an interactive dialogue with civil society in Kinshasa in March 2016, the minister of justice and human rights stated that only 63 of more than 21,000 NGOs in the country were formally registered. Many NGOs reported that, even when carefully following the registration process, it often took years to receive legal certification. Many interpreted registration difficulties as intentional government obstacles for impeding NGO activity.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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. Although CENI organized elections during the year, more than a million voters were disenfranchised by CENI’s decision to cancel elections in the Ebola-affected areas of Beni and Butembo in eastern DRC ostensibly for public health and security reasons. Elections were also canceled in the western town of Yumbi after intercommunal violence killed nearly 1,000 persons from December 16 to 18. Unknown numbers of voters were also disenfranchised on election day due to CENI’s failure to produce accurate voter lists or publicize the location of polling stations.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Presidential, legislative, and provincial elections were held on December 30 but widely criticized due to irregularities and a lack of transparency. Results were not announced by year’s end.

The government stated it accredited 270,000 domestic observers but denied accreditation to many international elections observers and media outlets. Election observers reported significant irregularities on election day due to delays opening some voting stations, confusion regarding the use of electronic voting machines, the location of polling stations, and the posting of voter lists.

On December 12, a fire at the CENI warehouse in Kinshasa allegedly destroyed approximately 8,000 voting machines and other voting materials needed to hold elections in Kinshasa. On December 20, the CENI announced elections would be delayed by seven days in order to replace the voting equipment destroyed in the fire. On December 26, CENI cancelled presidential elections in Beni and Butembo in North Kivu province citing risks of Ebola and insecurity and in Yumbi in Mai-Ndombe province due to recent intercommunal violence. CENI announced that legislative and provincial elections in those areas would be held in March 2019.

Gubernatorial elections took place in the provinces of Maniema and Kwango in March. However, the Supreme Court invalidated the Maniema gubernatorial election and the vice governor was appointed as acting governor.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Outgoing president Joseph Kabila’s Presidential Majority political alliance–which included his former party (the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy), the Alliance of Democratic Forces for Congo, and other parties–enjoyed majority representation in government, the parliament, and judicial bodies, including on the Constitutional Court and CENI. State-run media, including television and radio stations, remained the largest source of information for the public and government (see section 2.a.). There were reports of government intimidation of opposition members, such as denying opposition groups the right to assemble peacefully (see section 2.b.), limiting travel within or outside the country, targeting opposition leaders in politically motivated judicial actions, and exercising political influence in the distribution of media content. On December 19, the Governor of Kinshasa prohibited presidential candidates from holding campaign activities in Kinshasa allegedly due to security concerns. The announcement, however, was widely believed to be politically motivated to suppress support for opposition candidates.

The law recognizes opposition parties and provides them with “sacred” rights and obligations. Government authorities and the SSF, however, prevented opposition parties from holding public meetings, assemblies, and peaceful protests. The government and the SSF also limited opposition leaders’ freedom of movement and arbitrarily arrested opposition party members. At various points during the year, including the election campaign period, the SSF used force to prevent or disrupt opposition-organized events. On December 11, in Lubumbashi, PNC agents used tear gas and live ammunition to disperse violently opposition candidate Martin Fayulu from holding a campaign rally, resulting in deaths. The JHRO recorded 16 election-related deaths during the campaign period, from November 21 to election day on December 30. This included three deaths Lubumbashi on December 11, one death in Tanganyika on December 12, one death in Mbuji-Mayi on December 13, one death in Kisangani on December 14, one death in Tshikapa on December 18, one death in Lubumbashi on December 19, six deaths in Tanganyika on December 27, one death in Beni on December 28, and one death in South Kivu province on election day on December 30.

National Assembly president Aubin Minaku continued to prevent the opposition UDPS party from changing its representative to the CENI in violation of a December 2016 Agreement between the government and opposition parties.

In a number of districts, known as “chefferies,” traditional chiefs perform the role of a local government administrator. Unelected, they are selected based on local tribal customs (generally based on family inheritance) and if approved are then paid by the government.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Women held 9 percent of seats in the National Assembly (44 of 500) and 6 percent in the provincial assemblies (43 of 690). Five of 108 senators were women. Among the 59 government vice prime ministers, ministers, ministers of state, and vice ministers, six were women, a decrease in the total number from that of the government formed in 2016 (from 11 percent of 68 such positions to 10 percent of 59 such positions). Some observers believed cultural and traditional factors prevented women from participating in political life to the same extent as men.

Some groups, including indigenous persons, claimed they had no representation in the Senate, National Assembly, or provincial assemblies. Discrimination against indigenous groups continued in some areas, such as Equateur, East Kasai, and Upper Katanga provinces, and contributed to their lack of political participation (see section 5).

The national electoral law prohibits certain groups of citizens from voting in elections, in particular members of the armed forces and the national police.

Djibouti

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

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

There were reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

According to a human rights group, on July 9, state security forces shot and killed a young man in Northern Djibouti during an investigation into an armed rebel group.

In 2015 the government investigated law enforcement officials and civilians allegedly responsible for killing as many as 30 persons gathering for a religious ceremony. The government did not find any law enforcement officials responsible for the deaths. Several civilian cases related to the same incident remained pending.

Authorities seldom took known actions to investigate reported cases of arbitrary or unlawful killings from previous years or to try suspected perpetrators.

The government prioritized investigating and arresting alleged members of a rebel group after accusing the group of a May attack on heavy machinery for the construction of a controversial road project in the North.

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 constitution and law prohibit such practices; however, according to credible local sources, security forces assaulted detainees.

Security forces arrested and abused journalists, demonstrators, and opposition members.

On March 26, domestic human rights groups stated that Documentation and Security Service (SDS) personnel detained and beat Mohamed Ahmed Ali after he produced a series of Facebook posts. The motive for his arrest was unclear. He was released one week later without trial.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

International organizations reported prison conditions remained harsh. The country had one central prison, Gabode, in the capital and a second, smaller regional prison in Obock, as well as small jails supervised by local police or gendarmes. These jails often served as holding cells before detainees were moved to the central prison. The Nagad Detention Facility, operated by police, primarily held irregular migrants and was not part of the prison system. There were reports police and gendarmes abused prisoners.

Physical Conditions: Gabode Prison conditions of detention for women were similar to those for men, although less crowded. Authorities allowed young children of female prisoners to stay with their mothers. The prison population exceeded the facility’s original planned capacity by almost double. Due to space constraints, authorities did not always hold pretrial detainees separately from convicted prisoners, nor were violent offenders always separated from nonviolent offenders. Authorities occasionally separated opposition supporters from the rest of the prison population. Authorities provided poor lighting and heating, limited potable water and ventilation, and poor sanitation conditions for the prison population.

Prisoners with mental disabilities, who constituted a growing percentage of the prison population, regularly received adequate care. They were kept in the infirmary, although separately from prisoners with serious communicable diseases. They had access to psychiatric services through the national health system.

Conditions in jails, which held detainees until their summary release or transfer to the central prison, were poor. Jails had no formal system to feed or segregate prisoners and did not provide consistent medical services. Prisoners were fed on a regular basis.

Conditions at the Nagad Detention Facility were poor, although detainees had access to potable water, food, and medical treatment. Authorities deported most detainees who were foreign nationals within 24 hours of arrest. While normally used for irregular migrants, the government also used the Nagad Detention Facility as a temporary holding place for civilians arrested during political demonstrations or engaged in political activity.

Government statistics indicated no prisoner or detainee deaths during the year.

Administration: Officials investigated reports of cases of inhuman conditions that they deemed credible. The government-sponsored National Commission for Human Rights conducted an annual tour of the prisons but did not release a public report.

Independent Monitoring: The government usually granted prison access to foreign embassies for cases of foreign citizens detained in the prisons. Authorities allowed International Committee of the Red Cross representatives to visit the Nagad Detention Facility and the Gabode Prison quarterly to assess general prison conditions. The government also allowed embassy officials to visit Gabode Prison.

According to an independent organization, high-profile refugees–formerly prisoners of war–received adequate treatment at the Nagad Detention Facility, including mental health services.

Improvements: A permanent doctor and four nurses were available at the prison. The medical staff provided specialized medicine for those detainees with specific illnesses such a tuberculosis or diabetes. An international organization provided female prisoners with specialized hygiene kits on a regular basis. Government officials organized a fundraiser to donate sanitary kits and stationary materials to female prisoners and children. Women prisoners had access to vocational training and income-generating activities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not respect these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Security forces include the National Police under the Ministry of Interior, the Army and National Gendarmerie under the Ministry of Defense, and the Coast Guard under the Ministry of Transport. An elite Republican Guard unit protects the president and reports directly to the presidency. A separate National Security Service also reports directly to the presidency. The National Police is responsible for security within Djibouti City and has primary control over immigration and customs procedures for all land border-crossing points. The National Gendarmerie is responsible for all security outside of Djibouti City and is responsible for protecting critical infrastructure within the city, such as at the international airport. The army is responsible for defense of the national borders. The Coast Guard enforces maritime laws, including interdicting pirates, smugglers, traffickers, and irregular migrants.

Security forces were generally effective, although corruption was a problem in all services, particularly in the lower ranks where wages were low. Each security force has a unit responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct, and the Ministry of Justice is responsible for prosecution. During the year the government received one formal complaint of law enforcement misconduct. The state prosecutor brought charges against two law enforcement officers accused of abusing a detainee during an arrest. The case continued at year’s end. Authorities took no action to investigate complaints of misconduct from previous years. Impunity was a serious problem.

The National Police has a Human Rights Office and has integrated human rights education into the police academy curriculum.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires arrest warrants and stipulates the government may not detain a person beyond 48 hours without an examining magistrate’s formal charge; however, the government generally did not respect the law, especially in rural areas. Authorities may hold detainees another 48 hours with the prior approval of the public prosecutor. The law provides that law enforcement authorities should promptly notify detainees of the charges against them, although there were delays. The law requires that all persons, including those charged with political or national security offenses, be tried within eight months of arraignment, although the government did not respect this right. The law contains provisions for bail, but authorities rarely made use of it. Detainees have the right to prompt access to an attorney of their choice, which generally occurred, although there were exceptions. In criminal cases the state provides attorneys for detainees who cannot afford legal representation. In instances of unlawful detention, detainees could get court ordered release but not compensation.

Arbitrary Arrest: During the year government officials arbitrarily arrested journalists, opposition members, academics, and demonstrators, often without warrants.

For example, in February SDS personnel arrested Abdou Mohamed Bolock for complaining on Facebook that the Obock Region lost legislative seats under the leadership of the prime minister. He was detained and later released without charge.

In October, after a traffic dispute, a foreign contractor was beaten, unlawfully detained, and denied access to the person’s embassy. The contractor was released after two days in detention and ordered to leave the country.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. Prisoners often waited two, three, or more years for their trials to begin. Judicial inefficiency and a lack of experienced legal staff contributed to the problem.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: After release detainees have the ability to challenge lawfulness of detention. Due to mistrust of the judicial procedure and fear of retaliation, the majority refrained from pursuing recourse.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary lacked independence and was inefficient. There were reports of judicial corruption. Authorities often did not respect constitutional provisions for a fair trial.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The legal system is based on legislation and executive decrees, French codified law adopted at independence, Islamic law (sharia), and nomadic traditions.

The law states the accused is innocent until proven guilty, but trials did not proceed in accordance with the presumption of innocence. Trials generally were public. A presiding judge and two associate judges hear cases. Three lay assessors, who are not members of the bench but are considered sufficiently knowledgeable to comprehend court proceedings, assist the presiding judge. The government chooses lay assessors from the public. In criminal cases the court consists of the presiding judge of the court of appeal, two lay assessors, and four jurors selected from voter registration lists. The law provides that detainees be notified promptly and in detail of the charges against them. Although the law requires the state to provide detainees with free interpretation when needed, such services were not always made available. Detainees have the right to prompt access to an attorney of their choice. Defendants have the right to be present, consult with an attorney in a timely manner, confront witnesses, present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, and generally have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Authorities generally respected these rights. The indigent have a right to legal counsel in criminal and civil matters but sometimes did not have legal representation. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right of appeal, although the appeals process was lengthy. The law extends these rights to all citizens.

Traditional law often applied in cases involving conflict resolution and victim compensation. Traditional law stipulates that compensation be paid to the victim’s family for crimes such as killing and rape. Most parties preferred traditional court rulings for sensitive issues such as rape, where a peaceful consensus among those involved was valued over the rights of victims. Families often pressured victims to abide by such rulings.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were arbitrary arrests of opposition supporters.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

In cases of human rights violations, citizens could address correspondence to the National Human Rights Commission. On a variety of matters, citizens could also seek assistance from the Ombudsman’s Office, which often helped resolve administrative disputes among government branches. Citizens could also appeal decisions to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The government did not always comply with those bodies’ decisions and recommendations pertaining to human rights.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such actions, the government did not respect these prohibitions. The law requires authorities to obtain a warrant before conducting searches on private property, but the government did not always respect the law. Government critics claimed the government monitored their communications and kept their homes under surveillance.

The government monitored digital communications intended to be private and punished their authors (see section 2.a., Internet Freedom).

While membership in a political party was not required for government jobs, civil servants who publicly criticized the government faced reprisals at work, including suspension, dismissal, and nonpayment of salaries.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law allow for freedom of expression, including for the press, provided the exercise of these freedoms complies with the law and respects “the honor of others.” The government did not respect these rights. The law provides prison sentences for media offenses.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately could face reprisals. Plainclothes security agents in mosques monitored the content of sermons during Friday prayers.

In separate instances in May, SDS personnel arrested Chehem Abdoulkader Chehem (Renard) and Mahmoud Ali for posting their plays criticizing the government on Facebook. In June authorities dismissed their cases after allegedly seizing their passports. On September 1, Ali was arrested again for publishing a post on Facebook that criticized the government’s decision to mandate school uniforms for public schools. He was subsequently released without charge.

Press and Media Freedom: There were no privately owned or independent newspapers in the country. Printing facilities for mass media were government owned, which created obstacles for those wishing to publish criticism of the government. The principal newspaper, La Nation, maintained a monopoly on domestic news.

Opposition political groups and civil society activists circulated newsletters and other materials that criticized the government via email and social media sites.

On March 10, SDS personnel arrested Djiboutian Armed Forces communications officer Captain Rashid Hachi Youssouf, and detained him for one week for sharing the first chapter of his novel, The Al Capone of Milk, online. The title is an apparent reference to Ainanche Ismail Omar Guelleh’s (son of the president) exclusive control of the country’s milk market. On March 14, Youssouf was released. The president dishonorably discharged him from the army. He fled overseas, where he resided at year’s end.

The government owned the only radio and television stations, operated by Radio Television Djibouti. The official media generally did not criticize government leaders or policy, and opposition access to radio and television time remained limited. Foreign media broadcast throughout the country, and cable news and other programming were available via satellite.

The Ministry of Communication in 1992 authorized the creation of the Communication Commission to distribute licenses to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) wishing to operate media outlets. In 2017 the commission received an office and hired staff. The commission has not issued any licenses, but it reported it had not received any applications. The commission intervened during the February legislative elections to enforce balanced coverage of majority and opposition parties by local state-owned media (television, newspaper, and the radio). The opposition parties engaged in the race characterized media coverage as fair.

Violence and Harassment: The government harassed journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media law and the government’s harassment and detention of journalists resulted in widespread self-censorship. Some opposition members used pseudonyms to publish articles.

Before a newspaper may begin circulation, it requires authorization from the Communication Commission, which requires agreement from the National Security Service. The National Security Service reportedly investigates funding sources and the newspaper staff’s political affiliations.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used laws against slander to restrict public discussion.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were few government restrictions on access to the internet, although the government monitored social networks to prevent demonstrations or overly critical views of the government.

Djibouti Telecom, the state-owned internet provider, blocked access to websites of the Association for Respect for Human Rights in Djibouti and radio station La Voix de Djibouti that often criticized the government. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 56 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were government restrictions on academic and cultural events. For example, the government restricted research in the northern region of the country for security reasons.

b. Freedom 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 assembly, the government restricted this right. The Ministry of Interior requires permits for peaceful assemblies. The ministry allowed opposition groups to host events and rallies. Security authorities occasionally restricted this right.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law allow for freedom of association provided community groups register and obtain a permit from the Ministry of Interior. Nevertheless, the ministry ignored the petitions of some groups (see section 5). The government harassed and intimidated opposition parties, human rights groups, and labor unions.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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. The government, however, deprived many citizens of this ability by suppressing the opposition and refusing to allow several opposition groups to form legally recognized political parties. The formal structures of representative government and electoral processes had little relevance to the real distribution and exercise of power.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2016 the Constitutional Council proclaimed the official and final results of the 2016 presidential election and confirmed the re-election of President Ismail Omar Guelleh for a fourth term in the first round of voting. The Constitutional Council certified that Guelleh was re-elected president with 111,389 of 127,933 votes cast, giving him 87.7 percent of the vote. Two opposition and three independent candidates shared the rest of the votes. One opposition group boycotted the election, stating the process was fraudulent. After the election opposition members noted irregularities, including alleging authorities unfairly ejected opposition delegates from polling stations, precluding them from observing the vote tallying. Most opposition leaders called the election results illegitimate.

International observers from the African Union (AU), Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and Arab League characterized the 2016 presidential election as “peaceful,” “calm,” and “sufficiently free and transparent” but noted irregularities. For example, international observers stated the Union for a Presidential Majority (UMP) coalition continued to provide campaign paraphernalia after the campaign period closed, including on the day of the election. Some polling station workers also wore shirts and paraphernalia supporting the UMP. The executive branch selected the members of the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI).

During the year the Constitutional Council proclaimed the official and final results of the legislative election and confirmed the ruling coalition’s control of 90 percent of the legislature. Two opposition parties shared the remaining 10 percent. Leaders of unrecognized opposition parties called the election results illegitimate due to the lack of a regular and independent election commission, and expressed their displeasure through Facebook posts and hunger strikes.

International observers from the AU, IGAD, Arab League, and Organization of Islamic Cooperation characterized the legislative elections as “free, just, and fair.” The mission from the AU, however, noted several worrisome observations, including lower voter registration due to restrictive laws, inadequate implementation of biometric identification processes during the elections, voter intimidation, inadequate security of submitted ballots, premature closures of voting centers, and the lack of opposition observers during ballot counting.

There was limited progress on implementing the 2016 law establishing conditions for opposition party activities and financing. The AU noted that the financing part of the law had not been implemented for the legislative elections.

Political Parties and Political Participation: State security forces beat, harassed, and excluded some opposition leaders. The government also restricted the operations of opposition parties.

As in previous years, the Ministry of Interior refused to recognize three opposition political parties, although they continued to operate: the Movement for Development and Liberty (MoDEL), the Movement for Democratic Renewal, and the Rally for Democratic Action and Ecological Development (RAADE). Members of those political parties were routinely arrested and detained for illegal political activity.

In August the minister of interior refused to renew the authorization for the Republican Alliance for Development (ARD) party to operate legally in the country. After an internal party reshuffle, the government refused to acknowledge new party leadership. From August 8 to 18, ARD president Abdoulkaer Abdallah went on a hunger strike.

On March 23, authorities arrested a security guard at an annex of the RADDE opposition party. Authorities detained him for one day and released him with instructions to evacuate the space. Abdisalam Ismail, Youth Designate for the RAADE party, was arrested on October 21 and remained detained.

On October 18 and 19, police arrested five MoDEL leaders for reportedly opening a training school for their supporters.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process. While women did participate, they did not meet the required 25 percent of political candidates and election administration officials, required by a 2017 law. International observers documented only 11 percent of election administration officials were women, and only 8 percent of candidates were women.

In 2017 the country elected its first female mayor in a communal election. In the February legislative elections, the number of women elected to the legislature more than doubled from eight to 18.

Women held 18 of 65 seats in the National Assembly, and there were three women in the 23-member cabinet. The presidents of the Appeals Court and of the Tribunal of First Instance were both women. Custom and traditional societal discrimination resulted in a secondary role for women in public life.

For the February legislative elections, CENI had no high-ranking female members.

Equatorial Guinea

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

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. On April 3, Santiago Ebee Ela, 41, member of the outlawed opposition party Citizens for Innovation (CI), died at Malabo Central Police Station, reportedly because of “cruel torture.” Government authorities did not confirm the death, nor did state media report it. CI alleged that Ebee Ela was arrested at home on the night of January 2 and was one of more than 200 party activists authorities detained since December 2017 as part of a crackdown following the mid-November 2017 elections. The majority of the CI members were released quickly. The final 36 received a pardon on October 10 and were released that month. Judge Jose Esono Ndong Bidang died in a police station in Malabo on July 23 after he was denied medical attention in police custody.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of at least two disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. Foreign press reported that Equatoguinean-Italian citizen Fulgencio Obiang Esono and Equatoguinean citizen (and Spanish resident) Francisco Micha Obama disappeared from Togo. Reports suggest that the government may have ordered their rendition and that both were later brought to Malabo’s infamous “Black Beach” prison.

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

The law prohibits such practices, but there were reports that both police and military personnel in Malabo and in Bata used excessive force during traffic stops, house-to-house searches, and interrogations, sometimes including sexual assault, robbery, and extortion. Police also tortured opposition members, according to opposition leaders.

On January 4, approximately 150 members of the CI political party were arrested and detained in both Malabo and Bata without notification of a crime committed. CI leaders asserted they were tortured by soldiers and held for days without access to food and water (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners). On October 10, the president pardoned 169 prisoners, including the 36 members of the CI party who were still in prison. These were among the first prisoners released by October 22.

Police reportedly beat and threatened detainees to extract information or to force confessions.

Authorities routinely harassed, intimidated, arbitrarily arrested, detained, and deported foreigners–primarily African immigrants–without due process (see section 2.d.).

Military personnel and police reportedly raped, sexually assaulted, and beat women, including at checkpoints. Senior government officials took no steps to address such violence and were themselves sometimes implicated in the violence.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in the country’s three prisons and 12 police station jails were harsh and life threatening due to abuse, overcrowding, disease, inadequate food, poorly trained staff, and lack of medical care.

Physical Conditions: In 2016 there were approximately 475 adult male inmates and 25 adult female inmates in police station jails; no data was available on the number of inmates in prisons. There was no information available on the number of juvenile detainees.

Statistics on prisoner deaths were unavailable.

Men, women, and minors had separate sleeping quarters and bathrooms but shared a common area for meals. Pretrial and convicted prisoners were held separately, although they shared a common area.

Lawyers and other observers who visited prisons and jails reported serious abuses, including beatings.

Prison cells were overcrowded, dirty, and lacked mattresses. Up to 30 detainees shared one toilet facility that lacked toilet paper and a functioning door. Inmates rarely had access to exercise. Diseases including malaria, typhoid, tuberculosis, hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS were serious problems. Authorities sporadically provided a limited number of prisoners and detainees with medical care as well as basic meals, but food was generally insufficient and of poor quality. Ventilation and lighting was not always adequate, and rodent infestations were common. Jails did not provide food to detainees, but authorities generally allowed families and friends to deliver meals twice daily, although police did not always pass on the food to detainees. Visitors had to pay guards small bribes to see detainees and to provide them with food.

In addition, the Ministries of Justice and National Security operated civilian prisons for civilians on military installations, with military personnel handling security around the prisons and civilians providing security and other services within the prisons. There was little information on conditions in those prisons.

Administration: Authorities did not investigate credible allegations of mistreatment. Visitors and religious observance were restricted for political prisoners.

Independent Monitoring: There was no independent monitoring of prisons or detention centers. The government allowed UNICEF to visit youth rehabilitation centers in Centro Sur and Riaba but did not permit monitoring by media or local human rights groups.

Improvements: On July 27, the government inaugurated a new, modern maximum-security correctional facility located in Oveng Asem, on the mainland, with a capacity for more than 500 prisoners.

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, but the government rarely observed these requirements. Authorities held detainees incommunicado, denied them access to lawyers, and jailed them for long periods without charge, beyond the 72 hours allowed by law.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The vice president asserts overall control over the security forces. Police generally are responsible for maintaining law and order in the cities, while gendarmes are responsible for security outside cities and for special events. Both entities report to the minister of national security. Military personnel, who report to the minister of defense, also fulfill police functions in border areas, sensitive sites, and high-traffic areas. Additional police elements are in the Ministries of Interior (border and traffic police), Finance (customs police), and Justice (investigative/prosecuting police). Presidential security officials also exercise police functions at or near presidential facilities. The military often carried out police functions and, in some cases, mixed units of police and military operated together.

Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over the security forces. Police, gendarmes, and military personnel were poorly trained, ineffective, and corrupt. Impunity was a problem. Security force members, who often were inebriated, extorted money from citizens and foreigners at police checkpoints and during routine traffic stops. The government did not maintain effective internal or external mechanisms to investigate and punish security force abuses.

No government body examines security force killings to evaluate whether they occurred in the line of duty or were otherwise justifiable. Nevertheless, in some high-profile cases, prosecutors and the judiciary performed show trials to exonerate the accused.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution requires arrest warrants unless a crime is in progress or in cases that affect national security. Members of the security forces frequently arrested persons in violation of the warrant requirement. A detainee has the right to a judicial determination of the legality of detention within 72 hours of arrest, excluding weekends and holidays, but determination of the legality of detention often took longer, sometimes several months. NGOs indicated the majority of detainees were not charged and that judges typically failed to issue a writ of habeas corpus within the legal time limit of 36 hours.

Some foreigners complained of detention and deportation without prior notification of the charges against them. Courts rarely approved bail. The bar association supplied public defenders to those who could not afford private counsel but only at the time they were charged. Authorities occasionally denied access to lawyers, particularly to political detainees. The law prohibits incommunicado detention, but local police chiefs did not always respect this prohibition.

Arbitrary Arrest: The government arbitrarily arrested immigrants, opposition members, businesspersons, and others. Many detainees complained that bribes had to be paid to obtain release.

Police detained foreigners and took them into custody even when they provided proper documentation. Police raided immigrant communities. Reliable sources reported that police abused, extorted, or detained legal and irregular immigrants during raids. Diplomatic representatives in the country criticized the government for the harassment, abuse, extortion, and detention of foreign nationals and for not renewing residence and work permits in a timely manner, making foreign nationals vulnerable to such abuse.

There were numerous reported cases of arbitrary arrest. Professor Julian Abaga Ncogo was detained in December 2017, allegedly for discussing what he perceived as an untenable political, economic, and social situation in the country. Somehow, the message got to some authorities who had him arrested. He was released in July, just before the National Political Dialogue.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem and was often politically motivated. Inefficient judicial procedures, corruption, lack of monitoring, and inadequate staffing contributed to the problem.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law detainees have the right to challenge their detention and obtain release, although there is no provision for compensation if a detainee is found to have been unlawfully detained. Nevertheless, authorities did not respect this right, and detainees could not challenge the validity of the charges against them in practice. The 150 CI party members arrested in early January were detained for a month without access to lawyers and were only allowed representation after their convictions.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution does not provide for an independent judiciary. Instead, the president is designated the “first magistrate of the nation” and chair of the Judicial Council responsible for appointing judges and magistrates.

Members of the government often influenced judges in sensitive cases. Judges sometimes decided cases on political grounds; others sought bribes. Authorities did not always respect court orders, and many persons turned to the parliament, the Constitutional Court, or the president as first magistrate of the nation for enforcement of civil judgments on matters such as employment, land, and personal injury disputes.

The military justice system, based entirely on the system in effect in Spain when the country gained its independence in 1968, provided defendants with fewer procedural safeguards than the criminal court system. The code of military justice states that a military tribunal should judge any civilian or member of the military who disobeys a military authority or who is accused of committing a crime that is considered a “crime against the state.” A defendant in the military justice system may be tried in absentia, and the defense does not have the right to cross-examine an accuser. Such proceedings were not public, and defendants had no right of appeal to a higher court.

In rural areas tribal elders adjudicated civil claims and minor criminal matters in traditional courts. Traditional courts conducted cases according to customary law that does not afford the same rights and privileges as the formal system. Persons dissatisfied with traditional judgments could appeal to the civil court system.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, but the judiciary generally did not enforce this right. The law provides for the presumption of innocence, and defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges against them with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, and to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense but the courts did not respect these rights. Defendants have the right to a public trial without undue delay, and most trials for ordinary crimes were public. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials but unless they could afford private counsel rarely were able to consult promptly with attorneys. A defendant unable to afford a lawyer is entitled to request a government-appointed lawyer but only after first appearing in court, which generally did not occur within the mandated 72 hours. The law provides for defendants to confront and question witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence but courts seldom enforced this right. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt and the right to appeal. The law extends these rights equally to all citizens, but authorities did not respect the law.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were reports of political prisoners or detainees, but no data was available on their number. They were held at Black Beach prison where they remained without charge or trial and without access to attorneys for several months.

On March 8, political activist and cartoonist Ramon Nse Esono Ebale was released from prison after being acquitted for counterfeiting and money laundering, crimes that he was charged with in December 2017 due to false testimony by a police officer, the state’s main witness.

After the early January arrest of 150 members of the opposition CI party, on February 23, the High Court in Mongomo convicted and sentenced 31 CI members to 41 years in prison for sedition, undermining authority, damaging government property, and physical injury. The court also ordered the dissolution of the CI political party and imposed a fine of 138 million CFA francs ($235,000). CI’s Jesus Mitogo Oyono Andeme, the only opposition party member elected to the legislature in the November 2017 elections, was among those convicted. All 31 were released on October 22 as part of the amnesty ordered by the president on October 10.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Courts ruled on civil cases submitted to them, some of which involved human rights complaints. Civil matters were often settled out of court, and in some cases tribal elders adjudicated local disputes.

The government sometimes failed, for political reasons, to comply with domestic court decisions pertaining to human rights, including political rights.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government often did not respect these prohibitions. Search warrants are required unless a crime is in progress or for reasons of national security. Nevertheless, security force members reportedly entered homes without required warrants and arrested alleged criminals, foreign nationals, and others; they confiscated property and demanded bribes with impunity. Many break-ins were attributed to military and police personnel. In 2017 a Chinese citizen was killed by a group attempting to rob his house. One of the perpetrators dropped his identity card as he fled the scene, which showed he was a member of the military. In prior years, military members had been killed while they attempted break-ins.

Authorities reportedly monitored opposition members, NGOs, journalists, and foreign diplomats, including through internet and telephone surveillance. The government blocked employment of known members of opposition parties. Members of civil society have reported both covert and overt surveillance by security services.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, the government has extensive legal powers to restrict media activities. The government restricted journalistic activity through prepublication censorship. Media remained weak and under government influence or control. Persons close to the president owned the few private media outlets that existed. Most journalists practiced self-censorship. Those who did not were subject to government surveillance and threats.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals generally chose not to criticize the president, his family, other high-ranking officials, and security forces due to fear of reprisal. The government attempted to impede criticism by continuing to monitor the activities of opposition members, journalists, and others.

Press and Media Freedom: The country had one marginally independent newspaper that published sporadically. Print media outlets were extremely limited. Starting a newspaper was a complicated process governed by an ambiguous law and impeded by government bureaucracy. Accreditation was cumbersome for both local and foreign journalists. International newspapers and news magazines occasionally were available in grocery stores and hotels in major cities.

The government owned the only national radio and television broadcast system, Radio-Television of Equatorial Guinea. The president’s eldest son, Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, owned the only private broadcast media, Television Asonga and Asonga Radio. Journalists who worked for these entities could not report freely. During the legislative and municipal elections in November 2017 the government censored all international channels.

The government denied or left pending requests by political parties to establish private radio stations. Satellite broadcasts were widely available, including the French-language Africa24 television channel that the government partially owned.

International news agencies did not have correspondents or regular stringers in the country.

Violence and Harassment: Security forces detained, intimidated, and harassed journalists. The government took no steps to preserve the safety and independence of media or to prosecute individuals who harassed journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law gives the government considerable authority to restrict publication through official prepublication censorship. The law also establishes criminal, civil, and administrative penalties for violation of its provisions, particularly of the 19 publishing principles in Article 2 of the Law on the Press, Publishing, and Audiovisual Media. The only marginally independent newspaper practiced self-censorship and did not openly criticize the government or the president.

The only publishing facility available to newspapers was located at the Ministry of Information, Press, and Radio, where officials censored printed materials.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used laws against libel and slander, both of which are criminalized, to restrict public discussion.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet and censored online content. During the November 2017 legislative and municipalities elections, the government blocked all access to the internet for approximately 10 days.

In December 2017 cell phone access to WhatsApp resumed while access to Facebook, Diario Rombe, and Radio Macuto continued to be generally restricted throughout the year.

Users attempting to access political opposition sites were redirected to the government’s official press website or received a message that the websites did not exist. WhatsApp and the internet were the primary ways that the opposition expressed and disseminated their views.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 26.2 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Faculty, students, and members of opposition political parties complained of government interference in the hiring of teachers, the employment of unqualified teachers, and official pressure on teachers to give passing grades to failing students with political connections. Teachers with political connections but no experience or accreditation were employed and reportedly seldom appeared at the classes they were assigned to teach. Most professors practiced self-censorship. In December the press reported the minister of education fired a teacher from the opposition Convergence for Social Democracy Party (CPDS), allegedly because he was promoting his political ideology in his classes. Opposition blogs alleged the teacher was fired because he criticized a rule requiring female students to cut their hair to a certain length.

Some cultural events required coordination with the Ministry of Information, Press, and Radio, the Department of Culture and Tourism, or both. This was more common outside of the largest cities. The resulting bureaucratic delay was a disincentive for prospective organizers, who often did not know the criteria used for judging proposals or their chances for approval.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, although the constitution and law provide for these freedoms.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for the right of peaceful assembly, but regulatory provisions effectively undermined this right, and the government routinely restricted freedom of assembly. The government formally abolished permit requirements for political party meetings within party buildings but requires prior permission for public events, such as meetings in other venues or marches, and frequently denied these permit requests. The government frequently dispersed peaceful, preapproved public gatherings if a participant asked a question that could be construed as criticism of the government or the PDGE.

In contrast, authorities pressured citizens to attend progovernment demonstrations and rallies. For example, various citizen groups, government employees, and others were required to participate in the annual Independence Day parade.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, but the government severely restricted this right. All political parties, labor unions, and other associations must register with the government, but the registration process was costly, burdensome, opaque, and slow. During the year the government continued to reduce funding for civil society organizations and distributed remaining funds among a few mostly progovernment organizations close to the president’s inner circle. Grant funding decisions were arbitrary and nontransparent.

Politically motivated crackdowns on civil society organizations remained a problem, including the temporary detention of civil society activists without charge.

The law prohibits the formation of political parties along ethnic lines. Only one labor organization was believed to be registered by the end of the year, but the registry was inaccessible due to a change in leadership at the Ministry of Labor and Social Security (see section 7.a.).

Despite laws that authorities stated were designed to facilitate the registration of political parties, the government prevented the registration of opposition parties. Although elected officials from the CI opposition party were released from prison on October 22 after a presidential pardon, they were not immediately allowed to return to their positions in local and national offices because the party had been deregistered early in the year.

During the 2017 legislative and municipal electoral campaign season, public gatherings were closely monitored and tightly controlled. Political parties required government authorization to hold rallies. Authorities prohibited political parties from campaigning in the same location at the same time as the official PDGE party. The PDGE received preferential treatment. On election day security forces prevented voters from forming large groups (see section 3).

A 1999 law on NGOs limits to approximately 53,000 CFA francs ($90) per year the amount of funding civil society organizations can receive from foreign sources. The government has also pressured civil society organizations, especially those focused on human rights, through both overt and covert means (see sections 1.d. and 5 for additional information).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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 elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, but the government severely limited this right.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent elections: In November 2017 legislative and municipal elections the ruling party (PDGE) and 14 coalition parties claimed 92 percent of the vote in the country’s closed-list party system. The PDGE and its 14 coalition parties took all 75 Senate seats and 99 out of 100 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. CI was the only opposition party to win a seat in the legislature, although the single opposition legislator was imprisoned for several months during the year (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees). At the local level, the PDGE coalition won all but one of the municipal council seats and all except one mayoral race.

There were irregularities and no transparency in the electoral process. The voter census and registration process took place without independent domestic or international monitoring. The government restricted media access to the opposition and blocked access to social media and opposition websites during the electoral campaigns. Official observer communication was restricted for more than one week before the day of the elections by a shutdown of the internet. The government created an atmosphere of intimidation by deploying military personnel at polling stations.

In 2016 President Obiang claimed 93.7 percent of the vote in presidential elections that were marred by reports of capricious application of election laws, nontransparent political funding, polling station irregularities, voter fraud, intimidation, and violence. Military personnel and PDGE representatives were present at all polling stations, while opposition representatives were present only at some stations. There were instances in which procedures to protect ballot secrecy were not enforced. Photographs of the president remained on public buildings used as polling stations.

Contrary to the constitution, which requires that presidential elections be held no more than 45 days before or 60 days after the end of the prior presidential term, the election was held 136 days before the end of the president’s term.

In the months leading up to the presidential election, security forces violently dispersed opposition rallies and arrested demonstrators and opposition leaders (see section 2.b.). Some opposition political parties chose to boycott the elections in protest.

The government and the PDGE had an absolute monopoly of national media, leaving opposition political parties with no means to disseminate their message. The PDGE received hourly radio and television coverage before and during the campaign period while opposition parties received none. The PDGE was also able to cover the city in campaign posters and gave away smart phones, promotional clothing, and even cars at campaign events.

The National Electoral Commission (NEC) was not independent of PDGE or government influence. By law the NEC consists of six judges appointed by the head of the Supreme Court, six government representatives and a secretary appointed by the president; and one representative from each registered political party. The president appointed the minister of interior, a PDGE leader, to be head of the NEC.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The PDGE ruled through a complex network of family, clan, and ethnic relationships. Public-sector employees were pressured to join the PDGE and even to agree to garnishment of their salaries to fund PDGE activities. The party’s near monopoly on power, funding, and access to national media hampered the independent opposition parties–the CPDS, Popular Union of Equatorial Guinea, Popular Action for Equatorial Guinea, and the CI.

For example, the PDGE conducted a national campaign with extensive media coverage in preparation for the November 2017 legislative and municipal elections. Opposition parties, however, had little to no access to media during this period, contravening the National Pact of 1993, the regulating framework for political parties that stipulates access to media and political financing and that provides for opposition political parties to have free, weekly national radio and television spots.

Political parties could receive both private and public funding but were not required to disclose the amount of private funding. In advance of the 2016 presidential elections, only the PDGE received public funding, and the amount was not publicly disclosed.

The government subjected opposition members to arbitrary arrest and harassment before and after the elections.

Opposition members reported discrimination in hiring, job retention, and obtaining scholarships and business licenses. They also claimed the government pressured foreign companies not to hire opposition members. Businesses that employed citizens with ties to families, individuals, parties, or groups out of favor with the government reportedly were selectively forced to dismiss those employees or face reprisals.

Registered opposition parties faced restrictions on freedom of speech, association, and assembly. For example, supporters who attended opposition political party campaign rallies were singled out for police interrogation and harassment. Some political parties that existed before the 1992 law establishing procedures to register political parties remained banned, allegedly for “supporting terrorism.”

Civil servants were removed for political reasons and without due process. In 2016 both the executive and judicial branches were restructured, with party affiliation a key factor in obtaining government employment. The PDGE conducted a nationwide campaign, and government employees were required to support it to keep their positions.

The president exercised strong powers as head of state, commander of the armed forces, head of the judiciary, and founder and head of the ruling party. The government generally restricted leadership positions in government to select PDGE members or members of a coalition of loyal parties that campaigned and voted with the PDGE.

A 2011 constitutional amendment removes the presidential age limit of 75 and limits a president to two seven-year terms (starting from the next election). The constitution also establishes three separate branches of government and creates a new post of vice president appointed by the president. As a result, President Obiang, who has ruled since 1979, may serve one more seven-year term if he chooses to run for re-election in 2023. In 2016 the president appointed his son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, as vice president.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Male-controlled cultural influences, however, limited women’s political participation, especially in rural areas.

The president, vice president, prime minister, deputy prime minister, and all three vice prime ministers were men. After the November 2017 elections, women occupied 21 of 72 Senate seats and 11 of 100 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Two of the 25 cabinet members were women, and two of the 28 deputy and vice ministers were women. There was one woman among the eight justices of the Supreme Court.

The government did not overtly limit minority participation in politics, but members of the Fang ethnic group occupied the top ranks. The group, estimated to constitute 80 percent of the population, exercised dominant political and economic power.

Eritrea

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

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

International nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that the government committed arbitrary killings with impunity and subjected detainees to harsh and life-threatening prison conditions.

In August the UN Human Rights Committee released a list of issues pertaining to the government’s implementation of its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the government did not submit a report at that session. The United Nations’ list of issues included a number of references to human rights violations, including reports of wide-scale extrajudicial executions and disappearances, especially of those whose loyalty to the authorities was questioned. The list also referred to allegations of cases of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings allegedly committed by governmental actors, particularly the National Security Office.

The UN special rapporteur (SR) on the situation of human rights in Eritrea presented her fifth and final report at the Human Rights Council on June 14. The report referred to an arbitrary killing of a young man who was trying to cross the border in July 2017, and the SR asserted instances of extrajudicial killings at the border continued. In 2017 Doctors without Borders reported on the experiences of Eritreans who reported they were shot trying to cross the border to Ethiopia.

A 2016 UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) report found that authorities had previously committed extrajudicial executions and arbitrary killings. In July 2017 the SR reported that her requests to visit the country during her five-year mandate had also been denied, thus limiting her ability to provide further information on current conditions.

b. Disappearance

An unknown number of persons disappeared during the year and were believed to be in government detention or to have died while in detention. The government did not make efforts to prevent the disappearances, or investigate or punish those responsible for such disappearances. The government did not regularly notify family members or respond to requests for information regarding the status of detainees, including locally employed staff of foreign embassies and foreign or dual nationals. Disappeared persons included those detained for political and religious beliefs, journalists, individuals suspected of evading national service and militia duties, and persons not known to have committed any offense.

There were no known developments regarding the situation or well-being of members of the G-15, a group of former ruling party members and officials who called for reforms, and journalists whom the government detained in 2001.

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

The law and the unimplemented constitution prohibit torture. Reports of torture, however, continued.

According to NGO and UN reports, security forces tortured and beat army deserters, national service evaders, persons attempting to flee the country without travel documents, and members of certain religious groups.

Lack of transparency and access to information made it impossible to determine the numbers or circumstances of deaths due to torture or poor detention conditions.

In 2015 the COI, which had been denied access to the country, reported sexual violence against women and girls was widespread in military training camps, that the sexual violence by military personnel in camps and the army amounted to torture, and the forced domestic service of women and girls in training camps amounted to sexual slavery. In a 2015 report, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) expressed concern regarding reports of women in national service frequently subjected to sexual violence, including rape. There was no access for observers to assess these reports, limiting observers’ ability to speak directly to current conditions.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Detention conditions reportedly remained harsh, leading to serious health damage and in some instances death, but the lack of independent access made accurate reporting problematic.

Physical Conditions: There were numerous official and unofficial detention centers, some located in military camps. The Ministry of Justice oversees prisons run by the police, and the Ministry of Defense oversees those run by the military. The law requires juveniles be held separately from adults. There is a juvenile detention center in Asmara, but authorities held some juveniles, particularly teenagers, with adults, due to overcrowding in that center. When police arrested mothers, their young children sometimes were held with them. Severe overcrowding was common.

Data on the prevalence of death in prison and detention facilities were not available, although persons reportedly died from harsh conditions, including lack of medical care and use of excessive force. The government did not take action against persons responsible for detainee deaths.

In July, Doctors without Borders quoted one Eritrean who had experienced overcrowded prison conditions after trying to cross the border into Sudan. The SR’s June report mentioned four deaths resulting from harsh prison conditions: Habtemichael Mekonen and Habtemichael Tesfamariam, both Jehovah’s Witnesses; Haji Musa Mohammed Nur, president of al-Diaa Islamic School in Asmara; and Haile Woldetensae, former minister of foreign affairs and one of the G-15. In late 2017, two deaths were reported: Solomon Habtom, a former freedom fighter, and an unnamed evangelical Christian.

Authorities held some detainees incommunicado in metal shipping containers and underground cells without toilets or beds. Use of psychological torture was common, according to inmates held in prior years. Some former prisoners reported authorities conducted interrogations and beatings within hearing distance of other prisoners to intimidate them. The government did not provide adequate basic or emergency medical care in prisons or detention centers, although a Western visitor reported seeing groups of prisoners at a private eye doctor for regular six-month check-ups. Food, sanitation, ventilation, and lighting were inadequate, and potable water was sometimes available only for purchase.

Former detainees and other sources reported harsh detention conditions in police stations and in prisons for persons held for evading national service and militia duties.

Authorities placed political prisoners in solitary confinement more often than other detainees.

Administration: Prisoners and detainees could not submit complaints to judicial authorities, and authorities did not adequately investigate or monitor prison or detention center conditions. There were no prison ombudsmen to respond to complaints.

Prisoners and detainees did not have consistent access to visitors. The government did not inform foreign embassies when their respective citizens were arrested, nor did it grant consular access to detained dual-national citizens. Authorities generally did not permit family visits with persons detained, arrested, or convicted for reasons purportedly involving national security, but it permitted visits with those held for other reasons. Authorities did not permit religious observance for some prisoners and detainees, although at least one detention center had a facility where authorities permitted inmates to conduct religious observances. International religious organizations claimed authorities interrogated detainees regarding their religious affiliation and asked them to identify members of unauthorized religious groups.

Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit monitoring by independent government or nongovernmental observers or permit international bodies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), to monitor prison conditions during the year. The government also did not provide the ICRC with information about or access to Ethiopian and Djiboutian prisoners of war detained in the country.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law and unimplemented constitution prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but such acts remained widespread.

In September security agents apprehended former finance minister Berhane Abrehe without charge days after he published a two-volume book critical of the government. He remained under house arrest with security officials posted outside of his residence. His wife Almaz Habtemariam was detained in February, allegedly for helping their son leave the country without a required exit visa.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Police are responsible for maintaining internal security, and the armed forces are responsible for external security, but the government sometimes used the armed forces, the reserves, demobilized soldiers, or the civilian militia to meet domestic as well as external security requirements. Agents of the National Security Office, which reports to the Office of the President, are responsible for detaining persons suspected of threatening national security. The armed forces have authority to arrest and detain civilians. Police generally do not have a role in cases involving national security.

Impunity for abuse was the norm. There were no known internal or external mechanisms to investigate security force abuse or government actions to reform the security forces.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law stipulates that, unless there is a crime in progress, police must conduct an investigation and obtain a warrant prior to making an arrest, but this seldom occurred. In cases involving national security, police may waive the process. Detainees must be brought before a judge within 48 hours of arrest and may not be held more than 28 days without being charged with a crime. Authorities generally detained suspects for longer periods without bringing them before a judge, charging them with a crime, or telling them the reason for detention. Authorities sometimes arbitrarily changed charges during detention. The government promoted the assumption that they detained persons held without charge due to national security concerns.

The law provides for a bail system, but bail was arbitrarily denied, bail amounts were capriciously set or not set, and release on bail sometimes involved paying bribes.

Detainees held on national security grounds did not have access to counsel. Other detainees, including indigent persons, often did not have such access either. Incommunicado detention was widespread. Detainees did not have routine access to visitors.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrest occurred frequently. During the October 2017 and March 2018 protests over the arrest and death in custody of Haji Musa Mohammed Nur, arrests and arbitrary detentions occurred, and in November 2017 there were reports of the arrest and detention of a wife and mother of three young children after her husband had left the country.

Security force personnel detained individuals for reasons that included suspicion of intent to evade national and militia service, criticizing the government, attempting to leave the country, and unspecified national security threats. Authorities also continued to arrest members of unregistered Christian groups, primarily for their refusal to perform national service. According to UK-based freedom advocacy group CSW, formerly known as Christian Solidarity Worldwide, and Human Rights Watch, between May and December 2017 the government arrested approximately 210 evangelical Christians. In July international religious NGOs reported the release of more than 35 Jehovah’s Witnesses who had renounced their religion four years prior.

Authorities sometimes arrested persons whose papers were not in order and detained them until they were able to provide evidence of their militia status or demobilization from national service. The government contacted places of employment and used informers to attempt to identify those unwilling to participate in the militia.

There were occasional reports, particularly from rural areas, that security forces detained and interrogated the parents, spouses, or siblings of individuals who evaded national service or fled the country.

Persons arrested in previous years for refusing to bear arms on grounds of conscience and for participating in unregistered religious groups remained in detention.

Pretrial Detention: The government held numerous detainees without charge or due process. Detainees were not always told the reason for their arrest. Authorities brought few, if any, persons detained purportedly on national security grounds to trial. The percentage of the prison and detention center population in pretrial detention was not available.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees were not able to challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law and unimplemented constitution provide for an independent judiciary, but executive control of the judiciary continued, and the judiciary was neither independent nor impartial. Judicial corruption remained a problem. There are special courts charged with handling corruption cases, but there was no clarity on their structure or implementation. The Office of the President served as a clearinghouse for citizens’ petitions to some courts. It also acted as an arbitrator or a facilitator in civil matters for some courts. The judiciary suffered from lack of trained personnel, inadequate funding, and poor infrastructure.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The unimplemented constitution provides for the right to a fair, timely, and public trial, with an exception that allows the court to exclude the press and public for reasons relating to morals or national security. In practice, however, the right to such a trial was generally not respected.

The unimplemented constitution provides for the presumption of innocence and for defendants to be informed promptly and in detail of charges in a language they understand. The law does not specifically address the provision of adequate time or facilities to prepare one’s defense, the right of defendants to confront witnesses, or the provision of free interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals, although courts generally accorded these rights to defendants in cases courts did not deem related to national security. There is no right for defendants to refuse to testify. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with attorneys or to present their own evidence if they do not wish to have an attorney. Prosecution and defense lawyers are court appointed and have the right to present evidence and witnesses. Defendants who are unable to pay for an attorney are not provided one at public expense.

Courts of first instance are at the regional level. Each party to a case has the right to one appeal. Decisions rendered by any regional court may be appealed to the next appellate court. Should the appellate court reverse a decision of the lower court, the party whose petition was not sustained may appeal to the five-judge upper appellate court. If the lower appellate court upholds the decision of a regional court, there is no second appeal.

Special courts have jurisdiction over both corruption and national security cases. Judges serve as prosecutors and may request that individuals involved in cases testify. Special court judges are predominantly military officials. The special courts report to the Ministry of Defense and the Office of the President. Trials in special courts are not open to the public, and the court’s decisions are final, without appeal.

Community courts headed by elected officials were widely used in rural areas and generally followed traditional and customary law rather than formal law. Local administrators in rural areas encouraged citizens to reconcile outside the court system for less serious cases. Trials in community courts were open to the public and heard by a panel of judges. Judges are elected by the community.

In 2015 the government published revised penal, criminal procedure, civil, and civil procedure codes. The codes had yet to be put into full effect by year’s end. Some judges applied the new codes while others did not.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government continued to hold an unknown number of detainees without charge or trial, including politicians, journalists, members of registered and unregistered religious groups, and persons suspected of not completing national service or evading militia practice (see also section 1.b., Disappearance). Like other prisoners, the government did not permit any access to political detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There are no civil judicial procedures for individuals claiming human rights violations by the government.

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

The law and the unimplemented constitution prohibit arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, but the government did not respect these rights.

Many citizens believed the government monitored cell phones in particular since authorities required permits to use subscriber identity module (SIM) cards. To obtain a SIM card, citizens must present proof of completion of or exemption from national service, a PFDJ membership card, and a letter of recommendation from their regional office to the Telecommunications Ministry. Diplomats must provide a residence permit, a house lease agreement, a work permit, a supporting letter from their embassy, two photographs, a diplomatic identification card, and two copies of their passport and visa. Other foreign citizens reported the need for a blood test and X-ray to screen for hepatitis C and tuberculosis. It was not clear whether the presence of those conditions would result in refusal of a SIM card.

The government used an extensive informer system to gather information.

Without notice, authorities reportedly entered homes, threatened family members, and sometimes took fathers away without explanation. Reports, particularly from rural areas, stated that security forces detained and interrogated the parents, spouses, or siblings of individuals who evaded national service or fled the country. Militia groups reportedly checked homes or whole neighborhoods to confirm attendance at national service projects.

Some girls, women, and men married and had children to avoid national service.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Although the law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of speech, including for the press, the government severely restricted these rights.

Freedom of Expression: The government severely restricted the ability of individuals to criticize the government in public or in private through intimidation by national security forces.

Press and Media Freedom: The law bans private broadcast media and foreign ownership of media and requires submission of documents, including books, to the government for approval prior to publication. The government controlled all domestic media, including one newspaper published in four languages, three radio stations, and two television stations.

The law requires journalists to be licensed. The law restricts printing and publication of materials. The printing of a publication by anyone lacking a permit and the printing or dissemination of prohibited foreign publications are both punishable under the law. Government approval is required for distribution of publications from religious or international organizations.

In July Ethiopian journalists working as stringers for the Associated Press were informed they would be denied visas on arrival to cover the visit of the Ethiopian prime minister to the country, and as a result, the airline did not allow them to board the inaugural flight from Ethiopia to Eritrea carrying officials, business persons, and other journalists. In August international journalists from Deutsche Welle were allowed access during a visit by Germany’s development minister.

The government did not prevent persons from installing satellite dishes that provided access to international cable television networks and programs. The use of satellite dishes was common nationwide in cities as well as villages. Access to South Africa’s Digital Satellite Television (DStv) required government approval, and a subscriber’s bill could be paid only in hard currency. Satellite radio stations operated by diaspora Eritreans reached listeners in the country. Citizens could also receive radio broadcasts originating in Ethiopia. In July following the peace agreement with Ethiopia, public places displayed Ethiopian television stations, and telephone services between Eritrea and Ethiopia were re-established.

Violence and Harassment: The government did not provide information on the location or health of journalists it detained in previous years and who were held incommunicado.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most independent journalists remained in detention or lived abroad, which limited domestic media criticism of the government. Authorities required journalists to obtain government permission to take photographs. Journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of government reprisal.

National Security: The government repeatedly asserted national security concerns were the basis of limitations on free speech and expression.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government monitored some internet communications, including email, without appropriate legal authority. Government informants frequented internet cafes. In order to use an internet cafe, patrons must present proof they had completed national service. The government discouraged citizens from viewing some opposition websites by labeling the sites and their developers as saboteurs. Some citizens expressed fear of arrest if caught viewing such sites. Nonetheless, the sites were generally available. In October 2017 after protests in Akhria, communication channels, internet access, and the telephone system were temporarily cut or jammed.

Eritel, a government-owned corporation, has a monopoly on providing land-based internet service. The use of internet cafes with limited bandwidth in Asmara and other large communities was widespread, but the vast majority of persons did not have access to the internet. According to most recent International Telecommunication Union data, 1.3 percent of the population used the internet in 2017. Internet users who needed larger bandwidth paid prices beyond the reach of most individuals.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events.

Authorities monitored activities at private secondary schools and in some cases arbitrarily denied visas to foreign teachers or presented impediments to school administration, including restricting the import of teaching materials. Some parents of students in private schools charged that educational quality suffered because of disputes between government officials and school administrators.

With few exceptions, secondary school students must complete their final year of high school at the government’s Sawa National Training and Education Center. Students also had to complete military training at Sawa to be allowed to take entrance exams for institutions of higher education (see section 6, Children).

The government sometimes denied passports or exit visas to students and faculty who wanted to study or do research abroad. Some persons claimed authorities scrutinized academic travel for consistency of intent with government policies.

The government censored film showings and other cultural activities. It monitored libraries and cultural centers maintained by foreign embassies and in some instances questioned employees and users. The government directly sponsored most major cultural events or collaborated with various embassies and foreign cultural institutions in sponsoring musical performances by international performers. In late 2017, however, and early during the year, the embassies of two Western countries received public recognition for sponsoring cultural performances, and a group from one of the countries was broadcast on national television during the New Year celebrations.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of assembly, but the government restricted this right. For some public gatherings, the government intermittently required those assembling to obtain permits. Authorities subjected gatherings of large groups of persons without prior approval to investigation and interference, with the exception of events that occurred in the context of meetings of government-affiliated organizations, were social in nature, or were events such as weddings, funerals, and religious observances of the four officially registered religious groups. During the October 2017 and March protests, the government did not provide any official data in connection with the arrests and detentions, or the number of persons injured or requiring treatment because of the excessive use of force by the security apparatus.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The unimplemented constitution provides citizens the right to form organizations for political, social, economic, and cultural ends. It specifies that their conduct must be open and transparent and that they must be guided by principles of national unity and democracy. The government did not respect freedom of association. It did not allow any political parties other than the PFDJ. It also prohibited the formation of civil society organizations except those with official sponsorship. The government generally did not allow local organizations to receive funding and other resources from or to associate with foreign and international organizations.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law and unimplemented constitution provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair elections, based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot, but they were not able to exercise this ability.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The government came to power in a 1993 popular referendum, in which voters chose to have an independent country managed by a transitional government. This government did not permit the formation of a democratic system. The government twice scheduled elections in accordance with the constitution but canceled them without explanation. An official declaration in 2003 asserted, “In accordance with the prevailing wish of the people, it is not the time to establish political parties, and discussion of the establishment has been postponed.” Communities elect area administrators, magistrates, and managing directors.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The country is a one-party state. Political power rested with the PFDJ and its institutions. At times the government coerced persons to join the PFDJ.

Membership in the PFDJ was not mandatory, but authorities pressured some categories of individuals, particularly those occupying government positions, to join the party. Authorities reportedly visited citizens in their homes after they completed national service and compelled them to join the party and pay the required fees. Authorities occasionally convoked citizens to attend political indoctrination meetings as part of mandatory participation in the militia irrespective of PFDJ membership. Authorities denied benefits such as ration coupons to those who did not attend. Some citizens in the diaspora claimed convocations occurred at Eritrean embassies, with the names of those who did not attend reported to government officials, sometimes resulting in denial of benefits such as passport services.

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

Eswatini

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

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

In contrast with 2017, 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 constitution and law prohibit such practices, and there were few credible reports that government officials employed them. During the year the government enacted the Police Service Act, which prohibits police from inflicting, instigating, or tolerating torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The new law also establishes a new disciplinary offense for officers who use violence or unnecessary force, or who intimidate prisoners or others with whom they have contact in the execution of their duties.

There were scattered reports throughout the country of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment by “community police”–untrained, volunteer security personnel who exist outside the country’s formal legal structures and are empowered by rural communities to act as vigilantes, patrolling against rural crimes such as cattle rustling. In March three community police members in Manzini confronted and assaulted a young couple who had been walking together in a rural area. The assailants then raped the young woman, who was 17-years-old on the date of the incident. Each of the three community police members received sentences of 13 years’ imprisonment with no option of paying a fine to effect an earlier release. Two of the assailants received an additional year of imprisonment for the assault that preceded the rape.

In May the newspaper Times of Swaziland reported that a group of police arrested and abused a 35-year-old man whom they suspected of having committed a handful of home burglaries. When the accused reached the police station and denied responsibility for the break-ins, police allegedly tied him to a bench, where one officer sat on his chest while another wrapped plastic bags around his face. The accused told reporters that he confessed to the crimes to avoid further abuse. He led the officers to his sister’s home, where he had told them he hid the stolen items. Upon showing the officers an assortment of old furniture and other items, the accused reported that the police seemed to realize that they might have the wrong person. Police released him and reportedly told him not to tell anyone what had happened. The accused reported he sought medical treatment but lied to the nurses about how he had been injured, saying that he had fallen from a tree, because he did not want to be asked to file a police report. X-rays ultimately revealed the accused had suffered a broken rib and a dislocated shoulder. When reached for comment, a police spokesperson encouraged the accused to file a formal complaint with the station commander. There were no further media reports relating to the accused’s allegations, and it was unclear whether a police investigation ensued or resulted in disciplinary measures.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions varied and did not always meet international standards due to overcrowding and, in certain locations, facilities that require repair or modernization.

Physical Conditions: His Majesty’s Correctional Services (HMCS) stated in September that the total prison population was 3,453, exceeding the prison system’s designed capacity by 615 inmates. Facilities were of mixed quality; some were old and dilapidated; others such as the women’s prison were newer and well maintained. HMCS officials reported a growing incidence of prisoner-on-prisoner violence due to increased gang activity among inmates as prison populations have expanded and diversified in recent years. During larger incidents of prisoner-on-prisoner violence that involved multiple individuals, prison officials faced growing challenges in maintaining control.

In July and August 2017, media outlets reported that during a search for contraband, prison guards wearing surgical gloves ordered a dormitory of inmates to strip naked and face the wall. Wearing surgical gloves, they hit inmates on their buttocks with fists and, according to one inmate, “squeezed their (genitals) like one does when milking a cow.”

Administration: Authorities reportedly conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment and held prison officials accountable through appropriate disciplinary measures–primarily suspensions without pay.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring of prison conditions by independent nongovernmental observers such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, African Union, local nongovernmental organizations, and diplomatic missions. Independent monitoring groups generally received broad access to prison facilities and were able to conduct unchaperoned interviews of inmates and prison guards.

Improvements: During the year the government enacted the Correctional Services Act, which repealed the Prisons Act of 1964 and expanded opportunities for sentences to be served through community service. HMCS officers reported the new law already had begun easing congestion in the prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide 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.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The king is the commander in chief of the Umbutfo Eswatini Defense Force (UEDF), holds the position of minister of defense, and is the commander of the Royal Eswatini Police Service (REPS) and HMCS. He presides over a civilian principal secretary of defense and a commanding general. Approximately 35 percent of the government workforce was assigned to security-related functions.

Civilian authorities failed at times to maintain effective control over security forces. The REPS is responsible for maintaining internal security as well as migration and border crossing enforcement. The UEDF is responsible for external security but also has domestic security responsibilities, including protecting members of the royal family. The prime minister oversees the REPS, and the principal secretary of defense and the army commander are responsible for day-to-day UEDF oversight. The HMCS is responsible for the protection, incarceration, and rehabilitation of convicted persons and keeping order within HMCS institutions. HMCS personnel, however, sometimes worked alongside police during demonstrations and other large events, such as national elections, that call for a larger complement of personnel. While the conduct of the REPS, UEDF, and HMCS was generally professional, members of these forces were susceptible to political pressure and corruption.

Traditional chiefs supervised volunteer rural “community police,” who have the authority to arrest suspects concerning minor offenses for trial by an inner council within the chiefdom. For serious offenses suspects were handed over to the REPS for further investigations.

Impunity was a problem. Although there were mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, there were few prosecutions or disciplinary actions taken against security officers accused of abuses. The internal REPS Complaints and Discipline Unit investigated reports of police abuse and corruption but did not release its findings to the public. In most cases the REPS transferred police officers found responsible for violations to other offices or departments within the police system. Police academy training for recruits included human rights components in line with regional standards. Some officers also attended additional training programs that included a human rights component.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires warrants for arrests, except when police observe a crime being committed, believe a person is about to commit a crime, or conclude evidence would be lost if arrest is delayed. The law requires authorities to charge detainees with the violation of a statute within a reasonable time, usually within 48 hours of arrest or, in remote areas, as soon as a judicial officer is present to assume responsibility. Authorities sometimes failed to charge detainees within this time period, sometimes taking up to a week. There is a bail system, and suspects may request bail at their first appearance in court, except in serious cases such as those involving murder or rape. In general detainees could consult with lawyers of their choice, to whom they were generally allowed prompt access. Lawyers may be provided to indigent defendants at public expense in capital cases or if conviction of a crime is punishable by life imprisonment.

Most citizens who encountered the legal system did so through the 13 traditional courts. Each court has a presiding judicial officer appointed by the king. These courts adjudicate minor offenses and violations of traditional law and custom. Authorities generally respected traditional court rulings.

The director of public prosecutions has the legal authority to determine which court should hear a case. The director delegated this responsibility to public prosecutors. Rather than refer a case to the director, police often referred cases not properly investigated to one of the traditional courts because the standard of evidence required for conviction was not as high as in the civil judicial system. Persons convicted in the traditional courts may appeal to the High Court. Prolonged delays during trials in the magistrate courts and High Court were common.

Military courts are not allowed to try civilians. They do not provide the same rights as civil criminal courts. For example, military courts may use confessions obtained under duress as evidence and may convict defendants based on hearsay.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality in nonpolitical criminal and civil cases not involving the royal family or government officials.

Judicial powers are based on two systems: Roman-Dutch law and a system of traditional courts that follows traditional law and custom. Neither the Supreme Court nor the High Court, which interprets the constitution, has jurisdiction in matters concerning the Offices of the King or Queen Mother, the regency, chieftaincies, the Swati National Council (the king’s advisory body), or the traditional regiments system. Unwritten traditional law and custom govern all of these institutions. Courts were unwilling to recognize many of the fundamental rights provided for in the constitution and instead relied on antiquated civil laws, which often reduce or disregard these rights. The king appoints Supreme Court justices on the advice of the Judicial Service Commission, which is chaired by the chief justice. Supreme Court justices must be Swati citizens and are subject to mandatory retirement at age 75. The Supreme Court hears cases throughout the year.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law generally provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right.

Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and the right to be informed of charges promptly, in detail, and with free interpretation if necessary. The constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial without undue delay, except when exclusion of the public is deemed necessary in the “interests of defense, public safety, public order, justice, public morality, the welfare of persons under 18, or the protection of the private lives of the persons concerned in the proceedings.” The judiciary enforced this right. Court-appointed counsel is provided to indigent defendants at government expense with free assistance of an interpreter for any defendant who cannot understand or speak English or SiSwati if the crime is punishable by death or life imprisonment. Defendants and their attorneys have access to relevant government-held evidence, generally obtained from the Public Prosecutor’s Office during pretrial consultations. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants may question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants and prosecutors have the right of appeal up to the Supreme Court. The law extends the foregoing rights to all persons.

The traditional courts operate under traditional authorities, including local chiefs. In general, chiefs preside over traditional courts as court presidents. Traditional courts hear both civil and minor criminal matters. By law traditional courts may not impose fines above 240 emalangeni ($17) or prison sentences longer than 12 months.

Traditional courts are empowered to administer customary law only “insofar as it is not repugnant to natural justice or morality” or inconsistent with the provisions of any civil law in force, but some traditional laws and practices violate civil laws, particularly those involving women’s and children’s rights. Defendants in traditional courts are not permitted formal legal counsel but may speak on their own behalf, call witnesses, and be assisted by informal advisors. Traditional law and custom provide for an appeals process, but the process is long and cumbersome. Under the constitution, the High Court has review and appellate jurisdiction over matters decided in traditional courts. Judicial commissioners within the traditional legal system may adjudicate appeals themselves or refer appeals to a court within the civil judicial system on their own volition. Appellants and appellees also have the right to seek High Court review of traditional court decisions.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations, including appeal to international courts or bodies. Administrative remedies are also available under civil service rules and regulations.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions except “in the interest of defense, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, town and country planning, use of mineral resources, and development of land in the public benefit.” The government did not always respect these prohibitions and broadly construed exceptions to the law. The law requires police to obtain a warrant from a magistrate before searching homes or other premises, but officers with the rank of subinspector or higher have authority to conduct a search without a warrant if they believe delay might cause evidence to be lost.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government restricted this right, particularly with respect to press freedom and matters concerning the monarchy. Although no law bans criticism of the monarchy, the prime minister used threats and intimidation to restrict such criticism.

Press and Media Freedom: The law empowers the government to ban publications if it deems them “prejudicial or potentially prejudicial to the interests of defense, public safety, public order, public morality, or public health.” Many journalists practiced self-censorship. Journalists expressed fear of reporting on matters involving the monarchy.

Daily newspapers criticized government corruption and inefficiency but generally avoided criticizing the royal family.

Broadcast media remained firmly under state control. Most persons obtained their news from radio broadcasts. Access to speak on national radio is generally restricted to government officials, although a leader of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland received an opportunity in September to share trade union frustrations and demands. Despite invitations issued by the media regulatory authority for parties to apply for licenses, no licenses were awarded. Stations practiced self-censorship and hesitated to broadcast anything perceived as critical of the government or the monarchy.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of reprisals, such as losing paid government advertising, if their reporting was perceived as critical of the monarchy.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 30 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

In June, August, and September, REPS officials used nonlethal measures to control and disperse crowds when protesters deviated from agreed routes or provoked the police by throwing stones or trying to enter government facilities without authorization. Some protesters experienced non-life-threatening injuries during these incidents.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Political rights were severely restricted, although citizens have the ability to choose 59 of the 69 members of the House of Assembly in procedurally credible, periodic elections held by secret ballot.

Legislation passed by parliament requires the king’s consent to become law. Under the constitution the king selects the prime minister, the cabinet, two-thirds of the Senate, 10 of 65 members of the House of Assembly, many senior civil servants, the chief justice and other justices of the superior courts, members of commissions established by the constitution, and the heads of government offices. On the advice of the prime minister, the king appoints the cabinet from among members of parliament.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: During the year peaceful and generally well managed parliamentary elections took place. International observers concluded the elections were credible, peaceful, and well managed.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government stated it was not yet ready to allow political parties to register and contest political power. The constitution provides for freedom of association but does not address how political parties may operate and contest elections. While political parties existed, there was no legal mechanism for them to register or contest elections. The constitution also states candidates for public office must compete on their individual merit, which courts have interpreted as blocking competition based on political party affiliation.

Participation in the traditional sphere of governance and politics takes place predominantly through chiefdoms. Chiefs are custodians of traditional law and custom, report directly to the king, and are responsible for the day-to-day running of their chiefdoms and maintenance of law and order. Although local custom mandates that chieftaincy is hereditary, the constitution, while recognizing that chieftaincy is “usually hereditary and is regulated by Swati law and custom,” also states the king “may appoint any person to be chief over any area.” As a result many chieftaincies were nonhereditary appointments, a fact that provoked land disputes, especially at the time of the death and burial of chiefs.

Participation of Women and Minorities: The constitution provides for 59 of the 69 seats in the House of Assembly to be popularly contested and for the king to appoint the remaining 10 members. The constitution provides for five of the 10 appointed members to be women and for the appointed members to represent “interests, including marginalized groups not already adequately represented in the House.” The king appointed only three women to the House of Assembly following the elections, in which only two women were elected. If, after an election, women constitute less than 30 percent of the total membership of parliament, the constitution and law require the House to elect four additional women–one from each region. The House complied with this requirement.

The king appoints 20 members of the 30-seat Senate, and the House of Assembly elects the other 10. The constitution requires that eight of the 20 members appointed by the king be women and that five of the 10 members elected by the House be women. Following the elections the king filled seven of the eight designated seats with women, while the House of Assembly elected five women to the Senate.

Widows in mourning (for periods that may extend up to two years) were prevented from appearing in certain public places or being in proximity to the king or a chief’s official residence. As a result widows were excluded from running for office or taking active public roles in their communities during those periods.

There were very few ethnic minority members in the government. Several appointed officials were members of the royal family.

Ethiopia

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

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

There were numerous reports that the government and its representatives committed arbitrary and unlawful killings. Security forces used excessive force against civilians.

A July 31 report from the independent nongovernmental organization (NGO) Human Rights Council (HRCO) that documented field investigations in 26 districts across seven zones in the Oromia and Somali Regions found that federal and regional security forces, as well as mobs of local youth, killed 733 citizens between January 2017 and January 2018.

On April 8, during the SOE, a military officer in Qobo town, East Haraghe Zone of Oromia Region, reportedly severely assaulted, shot, and killed 20-year-old Ayantu Mohammed, a mother of one who was three months’ pregnant, after abducting her from the street. According to a local media report, neighbors found Ayantu’s body dumped in their neighborhood the following day. Local police reported they disarmed and arrested the suspected military officer.

On August 4, violence reportedly involving regional security forces left at least 30 citizens dead in Jijiga, capital of the Somali Region, and nearby towns. In cascading violence shortly thereafter, communal violence in Dire Dawa left 14 individuals dead, including a woman and her four children, according to an August 7 press release by HRCO. On August 12, a heavily armed group of Somali Region’s special police force, sometimes referred to as the Liyu, attacked residents in Mayu Muluke District in East Hararghe Zone, Oromia, killing 40 persons and injuring 40. Oromia Region’s government spokesperson told local media that the attackers took orders from individuals opposing the federal government.

b. Disappearance

The government held individuals, including minors, temporarily incommunicado during the SOE. According to a July 31 HRCO report, nine adult residents of West Hararghe Zone, Oromia Region, disappeared following attacks by Somali Region’s special police force. Liyu officers abducted these individuals from their homes or the street. Due to poor prison administration, family members reported individuals missing who were allegedly in custody/remand, but could not be located.

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

Although the constitution prohibits such practices, there were reports that security officials tortured and otherwise abused detainees.

In October 2017 the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), a government human rights body, issued a report on its investigation following formal complaints from inmates that prison officials and police officers committed human rights violations, including torture, at the Shoa Robit Federal Prison between September and November 2016. The inmates told the EHRC that prison officials in Shoa Robit Prison subjected them to electric shocks, severe beatings, hanging heavy water bottles from genitals, handcuffing and tying inmates to beds, and soaking them with water. Muslim inmates reported the officers shouted anti-Muslim words and further harassed, threatened, and intimidated them based on their religious beliefs. Twelve inmates reported officers singled them out, handcuffed them, and tied them to their beds from September 22 until November 19, 2016. The EHRC investigation documented several body injuries on 16 inmates. These marks included deeply scarred hands and legs, broken fingers, marks left by extended handcuffing, flogging marks on the back, mutilated nails, broken arms, and head injuries. The team cross-referenced these marks with the body marks registered in the intake files of each inmate and concluded these injuries occurred in prison.

During a court session in December 2017, inmates criticized the report for documenting torture of only 16 inmates, claiming 176 inmates were tortured in Shoa Robit Prison. They also objected to the report’s failure to hold prison officials or Federal Police officers who carried out the torture accountable for their actions. The report’s failure to determine who was responsible, directly or indirectly, for the documented torture undermined the credibility of the EHRC in the eyes of prison reform activists.

In July Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report documenting torture, rape, long-term arbitrary detention, and inhuman detention conditions in Jijiga Central Prison between 2011 and early this year. Many of the former prisoners interviewed said they saw detainees dying in their cells after officials abused them. Former female prisoners reported multiple incidents of rape. Prison guards and the region’s special police allegedly brutalized prisoners, at the behest of regional authorities. According to HRW the prison was subject to virtually no oversight. The cycle of abuse, humiliating treatment, overcrowding, inadequate food, sleep deprivation, and lack of health care in Jijiga Central Prison, also referred to as Jail Ogaden, was consistent with the government’s long-standing collective punishment of persons who were perceived to support the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), previously designated by the government as a terrorist organization, a designation removed in June.

Multiple sources reported general mistreatment of detainees at official detention centers, unofficial detention centers, police stations, and in Kilinto federal prison. Interrogators administered beatings and electric shocks to extract information and confessions from detainees. Police investigators used physical and psychological abuse to extract confessions.

On April 6, following through on a January 3 EPRDF decision under the leadership of the former prime minister, the government announced the closure of Maekelawi, the federal crime investigation and detention center in Addis Ababa and the site of many reports of prisoner abuse in past years. Officials transferred the detainees in the center to another facility.

The United Nations reported it received one allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse against a peacekeeper from Ethiopia deployed with the UN Mission in Liberia. The case alleged sexual exploitation (exploitative relationship). Investigations by both the United Nations and Ethiopia were pending.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and pretrial detention center conditions remained harsh and in some cases life threatening. There were reports that authorities physically abused prisoners in detention centers, military facilities, and police stations. Problems included gross overcrowding and inadequate food, water, sanitation, and medical care. Pretrial detention often occurred in police station detention facilities, where conditions varied widely and where reports stated there was poor hygiene and police abuse of detainees.

During the SOE the government operated detention centers in six zones–Addis Ababa, Hawassa, Dire Dawa, Nekemte, Bahir Dar, and Semera. In March the State of Emergency Inquiry Board announced the SOE Command Post detained 1,107 individuals in the six zones. The main reasons given by the government for these arrests included murder, destruction of public service utilities, road blockade, demolishing of public documents, trafficking illegal firearms, and inciting activities that cause ethnic conflicts. Although conditions varied, problems of gross overcrowding and inadequate food, water, sanitation, and medical care were common at sites holding SOE detainees.

Physical Conditions: Severe overcrowding was common, especially in prison sleeping quarters. For example, in 2016 the EHRC visited a prison cell in Shoa Robit Federal Prison and found that its two small windows did not allow enough light into the estimated 40-square-meter (430-square-foot) cell, which was extremely small to house 38 inmates. Authorities sometimes incarcerated juveniles with adults. Prison officials generally separated male and female prisoners, although mixing occurred at some facilities. Medical attention following physical abuse was insufficient in some cases.

The government budgeted approximately nine birr ($0.32) per prisoner per day for food, water, and health care, although this amount varied across the country. According to the World Bank, the country’s per capita GDP was $1.50 per day. Many prisoners supplemented this support with daily food deliveries from family members or by purchasing food from local vendors. Reports noted officials prevented some prisoners from receiving food from their families, and some families did not know of their relatives’ locations. Medical care was unreliable in federal prisons and almost nonexistent in regional ones. Prisoners had only limited access to potable water. Water shortages caused unhygienic conditions, and most prisons lacked appropriate sanitary facilities. Many prisoners had serious health problems but received little or no treatment. There were reports prison officials denied some prisoners access to needed medical care.

Visitors to political prisoners and other sources reported political prisoners often faced significantly different treatment compared with other prisoners. Allegations included lack of access to proper medication or medical treatment, lack of access to books or television, and denial of exercise time.

Administration: In July the government fired five federal prison officials following state media reports of allegations of abuse. There were reports that prisoners mistreated by prison guards did not have access to prison administrators or ombudspersons to register their complaints. Legal aid clinics operated in some prisons. At the regional level, these clinics had good working relations with judicial, prison, and other government officials. Prison officials allowed some detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship, but courts sometimes declined to hear such complaints.

The law generally provides visitor access for prisoners. Authorities, however, denied some indicted defendants visits with their lawyers or with representatives of their political parties. In some cases police did not allow pretrial detainees access to visitors, including family members and legal counsel. Prison regulations stipulate that lawyers representing persons charged with terrorism offenses may visit only one client per day, and only on Wednesdays and Fridays. Authorities denied family members’ access to persons charged with terrorist activity.

Officials permitted religious observance by prisoners, but this varied by prison and even by section within a prison. There were allegations authorities denied detainees adequate locations in which to pray.

Independent Monitoring: The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited prisons throughout the country during the year as part of its normal activities. During the SOE access to prisoners was limited, but once the SOE was lifted in June, the ICRC enjoyed improved access to multiple prisons. The government did not permit access to prisons by other international human rights organizations.

Regional authorities allowed government and NGO representatives to meet with prisoners without third parties present. The EHRC monitored federal and regional detention centers and interviewed prison officials and prisoners in response to allegations of widespread human rights abuses. The NGO Justice for All-Prison Fellowship Ethiopia (JPA-PFE) had access to multiple prison and detention facilities around the country.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention; however, SOE regulations allowed law enforcement officers to arrest and detain individuals without a court warrant and hold detainees for longer than prescribed under normal, non-SOE legal precedents. There were reports of hundreds of arbitrary arrests and detentions related to the SOE targeting protesters, professors, university students, musicians, businesspersons, health workers, journalists, children, and others.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Federal Police report to the newly created Ministry of Peace as of October and are subject to parliamentary oversight. That oversight was limited. Each of the nine regions has a regional or special police force that reports to regional civilian authorities. Local militias operated across the country in loose and varying coordination with these regional police, the Federal Police, and the military. In some cases militias functioned as extensions of the ruling party. Local militias are members of a community who handle standard security matters within their communities, primarily in rural areas. Local government authorities provided select militia members with very basic training. Militia members serve as a bridge between the community and local police by providing information and enforcing rules. The military played an expanded role with respect to internal security during the SOE.

Impunity remained a problem, including for killings and other violence against protesters. An internal investigation process existed within the police forces, although officials acknowledged that it was inadequate, and there were continued efforts to reform and modernize these internal mechanisms. There were no public reports documenting internal investigations of the federal police for possible abuses during the SOE. The government rarely disclosed the results of investigations into abuses by local security forces, such as arbitrary detention and beatings of civilians.

The government supported limited training on human rights for police and army personnel. It accepted assistance from NGOs and the EHRC to improve and professionalize training on human rights by including more material on the constitution and international human rights treaties and conventions. Additionally, the Ethiopian National Defense Force routinely conducted training on human rights, protection of civilians, gender-based violence, and other courses at the Peace Support Training Center in Addis Ababa.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution and law require detainees to appear before the court and face charges within 48 hours of arrest or as soon thereafter as local circumstances and communications permit. Travel time to the court is not included in this 48-hour period. With a warrant authorities may detain persons suspected of serious offenses for 14 days without charge and for additional and renewable 14-day periods during a pending investigation. The courts allowed security officials to continue investigations for more than 14 days without bringing formal charges against suspects.

Under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP), police may request to detain persons without charge for 28-day periods, up to a maximum of four months, during an investigation. The law permits warrantless arrests for various offenses including “flagrant offenses.” These include suspects apprehended while committing an offense, attempting to commit an offense, or having just completed an offense.

The law prohibits detention in any facility other than an official detention center; however, local militias and other formal and informal law enforcement entities operated an unknown number of unofficial detention centers.

A functioning bail system was in place. Bail was not available for persons charged with terrorism, murder, treason, and corruption. In other cases the courts set bail between 500 and 10,000 birr ($18 and $357), which most citizens could not afford. The government provided public defenders for detainees unable to afford private legal counsel, but defendants received these services only when their cases went to court and not during the critical pretrial phases. In some cases a single defense counsel represented multiple defendants in a single case. There were reports that while some detainees were in pretrial detention, authorities allowed them little or no contact with legal counsel, did not provide full information on their health status, and did not allow family visits. There were reports officials sequestered prisoners for weeks at a time and placed civilians under house arrest for undisclosed periods.

The constitution requires authorities under an SOE to announce the names of detainees within one month of their arrest. Authorities generally published the names of those detained under the SOE but not always within the 30-day period. Civilians were not always able to locate the rosters of names of those imprisoned.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities regularly detained persons arbitrarily, including protesters, journalists, and opposition party members. There were hundreds of reports of arbitrary arrest by security forces.

On March 25, government security forces arrested journalists Eskinder Nega and Temesgen Desalegn; bloggers Mahlet Fantahun, Befekadu Hailu, Zelalem Workagegnehu, and Fekadu Mahetemework; and activists Andualem Arage, Addisu Getaneh, Yidnekachew Addis, Tefera Tesfaye, and Woynshet Molla while they gathered at the residence of journalist Temesgen Desalegn in Addis Ababa for the improper display of the national flag. Police first took the 11 to a police station in Addis’ Jemo District but transferred them to another station in Gotera-Pepsi area during the night. On April 5, authorities released the 11 detainees in Addis Ababa without formal charges.

According to a March 31 statement from the SOE Inquiry Board, security forces detained 1,107 individuals suspected of violating the SOE rules.

Pretrial Detention: Some detainees reported indefinite detention for several years without charge or trial. The percentage of the inmate population in pretrial detention and average length of time held was not available. Lengthy legal procedures, large numbers of detainees, judicial inefficiency, and staffing shortages contributed to frequent trial delays, in some cases years. SOE regulations allowed authorities to detain a person without a court order until the end of the SOE. At the conclusion of the SOE, several hundred individuals remained remanded and awaiting trial.

Detainees’ Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law requires officials to inform detainees of the nature of their arrest within a specific period time, which varies based on the severity of the allegation. It also provides persons accused of or charged with a crime the ability to appeal. During the year no cases were brought to the courts by individuals claiming unlawful detention. There were reports of hundreds of arbitrary arrests and detentions related to the SOE. The criminal law does not provide compensation for unlawfully detained persons.

Amnesty: The federal and regional governments released 9,702 prisoners in the six weeks following the former prime minister’s announcement of prisoner releases on January 3. During these weeks the government released the vast majority of imprisoned high-profile opposition politicians, journalists, and activists.

The federal attorney general dropped charges and/or granted pardons to 744 individuals charged with or convicted of crimes of terrorism and corruption. Of that number, 576 were convicted and serving prison terms, while 168 were still on trial. The majority, more than 500, walked out of prisons on May 29. The justifications provided by the government for the releases included remorse by the convicts, abatement of the threat to society, and ability to contribute to the continued widening of political space. Senior opposition politicians, journalists, activists, and government officials charged with terrorism and corruption were included in those released.

On May 29, authorities released Ethiopian-born British citizen Andargachew Tsige, second in command of Patriotic Ginbot 7 (PG7), a former government-designated terror organization delisted in June, on a “pardon under special circumstances.” Detained in 2014, Andargachew was serving two life sentences and was sentenced to the death penalty.

On July 20, the HPR, in an emergency session passed a bill providing amnesty for individuals and groups under investigation, on trial, or convicted of various crimes. The law applies to persons and organizations convicted of crimes committed before June 7. The federal attorney general announced that those seeking amnesty must register within six months from July 23. On August 23, the federal attorney general announced 650 prisoners in four federal prisons benefitted from releases via either a pardon or the granting of amnesty. The government granted amnesty to more than 200 of these prisoners in accordance with the amnesty proclamation.

In September, in keeping with a long-standing tradition of issuing pardons at the Ethiopian New Year, four regional governments released 8,875 persons. Prisoners who had served a third of their sentences, female prisoners with babies, the elderly, and those with serious health problems primarily benefitted from the pardon. Prisoners sentenced to death and those convicted of corruption, kidnapping, or rape did not qualify for Ethiopian New Year’s pardons.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary. Although the civil courts operated with a large degree of independence, criminal courts remained weak, overburdened, and subject to political influence.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Under the constitution accused persons have the right to a fair public trial without undue delay, a presumption of innocence, legal counsel of their choice, appeal, the right not to self-incriminate, the right to present witnesses and evidence in their defense, and cross-examine prosecution witnesses. The law requires translation services provided in a language defendants understand. The federal courts have staff working as interpreters for major local languages and are required to hire interpreters for defendants that speak other languages.

Detainees did not always enjoy all these rights, and as a result defense attorneys were sometimes unprepared to provide adequate defense. The courts did not always presume a defendant’s innocence, allow defendants to communicate with an attorney of their choice, provide timely public defense, or provide access to government-held evidence. Defendants were often unaware of the specific charges against them until the commencement of their trials. There were reports of authorities subjecting detainees to abuse while in detention to obtain information or confessions.

The federal Public Defender’s Office provided legal counsel to indigent defendants, but the scope and quality of service were inadequate due to a shortage of attorneys. A public defender often handles more than 100 cases and may represent multiple defendants in a single case. Numerous free legal aid clinics, primarily based at universities, provided legal services. In certain areas of the country, the law allows volunteers, such as law students and professors, to represent clients in court on a pro bono basis. There was no bar association or other standardized criminal defense representation.

The constitution recognizes both religious and traditional courts. Many citizens residing in rural areas had little access to formal judicial systems and relied on traditional mechanisms for resolving conflict. By law all parties to a dispute must agree to use a traditional or religious court before such a court may hear a case, and either party may appeal to a regular court at any time. Sharia (Islamic law) courts may hear religious and family cases involving Muslims if both parties agree to use the sharia court before the formal legal process begins. Sharia courts received some funding from the government. These sharia courts adjudicated a majority of cases in the Somali and Afar Regions, which are predominantly Muslim. Other traditional systems of justice, such as councils of elders, functioned predominantly in rural areas. Some women felt they lacked access to free and fair hearings in the traditional court system because local custom excluded them from participation in councils of elders and due to persistent gender discrimination.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no high-profile political prisoners at year’s end, because the government dropped charges and/or granted pardons to more than ten thousand individuals charged and convicted with crimes of terrorism and corruption.

Authorities released Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) chairperson Merera Gudina on January 17, following a decision by the attorney general to discontinue the multiple criminal charges against him. In 2017 the attorney general brought multiple criminal charges against Merera and four others, including Ginbot 7 leader Berhanu Nega and diaspora-based Oromo activist Jawar Mohammed.

In February the federal attorney general dropped pending charges against remaining members of the Zone 9 blogging group Natnael Feleke, Atnaf Berhane, and Befekadu Hailu. In 2017 the Supreme Court downgraded the charges against the three bloggers from terrorism to criminal provocation of the public. Officials also released Bekele Gerba, OFC deputy chair, on February 13, after prosecutors dropped charges against him and his codefendants for leading protests against plans to expand the city of Addis Ababa.

On May 29, the attorney general withdrew charges against diaspora-based Ginbot 7 leader Berhanu Nega and Oromo activist Jawar Mohammed, as well as their respective media organizations Ethiopian Satellite Television and Radio and Oromo Media Network.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides citizens the right to appeal in civil court, including in cases with human rights violations. For rights violations where a government agency is the accused perpetrator, the victim initiates the process by filing a complaint at the EHRC. Parliament created the EHRC in 2000, and it continued to fund and provide oversight over the commission. The EHRC investigates and makes recommendations to the concerned government agency. Citizens did not file any human rights violations under this system, primarily due to a lack of evidence and a lack of faith in their ability to secure an impartial verdict in these types of cases.

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

The law generally requires authorities to obtain court-issued search warrants prior to searching private property. Under the SOE court, approval for searches was suspended. Security officials had to provide a reason to the individual or household subject to the search, an official identification card, and have a community member accompany them before conducting a search. Separate from the SOE, the law also recognizes exceptions for “hot pursuit” cases in which a suspect enters a premises or disposes of items that are the subject of an offense committed on the premises. This legal exception also applies when police have reasonable suspicion that evidence of a crime punishable by more than three years’ imprisonment is concealed on or in the property and a delay in obtaining a search warrant would allow the evidence to be removed. Moreover, the ATP law permits warrantless searches of a person or vehicle when authorized by the director general of the Federal Police, his designee, or a police officer who has reasonable suspicion that a terrorist act may be committed and deems a sudden search necessary.

Opposition political party leaders and journalists reported suspicions of telephone tapping, other electronic eavesdropping, and surveillance, and they stated government agents attempted to lure them into illegal acts by calling and pretending to be representatives of previously designated terrorist groups.

The government used a widespread system of paid informants to report on the activities of individuals. Opposition members, journalists, and athletes reported ruling party operatives and militia members made intimidating and unwelcome visits to their homes and offices. These intimidating contacts included entry and searches of homes without a warrant.

There were reports that authorities dismissed opposition members from their jobs and that those not affiliated with the EPRDF sometimes had trouble receiving the “support letters” from their kebeles (neighborhoods or wards) necessary to obtain employment (see section 3, Political Parties and Political Participation).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press; however, SOE regulations included restrictions on these rights, giving legal cover for continued efforts to harass and intimidate journalists that predated the SOE. Upon the end of the SOE and with the encouragement of Prime Minister Abiy, a number of new and returned diaspora media outlets were able to register and begin operations in the country.

Freedom of Expression: The SOE regulations contained several prohibitions that restricted freedom of speech and expression and subsequently resulted in the temporary detention of some independent voices. The regulations, interpreted broadly, prohibited any covert or overt agitation and communication that could incite violence and unrest. Restricted activities also included any communication with designated terrorist groups or antipeace forces, storing and disseminating texts, storing and promoting emblems of terrorist groups, incitement in sermons and teaching in religious institutions to induce fear or incite conflict, and speech that could incite attacks based on identity or ethnicity.

Under the SOE it was illegal to carry out covert or public incitement of violence in any way, including printing, preparing, or distributing writings; performing a show; demonstrating through signs or making messages public through any medium; or importing or exporting any publication without permission. The SOE also prohibited exchanging any message through the internet, mobile telephones, writing, television, radio, social media, or other means of communication that may cause a riot, disturbance, suspicion, or grievance among persons. Police used suspicion of individuals possessing or distributing such media as a premise to enter homes without a warrant.

The SOE prohibited any individual from exchanging information with a foreign government in a manner that undermined national sovereignty and prohibited political parties from briefing journalists in a manner deemed unconstitutional or that undermined sovereignty and security. Individuals self-censored because of these prohibitions.

The protests and demands for change were driven by the EPRDF’s attempts to impede criticism through intimidation, including continued detention of journalists, those who express critical opinions online, and opposition figures. Additionally, the government monitored and interfered in activities of political opposition groups. Some citizens feared authorities would retaliate against them for discussing security force abuses. Authorities arrested and detained persons who made public or private statements deemed critical of the government under a provision of the law pertaining to inciting the public through false rumors.

Upon taking office Prime Minister Abiy stated that freedom of speech is essential to the country’s future. NGOs subsequently reported that practices such as arrests, detention, abuse, and harassment of persons for criticizing the government dramatically diminished.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent journalists reported access to private, affordable, independent printing presses was generally limited to a single government-owned facility, citing government intimidation. At least one outlet attempted to import a printing press for private use but was allegedly unable to secure permission to make it operational. Independent media cited limited access as a major factor in the small number, low circulation, and infrequent publication of news.

In Addis Ababa six independent newspapers had a combined weekly circulation of approximately 43,000 copies; there were in addition two sports-focused newspapers. There were no independent newspapers outside of the capital. Eight independent weekly, monthly, and bimonthly magazines published in Amharic and English had a combined circulation estimated at 28,000 copies. State-run newspapers had a combined daily circulation of approximately 50,000 copies. Most newspapers were printed on a weekly or biweekly basis, except state-owned Amharic and English dailies and the privately run Daily Monitor. Government-controlled media closely reflected the views of the government and ruling EPRDF party. The government controlled the only television station that broadcast nationally, which, along with radio, was the primary source of news for much of the population. There were two government-owned radio stations that covered the entire country, seven private FM radio stations broadcast in the capital, one FM radio station in the Tigray Region, and 28 community radio stations broadcast in other regions. State-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation had the largest broadcast range in the country, followed by Fana Broadcasting Corporate, generally regarded as affiliated with the ruling party. There were a few private satellite-based television stations, including the Ethiopian Broadcast Service.

The law prohibits political and religious organizations, as well as foreigners from owning broadcast stations.

Violence and Harassment: The government’s arrest, harassment, and prosecution of journalists sharply declined and imprisoned journalists were released. As of April no high-profile journalist remained in detention. On January 9 and 10, the Federal Prison Administration released 14 Muslim activists and journalists, including Darsema Sorri and Khalid Mohammed, from prison. The release followed the Supreme Court’s decision in December 2017 that reduced jail terms of the defendants convicted for violation of the ATP.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Many private newspapers reported informal editorial control by the government. Examples of government interference included requests regarding specific stories and calls from government officials concerning articles perceived as critical of the government. Private sector and government journalists routinely practiced self-censorship. Several journalists, both local and foreign, reported an increase in self-censorship during the SOE.

National Security: Under the SOE–February 15 to June 5–the government used the SOE laws to suppress criticism. On July 5, the parliament legally removed the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), ONLF, and PG7 from the list of terrorist organizations. Journalists, both state and private, were less afraid of reporting on these groups following their delisting.

Nongovernmental Impact: On July 13, an unidentified group of youths in the town of Meisso reportedly attacked a team of journalists travelling from Dire Dawa to Addis Ababa to cover the Eritrean president’s state visit to Ethiopia. Five of the crewmembers were employees of state-owned Dire Dawa Mass Media Agency. The driver of the van died from injuries on July 19 at a hospital in Harar.

Prime Minister Abiy invited diaspora media outlets to return as part of broader reforms to open up political dialogue. Major outlets and bloggers returned and began operations without incident. Media outlets were careful in testing the limits of their new freedoms. Several outfits printed hard-hitting and carefully investigated pieces exposing problems without repercussions.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government periodically restricted and disrupted access to the internet and blocked various social media sites. The government shut down mobile internet in towns outside of Addis Ababa, especially in Oromia and Amhara between February and April, when the SOE was in force. Authorities restored internet connectivity in April while unblocking more than 260 websites that were previously unavailable inside the country. These included blogs, opposition websites, websites of PG7, the OLF, and the ONLF, and news sites such as al-Jazeera, the BBC, and RealClearPolitics. Authorities briefly shut off mobile internet data in and around Addis Ababa in September and October while responding to unrest.

In early August the government temporarily shut down broadband and mobile internet in Dire Dawa, Harar, and Jijiga in the eastern part of the country following an outbreak of violence. In September internet and mobile data were temporarily turned off again in Addis Ababa when protests turned violent. There were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. State-owned Ethio Telecom was the only internet service provider in the country.

The law on computer crimes includes some provisions that are overly broad and could restrict freedom of speech and expression. This included, for example, a provision that provides for imprisonment for disseminating through a computer system any written, video, audio, or any other picture that incites violence, chaos, or conflict among persons. The SOE regulations included prohibitions on agitation and communication to incite violence and unrest through the internet, text messaging, and social media.

Authorities monitored communication systems and took steps to block access to Virtual Private Network providers that let users circumvent government screening of internet browsing and email. There were reports such internet surveillance resulted in arrests.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 18.6 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom, primarily via controlling teachers’ appointments and curricula. Authorities frequently restricted speech, expression, and assembly on university and high school campuses. SOE regulations prohibited strikes in educational institutions, giving authorities the power to order educational institutions to take measures against any striking student or staff member and providing law enforcement officers the authority to enter educational institutions and take measures to control strikes or protests.

According to multiple reports, the ruling EPRDF, via the Ministry of Education, continued to favor students loyal to the party in assignment to postgraduate programs. Some university staff members noted that students who joined the party received priority for employment in all fields after graduation. Numerous anecdotal reports suggested inadequate promotions and lack of professional advancement were more likely for non-EPRDF member teachers. There continued to be a lack of transparency in academic staffing decisions, with numerous complaints from academics alleging bias based on party membership, ethnicity, or religion.

A separate Ministry of Education directive prohibits private universities from offering degree programs in law and teacher education. The directive also requires public universities to align their curriculum with the ministry’s policy of a 70/30 ratio between science and social science academic programs. As a result the number of students studying social sciences and the humanities at public institutions continued to decrease; private universities, however, focused heavily on the social sciences.

Reports stated there was a pattern of surveillance and arbitrary arrests of Oromo university students based on perceived dissent, participation in peaceful demonstrations, or both. According to reports, there was a buildup of security forces, both uniformed and plainclothes, embedded on university campuses preceding student protests, especially in Oromia, in response to student demonstrations.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly; SOE regulations, however, prohibited demonstrations and town hall meetings that did not have approval from the Command Posts, in some cases federal and in other cases more local bodies. After the lifting of the SOE, security forces’ response to protests showed signs of increasing restraint. In July and August Federal Police and Addis Ababa police provided security to at least three large peaceful demonstrations staged without prior notification to the authorities in Addis Ababa.

Prior to the SOE, organizers of public meetings of more than two persons or demonstrations had to notify the government 48 hours in advance and obtain a permit. Authorities could not refuse to grant a permit but could require changing the location or time for reasons of public safety or freedom of movement. If authorities require an event be moved to another place or time, by law authorities must notify organizers in writing within 12 hours of their request.

The EPRDF used its own conference centers in Addis Ababa, the regional capitals, and government facilities for meetings and events. Following the imposition of the SOE, the prohibition on unauthorized demonstrations or town hall meetings severely limited the organization of meetings, training sessions, and other gatherings, especially for civil society and opposition political parties, who repeatedly reported being intimidated by authorities concerning organizing under SOE regulations.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

Although the law provides for freedom of association and the right to engage in unrestricted peaceful political activity, the government severely limited this right (see sections 3 and 5).

The SOE and the accompanying regulations restricted the ability of labor organizations to operate (see section 5). Regulations prohibited exchanging information or having contact with a foreign government or NGOs in a manner that undermines national sovereignty and security, and this reduced communication between local and international organizations.

The Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSP), also called the Civil Society Organizations (CSO) law, bans anonymous donations to NGOs and political parties. All potential donors were therefore aware their names would be on the public record. A 2013 report by the UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association stated, “The enforcement of these provisions has a devastating impact on individuals’ ability to form and operate associations effectively.” For example, international NGOs seeking to operate in the country had to submit an application via the country’s embassies abroad, which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs then submitted to the government’s Charities and Societies Agency for approval. Prime Minister Abiy prioritized the reform of the CSP, along with the ATP and media law, as a mechanism to foster change in a process managed by the attorney general.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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. The ruling party’s electoral advantages, however, limited this ability.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 the country held national elections for the HPR, the country’s parliamentary body. Later that year the parliament elected Hailemariam Desalegn to his first full mandate as prime minister. On February 14, Hailemariam announced his resignation as prime minister, and on March 27, the EPRDF elected Abiy Ahmed as the new chairperson of the party and candidate for federal prime minister. After an acclamation vote in the HPR, Abiy Ahmed assumed the prime minister position on April 2.

In the 2015 national parliamentary elections, the EPRDF and affiliated parties won all 547 seats, giving the party a fifth consecutive five-year term. Government restrictions severely limited independent observation of the vote. The African Union was the sole international organization permitted to observe the elections. Opposition party observers accused local police of interference, harassment, and extrajudicial detention. Six rounds of broadcast debates preceded the elections, with internal media broadcasting the debates generally in full and only slightly edited. The debates included all major political parties competing in the election.

Independent journalists reported little trouble covering the election. Some independent journalists reported receiving their observation credentials the day before the election, after having submitted proper and timely applications. Several laws, regulations, and procedures implemented since the contentious 2005 national elections created a clear advantage for the EPRDF throughout the electoral process. There were reports of unfair government tactics, including intimidation of opposition candidates and supporters. Various reports stated at least six election-related deaths during the period before and immediately following the elections. The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) has sole responsibility for voter education, and it broadcast radio segments and distributed manuals on voter education in many local languages.

In a preliminary election assessment, the African Union called the 2015 elections “calm, peaceful, and credible” and applauded the government for its registration efforts. It raised concerns, however, regarding the legal framework underpinning the election. The NEBE registered more than 35 million voters, and it did not report any incidents of unfair voter registration practices.

On April 12, the parliament decided to postpone local elections scheduled for May for at least one year due to unrest in the country.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government, controlled by the EPRDF, called on all diaspora-based opposition groups, including those in armed struggle, to return and pursue nonviolent struggle. Virtually all major opposition groups, including OLF, Oromo Democratic Front, ONLF, and PG7, welcomed the request and returned to the country.

On February 14, authorities released Mamushet Amare, former leader of the All Ethiopian Unity Party, whom authorities had detained on terrorism-related charges since March 2017.

Constituent parties of the EPRDF conferred advantages upon their members; the party directly owned many businesses and allegedly awarded jobs and business contracts to loyal supporters. Opposition parties reported they rented offices and meeting halls in the Amhara and Oromia Regions without difficulty. There were reports unemployed youths not affiliated with the ruling coalition sometimes had trouble receiving the “support letters” from their wards necessary to obtain jobs.

Registered political parties must receive permission from regional governments to open and occupy local offices, with at least one major opposition party reporting it was able to open many offices during the year in advance of the 2020 national election. Laws requiring parties to report “public meetings” and obtain permission for public rallies inhibited opposition activities.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws prevent women or minorities from voting or participating in political life, although patriarchal customs in some regions limited female participation in political life. There were improvements, but women remained significantly underrepresented across both elected and appointed positions. In October the prime minister announced a new cabinet with 10 female ministers, or half of the resized cabinet. Also in October Sahle-Work Zewde became the country’s first female president. Zewde’s appointment was in line with the prime minister’s stated goal of empowering women in his administration. In November the parliament swore in the country’s first female Supreme Court president. In the national parliament, women held 38 percent of seats, 211 of 547.

The government’s policy of ethnic federalism led to the creation of individual constituencies to provide for representation of all major ethnic groups in the House of the Federation (the upper chamber of parliament). The government recognizes more than 80 ethnicities, and the constitution states that at least one member represent each “Nation, Nationality, and People” in the House of the Federation.

Gabon

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances. In December 2017 the family of television journalist and opposition activist Jocelyn Obame Nsimoro reported him missing. Throughout the year his family attempted unsuccessfully to locate him through police, judicial, and other official channels and through social media. As of October authorities had yet to open a formal investigation into Nsimoro’s disappearance.

In September 2017 the government reported to the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances that despite opposition allegations of disappearances, no official complaints were filed after the 2016 elections. The committee called on the government to conduct an exhaustive inquiry into postelection violence and to update the law to comply with the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. As of October the government had not conducted an official inquiry.

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

The constitution prohibits such practices, but security force personnel sometimes employed cruel and degrading treatment.

For example, in January, Bertrand Zibi Abeghe, a former member of parliament, stated he was subjected to mistreatment and torture while in detention after a mobile phone was found in his cell at the Libreville Central Prison. His lawyer stated that prison officials beat him with police batons, pickaxe handles, and electric cables. After his lawyer filed a complaint concerning mistreatment, the prison director was replaced.

Refugees complained of harassment and extortion by security forces. According to reports from the African immigrant community, police and soldiers occasionally beat noncitizen Africans who lacked valid resident permits or identification. Authorities sometimes detained noncitizen Africans, ordered them to undress to humiliate them, and exacted bribes from them.

The United Nations reported that it received one allegation of sexual exploitation (transactional sex) and abuse against two Gabonese peacekeepers deployed with the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic. Investigations by UN and Gabonese authorities were pending at year’s end along with investigation of three allegations of sexual exploitation (exploitative relationships) and abuse (rape, including of minors) against at least 20 Gabonese peacekeepers reported in prior years.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening due to low-quality food, inadequate sanitation, lack of ventilation, gross overcrowding, and poor medical care. Conditions in jails and detention centers mirrored those in prisons. There were no specific accommodations for persons with disabilities in prisons.

Physical Conditions: Libreville’s central prison was severely overcrowded; it was built to hold 500 inmates but held approximately 3,000. Reports also indicated overcrowding in other prisons.

No credible data or estimates were available on the number of deaths in prisons, jails, and pretrial detention or other detention centers attributed to physical conditions or actions of staff members or other authorities.

In some cases authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, juveniles with adults, and men with women. Authorities separated juvenile prisoners from adults in Libreville and Franceville prisons. There were separate holding areas within prisons for men and women, but access to each area was not fully secured or restricted. Prisoners had only limited access to food, lighting, sanitation, potable water, and exercise areas. On-site nurses were available to provide basic medical care, but prison clinics often lacked sufficient medication. For serious illnesses or injury, authorities transferred prisoners to public hospitals. Management of the spread of infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, was inadequate.

Administration: Prisoners filed few complaints. Observers believed the low incidence of complaints was due to ignorance of, or lack of faith in, the process, or fear of retribution. There was no prison ombudsperson or comparable independent authority available to respond to prisoner complaints.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted human rights organizations to conduct independent monitoring of prison conditions, but there were reports of difficulties in obtaining access to prisons. The local nongovernmental organization (NGO) Malachie visited prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for detainees or persons arrested to challenge the legal basis and arbitrary nature of their detention; however, the government did not always respect these provisions. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and briefly detained civil society and labor leaders following peaceful protests and marches.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police, under the Ministry of Interior, and the gendarmerie, under the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for law enforcement and public security. Elements of the armed forces and the Republican Guard, an elite unit that protects the president under his direct authority, sometimes performed internal security functions. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the national police, gendarmerie, republican guard, and all other branches of the security forces, and the government had mechanisms to investigate and punish those found responsible for abuse and corruption. Nevertheless, impunity was a significant problem.

Some police were inefficient and corrupt. Security force members sought bribes to supplement their salaries, often while stopping vehicles at legal roadblocks to check vehicle registration and identity documents. The Inspector General’s Office was responsible for investigating police and security force abuse and corruption. Information on effectiveness of this office was not available.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Although the law requires arrest warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized official to make arrests, security forces in some cases disregarded these provisions. The law allows authorities to detain a suspect up to 48 hours without charge, after which it requires the suspect be charged before a judge. Police often failed to respect this time limit. Once a person is charged, the law provides for conditional release if further investigation is required. There was a functioning bail system. Detainees did not always have prompt access to family members and a lawyer of their choice. The law requires the government to provide indigent detainees with lawyers, but this was not always possible, often because the government could not find lawyers willing to accept the terms of payment offered for taking such cases. Arrests required warrants issued by a judge or prosecutor based on evidence.

Authorities did not detain suspects incommunicado or hold them under house arrest.

Arbitrary Arrest: Unlike in prior years, there were no reports of arbitrary arrests. In August and September 2017, authorities arrested the spokesperson for the opposition Coalition for the New Republic, Frederic Massavala-Maboumba, and Deputy Secretary General Pascal Oyougou of the Heritage and Modernity Party and charged them with “provocation and instigation of acts likely to provoke demonstrations against the authority of the State.” As of December no trial date had been set for Oyougou or Massavala; both remained in detention.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was common due to overburdened dockets and an inefficient judicial system. The law limits pretrial detention to six months for a misdemeanor and one year for a felony charge, with six-month extensions if authorized by the examining magistrate. The law provides for a commission to deal with cases of abusive or excessive detention and provides for compensation to victims, but the government had yet to establish such a commission. Approximately two-thirds of prison inmates were held in pretrial detention that could sometimes last up to three years. There were instances in which the length of pretrial detention exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime. Detainees generally lacked knowledge of their rights and the procedure for submitting complaints, and may not have submitted complaints due to fear of retribution.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law provides for detainees or persons arrested to challenge the legal basis and arbitrary nature of their detention. The law also provides for compensation if a court rules detention unlawful. Authorities did not always respect these rights.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary demonstrated only partial independence and only in some cases. The judiciary was inefficient and remained susceptible to government influence. The president appoints and may dismiss judges through the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, to which the judiciary is accountable. Corruption was a problem.

To address military cases, each year the Office of the Presidency appoints a military court composed of selected magistrates and military members. A military court provides the same basic legal rights as a civilian court. Outside the formal judicial system, minor disputes may be referred to a local traditional chief, particularly in rural areas, but the government did not always recognize a traditional chief’s decision.

Authorities generally respected court orders.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial and to legal counsel, and the judiciary generally respected these rights. Trial dates were often delayed.

Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence. They have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges when booked at a police station, and authorities provided free interpretation as necessary, when staff members with the required language skills were available. A panel of three judges tries defendants, who enjoy the right to communicate with an attorney of choice and to adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals and have a right to be present at trial. Indigent defendants in both civil and criminal cases have the right to have an attorney provided at state expense, but the government often failed to provide attorneys because private attorneys refused to accept the terms of payment the government offered for such cases. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them, present witnesses or evidence on their own behalf, and appeal. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

In August the president stated there were no political prisoners in the country. One civil society group, however, claimed there were seven individuals in prison it considered political prisoners. Of an estimated 60 protesters detained in August and September 2017, opposition leaders Frederic Massavala-Maboumba and Pascal Oyougou remained in pretrial detention.

In 2016 a former PDG deputy who joined the opposition was arrested without a warrant and charged with disturbing public order, failure to help a person in danger, instigation of violence, and illegal firearms possession. He had yet to be tried and remained in detention at year’s end.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Persons seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations may seek relief in the civil court system, although this seldom occurred.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such actions, the government did not always respect these prohibitions. As part of criminal investigations, police requested and easily obtained search warrants from judges, sometimes after the fact. Security forces conducted warrantless searches for irregular immigrants and criminal suspects. Authorities also monitored private telephone conversations, personal mail, and the movement of citizens.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Nevertheless, the High Authority of Communication (HAC) suspended several media outlets, including the newspaper Echos du NordEchos du Nord was suspended twice during the year, once for failing to be represented at a hearing regarding publication of a “tendentious article” critical of the president and a second time for publishing an article regarding the purchase of a luxury car by the vice president that he disputed.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active, but authorities occasionally used libel and slander laws to restrict media criticism of the government. The country’s sole major daily newspaper, L’Union, was progovernment. Approximately 131 privately owned weekly or monthly newspapers represented independent views and those of political parties, but only 30 newspapers were published regularly. All newspapers, including government-affiliated ones, criticized the government and political leaders of both opposition and progovernment parties. The country had both progovernment and opposition-affiliated broadcast media, although the main opposition-affiliated television station did not have the technical means to broadcast countrywide. According to NGO Reporters without Borders, domestic law on freedom of expression and media freedom did not meet international standards.

Violence and Harassment: Unlike in 2017 there were no cases of journalists being harassed or intimidated, although some journalists were reportedly warned not to investigate the cause of death of children suspected of being the victims of ritual killings.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most newspaper owners had either a progovernment or a pro-opposition political bias. Print journalists practiced occasional self-censorship to placate owners. Pro-opposition content on television was limited.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander may be treated as either criminal or civil offenses. Editors and authors of articles ruled libelous in a court of law may be jailed for two to six months and fined 500,000 to five million CFA francs ($850 to $8,500). Penalties for conviction of libel, disrupting public order, and other offenses also include a one- to three-month publishing suspension for a first offense and a three- to six-month suspension for repeat offenses.

There was evidence that in several cases libel laws were applied to discourage or punish critical coverage of the government. For example, HAC issued two one-month suspensions in July and October to Echos du Nord.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were no restrictions on internet and social media access during the year.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 50.3 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedom of peaceful assembly.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly; however, the government did not consistently respect this right. In August 2017 parliament enacted a law that placed restrictions on freedom of assembly. On August 28, authorities prohibited union leaders from holding a march to protest austerity measures. Authorities detained several individuals who attempted to march but released them after a few hours without charge. There were reports the government failed to approve permits for public meetings. Some civil society activists stated they did not submit requests to hold public meetings because they expected the government would deny them.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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; however, international monitors of the 2016 presidential election observed anomalies. The governing party has dominated all levels of government for five decades. Citizens participated in presidential, legislative, and municipal elections. Members of the opposition questioned the fairness of the electoral process and complained of unequal media access. They also urged the government to reinstate presidential term limits, replace the first-past-the-post system with a two-round voting system, reform the Constitutional Court, and create a more effective biometric voting program–measures opposition members believed would increase the fairness of the electoral system.

In April and May 2017, these demands were a major focus of the National Dialogue. The dialogue included political parties and civil society organizations; however, presidential contender Jean Ping and some other opposition leaders boycotted the dialogue. In May 2017 dialogue participants recommended a two-round voting system, an increase in the number of national assembly deputies, and elimination of the National Electoral Commission, but they did not recommend presidential term limits. In January the president executed amendments to the constitution containing these changes.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In April the Constitutional Court dissolved the National Assembly. The Senate assumed National Assembly responsibilities, and a new caretaker government was installed. On October 6 and 27, legislative elections were held. Both rounds of legislative elections were calm, with a voter turnout of 43 percent in the first round. The PDG won 98 of 143 National Assembly seats. Opposition leaders alleged irregularities such as ballot stuffing, vote buying, polling stations opening without the presence of opposition representatives, and unfair treatment of the opposition by the Gabonese Elections Center. Domestic and international organizations were not authorized to observe the elections. A limited African Union observer mission did not comment on whether the elections were free and fair but noted some irregularities.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The PDG has dominated the government since creation of the party by former president Omar Bongo in 1968. PDG membership conferred advantages in obtaining government positions. Opposition members complained of unfair drawing of voter districts, alleging the president’s home province received disproportionately more parliamentary seats than other provinces. They also stated that the PDG had greater access to government resources for campaign purposes than did other parties.

There were restrictions on the formation of political parties. For example, in 2017 the Ministry of Interior refused to register the Heritage and Modernity wing of the PDG as an opposition political party. In July 2017 it overcame this obstacle by merging with an existing political party, the Front for National Unity and Utilitarian Development, which adopted the name and bylaws of Heritage and Modernity.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Nevertheless, some observers believed cultural and traditional factors prevented women from participating in political life to the same extent as men. As of April women held only 13 of 41 ministerial positions, 18 of 120 National Assembly seats, and 19 of 102 Senate seats. The president of the Senate was a woman.

Members of all major ethnic groups occupied prominent government civilian and security force positions. Members of indigenous populations, however, rarely participated in the political process.

Ghana

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

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

There were a few reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In some cases authorities described these killings as having taken place in an “exchange of fire.”

In July police killed seven persons near Kumasi in an incident that sparked riots when authorities claimed the victims were suspected robbers. In September the ministerial committee established to investigate the circumstances that led to the deaths submitted its initial report to officials. After studying the report, in a statement issued in November by the minister of information, the government directed that 21 police officers be suspended and made subjects of criminal investigations. According to the statement, the government determined there was no evidence the victims were armed robbers. News coverage indicated that police headquarters had not yet received a copy of the committee’s investigative report.

As of November authorities had not been able to provide any further updates regarding police service enquiries concerning four officers implicated in the 2016 killing by police of a suspect in Kumasi. The government did not prosecute any officers for the incident, but it dismissed one officer and reprimanded five others.

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

While the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were credible reports police beat and otherwise abused detained suspects and other citizens. Victims were often reluctant to file formal complaints. Police generally denied allegations or claimed the level of force used was justified. By September the Police Professional Standards Bureau (PPSB) had received 77 cases of police brutality and investigated 14 of those reports.

In December the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) completed an investigation into the brutal assault by military personnel against a 16-year-old boy in April 2016 for allegedly stealing a phone. The CHRAJ investigated the case according to the constitution and the UN Convention Against Torture among other related charters and conventions, and ultimately recommended payment to the victim of 30,000 Ghanaian cedis (approximately $6,400) and that the military personnel be tried according to the Armed Forces Act.

In February the United Nations reported that it received a complaint of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from Ghana deployed in the UN Mission in South Sudan. The United Nations investigated allegations that members of the unit were having sexual relations with women at one of the protection camps. Forty-six Ghanaian police officers were subsequently repatriated on administrative grounds. Ghanaian authorities continued to investigate.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were generally harsh and sometimes life threatening due to physical abuse, food shortages, overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, and lack of medical care.

Physical Conditions: Ghana Prisons Service statistics available in September indicated that it held 14,985 prisoners (14,827 men and 158 women) in prisons designed to hold 9,875. Although authorities sought to hold juveniles separately from adults, there were reports detainees younger than age 18 were held with adults. Authorities held pretrial detainees in the same facilities as convicts but generally in separate cells, although due to overcrowding in convict blocks, Nsawam Prison began holding some convicts in blocks designated for pretrial detainees. The Prisons Service held women separately from men. No prison staff specifically focused on mental health, and officials did not routinely identify or offer treatment or other support to prisoners with mental disabilities.

In October foreign diplomatic representatives observed that several prisons suffered from severe overcrowding, inadequate medical care, poor sanitation, and limited rehabilitation programs. Although the government continued to reduce the population of individuals in pretrial detention, prison overcrowding remained a serious problem, with certain prisons holding approximately two to four times more inmates than designed capacity. In July, following two days of hearings, a judge at the Kumasi Central Prison granted bail to 53 of 105 remand prisoners who had applied under the Justice for All program. According to reports, officials were still working to release remand prisoners who received bail in 2017 but who remained in custody because they could not meet the bail terms. Civil society organizations estimated Kumasi Prison alone had more than 400 remand prisoners.

The government reported 30 deaths in custody through September. Causes of death included severe anemia, pulmonary tuberculosis, chronic hepatitis B, infection, heart failure, severe hypertension, liver cirrhosis, and septicemia.

While prisoners had access to potable water, food was inadequate. Meals routinely lacked fruit, vegetables, or meat, forcing prisoners to rely on charitable donations and their families to supplement their diet. The Prisons Service facilitated farming activities for inmates to supplement feeding. The Prisons Service procured five pieces of equipment, including four mechanical planters, to improve agricultural production. Construction of a new camp prison was reportedly making progress as part of efforts to improve food production and decongest the prisons. Officials held much of the prison population in buildings that were originally colonial forts or abandoned public or military buildings, with poor ventilation and sanitation, substandard construction, and inadequate space and light. The Prisons Service periodically fumigated and disinfected prisons, but sanitation remained poor. There were not enough toilets available for the number of prisoners, with as many as 100 prisoners sharing one toilet, and toilets often overflowed with excrement.

Medical assistants, not doctors, provided medical services, and they were overstretched and lacked basic equipment and medicine. At Nsawam a medical officer was recruited to operate the health clinic. All prison infirmaries had a severely limited supply of medicine. All prisons were supplied with malaria test kits. Prisons did not provide dental care. Prison officials referred prisoners to local hospitals to address conditions prison medical personnel could not treat on site, but the prisons often lacked ambulances to properly transport inmates off-site. To facilitate treatment at local facilities, the Prisons Service continued to register inmates in the National Health Insurance Scheme. The Ankaful Disease Camp Prison held at least three prisoners with the most serious contagious diseases.

Religious organizations, charities, private businesses, and citizens often provided services and materials, such as medicine and food, to the prisons.

Although persons with disabilities reported receiving medicine for chronic ailments and having access to recreational facilities and vocational education, a study released in 2016 found that construction of the prisons disadvantaged persons with disabilities, as they faced challenges accessing health care and recreational facilities.

Administration: There was no prison ombudsperson or comparable independent authority to respond to complaints; rather, each prison designated an officer-in-charge to receive and respond to complaints. As of September the Prisons Service reported receipt of 1,381 complaints on various issues, including communication with relatives, health, food rations, sanitation, and court proceedings and appeals. In April a public relations officer from the Ghana Prisons Service wrote an opinion piece for an online newspaper, disputing claims inmates received food only once a day and were subjected to forced labor. The author, however, also called for bolstering resources for inmate meals and recognized overcrowding remained a serious difficulty. Information available in September indicated there was one report of two officers physically abusing a prisoner. They were tried administratively and awaiting a final verdict.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions. Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), which were independent of government influence, worked on behalf of prisoners and detainees to help alleviate overcrowding, monitor juvenile confinement, and improve pretrial detention, bail, and recordkeeping procedures to ensure prisoners did not serve beyond the maximum sentence for the charged offenses and beyond the 48 hours legally authorized for detention without charge. Local news agencies also reported on prison conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law provide for protection against arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government frequently disregarded these protections. The law also provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but lack of legal representation for detainees inhibited fulfillment of this right.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The police, under the Ministry of the Interior, are responsible for maintaining law and order, but the military continued to participate in law enforcement activities in a support role, such as by protecting critical infrastructure. A separate entity, the Bureau of National Investigations, handles cases considered critical to state security and answers directly to the Ministry of National Security. Police maintained specialized units in Accra for homicide, forensics, domestic violence, economic crimes, visa fraud, narcotics, and cybercrimes. Such services were unavailable outside the capital due to lack of office space, vehicles, and other equipment. Police maintained specialized antihuman trafficking units in all 11 police administrative regions.

Police brutality, corruption, negligence, and impunity were problems. While the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were credible reports police beat and otherwise abused suspects and other citizens. There were delays in prosecuting suspects, reports of police collaboration with criminals, and a widespread public perception of police ineptitude. Police often failed to respond to reports of abuses and, in many instances, did not act unless complainants paid for police transportation and other operating expenses. There were credible reports police extorted money by acting as private debt collectors, setting up illegal checkpoints, and arresting citizens in exchange for bribes from disgruntled business associates of those detained. A study by the Ghana Integrity Initiative, conducted in 2016 and released in February 2017, indicated that 61 percent of respondents had paid a bribe to police. There were multiple reports police failed to prevent and respond to societal violence, in particular incidents of “mob justice.” In July police killed seven suspected robbers, stirring outcry when the local Zongo (predominantly Muslim enclave) community maintained the young men were innocent. In November the minister of information called for 21 police officers to be suspended and made subjects of criminal investigations.

The Office of the Inspector General of Police and PPSB investigate claims of excessive force by security force members. The PPSB also investigates human rights abuses and police misconduct. Through August the PPSB had recorded 1,144 complaints, of which 210 investigations were completed and 934 remained under investigation. Over this period the PPSB investigated 233 reports of unprofessional handling of cases, 217 of misconduct, 201 of unfair treatment, 160 of undue delay of investigation, 59 of unlawful arrest and detention, 77 of police brutality, 34 of harassment, 14 of fraud, 37 of extortion, and one of rape. As of September the CHRAJ had not received any reports of police beating detainees.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires detainees be brought before a court within 48 hours of arrest in the absence of a judicial warrant, but authorities frequently detained individuals without charge or a valid arrest warrant for periods longer than 48 hours. Officials detained some prisoners for indefinite periods by renewing warrants or simply allowing them to lapse while an investigation took place. The constitution grants a detained individual the right to be informed immediately, in a language the person understands, of the reasons for detention and of his or her right to a lawyer. Most detainees, however, could not afford a lawyer. While the constitution grants the right to legal aid, the government is not required to provide it, although legal counsel is generally provided to those charged with first-degree felonies. As of September the government employed only 20 full-time legal aid lawyers, who handled criminal and civil cases, and 45 paralegals, who handled civil matters. Defendants in criminal cases who could not afford a lawyer typically represented themselves. The law requires that any detainee not tried within a “reasonable time,” as determined by the court, must be released either unconditionally or subject to conditions necessary to ensure the person’s appearance at a later court date. Officials rarely observed this provision. The government sought to reduce the population of prisoners in pretrial detention by placing paralegals in some prisons to monitor and advise on the cases of pretrial detainees, and by directing judges to visit prisons to review and take action on pretrial detainee cases.

The law provides for bail, but courts often used their unlimited discretion to set bail prohibitively high. In 2016 the Supreme Court struck down a portion of the law that denied bail to those accused of specific serious crimes, including murder, rape, and violations of the Narcotic Drugs Law.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary arrests by police. Unlawful arrests and detentions accounted for 5 percent of all complaint cases PPSB received through August.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem. Prisons Service statistics available in September indicated 1,944 prisoners, just under 13 percent of all prisoners, were in pretrial status. The government kept prisoners in extended pretrial detention due to police failing to investigate or follow up on cases, slow trial proceedings marked by frequent adjournments, detainees’ inability to meet bail conditions that were often set extremely high even for minor offenses, and inadequate legal representation of criminal defendants. The length of pretrial detention exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime in numerous instances. Inadequate record keeping contributed to prisoners being held in egregiously excessive pretrial detention, some for up to 10 years.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, it was subject to unlawful influence and corruption. Judicial officials reportedly accepted bribes to expedite or postpone cases, “lose” records, or issue favorable rulings for the payer.

Following a 2015 report by an investigative journalist into corruption in the judiciary, the chief justice constituted a five-member committee headed by a Supreme Court judge to investigate the allegations, resulting in the dismissal later that year of 12 high court judges, 22 lower court judges, and 19 judicial service staff. In May the president suspended four additional high court judges who were implicated by the report. In December, the president fired those four judges, three of whom had cases pending before the ECOWAS court.

Despite alternative dispute resolution (ADR) procedures to decongest the courts and improve judicial efficiency, court delays persisted. Professional mediators trained to conduct ADR worked in various district courts throughout the country to resolve disputes and avoid lengthy trials. Nevertheless, even in fast-track courts established to hear cases to conclusion within six months, trials commonly went on for years.

A judicial complaints unit within the Ministry of Justice headed by a retired Supreme Court justice addressed complaints from the public, such as unfair treatment by a court or judge, unlawful arrest or detention, missing trial dockets, delayed trials and rendering of judgments, and bribery of judges.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair hearing, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Criminal hearings must be public unless the court orders them closed in the interest of public morality, public safety, public order, defense, welfare of persons under the age of 18, protection of the private lives of persons concerned in the proceedings, and as necessary or expedient where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice.

Defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges against them, with free assistance of an interpreter as necessary. Defendants have the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, but trials were often delayed. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, be represented by an attorney, have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense, present witnesses and evidence, and confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses. In his statement following his visit in April, however, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston wrote, “Ghana’s constitutional right to legal aid is meaningless in the great majority of cases because of a lack of resources and institutional will to introduce the needed far-reaching reforms.” Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, although generally defendants are expected to testify if the government makes a sufficient case. Defendants have the right to appeal. Authorities generally respected these safeguards, and the law extends these rights to all citizens.

Military personnel are tried separately under the criminal code in a military court. Military courts, which provide the same rights as civilian courts, are not permitted to try civilians.

Village and other traditional chiefs can mediate local matters and enforce customary tribal laws dealing with such matters as divorce, child custody, and property disputes. Their authority continued to erode, however, because of the growing power of civil institutions, including courts and district assemblies.

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, and citizens had access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations.

Fast-track ADR courts and “automated” commercial courts, whose proceedings were expedited through electronic data management, continued efforts to streamline resolution of disputes, although delays were common. Authorities established additional automated courts across the country, and selecting their judges randomly helped curb judicial corruption.

The constitution states the Supreme Court is the final court of appeal. Defendants, however, may seek remedies for allegations of human rights violations at the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right.

Violence and Harassment: The Media Foundation for West Africa counted 17 cases of attacks on journalists from January 2017 to March 2018. Earlier in the year, police assaulted a reporter who had visited the Criminal Investigations Department headquarters to report on the arrest of a political party official. The reporter sustained fractures to his skull. Officials reported an investigative report was submitted to administrators in May and provided no further information as of September. In June there were reports that a member of parliament criticized and incited violence against a prominent journalist whose investigative crew produced a film about corruption in Ghana soccer, including involvement by government officials.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

The internet was accessible in Accra and other large cities. There was limited but growing internet access in other areas. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 38 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful 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 www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Parties and independent candidates campaigned openly and without undue restrictions in the period preceding the most recent elections in 2016. The Electoral Commission took steps to ensure the elections were free and fair, including a voter registration verification exercise. The campaigns were largely peaceful, although there were reports of isolated instances of violence. Domestic and international observers, such as the EU Election Observation Mission and the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers, assessed the election to be transparent, inclusive, and credible. The Ghana Integrity Initiative, Ghana Center for Democratic Development, Ghana Anticorruption Coalition, Citizen’s Movement against Corruption, and European Union Election Observation Mission noted concerns over the misuse of incumbency and unequal access granted to state-owned media during the campaign, although the incumbent still lost. There were reports of postelection violence, including takeovers of government institutions by vigilante groups associated with the victorious New Patriotic Party.

The June ouster of the electoral commission chairperson and the president’s subsequent stacking of the Electoral Commission with persons considered to be biased in favor of the ruling party raised questions about whether the body might be used to stifle voter registration among the opposition’s base.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Women, however, held fewer leadership positions than men, and female political figures faced sexism, harassment, and threats of violence. Cultural and traditional factors limited women’s participation in political life. Research organizations found that fear of insults, questions about physical safety, and the overall negative societal perception of female politicians hindered women from entering politics.

Guinea

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

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

There continued to be unsubstantiated reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

The investigation into the 2016 death of Thierno Hamidou Diallo and injury to three individuals during a peaceful opposition march in Conakry continued. The police officer arrested in connection with the death was awaiting trial, with the court scheduled to reconvene in January 2019.

Impunity persisted for abuses perpetrated by state actors in past years, including security force killings by the previous military regime of at least 150 opposition demonstrators and the rape of more than 100 women and girls in the 2009 stadium massacre. Two of the indicted alleged ringleaders of the massacre–Colonel Claude Pivi and Colonel Moussa Tiegboro Camara–remained in high-level government posts. General Mathurin Bangoura, a person of interest whose indictment was dismissed following a judicial review, remained governor of Conakry.

In December 2017 the minister of justice announced the closing of the years-long investigation into crimes committed during the September 2009 massacre. The minister also announced the establishment of a steering committee to organize the trial of those responsible. The mission of the 12-member committee is to study and outline the logistics of the trial. The committee is also charged with determining how to address other issues surrounding the massacre, such as establishment of a compensation mechanism for victims. Authorities took no action to exhume the bodies reportedly buried by security forces in mass graves. By year’s end it remained unclear what progress, if any, the committee had made.

b. Disappearance

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

The government closed the investigation and announced it had established a steering committee to organize the trial of those from the previous military regime responsible for the disappearance of dozens of prodemocracy demonstrators during the 2009 stadium massacre. The Association for the Victims of September 2009 estimated 84 persons were still missing and presumed dead.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment, human rights observers stated government officials continued to employ such practices with impunity. In 2016 the legislature promulgated a new criminal code that reconciles national law with international conventions on torture.

Abuse of inmates in prisons and in judicial police and gendarme detention centers continued at previous levels. Gendarmes and police designated as “judicial police officers” (OPJs) routinely abused detainees to coerce confessions. Human rights activists noted the most egregious abuses occurred during arrest or in gendarme detention centers. Human rights associations indicated the complainants often presented evidence of abuse and prison wardens did not investigate these complaints. According to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), guards abused detainees, including children, and coerced some women into exchanging sex for better treatment.

In 2012 two civil society NGOs submitted a complaint on behalf of 16 individuals for arbitrary detention and torture committed in 2010 at the Gendarmerie of Hamdallaye. The trial finally started in April. The accused included, among others, a former chief of staff of the army and a former governor of Conakry. They were charged with arresting and torturing approximately 17 persons in 2010.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in civilian prisons, which are under the supervision of the Ministry of Justice, remained harsh and life threatening. Abuse, poor sanitation, malnutrition, disease, and lack of medical attention were pervasive throughout the prison system, and worse in gendarme and police detention facilities.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a problem in all prisons. An EU-financed survey revealed that prison management and operations remained deficient. Government-funded rehabilitation programs were nonexistent, and NGOs performed the work. A Spanish government program to build a new central prison was sidelined as the contractor was convicted of embezzlement of project funds in Spain.

Authorities held minors in a separate sections at prisons and detention facilities, where they slept on iron bunk beds with no mattresses or on the floor because it was too hot on the upper bunks below the building’s metal roof. Prison officials did not separate pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners, and the prison system often was unable to track pretrial detainees after arrest.

In the two main prisons outside of Conakry and in gendarmerie detention centers, men and women were intermingled. There was no juvenile detention system, and officials generally held juveniles with adults in prisons outside the capital. Men, women, and children were intermingled at gendarmerie detention centers, sometimes with women sleeping in hallways outside the prison cells. Violence and the need to bribe guards for miscellaneous services continued to be problems.

Lack of health-care personnel and medicine in prisons, combined with malnutrition and dehydration, made infection or illness life threatening; cases of beriberi were recorded, and the deaths of prisoners were seldom investigated. Only two of the 31 prisons had a full-time doctor and medical staff, but they lacked adequate medicine and funds. The Conakry Central Prison (CCP) had a sick ward where approximately 30 patients were crowded into a room 15 by 30 feet. Prisoners relied on family members, charities, or NGOs to bring medication, but visitors often had to pay bribes to provide the medicine to prisoners. There were reports of detainees’ deaths. As of September at least nine prisoners had died at the CCP. The circumstances around their deaths remained unclear. Mismanagement, neglect, and lack of resources were prevalent. Toilets did not function, and prisoners slept and ate in the same space used for sanitation purposes. Access to drinking and bathing water was inadequate. Many prisons were former warehouses with little ventilation. Temperatures were stifling, and electricity was insufficient.

NGOs reported endemic malnutrition throughout the prison system. Authorities provided food at the CCP, but most prison directors relied on charities, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and NGOs to provide food for inmates. The CCP claimed it began providing two meals a day to all inmates in 2011; however, NGOs reported prisoners in Conakry and elsewhere still received only one meal per day and that many relied on food from their families or other outside sources. Relatives often abandoned prisoners due to the difficulty and cost of travel to prisons and because guards often demanded bribes for delivering food, which they then frequently confiscated.

In May the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Justice agreed to create a national prison health strategy as part of the national public health system.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Guinea and NGOs noted that conditions at gendarmerie detention centers, intended to hold detainees for not more than two days while they awaited court processing, were much worse than in prisons. Such “temporary” detention could last from a few days to several months, and facilities had no established system to provide meals or medical treatment. As in the case of prisons, gendarmerie facilities were dank and fetid. The government routinely suspended habeas corpus.

Although the Ministry of Justice administered civilian prisons, at times prisoners controlled cell assignments and provided better conditions to prisoners who were able to pay. In addition prison administrators and gendarmes at the detention centers reported receiving directives from their military or gendarme superiors, even when they directly conflicted with orders from the Ministry of Justice. Rumors persisted that guards ignored court orders to free prisoners until bribes were paid.

Administration: Prison authorities did not investigate credible allegations of abuse or inhuman prison conditions. An inspector general of prisons in the Ministry of Justice had responsibility for handling complaints, but this rarely occurred. Prisoners and detainees have the right to submit complaints but seldom did so due to possible reprisals from prison guards or gendarmes. Prisoners must use a lawyer to file a complaint, but lawyers were scarce and expensive. The local NGO Equal Rights for All (MDT) stated religious practice was restricted at prisons other than the CCP.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by local humanitarian and religious organizations that offered medical care and food to those in severe need. Local NGOs–such as MDT and the Association for the Support of Refugees, Displaced Persons, and Detainees–as well as volunteers and religious groups received regular and unimpeded access to the CCP. The ICRC had regular access to all civilian prisons and detention facilities and continued partnership programs with prison and other security authorities to improve civilian prison conditions. The government also allowed international organizations and NGOs access to detention centers operated by the gendarmerie.

Conditions in military prisons, which were under the Ministry of Defense, could not be verified since the government denied access to prison advocacy groups and international organizations. Although military authorities claimed they did not hold civilians at military prisons, previous cases contradicted this assertion. Reports indicated a prison continued to exist at a military camp on Kassa Island, but authorities refused to permit independent monitoring.

According to the United Nations, an allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse against a police peacekeeper from Guinea reported in 2017 was pending. The Ministry of Security reported that the individual had been disciplined. The case alleges sexual exploitation (transactional sex) involving a police officer deployed in the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. UN payment was suspended; investigations by the United Nations and the government of Guinea were pending.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not always observe these prohibitions.

The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention, but few detainees chose this option due to the difficulties they would face.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Defense oversees the gendarmerie, and the Ministry of Security oversees the National Police. The gendarmerie and National Police share responsibility for internal security, but only the gendarmerie can arrest police or military officials. The army is responsible for external security but also plays a role in domestic security.

There are also special police or gendarme units, such as the Anti-Criminal Bureau and the Secretariat General of the Presidency in Charge of Special Services in the Fight against Drugs and Organized Crime. OPJs–mixed units of police and gendarmes with special training in investigative techniques–investigate specific crimes.

There were instances in which security forces failed to prevent or respond to violence. Police forces were largely ineffective, poorly paid, and inadequately equipped. There were multiple reports of security service units disregarding their orders and resorting to excessive force, often because they lacked appropriate training and equipment.

Corruption remained widespread. Administrative controls over police were ineffective, and security forces rarely followed the penal code. Few victims reported crimes due to the common perception that police were corrupt, ineffective, and dangerous.

The government continued to implement reform policies, focusing on the standardization of uniforms, provision of identity cards, and removal of individuals impersonating security officials. The new National Police Academy provided for professional training of new cadets and in-service training of police officers. The gendarmerie continued to receive improved training and equipment. The government established strict rules of engagement for protest marches, with standing orders to allow destruction of property–including police stations–rather than resorting to lethal force.

There were limited internal and external mechanisms to investigate abuses by security forces. The mechanisms available were ineffective due to low government capacity and an ineffective judicial system.

Government impunity remained a widespread problem, and the government took only minimal steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Although the law requires arrest warrants, police did not always follow this protocol. The law also provides that detainees be charged before a magistrate within 48 hours, renewable once if authorized by a judge, but many detainees were held for longer periods. Authorities held most prisoners in the three main prisons indefinitely and without trial. In cases involving national security, the law allows the length of detention to be increased to 96 hours, renewable once.

The law precludes the arrest of persons in their homes between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., but night arrests between those times occurred. After being charged, the accused may be held until the conclusion of the case, including a period of appeal. Authorities must inform detainees of charges against them within 48 hours. Authorities routinely ignored the legal provision entitling defendants to an attorney and did not provide indigent defendants with an attorney at state expense.

Although the law prohibits incommunicado detention, it occurred. Release on bail is at the discretion of the magistrate under whose jurisdiction the case falls. The law allows detainees prompt access to family members, but access was sometimes denied or restricted until families paid the guards a bribe (see section 1.c.).

Arbitrary Arrest: Many arrests took place without warrants and in violation of other due process protections provided in the law. Police arbitrarily arrested and detained opposition members. Authorities also arrested family members for offenses allegedly committed by their relatives.

For example, following a fatal car accident in a suburb of Conakry in June, the driver fled and tried to hide from police. In response, police officers arrested multiple family members of the driver, including his mother. The family members were detained at the central prison of Conakry. According to police, this was a means to coerce the driver out of hiding.

Pretrial Detention: According to an NGO working on prisoners’ issues, the 2016 reform of the justice sector decreased the length of pretrial detention by 65 percent. Despite progress, pretrial detainees constituted 60 percent of the prison population. The reform transferred many responsibilities previously held by the High Court to lower courts, resulting in more cases being heard. In addition, the Ministry of Justice directed the review of pretrial cases, resulting in additional prisoners being released.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judicial system lacked funding and judicial independence, and corruption plagued the system. Budget shortfalls, a shortage of qualified lawyers and magistrates, an outdated and restrictive penal code, nepotism, and ethnic bias limited the judiciary’s effectiveness. Often domestic court orders were not enforced. For example, some prisoners freed by the courts remained in detention, because they failed to pay “exit fees” to guards. On the other hand, politically connected criminals often evaded prosecution.

Many citizens, wary of judicial corruption or with no other choice, relied on traditional systems of justice at the village or urban neighborhood level. Litigants presented their civil cases before a village chief, a neighborhood leader, or a council of “wise men.” The dividing line between the formal and informal justice systems was vague, and authorities sometimes referred a case from the formal to the traditional system to assure compliance by all parties. Similarly, a case not resolved to the satisfaction of all parties in the traditional system could be referred to the formal system for adjudication. In the traditional system, evidence given by women carried less weight.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Trials are public, and defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. The prosecution prepares a case file, including testimony and other evidence, and provides a copy for the defense. Defendants have the right to confront and question prosecution witnesses and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. The law provides for the presumption of innocence of accused persons, the independence of judges, the equality of citizens before the law, the right of the accused to counsel (but only for major crimes), and the right to appeal a judicial decision, but these rights were not consistently observed.

Authorities must inform defendants of charges. Defendants are entitled to free assistance from an interpreter, if necessary. Authorities must charge or release defendants within 48 hours, but they did not consistently observe this requirement. Defendants generally had adequate time but lacked resources, such as access to a lawyer, to prepare a defense. Most cases never came to trial. Officials may not hold defendants for more than four months to a year (depending on the charge) before trial. Authorities frequently denied defendants these rights.

Although the government was responsible for funding legal defense costs in serious criminal cases, it rarely disbursed funds for this purpose. The attorney for the defense, if there was one, frequently received no payment. Authorities allowed detainees’ attorneys access to their clients, but often on condition that prison guards or gendarmes be present. The law provides that defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but torture or other harsh treatment and conditions in detention centers undermined this protection.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government arrested or summoned individuals as “political intimidation” but released them shortly thereafter. The government permitted access to such persons on a regular basis by the ICRC.

In March 2017 the Supreme Court overturned the 2013 High Court verdict that sentenced Fatou Badiar to 15 years and Commander Alpha Oumar Boffa Diallo to life in prison for complicity in the 2011 attack on the president’s residence. After a long delay, authorities reopened the case in April.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides for a judicial procedure in civil matters, including lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations. Judicial process lacked independence and impartiality. Bribes and political and social status often influenced decisions. There were few lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations, in part due to public fear of suing security force members and lack of confidence in the competence and impartiality of the judiciary. Domestic court orders often were not enforced. NGOs that filed cases for civilians in 2012, 2013, and 2014–ranging from complaints of torture to indefinite detention–claimed their cases had yet to be heard. NGOs subsequently began opting to lodge complaints with the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but police reportedly ignored legal procedures in the pursuit of criminal suspects, including when it served their personal interests. Authorities sometimes removed persons from their homes at all hours, stole their personal belongings, and demanded payment for their release.

The government continued to punish family members for alleged offenses committed by relatives.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government restricted press freedom.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent and opposition-owned media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views. Print media had limited reach due to the low literacy rate (41 percent) and the high cost of newspapers. Radio remained the most important source of information for the public, and numerous private stations broadcast throughout the country. FM radio call-in shows were popular and allowed citizens to express broad discontent with the government. An increase in online news websites reflected the growing demand for divergent views. Nevertheless, libels and allegations could result in government reprisals, including suspensions and fines.

In November 2017 journalists called for the release of the Gangan Radio TV Group television coordinator who had been arrested for allegedly announcing the death of Alpha Conde. The journalists maintained that the arrest was arbitrary and without cause. During a protest at the Matam detention center in Conakry, clashes broke out between journalists and gendarmes. Gendarmes injured some journalists and destroyed their equipment.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of physical attacks on, and harassment and intimidation of, journalists by members of the Guinean People’s Assembly (RPG) political party, affiliated with the government, and law enforcement agents.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized media outlets and journalists who broadcast items criticizing government officials and their actions.

Some journalists accused government officials of attempting to influence the tone of their reporting with inappropriate pressure and bribes. Others hired bodyguards, and many practiced self-censorship.

In November 2017 the Communications High Authority (HAC) suspended the accreditation of Mouctar Bah, a correspondent for Radio France International and Agence France Presse, until February 2019. The HAC responded to a complaint of defamation lodged by the minister of national defense. The minister alleged that a report by Bah on violence that occurred in Conakry involving the military did not adhere to journalist ethics rules.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel against the head of state, slander, and false reporting are subject to heavy fines. Officials used these laws to harass opposition leaders.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 11 percent of individuals used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government did not always respect these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government restricted this right. The law bans any meeting that has an ethnic or racial character or any gathering “whose nature threatens national unity.” The government requires a 72-working-hour advance notification for public gatherings. The law permits local authorities to prohibit a demonstration or meeting if they believe it poses a threat to public order. Authorities may also hold event organizers criminally liable if violence or destruction of property occurs.

The government did not respect the right of freedom peaceful assembly. In August the government announced a blanket ban on political protests.

In February security forces arrested 15 peacefully demonstrating civil society activists who were demanding dialogue between the government and the union of teachers. The demonstrators were subsequently released. Police use of excessive force to disperse demonstrators–often protesting poor public services–resulted in deaths and injuries (see section 1.a.).

Part of the 2013 and 2015 political accords promised an investigation into the political violence that resulted in the deaths of more than 50 persons in 2012 and 2013, punishment of perpetrators, and indemnification of victims. The government had taken no action on these promises by year’s end.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, and authorities generally respected this provision. Requirements to obtain official recognition for public, social, cultural, religious, or political associations were not cumbersome, although bureaucratic delays sometimes impeded registration.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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, but citizens were restricted in the exercise of that ability.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2013 the country held legislative elections. The elections were considered generally free and fair, despite allegations of fraud.

In 2015 President Alpha Conde won re-election with 58 percent of the vote. The election was considered generally free and fair, despite allegations of fraud.

Repeatedly delayed local elections took place in February. The elections were considered generally free and fair, despite allegations of fraud.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were no official restrictions on political party formation beyond registration requirements, but parties may not represent a single region or ethnicity.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Observers noted, however, there were cultural constraints on women’s political participation. Four women were serving in cabinet-level positions, in a total of 34 such positions. There were 25 women serving as deputies in the 114-member National Assembly. The electoral code requires at least 30 percent of candidates for any party competing for seats in the National Assembly to be women; however, the Constitutional Court ruled this law discriminatory during the year.

Guinea-Bissau

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, and the armed forces and police generally respected these prohibitions.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions varied widely. In the makeshift detention facilities for pretrial detainees, conditions were harsh and life threatening.

Physical Conditions: Conditions of confinement were poor. Except in the prisons in Bafata and Mansoa, electricity, potable water, and space were inadequate. Detention facilities generally lacked secure cells, running water, adequate heating, ventilation, lighting, and sanitation. Detainees’ diets were poor, and medical care was virtually nonexistent. At the pretrial detention center in Bissau, detainees relied on their families for food. Officials held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners and juveniles with adults. There were no reported deaths in police custody.

Administration: Authorities did not investigate allegations of inhuman conditions. There was no prison ombudsman to respond to prisoners’ complaints or independent authorities to investigate credible allegations of inhuman conditions. The National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH) recommended the closure of four detention centers (Cacine, Catio, Bigene, and Bissora) due to a lack of humane conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of detention conditions by local and international human rights groups.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government usually observed these prohibitions. Detainees may challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court through a regular appeals process, obtain prompt release, and obtain compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The country is divided into 37 police districts. An estimated 3,500 police personnel in nine different police forces reported to seven different ministries. The Judicial Police, under the Ministry of Justice, has primary responsibility for investigating drug trafficking, terrorism, and other transnational crimes. The Public Order Police, under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for preventive patrols, crowd control, and maintenance of law and order. Other police forces include the State Information Service (intelligence), Border Police (migration and border enforcement), Rapid Intervention Police, and Maritime Police. According to the constitution, the armed forces may be called upon to assist police in emergencies.

Police were generally ineffective, poorly and irregularly paid, and corrupt. They received no training and had insufficient funding to buy fuel for police vehicles. Traffic police often demanded bribes from drivers. Lack of police detention facilities frequently resulted in prisoners leaving custody during investigations. Impunity was a serious problem. The attorney general was responsible for investigating police abuses; however, employees of that office were also poorly paid and susceptible to threats, corruption, and coercion.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over police and armed forces, although the government had few mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse.

In February, Judicial Police inspectors openly denounced the political intimidation of the Judicial Police and political interference in their work. Six of the officers who complained were suspended, threatened, and harassed for denouncing the lack of transparency in investigations, the recruitment process, and political pressure on police forces. The Bissau Regional Court declared the suspension illegal, and the inspectors were reintegrated in April. The government named a new Judicial Police director in May.

The Guinea-Bissau Human Rights League (LGDH) denounced two cases of sexual violence against women perpetrated by police personnel. Nine officers were involved in those cases. One of the victims presented charges, and LGDH reported police obstruction to the case and bribing the family of the victim. No one was charged.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires arrest warrants, although warrantless arrests often occurred, particularly of immigrants suspected of crimes. By law detainees must be brought before a magistrate within 48 hours of arrest and released if no indictment is filed, but this standard was not always met. Authorities informed detainees of charges against them. The law provides for the right to counsel at state expense for indigent clients; lawyers did not receive compensation for their part-time public defense work and often ignored state directives to represent indigent clients. There was a functioning bail system. Pretrial detainees had prompt access to family members. Authorities usually held civilian suspects under house arrest.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports police occasionally arrested persons arbitrarily and detained them without due process.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary was subject to political manipulation. Judges were poorly trained, inadequately and irregularly paid, and subject to corruption. A lack of resources and infrastructure often delayed trials, and convictions were extremely rare. Authorities respected court orders, however.

Ten military officials were arrested for conspiracy related to a planned assassination of Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces General Biague Na N’Tam in late December 2017. Authorities detained them without trial, and at year’s end their detention continued. LGDH and the defendants claimed there was no evidence in the case and called for immediate release of the accused.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The court system, however, did not often provide fair trials and reflected the actions of the corrupt judges who sometimes worked in concert with police. It was not unheard of for cases to be delayed without explanation, or for fines to be directly taken out of defendants’ bank accounts without their knowledge.

Citizens have the right to a presumption of innocence; to be informed promptly of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary, from the moment charged through all appeals; to a fair trial without undue delay; to be present at their trial; and to communicate with an attorney of choice or have one provided at court expense from the moment charged and through all appeals. The law provides for the right to confront witnesses and present witnesses and evidence, not to be compelled to testify against oneself or to admit guilt, and to appeal. Defendants generally have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; however, most cases never came to trial. There is no trial by jury. Trials in civilian courts are open to the public.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals may seek civil remedies for human rights violations; however, there was no specific administrative mechanism to address human rights violations.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government did not always respect these prohibitions. Police routinely ignored privacy rights and protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press; however, there were reports the government did not always respect this right.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. There were several private newspapers in addition to the government-owned newspaper No Pintcha, but the state-owned printing house published all of them.

Violence and Harassment: The government took no steps to preserve the safety and independence of media or to prosecute individuals who threatened journalists. Several incidents between journalists and government officials occurred during the year. A member of parliament (MP) harassed a journalist from a national radio broadcaster, Bombolom FM, for criticizing his actions in parliament. The incident ended with official apologies from both the MP and the president of the National Assembly. In the region of Cacheu, a high-ranking National Guard official physically assaulted a journalist. The case went to court but was dismissed because the parties reached an out-of-court settlement.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: State television service TGB produced content biased in favor of the government.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 3.9 percent of the population used the internet in 2017. Lack of infrastructure, equipment, and education severely limited access to the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government failed to respect these rights.

In January the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cabo Verde’s (PAIGC) congress was suspended by a judicial order, allegedly for not respecting the internal procedures of the party. Police prohibited PAIGC members from entering their headquarters, injuring 11 persons. The congress eventually took place a few days later, but observers believed that political interference in the justice sector was behind the suspension.

During the year several protests by a civil society group, the Movement of Nonconforming Citizens (MCCI), were prohibited by authorities, who claimed the movement did not have a legal structure or because the protest would occur near public places. In May the MCCI filed a complaint against the government for violation of freedom of peaceful protest to the Economic Community of West African States Community Court of Justice. The case continued at year’s end.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The 2014 general elections resulted in a new National Assembly and president. Jose Mario Vaz of the PAIGC and Domingos Simoes Pereira, respectively, assumed the offices of president and prime minister, respectively. Independent observers assessed the elections as free and fair. In April the president appointed Aristides Gomes as the seventh prime minister since 2014.

Parliamentary elections scheduled for November 18, already six months after the original date of May, did not take place due to a delay in voter registration related to a lack of registration kits. A ministerial mission from the Economic Community of West African States recommended a new parliamentary election date be set before the end of January 2019. In December, President Vaz called for elections on March 10, 2019, almost one year late.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate, although the 102-member National Assembly had only 14 female members. Some observers believed traditional and cultural factors limited the political participation of women compared to men.

In August an initiative of parity law to increase women’s representation in government and public institutions was presented to the National Assembly. In November the parity law was approved by members of parliament with amendments setting the parity at 36 percent.

Kenya

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

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

There were numerous reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings, particularly of known or suspected criminals, including terrorists. In September eight nongovernmental organizations (NGO) based in the northern region jointly issued a statement listing extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances at top of their list of human rights concerns. In September the NGO HAKI Africa provided the ODPP a list of 34 youth whom police allegedly executed over nine months since the beginning of the year. The ODPP committed to pursue investigations and requested additional evidence and assistance from HAKI. The NGO Independent Medico Legal Unit alleged that police in Nairobi summarily executed 58 individuals, mostly in informal settlements, between January to June. In March 2017 video footage surfaced on the internet of an alleged plainclothes police officer shooting two subdued suspects in the Nairobi neighborhood of Eastleigh. According to the newspaper Daily Nation, the Nairobi police commander defended the shooting, calling the victims “gangsters.” The Inspector General’s investigation continued as of year’s end.

In August IPOA reported a summary execution of a suspected carjacker. The police, who had allegedly shot the victim twice, hauled him from a church where he had sought refuge. IPOA’s investigation continued as of the year’s end.

Some groups alleged authorities significantly underestimated the number of extrajudicial killings by security forces due to underreporting of such killings in informal settlements, including those in dense urban areas. The NGO Mathare Social Justice Center estimated police killed at least one young male every week in the Mathare neighborhood of Nairobi. During the year IPOA received 461 complaints regarding deaths resulting from police actions, including 15 fatal shootings involving police and 446 deaths due to other actions by police.

NGOs and the autonomous governmental entity Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) reported in 2017 that authorities killed between 35 and 100 persons and injured many others in opposition strongholds following the August 2017 elections. A KNCHR report released in November documented 201 cases of sexual assault in nine counties emanating from the post-election violence, primarily during periods of increased civil unrest. The study found that police and other security officers committed 55 percent of the documented sexual assaults (see section 6). The report indicated that KNCHR turned over its findings to IPOA for official inquiry. IPOA’s investigations stemming from election violence continued as of the year’s end.

Media reports and NGOs attributed many of the human rights abuses not related to elections to Kenya Defense Forces counterterrorism operations in the northeast counties of Mandera, Garissa, and Wajir bordering Somalia. In September rights groups including Muslims for Human Rights led protests in Mombasa against extrajudicial killings and abductions by security forces. The groups alleged that on September 6, authorities gunned down three youths, ages 17, 17, and 19, absent proof of guilt. Police responded that the three had been caught preparing to commit a crime.

Impunity remained a serious problem (see section 1.d.).

Al-Shabaab terrorists conducted deadly attacks and guerilla-style raids on isolated communities along the border with Somalia. For example, in September al-Shabaab fighters reportedly stopped a bus in Lamu County, separated the passengers by religion, and then executed two Christian passengers before setting free the other passengers.

b. Disappearance

Observers and NGOs alleged members of the security forces were culpable of forced disappearances. In June media reported civilian protests in Garissa County over the alleged disappearance of 14 residents. There were accusations of government involvement and use of police officers. On July 26, human rights lobby group HAKI Africa reported that between January and June, the Garissa police abducted or forced the disappearance of 46 civilians.

The media also reported on families on the coast and in northeastern counties searching for relatives who disappeared following arrest and of authorities holding individuals incommunicado for interrogation for several weeks or longer (see section 1.d.).

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

In 2017 President Kenyatta approved the Prevention of Torture Act, which provides a basis to prosecute torture. The law provides a platform to apply articles of the 2010 constitution, including: Article 25 on freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; Article 28 on respect and protection of human dignity; and Article 29 on freedom and security of the person. The law brings all state agencies and officials under one, rather than multiple pieces of legislation. Additionally, the law provides protections to vulnerable witnesses and law enforcement officials who refuse to obey illegal orders that would lead to torture. The government, however, had not implemented the guidelines required to operationalize the Prevention of Torture Act.

Pretrial detainees accused police of use of torture. In September a shooting suspect filed a formal complaint with IPOA alleging torture by police and continued detention beyond the maximum legal duration. That investigation continued as of year’s end.

Police reportedly used torture and violence during interrogations as well as to punish both pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners. According to human rights NGOs, physical battery, bondage in painful positions, and electric shock were the most common methods of torture used by police. A range of human rights organizations and media reported police committed torture and indiscriminate violence with impunity. For example, there were numerous press and NGO reports of police brutality against protestors and unarmed citizens, including in house-to-house operations in the days following the August 2017 elections (see section 3).

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Human rights organizations reported that prison, detention center, and police station conditions were harsh due to overcrowding, food and water shortages, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. A Directorate of Health Services in the Prisons Department oversees health and hygiene issues.

Physical Conditions: According to the Kenya Prisons Service (PS), the prison population as of September was 51,130, held in prisons with a designated capacity of 26,837. More than 90 percent of prisoners were men. According to the National Council on the Administration of Justice’s (NCAJ) January report, the country has 105 prisons–87 for men and 18 for women. While the PS noted that seven prisons have been constructed since 2012, serious overcrowding was the norm, with an average prisoner population of nearly 200 percent capacity and some prisons housing up to 400 percent of capacity. Authorities continued a “decongestion” program that entailed releasing petty offenders and encouraging the judiciary to increase use of the Community Service Orders program in its sentencing.

The PS reported 131 deaths as of September, many attributable to sicknesses caused or exacerbated by overcrowding, lack of access to clean water, poor hygiene, and inadequate medical care. According to a study by the NCAJ released in 2017, sanitary facilities were inadequate, and tuberculosis remained a serious problem at eight prisons.

In January 2017 the NCAJ reported that despite the legal requirement to separate male prisoners from women and children, the mixing of genders and ages remained a problem in some prisons. Between January and June 2017, IPOA observed that authorities separated women from men in detention facilities on average 89 percent of the time in the 29 detention facilities its representatives visited. In smaller jails, female prisoners were not always separated from men. There were no separate facilities during pretrial detention, and sexual abuse of female prisoners was a problem. Human rights groups reported that police routinely engaged in non-consensual sex with female prisoners and that many female inmates resorted to prostitution to obtain necessities, such as sanitary items and underwear, which the Prisons Service did not provide.

Authorities generally separated minors from adults except during the initial detention period at police stations, when authorities often held adults and minors of both sexes in a single cell. Minors often mixed with the general prison population during lunch and exercise periods, according to the Coalition for Constitutional Interpretation, a domestic NGO. Prison officials reported that because there were few detention facilities for minors, authorities often had to transport them long distances to serve their sentences, spending nights at police stations under varying conditions along the way. In October 2017 the Daily Nation newspaper reported a witness had accused a police officer of raping a 13-year-old victim while she was held overnight at a police station for alleged theft. IPOA investigated the incident. A criminal prosecution was proceeding in the courts.

The law allows children to stay with their inmate mothers in certain circumstances until age four or until arrangements for their care outside the facilities are concluded, whichever is earlier.

Prisoners generally received three meals a day, but portions were inadequate. The PS stated in August that it no longer served a penal diet for punishment. Water shortages, a problem both inside and outside of prison, continued. Prisoners generally spent most of their time indoors in inadequately lit and poorly ventilated cellblocks. This was especially true for the more than one-third of inmates awaiting trial, as they were not engaged in any work programs that would allow them to leave their cells regularly.

Administration: Mechanisms for prisoners to report abuse and other concerns improved due to collaboration between the PS and the KNCHR to monitor human rights standards in prison and detention facilities. By law, the Commission on the Administration of Justice serves as ombudsman on government administration of prisons. It is to receive and treat as confidential correspondence from inmates and recommend remedies to address their concerns, including those pertaining to prison living conditions and administration. Government-established special committees, which included paralegals and prison officials, also served to increase prisoners’ access to the judicial system. The Legal Aid Center of Eldoret noted there was no single system providing “primary justice” to prisoners and detainees, who instead relied on a patchwork of services largely provided by NGOs. Many government-designated human rights officers lacked necessary training, and some prisons did not have a human rights officer.

Noncustodial community service programs and the release of some petty offenders alleviated somewhat prison overcrowding. The total prison population did not decrease substantially, however, because of unaffordable bail and bond terms for pretrial detainees, high national crime rates, overuse of custodial sentencing, and a high number of death row and life-imprisoned inmates. Legal rights NGOs and prison officials reported overuse of the charge of “robbery with violence,” which may carry a life sentence, without sufficient evidence to support it. Some petty offenders consequently received disproportionately heavy sentences.

Prison officials sometimes denied prisoners and detainees the right to contact relatives or lawyers. Family members who wanted to visit prisoners commonly reported bureaucratic obstacles that generally required a bribe to resolve. According to the Legal Resources Foundation, prisoners had reasonable access to legal counsel and other official visitors, although there was insufficient space in many prisons and jails to meet with visitors in private and conduct confidential conversations.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by independent nongovernmental observers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arrest or detention without a court order unless there are reasonable grounds for believing a suspect has committed or is about to commit a criminal offense. Police, however, arrested and detained citizens arbitrarily, accused them of more severe crimes than they had committed, or accused them of a crime to mask underlying police abuses.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police Service (NPS) maintains internal security and is subordinate to the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government (Interior).

In September President Kenyatta announced the reorganization of the NPS, which includes the Kenya Police Service (KPS), the Administration Police Service, and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI). The KPS remains responsible for general policing and contains specialized subunits, such as the paramilitary General Services Unit, which responds to large-scale incidents of insecurity. The Administration Police Service is now comprised of units dedicated to border security, protection of critical infrastructure, and prevention of livestock theft. The DCI is responsible for all criminal investigations and includes specialized investigative units, such as the Antinarcotics Unit, the Antiterrorism Police Unit, and the Forensics Unit.

The National Intelligence Service collects intelligence internally as well as externally and is under the direct authority of the president.

The Kenya Defense Forces are responsible for external security but have some domestic security responsibilities, including border security and supporting civilian organizations in the maintenance of order, including post-disaster response, as allowed by the constitution. The defense forces are subordinate to the Ministry of Defense. In 2015 the defense forces and police launched a coordinated operation to drive al-Shabaab terrorists out of the Boni Forest in northern Lamu and southern Garissa counties; the operation continued throughout the year.

The National Police Service Commission (NPSC) and IPOA, both government bodies, report to the National Assembly. The NPSC consists of six civilian commissioners, including two retired police officers, as well as the NPS inspector general and two deputies. The commission’s tenure ended in September; the NPSC chief operating officer was managing the NPSC until a new commission is installed. The NPSC is responsible for recruiting, transferring, vetting, promoting, and disciplining NPS. IPOA investigates serious police misconduct, especially cases of death and grave injury at the hands of police officers.

The ODPP is empowered to direct the NPS inspector general to investigate any information or allegation of criminal conduct and to institute criminal proceedings in police abuse or corruption cases.

Impunity was a major problem. Authorities sometimes attributed the failure to investigate a case of police corruption or unlawful killing to the failure of victims to file official complaints. Victims can file complaints at regional police stations, police headquarters through the Internal Affairs Unit (IAU), and through the IPOA website and hotline. More than half of all allegations of death or bodily harm by the NPS were filed at IPOA in person. Sometimes police turned away victims who sought to file complaints at police stations where alleged police misconduct originated, and instead directed them to other area stations. This created a deterrent effect on reporting complaints against police. NGOs documented threats against police officers who attempted to investigate criminal allegations against other police officers. The National Coroners Service Act, adopted in 2017, lacked enforcement regulations and funding.

Police failed to prevent vigilante violence in numerous instances but in other cases played a protective role (see section 6).

Poor casework, incompetence, and corruption undermined successful prosecutions; the overall conviction rate for criminal prosecutions was between 13 and 16 percent. Police also frequently failed to enter detainees into custody records, making it difficult to locate them. Dispute resolution at police stations resolved a significant number of crimes, but authorities did not report or record them, according to human rights organizations.

Witness harassment and fear of retaliation severely inhibited the investigation and prosecution of major crimes. The Witness Protection Agency was underfunded, doubts about its independence were widespread, and the Supreme Court cited its weaknesses as a serious judicial shortcoming. It cooperated closely with IPOA and other investigative bodies.

Human rights activists reported that at times police officers in charge of taking complaints at the local level were the same ones who committed abuses. Police officials resisted investigations and jailed some human rights activists for publicly registering complaints against government abuses.

Research by a leading legal advocacy and human rights NGO found police used disciplinary transfers of officers to hide their identities and frustrate investigations into their alleged crimes. Many media and civil society investigations into police abuse ended after authorities transferred officers, and police failed to provide any information about their identities or whereabouts.

Police accountability mechanisms, including those of IAU and IPOA, increased their capacity to investigate cases of police abuse. The IAU director reports directly to the NPS Inspector General. Fifty-eight officers served in the IAU, mostly investigators with a background in the Kenya Police Service and the Administration Police Service. The IAU conducts investigations into police misconduct, including criminal offenses not covered by IPOA. Between January and September, the IAU received approximately 900 complaints, the number of which had increased year-to-year as police and the public became more familiar with the IAU. The Ethics and Anticorruption Commission (EACC), an independent agency, investigates cases involving police corruption.

In addition to regional offices in Mombasa, Kisumu, and Garissa, during the year IPOA opened six more offices in Nakuru, Eldoret, Kakamega, Nyeri, Meru, and Lodwar and increased its staff by 100 to 212. Through the end of September, IPOA received 1,853 complaints, bringing the total since its inception in 2012 to 10,966. IPOA defines five categories of complaints. Category One complaints comprise the most serious crimes–such as murders, torture, rape, and serious injury–and result in an automatic investigation. Category Two, serious crimes such as assault without serious injury, are investigated on a case-by-case basis. Categories Three to Five, less serious crimes, are generally not investigated. Approximately one-third of IPOA complaints fall under Categories One and Two. If, after investigation, IPOA determines there is criminal liability in a case, it forwards the case to the ODPP. Through the end of September, IPOA launched 717 investigations, of which five were forwarded to the ODPP. As of October IPOA and ODPP had two cases pending in courts. On January 7, IPOA secured the conviction of police officer Titus Musila for killing Kenneth Kimani Mwangi in 2013. The court sentenced Musila to 15 years in prison. On November 14, a court sentenced two police officers to death for killing their colleague, Joseph Obongo, and two of his relatives in 2014.

The law requires that the NPSC eventually vet all serving police officers. Vetting required an assessment of each officer’s fitness to serve based on a review of documentation, including financial records, certificates of good conduct, and a questionnaire, as well public input alleging abuse or misconduct. The NPSC reported it had vetted more than more than 15,000 officers since 2012. A significant portion of the officers vetted during the year were from the traffic department. The NPSC also vetted a higher number of chief inspectors than in the past, of which the NPSC removed 50 for corruption, human rights abuses, and other reasons. Some legal challenges brought by officers vetted out of the service continued in court.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law provides police with broad powers of arrest. Police officers may make arrests without a warrant if they suspect a crime occurred, is happening, or is imminent. Victims’ rights NGOs reported that in some cases authorities required victims to pay bribes and to provide transportation for police to a suspect’s location to execute a legal arrest warrant.

The constitution’s bill of rights provides significant ‎legal protections, including provisions requiring persons to be charged, tried, or released within a certain time and provisions requiring the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus to allow a court to determine the lawfulness of detention. In many cases, however, authorities did not follow the prescribed time limits. According to the attorney general in a response to a questionnaire from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2013, “an unexplained violation of a constitutional right will normally result in an acquittal.” While authorities in many cases released the accused if held longer than the prescribed period, some cases did not result in an acquittal, and authorities provided no compensation.

Police used excessive force in some cases when making arrests. IPOA investigated allegations of excessive force that led to serious injury.

The constitution establishes the right of suspects to bail unless there are compelling reasons against release. There is a functioning bail system, and all suspects, including those accused of capital offenses, are eligible for bail. Many suspects remained in jail for months pending trial because of their inability to post bail. Due to overcrowding in prisons, courts rarely denied bail to individuals who could pay it, even when the circumstances warranted denial. For example, NGOs that worked with victims of sexual assault complained that authorities granted bail to suspects even in cases in which there was evidence that they posed a continuing threat to victims.

Although the law provides pretrial detainees with the right to access family members and attorneys, family members of detainees frequently complained that authorities permitted access only upon payment of bribes. When detainees could afford counsel, police generally permitted access to attorneys.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police arbitrarily arrested and detained persons. Victims of arbitrary arrest were generally poor young men. Human rights organizations complained that security forces made widespread arbitrary arrests and detentions during counterterrorism operations and targeted ethnic Somalis and Kenyan Muslims. In March 2017 AP officers allegedly arrested and assaulted Standard newspaper journalist Isaiah Gwengi over his stories on police brutality. The IPOA investigation continued at year’s end.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a serious problem and contributed to prison overcrowding. Some defendants were held in pretrial detention longer than the statutory maximum term of imprisonment for the crime with which they were charged. The government claimed the average time spent in pretrial detention was 14 days, but there were reports many detainees spent two to three years in prison before their trials were completed. Police from the arresting locale are responsible for bringing detainees from prison to court when hearings are scheduled but often failed to do so, forcing detainees to wait for the next hearing of their cases (see section 1.e.).

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention Before a Court: The law entitles persons arrested or detained to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention, but that right was not always protected in practice. In February authorities failed to comply with a court order to produce opposition lawyer Miguna Miguna in court. Authorities instead deported Miguna on February 6, claiming that he had given up his Kenyan citizenship upon obtaining Canadian citizenship. Miguna attempted to re-enter Kenya in March, but was detained at the airport. Authorities ignored two court orders to produce or release Miguna and instead deported the lawyer a second time on March 28.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, although the government did not always respect judicial impartiality. The government sometimes undermined the independence of the judiciary. In April the minister of interior claimed the judiciary was “captured” by civil society with the intent to stall and embarrass the government.

Reform of the judiciary continued. In August the director of public prosecution directed anticorruption authorities to investigate the judiciary over allegations of misuse and loss of court funds. On August 28, authorities arrested the deputy chief justice for suspected corruption. She faces charges for abuse of office for personal gain, and undermining public integrity in the judiciary. The case against the deputy chief justice was ongoing as of year’s end. Authorities generally respected court orders, and the outcomes of trials did not appear to be predetermined.

In June parliament accused the judiciary of meddling in the legislative process, citing court orders against parliamentary procedures.

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC)–a constitutionally mandated oversight body intended to insulate the judiciary from political pressure–provides the president with a list of nominees for judicial appointment. The president selects one of the nominees for parliamentary approval. The president appoints the chief justice and appellate and High Court judges through this process. The commission publicly reviews judicial appointees. As of October President Kenyatta had not formally installed JSC nominee Judge Mohammed Warsame, whom the JCS nominated in April.

In December 2017 the judiciary issued the State of the Judiciary and the Administration of Justice Report for 2016-17, which cited more than 60,000 cases pending in court for between five and 10 years. The judiciary improved its case clearance rate during the year and substantially reduced case backlog by increasing benches of judges sitting daily.

The constitution gives the judiciary authority to review appointments and decisions made by other branches of government. Parliament generally adhered to judicial decisions, with some exceptions.

For example, in August 2016 a High Court deadline expired for parliament to enact legislation to implement the constitutionally mandated two-thirds gender principle (see section 3). In 2017 a second High Court-ordered deadline for implementation expired, despite a promise by the National Assembly majority leader to bring it to a vote. The order remained under parliamentary review at year’s end. In May the High Court issued a ruling quashing the privileges of parliament that had insulated against legal redress on any decisions parliamentarians make. In June parliament slashed the judiciary budget allocation for the 2018-19 financial year in a perceived retaliatory move.

The law provides for “kadhi” courts, which adjudicate Muslim law on marriage, divorce, and inheritance among Muslims. There were no other traditional courts. The national courts used the traditional law of an ethnic group as a guide in personal matters as long as it did not conflict with statutory law.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, although individuals may give some testimony in closed session; the independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The law provides for a presumption of innocence, and defendants have the right to attend their trials, confront witnesses, and present witnesses and evidence in their defense. The law also provides defendants the right to receive prompt and detailed information on the charges against them, with free interpretation if necessary, including during trials; to be tried without undue delay; to have access to government-held evidence; and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Authorities generally respected these rights, although they did not always promptly inform persons of the charges against them. During the year the judiciary completed disseminating Active Case Management Guidelines to several courts involved in a management pilot project. The judiciary implemented the pilot project in some high profile and complex cases, but had not done so on a regular basis. In January Chief Justice David Maraga launched the National Committee on Criminal Justice Reforms to coordinate justice sector reform. On September 22, Maraga inaugurated the Criminal Procedure Bench Book as part of ongoing judicial reforms.

Trial delays sometimes resulted because witnesses failed to present themselves, judges cancelled trial dates without notice, witnesses were not protected, or legal counsel failed to appear. Authorities generally respected a defendant’s right to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Defendants generally had adequate time to prepare a defense if they were capable of doing so. The government and courts generally respected these rights. There was no government-sponsored public defenders service, and courts continued to try the vast majority of defendants without representation because they could not afford legal counsel.

In May, 2,000 inmates at a regional prison declined to appear in court over processing and conclusion of their court cases. The inmates accused the justice system of detaining them without trial. The judiciary resolved the matter after three weeks by rotating additional judges to the court.

The Legal Aid Act enacted in 2016 established the National Legal Aid Service to facilitate access to justice, with the ultimate goal of providing pro-bono services for indigent defendants who cannot afford legal representation. Other pro-bono legal aid was available only in major cities where some human rights organizations, notably the Federation of Women Lawyers, an international NGO, provided it. The Law Society of Kenya (LSK) held the annual legal awareness week in September with the theme “Corruption: a crime against justice, democracy, development and prosperity.” During the week, LSK provided free legal aid at all High Courts nation-wide.

The ODPP significantly increased the number of trained prosecutors during the year. According to the ODPP, as of June 29, there were an estimated 627 state prosecutors, compared with 200 in 2013, as well as 402 support staff. The expansion of the prosecution service reduced delays in court proceedings. The ODPP suffered high staff turnover, largely due to the judiciary offering better pay. To fill the gap, the office increased recruiting efforts and brought in more than 90 new prosecutors during the year.

Discovery laws are not clearly defined, handicapping defense lawyers. Implementation of a High Court ruling requiring provision of written statements to the defense before trial remained inconsistent. Defense lawyers often did not have access to government-held evidence before a trial. There were reports the government sometimes invoked the Official Secrets Act as a basis for withholding evidence.

Defendants may appeal a verdict to a High Court and ultimately to the Court of Appeal and, for some matters, to the Supreme Court.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

While generally not an issue, there was one report of a political prisoner or detainee. Authorities detained opposition lawyer Miguna Miguna for several days following the January 30 ceremony swearing in Raila Odinga as “the people’s president.” Authorities failed to comply with a court order to produce Miguna and instead deported him, claiming that he had given up his Kenyan citizenship upon obtaining Canadian citizenship (see section 1.d).

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals may use t