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Ecuador

Executive Summary

Ecuador is a constitutional, multiparty republic with an elected president and unicameral legislature. On April 11, voters elected President Guillermo Lasso Mendoza from a center-right alliance among the Creating Opportunities Movement and the Social Christian Party and selected members of the National Assembly in elections that observers deemed free and fair.

The National Police maintains internal security and law enforcement and is under the authority of the Ministry of Government. The military is under the supervision of the Ministry of Defense and is responsible for external security. Police and military forces share responsibility for border enforcement, with the military also having limited domestic security responsibilities. The military may complement police operations to maintain and control public order when expressly mandated. Migration officers are civilians and report to the Ministry of Government. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: torture and abuse by police officers and prison guards; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; the existence of criminal libel laws; serious acts of government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women and children; and the use of child labor.

The government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses and against those accused of corruption.

Members of criminal gangs operating in prisons committed acts of torture and killed their rivals during prison disturbances. The government investigated these crimes, and prosecutions were pending. There were incidents of violence and threats of violence against journalists by likely nongovernment actors. Members of society engaged in crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

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

Human rights organizations, however, reported excessive force by security forces was likely responsible for several of the 11 deaths reported by the comptroller during October 2019 protests against the government’s economic reforms. Ministry of Government officials indicated that only eight deaths were linked to demonstrations, and they argued that the causes of death were either due to force majeure actions of police attempting to control violent crowds or accidents that did not result from direct police action. A March 17 report from the ombudsman-created Special Commission for Truth and Justice alleged that up to six of the deaths during the protests could constitute extrajudicial killings and called on judicial authorities to further investigate the actions of security forces. Criminal investigations concerning the entire range of crimes committed during the several weeks of organized violence – including lootings, arson, attacks on public employees and institutions – that accompanied the political protests did not significantly advance before year’s end.

On August 30, a judge accepted a prosecutor’s request to indict two former police officers accused of attempted murder (constituting an attempted extrajudicial killing) in 2010 of taxi driver Aldo Zambrano in Guayaquil. The judge found the former officers had acted arbitrarily and negligently in shooting Zambrano.

b. Disappearance

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

Regarding the 2012 kidnapping in Colombia of opposition legislator Fernando Balda, in August 2020 the National Court of Justice found former intelligence director Pablo Romero guilty of planning the abduction under the orders of former president Rafael Correa, who was also indicted but remained in Belgium despite extradition requests. Romero appealed the ruling, with a subsequent ruling pending as of October 27. The National Court confirmed that Ecuador’s extradition request remained in process as of October 27.

On January 28, the country’s representative to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights accepted the state’s responsibility for the forced disappearance in Quito in 1990 of writer Cesar Gustavo Garzon Guzman. The agents responsible for Garzon’s disappearance remained unknown.

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

While the law prohibits torture and similar forms of intimidation and punishment, there were reports that police officers and prison guards tortured and abused suspects and prisoners.

Human rights activists asserted that as of September 28, officials had not investigated claims alleging police kidnappings and torture or other forms of degrading treatment during police interrogations related to the October 2019 protests. Human rights advocates said prosecutors could potentially request the cases be closed starting in October, since the law stipulates the statute of limitations is two years for some crimes, although longer for more egregious ones.

A hearing on the case concerning the February 2020 deaths of six prisoners in Turi Prison was scheduled for January 2022 to identify which prison officials or inmates may be responsible for the speculated torture resulting in the deaths.

On November 14, a court in Azuay Province sentenced 37 police officers to 106 days in prison each for excessive use of force in a 2016 operation to confiscate contraband from inmates in Turi Prison. In the operation, officers beat and forced alleged violators to perform exercises in stressful positions while nude. The prosecutor’s office, which sought convictions for torture, said it would appeal the ruling.

On February 10, the Attorney General’s Office announced a 12-year, seven-month prison sentence for a police officer in Pillaro, Tungurahua Province, for raping a 24-year-old woman in September 2020 after taking her on a date in his patrol car.

Although impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces, human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society groups reported the lack of prosecutions against police officers who allegedly used excessive force against demonstrators during October 2019 protests could be interpreted as impunity. The government did not announce further actions taken to address public concern regarding alleged human rights abuses during the protests.

The Internal Affairs Unit of the National Police investigates whether police killings are justifiable and can refer cases to the Attorney General’s Office to pursue prosecutions. An intelligence branch within the military has a role similar to the police internal affairs unit. The law states that the Attorney General’s Office must be involved in all human rights abuse investigations, including unlawful killings and forced disappearances. Human rights defenders reported the National Police Internal Affairs Unit and Attorney General’s Office often failed to conduct investigations adequately. Activists stated follow-up on abuse claims was difficult due to high staff turnover in the Internal Affairs Unit.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to escalating gang violence, official corruption, food shortages, gross overcrowding, harassment by security guards against prisoners and visitors, physical and sexual abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: Prisons continued to be overcrowded despite efforts to alleviate the problem. As of March 19, the official overpopulation estimate was 29 percent. A human rights NGO reported prison conditions were often better for female inmates due to their lower population density.

By law juveniles cannot be tried as adults, and individuals convicted as juveniles serve their full sentence in juvenile prisons. A 2019 report in the daily newspaper El Comercio said 40 percent of the population in the 11 centers for juvenile offenders were due to reach adulthood during their sentence.

Prison officials and human rights organizations agreed most violent deaths in prisons were linked to tension among criminal gangs with links to drug cartels. Fighting between drug-trafficking gangs in prisons led to 331 violent deaths through October 27, the highest-ever recorded annual total, with gangs employing increasingly brutal and sophisticated tactics. As of October prison deaths were more than six times the 2020 total (52) and more than 10 times the 2019 total (32). On February 23, coordinated attacks across four prisons between armed prison gangs resulted in a total of 79 inmates dead. The July 22 prison riots in the Latacunga Rehabilitation Center in Cotopaxi Province and the Litoral Prison in Guayaquil left 22 inmates dead. On September 28, a record 118 inmates died after continued fighting in Litoral Prison, and an additional 65 inmates died in November 12 clashes in the same facility. Other prison disturbances throughout the year included four inmates killed by hanging, also at Litoral Prison, on October 13 and seven on October 23. Police and prison authorities continued investigations into the incidents as of December 1.

During the July 22 riot, prison gangs injured eight police officers and sexually assaulted one female police officer as police attempted to retake control. Further, in the July 22 riots, inmates reportedly fired on prison staff and police reinforcements with high-caliber rifles, complicating government efforts to re-establish control. Government and media sources pointed out that gangs employed more gruesome tactics than in the past, including beheadings, dismemberment, live incineration, and torture. These events were captured on video and shared widely on commercial messaging services, presumably to intimidate rival gangs and the government.

NGOs reported that criminal organizations operating within and outside of prisons intimidated prison staff while on and off duty and inmates enlisted visitors and prison staff to help smuggle contraband into prisons. On July 13, the Attorney General’s Office placed in pretrial detention a suspect arrested while attempting to smuggle two rifles, four handguns, more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition, and four explosive grenades into Litoral Prison. On June 30, a Venezuelan national was arrested outside Litoral Prison and placed into pretrial detention for attempting to smuggle more than six pounds of cocaine and marijuana, a shotgun, three handguns, ammunition of various calibers, and other prohibited items.

In August 2020 Israeli citizen Shy Dahan (incarcerated for alleged ties to corruption in acquiring medical equipment and fraudulent COVID-19 testing kits in a scheme allegedly involving former president Abdala Bucaram) was found dead in his cell in Litoral Prison. On March 9, media reported former Litoral Prison director Hector Vivar was sentenced to 20 months in prison for extortion and ordered to pay a fine. Vivar was convicted for his involvement in a bribery scheme in which he demanded $30,000 in exchange for Dahan’s protection and safety. According to media Vivar had two other cases against him, one for illicit association, the other for delinquency, linked to his time as prison director pending as of September 18.

On August 25, the Attorney General’s Office announced three inmates were sentenced to 34 years and eight months each for the murder of two other inmates in Litoral Prison in July 2020.

President Lasso declared a state of emergency following the July 22 prison riots and replaced the prison system director to help re-establish control. Minister of Government Alexandra Vela proposed to decrease prison violence by reducing overcrowding through the release of approximately 5,200 nonviolent offenders, foreigners, and elderly inmates. Law enforcement experts noted that such a plan was unlikely to reduce violence in the short term because power disputes between gangs dominating the prisons remained unresolved. On August 18, new prison system director Fausto Cobo announced an additional $75 million in funding over four years to improve prison infrastructure, upgrade surveillance technology, and hire and train additional prison staff. After the first state of emergency expired September 20, President Lasso declared a second state of emergency on September 29 in response to the September 28 prison killings and announced an additional $24 million to improve security and conditions specifically in Guayaquil area prisons. Lasso renewed the state of emergency in the prison system for 30 days on November 29.

On November 15, the president announced a comprehensive, seven-point “national agreement” to curb prison violence and confront drug-trafficking gangs. The plan included elements such as continued police and military efforts to provide order and security inside and outside prisons, legislative changes to reform use of force protocols, accelerated judicial processes to reduce overcrowding, and civil society support for conflict resolution between prison gangs.

Access to and quality of food, potable and hot water, heating, sanitation, and medical care were inadequate. Officials verified that inmates did not have safe and permanent access to healthful food. In 2018 government officials detected a deterioration of the water systems at prison facilities with noticeable difficulties in access to drinking water, especially at the Latacunga Rehabilitation Center. A November 2020 media report highlighted that potable water would be brought into the Latacunga prison via truck “permanently.”

Prisoners noted inconsistent and generally insufficient protection and isolation measures from COVID-19 infection in prisons. On February 1, media reported that 124 inmates had died nationwide of COVID-19-related complications and noted 17,042 (of 37,676 total) inmates in prisons nationwide tested positive for COVID-19 in 2020. The same media report highlighted the August 2020 ombudsman report, which stated that despite the stresses the COVID-19 pandemic placed on the prison health-care system – most prominently, inadequate staffing – prisons continued to provide adequate care overall for other illnesses among inmates including diabetes, HIV, and hypertension. Prisoners noted inconsistent and generally insufficient protection and isolation measures from COVID-19 infection in prisons.

An NGO reported that prison officials, including medical staff, often failed to screen adequately and segregate prisoners with mental and physical disabilities from the rest of the prison population.

Administration: Authorities sometimes conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment in prisons.

Human rights organizations continued to report that visitors faced degrading treatment during check-in at prison facilities, including the removal of clothing and illumination of genitalia by flashlights while forced to jump naked.

Independent Monitoring: Civil society representatives continued to report restrictions to monitoring by independent NGO observers. According to the NGO Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights, authorities failed to respond to many independent observers’ requests to visit prisons. Prison officials explained that monitoring groups’ safety could not be guaranteed, especially during the state of emergency in the penitentiary system.

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 there were reports that provincial and local authorities did not always observe these provisions. According to NGOs, illegal detentions continued to occur.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires authorities to issue specific written arrest orders prior to detention, and a judge must charge a suspect with a specific criminal offense within 24 hours of arrest. NGOs stated that judges frequently did not determine a specific criminal offense, particularly for arrests of protesters. Authorities generally observed the time limit for charging a suspect, although in some provinces initial detention was often considerably longer. Detainees have the right to be informed of the charges against them. By law if the initial investigation report is incriminating, the judge, upon the prosecutor’s request, may order pretrial detention. Judges at times ordered a detainee’s release pending trial with the use of monitoring anklets.

Detainees have a constitutional right to an attorney. Those without financial means to pay for an attorney have the right to request a court-appointed attorney from the Public Defenders’ Office. Although there were many available court-appointed defenders, the number of cases and limited time to prepare for the defense continued to present a disadvantage to defendants during trials.

The law entitles detainees to prompt access to lawyers and family members, but NGOs continued to report delays depending on the circumstances and the willingness of local courts and prison guards to enforce the law.

Pretrial Detention: Corruption and general judicial inefficiency caused trial delays. Police, prosecutors, public defenders, and judges did not receive adequate training. The length of pretrial detention did not usually exceed the maximum sentence for the alleged crime.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, outside pressure and corruption impaired the judicial process. Legal experts, bar associations, and NGOs reported on the susceptibility of the judiciary to bribes for favorable decisions and faster resolution of legal cases. As of October 25, authorities had made no information available on the selection of permanent replacement of Judicial Council members after 23 of 36 evaluated judges were deemed not to have met the minimum qualification threshold in 2019 and were replaced by temporary judges from lower courts appointed by the council.

In January 2020 six former police officials convicted for “paralyzing a public service” during a 2010 police protest known as 30-S were released from prison on appeal. In June 2020 four other former police officials sentenced to 12 years in prison in the same incident presented a revision appeal to the National Court of Justice. The appellants, after serving nearly six years in prison, were released as they awaited the court’s ruling, and November 24, the court acquitted the officials of all charges.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, although delays occurred frequently. The law presumes a defendant innocent until proven guilty. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly of the charges in detail. The accused have the right to consult with an attorney or to have one provided and to appeal. Defendants have the right to free assistance from an interpreter, but some defendants complained about the lack of an interpreter at court hearings. Defendants have the right to adequate time and resources to prepare their defense, although in practice this was not always the case, and delays in providing translation services made this difficult for some foreign defendants. Foreigners also often faced a language barrier with their public defenders, which impaired their ability to present a defense. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial. The accused may also present evidence and call witnesses, invoke the right against self-incrimination, and confront and cross-examine witnesses.

Judges reportedly rendered decisions more quickly or more slowly due to media and political pressure or fear in some cases. There were reported delays of up to one year in scheduling some trials.

Criminal justice reforms aimed at reducing congested dockets in criminal cases produced “simplified” proceedings in pretrial stages, resulting in faster resolution of cases. Prisoners reported that after cases reached a higher court, however, lengthy delays ensued in setting dates for preliminary hearings.

The regular court system tried most defendants, although some indigenous groups judged members independently under their own community rules for violations that occurred in indigenous territory, as provided under the constitution.

Defendants’ counsels complained that some modified remote proceedings due to the COVID-19 pandemic inhibited their ability to represent their clients adequately, and several noted that new procedural rules were inconsistently and sometimes arbitrarily applied.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

According to an August 1 report from a local human rights group, restrictions were not yet fully removed for indigenous leaders granted amnesty in the previous year. In July 2020 the National Assembly approved a resolution granting amnesty to 20 indigenous leaders charged and convicted in 2015 for kidnapping and extortion after participating in protests. Aside from ordering the immediate release of four leaders still in detention, the resolution expunged all criminal records related to the charges, revoked any outstanding arrest warrants against any individuals, and removed any precautionary measures or prison alternatives that had been previously issued. Nevertheless, in May an official from Canar Province Property Registry reported that according to registry records, nine of the 20 persons granted amnesty still had their land assets frozen. The report added that prohibitions against leaving the country and against voting remained in place for some of the leaders, while fines paid in the previous convictions had not been reimbursed by the Judicial Council.

Human rights organizations reported that 150 abused and detained demonstrators continued to face legal processes for the same alleged 2015 acts.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Civil courts and the Administrative Conflicts Tribunal, generally considered independent and impartial, handle lawsuits seeking damages for, or immediate ending of, human rights violations. Individuals and organizations may appeal decisions domestically and to regional human rights bodies.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but laws restrict this right. Experts cautioned that restrictive provisions to journalistic work found in a 2013 communication law, reformed in 2019, technically remained in effect, although on May 24, President Lasso ordered the implementing regulations of that law no longer be applied.

On January 26, the National Assembly reformed the communication law, reversing provisions that previously characterized media and communications as a public service, not a right, and required all journalists to hold university degrees. Some other restrictive provisions found in other laws, such as punishing opinions as slander, which carries a prison term of six months to two years, remained in force but were not applied in practice. Journalists and NGOs said the media environment under the new administration seemed less restrictive than in the past, although replacement legislation was necessary to repeal the previous, more restrictive framework and institutionalize reforms to facilitate greater freedom of expression.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits citizens from using “discrediting expressions,” treated as a misdemeanor with a 15- to 30-day prison term. There were no reports the government invoked this law to restrict freedom of expression during the year.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The law limits media’s ability to provide election coverage during the official campaign period, with no coverage allowed in the 48 hours preceding a national election. A constitutional court ruling affirmed the right of the press to conduct interviews and file special reports on candidates and issues during the campaign period, but the ruling left in place restrictions on “direct or indirect” promotion of candidates or specific political views.

A presidential decree in May in effect eliminates the offense of inciting “financial panic,” which previously carried a penalty of imprisonment from five to seven years. It also eliminates mandates on time allocated for television and radio broadcast of messages and reports by the president and his cabinet, as well as provisions for the planned redistribution of broadcast frequencies between community media and private and public media. Indigenous political and community leaders were concerned that any future redistribution of broadcast frequencies, potentially in the open market, would reduce or eliminate access to free, public radio (in various native languages especially) in isolated areas inhabited by diverse indigenous populations.

The Agency for the Regulation and Control of Telecommunications (ARCOTEL) completed its competitive public tender to allocate 3,096 FM radio frequencies in November 2020. Media reported that between December 2020 and February, qualifying titles valid for 15 years were awarded to 340 participants. Fundamedios and other civil society groups continued to criticize the bidding process as lacking transparency and allowing two particular bidders to accumulate a disproportionate number of frequencies. These groups noted the potential agglomeration of radio frequencies under one domain threatened freedom of expression by inducing self-censorship among media outlets.

On January 12, ARCOTEL announced the start of separate public tenders for the concession of 2,347 additional FM radio and 3,016 broadcast television frequencies. On March 23, Fundamedios called on the government to further delay the bidding process, considering the proximity to the second round of presidential elections scheduled for April 11. The formal bidding process was pending as of October 27.

Violence and Harassment: On January 27, gunmen shot and killed popular television presenter Efrain Ruales Rios, allegedly for a string of social media posts critical of drug gangs reportedly linked to influential political families, especially that of former president Bucaram. Victor Gonzalez, the lead prosecutor investigating the Ruales killing, stated he started receiving death threats on July 6 after giving an interview in which he speculated on those allegedly responsible for Ruales’s death. Gonzalez added he had since received police protection. On November 26, a trial started against six persons accused in a conspiracy to murder Ruales.

Also on January 27, former president Bucaram, in an interview regarding the Ruales killing and in response to accusations about his family, issued death threats to several individuals, including national television journalist Dayanna Monroy, whose reporting he had criticized since October 2020. On February 3, then presidential spokesperson Caridad Vela stated the government rejected intimidation attempts against Monroy and other journalists and would offer police protection to Monroy.

On April 25, Blanca Moncada, a writer for the newspaper Diario Expreso, published an investigation critical of Guayaquil mayor Cynthia Viteri for perceived exorbitant city street cleaning expenditures. On April 28, a graphic circulated on digital platforms with Moncada’s photograph, describing her as an “Enemy of Guayaquil” and accusing her of being funded by “mafias” opposed to the local government. Moncada claimed to Fundamedios that a troll center from the Guayaquil mayor’s office was responsible for the graphic. On May 12, Moncada, writing for the same outlet, said Viteri justified supposed high salaries for public employees in the municipal government, with many of the highest-paying positions going to relatives of individuals also working in the municipality. Viteri responded to the claim of nepotism by stating she had never in public or private said such things and that Diario Expreso held a “political bias” against her administration.

Fundamedios condemned the National Police’s use of canines for crowd control during an August 11 incident in which independent photojournalist Juan Diego Montenegro was bit by a police dog while covering public protests in Quito. Montenegro claimed a police officer slackened the working dog’s leash to get within range to bite Montenegro.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were reports government officials tried to penalize those who published items critical of the government. Fundamedios reported eight potential censorship cases involving government officials as of September 9.

On January 12, the Pichincha Provincial Electoral Delegation ordered the immediate suspension of a political advertisement exclusively featuring former president Correa asking voters to support the Union for Hope (UNES) coalition linked to him. Under the constitution and in accordance with the terms of an April 2020 corruption conviction against him (see section 4), Correa had lost his political rights, so his likeness was prohibited from campaign materials for any political candidate or party. UNES presidential candidate Andres Arauz denounced the decision and alerted international observers to supposed censorship and arbitrary application of the law. The suspension was subsequently upheld, and election monitoring NGOs said Correa and the party flouted the restriction throughout the campaign period.

On September 2, unidentified individuals claiming to be agents from the Attorney General’s Office deleted photographs from La Posta digital outlet reporter Domenica Vivanco’s mobile telephone as she covered a story about a raid on offices tied to a construction company allegedly linked to favorable contracts with Quito mayor Jorge Yunda.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a criminal offense under the law, with penalties of up to three years in prison, plus fines. The law assigns responsibility to media owners, who are liable for opinion pieces or statements by reporters or others, including readers, using their media platforms. Monitoring organizations reported the government did not use libel laws against journalists during the year.

The Law Against Digital Violence, approved by the National Assembly on July 9, expands the prohibition on expressions meant to “discredit or dishonor” another person to acts committed over digital mediums.

Nongovernmental Impact: Unknown persons conducted attacks against journalists throughout the year. Domestic and international media rights groups reported on a January 19 incident in which a gunman shot and wounded Sucumbios Province radio show host Marilu Capa in a Lago Agrio restaurant. Media reported an August 26 incident in which an individual on a bicycle threw and then remotely detonated an explosive object on the balcony of digital journalist Mario Pinto’s Machala home in El Oro Province, although nobody was injured. A previous, similar attempt on his home in December 2020 also resulted in no injuries. Pinto reported on crime in the city. Police were investigating both incidents, but no further developments were available as of December 1.

Stigmatization and hateful speech against journalists and media surged during the election campaign. According to journalists, phrases such as “corrupt press” and “sold-out press” were frequently replicated across broad sectors and on social media starting in January, particularly after former president Correa posted in response to damaging news stories about the Arauz presidential campaign or after publication of investigations into opaque public projects developed under the Correa administration. Investigations of corrupt practices by others (including former president Bucaram) also led to online insults and threats to journalists from the implicated individuals and their allies. NGOs and journalists reported the volume of threatening posts and overall feeling of stigmatization decreased significantly after the April 11 election of President Lasso.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, including for Members of the Online Media: The National Committee for the Protection of Journalists, a joint government-civil society committee formed in 2019, met periodically in response to prominent instances of attacks against journalists. Groups including Fundamedios criticized the committee, saying it lacked strategic vision and planning and often did not follow up on cases in an integrated manner. The groups expressed concern that the haphazard and reactionary government approach to attacks on journalists gave the impression they could be threatened and attacked with relative impunity.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights, although the government imposed some restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government had declared and extended a broad state of emergency between March and September 2020 until a Constitutional Court decision in August 2020 prohibited the president from renewing the state of emergency using the same grounds as previous requests. The court ruled the state of emergency, which included de facto restrictions on freedom of assembly and association, “cannot be extended indefinitely” because the government needed to transition to a condition allowing “the enjoyment and exercise of constitutional rights threatened (under a state of emergency).”

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. Public rallies require prior government permits, which authorities usually granted.

On May 5, the Constitutional Court ruled as unconstitutional Ministerial Agreement 179, issued in May 2020 by the minister of defense. The agreement governed a May 2020 protocol on the use of force formulated in response to state-sponsored visits by missions from the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which concluded state security forces used excessive force to contain the October 2019 antigovernment protests. The court reviewed the agreement in response to complaints by several human rights organizations that argued such a protocol was unconstitutional. The organizations claimed the constitution grants the power to re-establish public order only to police and not the armed forces; the armed forces’ role is limited solely to the protection of national sovereignty and territorial integrity; and the protocol, as written, posed a threat to the full exercise of human rights by providing the military wide latitude to intervene in future protests. The court declared in its ruling that armed forces’ involvement in controlling public order and citizen security must be “extraordinary, subordinate and complementary, regulated, and supervised.” In addition, armed forces’ involvement must be carried out within a declared state of exception, in strict adherence to the law and under orders of the president of the country. Legislation or subsequent regulations implementing the court’s ruling were pending as of December 1.

Freedom of Association

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. Civil society representatives noted that some policies enacted during the Correa administration remained in place and could enable the government to dissolve independent organizations for poorly defined reasons.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other vulnerable persons of concern. In addition, the human mobility law codifies protections granted to migrants in the constitution, advances the protection of refugees and asylum seekers, and establishes provisions such as equal treatment before the law for migrants, nonrefoulement, and noncriminalization of irregular migration.

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

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Migrants and refugees, especially women and children, sometimes experienced sexual and gender-based violence. UN agencies and local NGOs reported refugee women and children were susceptible to violence and human trafficking, including forced labor, sex trafficking, and the forced recruitment of individuals into criminal activity, such as drug trafficking and robbery, on the northern border, particularly by organized-crime gangs that also operated in Colombia. Government authorities provided basic protection for vulnerable populations; however, continued inflows of migrants and refugees at irregular crossings amid continued border closures complicated the government’s ability to address and prevent abuses against migrants and refugees.

Access to Basic Services: The law provides for access to health care, education, and other services to all individuals irrespective of their migration status. Nonetheless, most Venezuelan migrant and refugee children remained out of the school system, according to official government statistics. According to NGOs, barriers to the enrollment and retention of refugee and migrant children in school included a lack of information about universal access to education; hidden costs of schooling such as uniforms; lack of classroom space; and, in some instances, xenophobic attitudes towards Venezuelans. According to UN agencies and NGOs, refugees encountered discrimination in employment and housing. Recognized refugees received national identification cards that facilitated access to education, employment, banking, and other public services. Refugees and migrants reported that in certain instances, employers did not recognize government-issued documents that establish their right to work.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement and offered naturalization to refugees but had recognized very small numbers of Venezuelan refugees. Discrimination and limited access to formal employment and housing affected refugees’ ability to assimilate into the local population.

Temporary Protection: The government implemented a special humanitarian visa process for Venezuelans from September 2019 to December 2020, which led to the issuance of more than 56,000 two-year humanitarian visas. To uphold President Lasso’s June commitment to launch a new regularization process for Venezuelan migrants, the government began designing a new regularization process.

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 nationwide elections held on February 7, citizens voted the president and vice president, 137 National Assembly members, and five representatives to the Andean Parliament. Creating Opportunities Movement candidate Guillermo Lasso Mendoza defeated UNES opponent Andres Arauz Galarza in an April 11 presidential runoff election. Official results indicated that almost 83 percent of more than 13.1 million registered voters participated in the runoff election. International observers from the Organization of American States, Inter-American Union of Electoral Organisms, and accredited diplomatic missions concluded the electoral process was orderly and peaceful, and they did not note any significant incidents.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The February 2020 electoral reforms require that women lead no fewer than 15 percent of party candidate lists at all levels in 2021, at least 30 percent in scheduled 2023 local elections, and 50 percent in 2025. The law mandates that all presidential/vice presidential tickets include at least one woman starting in the 2025 national election.

In May the local NGO Participacion Ciudadana reported that despite the 2020 reforms, the percentage of female legislators elected decreased compared with 2017 (39 to 37 percent), with the proportion of female legislators progressively decreasing in every national election since the 2013 high (when 42 percent of all elected legislators were women). Further the report found most parties failed to fully abide by the reform requirement that women lead certain percentages of party candidate lists. The UNES coalition was an exception, as it exceeded the requirement in nearly all instances.

Social media harassment against female politicians and candidates continued, although the harassment generally declined compared with 2020. Participacion Ciudadana found 8,839 derogatory tweets against 28 sampled women in politics and government in a study of tweets posted between December 2019 and August 31. The study indicated violent messages against female politicians peaked in April 2020, as COVID-19 national quarantine measures took hold and women headed prominent ministries and served as government spokespersons most relevant to the lockdown. According to the study, 79 percent of derogatory tweets contained messaging dealing with the objectification of women and perceived roles of women in society.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government took steps to implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption throughout the year.

Corruption: The government launched or continued multiple investigations, judicial proceedings, and legislative audits of officials accused of corruption related to state contracts and commercial endeavors that reached the highest levels of government.

High-profile prosecutions and investigations of alleged public-health sector corruption during the COVID-19 crisis at the national, provincial, and municipal levels continued. On May 17, former Ecuadorian Institute of Social Security (IESS) board president Paul Granda was called to trial for charges of organized crime along with two former IESS hospital managers. Granda was also accused of alleged irregularities in medical supply acquisition contracts during the COVID-19 emergency. As of December 1, the date for proceedings remained pending.

Regarding the Sobornos (bribes) corruption scheme that illicitly financed former president Rafael Correa’s Alianza PAIS party in exchange for public contracts from 2012 to 2016, former vice president Jorge Glas was serving his eight-year sentence for involvement in the scheme, in addition to a six-year sentence in a separate case for an illicit association connected to Brazilian company Odebrecht. On August 18, Interpol denied a National Court of Justice request to issue a Red Notice for Correa, who was self-exiled in Belgium. The court stated it would continue to pursue the extradition of Correa and the other 14 defendants in the case, who were residing abroad.

On May 24, President Lasso issued Decree 4 on Governmental Ethical Behavior Standards that applies to all executive branch members. The decree includes a prohibition on remuneration of any nature to the spouses of the president and vice president; prohibits the nomination of executive branch officials’ relatives for other government positions; requires a preemptive declaration of conflicts of interest where they may exist; and prohibits the unofficial use of official aircraft, vehicles, and government property, among others.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ombudsman’s Office is an administratively and financially independent body under the Transparency and Social Control branch of government focused on human rights. The Ombudsman’s Office regularly presented cases to the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

On August 19, the National Court of Justice ruled against Ombudsman Freddy Carrion’s habeas corpus request. Carrion had been in pretrial detention since May 17 for alleged sexual assault. The National Assembly impeached and removed Carrion from office for nonfulfillment of duties on September 14. On October 20, the court found Carrion guilty of sexual abuse and sentenced him to three years in prison.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal and intimate partner rape and domestic violence. The government enforced the law, although victims were sometimes reluctant to report these crimes. Rape is punishable with penalties of up to 22 years in prison. The law includes spousal rape under crimes against sexual and reproductive integrity. The penalty for rape where death occurred is 22 to 26 years’ imprisonment. Domestic violence is punishable with penalties ranging from four days to seven years in prison and a substantial fine for “damages, pain, and suffering,” depending on the severity of the crime. Penalties for physical, psychological, and sexual violence were enforced.

The law provides reparation to victims of gender-based violence, while also advocating for the re-education of aggressors. The law defines rape, including spousal rape or incest, forced prostitution, sexual harassment, and other analogous practices, as forms of sexual violence. It also entitles victims to immediate protective measures designed to prevent or cease violence, such as police surveillance, placement in shelters, and awareness programs for the victim and family. These restorative measures were generally enforced.

According to human rights organizations, victims were generally reluctant to press domestic violence charges, and the court system was insufficiently staffed to deal with the caseload. On November 24, the Attorney General’s Office, in cooperation with the civil society-UN Spotlight Initiative reported 172 total femicides through November, compared with 118 in 2020 and 106 in 2019. On August 25, the Attorney General’s Office announced a 26-year prison sentence for a man from Morona Santiago Province for murdering his four-year-old stepdaughter in August 2020 in front of her mother, whom he threatened to harm if she intervened.

Due to a drop in the number of complaints filed in person with judicial authorities, the government expanded online legal services available to victims in April 2020. Nevertheless, barriers such as digital illiteracy, internet unavailability in rural areas, and lack of general familiarization with these technological resources continued to limit the ability of victims to obtain help.

Judges lacked specialized training for dealing with gender-based violence. Rights organizations also reported local protection-board officials at times discouraged victims from reporting their aggressors.

According to local experts, reporting rapes and other forms of violence continued to be a traumatic process, particularly for female minors. For example, a rape victim must file a complaint at the Public Prosecutor’s Office and submit to gynecological evaluations akin to rape kits administered by medical experts. Many individuals did not report cases of rape and sexual assault due to fear of retribution from the perpetrator and social stigma.

On February 10, the Attorney General’s Office announced a 12-year, seven-month prison sentence for a police officer in Tungurahua Province for raping a woman in September 2020 (see section 1.c.).

Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment and provides for penalties of one to five years in prison. The law defines sexual harassment and other analogous practices as forms of sexual violence and mandates that judges prohibit contact between the aggressor and the victim to prevent revictimization and intimidation, and the law was generally enforced. Despite the legal prohibition of sexual harassment and government implementation of the law, women’s rights organizations described a tendency not to report alleged harassment, and harassment remained common in public spaces.

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

Some women’s rights activists complained that a lack of comprehensive sex education limited individuals’ ability to manage their reproductive health and that ineffective distribution of birth control reduced access to contraception. Additionally, the Roman Catholic Church’s stance against contraceptive use and social stigma discouraged women from seeking family planning services.

A 2019 study found income status affected equity in sexual and reproductive health access and outcomes, with low income and rural individuals having significantly less access. UN agencies and CARE International reported migrant women faced limited access to, discrimination in, or both the provision of reproductive health services.

CARE International observed less access to sexual and reproductive health resources to survivors of sexual violence, and specifically, a lack of availability of emergency contraception as part of the clinical management of rape.

A February 2020 UNICEF-funded and Ministry of Health-supported teenage pregnancy report found that, although live birth rates for women ages 15 to 19 trended downward between 2009 and 2018 (the most recent year available for the report) from 88 live births per 1,000 women to 69), while live birth rates among girls ages 10 to 14 trended slightly upward, from 2.1 per 1,000 in 2007 to 2.8 in 2017. The report found the incidences of girls ages 10 to 14 having children were highest in coastal and Amazonian provinces, including Esmeraldas, Sucumbios, Orellana, and Morona Santiago. On August 17, Secretary of Human Rights Bernarda Ordonez stated 70 percent of girls ages 10 to 14 who become pregnant were most likely sexually violated. Ordonez added that many of these adolescents also suffered from sexually transmitted diseases, urinary tract infections, and other health complications.

Although the country’s maternal mortality rate had remained below 70 per 100,000 live births since 2012, media citing official national statistics indicated the rate increased from 37 to 57.6 between 2019 and 2020. According to local health experts, maternal mortality was 36 percent more likely among women in rural areas compared with those in urban areas, and women with primary or less education were three times more likely to suffer maternal death than those with at least a high school education. Further, indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian women were 69 and 50 percent more susceptible to maternal death, respectively, than their mestiza counterparts.

While the law prohibits discrimination against girls who become mothers, NGOs reported some faced discrimination and subsequently left school. A lack of resources also resulted in young mothers discontinuing their education to pursue work.

Discrimination: The constitution affords women the same legal status and rights as men. Nevertheless, discrimination against women was prevalent, particularly with respect to economic opportunities for older women and for those in the lower economic strata. Women continued to face wage disparities compared with men. NGOs said women also faced discrimination in housing access and some judicial proceedings, namely, in reporting and filing charges in cases of alleged sexual abuse.

UN agencies and NGOs reported female medical staff were discriminated against and subject to violence, including physical and verbal assaults, from their partners and family members for assisting COVID-19-infected patients. According to information collected by UN Women and CARE International, women outnumbered men in the first line of defense against COVID-19, in a medical field already two-thirds composed of women, making women far more susceptible to COVID-19 exposure.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution declares the state to be plurinational and affirms the principle of nonviolence and nondiscrimination by recognizing the rights of indigenous, Afro-Ecuadorian, and Montubio (an independent ethnic group of persons with a mixture of Afro-Ecuadorian, indigenous, and Spanish ancestry) communities. It also mandates affirmative action policies to provide for the representation of minorities. NGOs and civil society representatives said those provisions were not effectively enforced.

A 2019 report by the National Council for the Equality of Peoples and Nationalities reiterated that racism and discrimination continued against indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants despite government policies promoting equality. The report reiterated that ethnic minorities continued to struggle with education and job opportunities and often earned less in comparison with their nonindigenous counterparts. Less than 4 percent of the indigenous population entered higher education, according to the most recent census, carried out in 2010. The same agency reported racial minority groups had less access to managerial positions and other professional opportunities.

Afro-Ecuadorian citizens, who accounted for approximately 7 percent of the population according to the 2010 census, suffered pervasive discrimination, particularly regarding educational and economic opportunity. Afro-Ecuadorian organizations noted that, despite the absence of official discrimination, societal discrimination and stereotyping in media continued to result in barriers to employment, education, and housing. A National Gender Survey published in November 2019 found Afro-Ecuadorian women were particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence and harassment based on racial, gender, and sexual stereotypes. Late-night news show host Andres Carrion was criticized in social media as reinforcing negative gender and racial stereotypes after asking Afro-Ecuadorian Olympic gold medal-winning weightlifter Neisi Dajomes in an August 16 interview whether she “knew how to cook,” followed by whether she “knew how to wash dishes.”

Indigenous Peoples

There were isolated reports of restrictions placed on indigenous persons and their institutions in decisions affecting their property or way of life. Media reported the Pastaza Provincial Court partially accepted a habeas corpus request on July 16 for former Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) president Antonio Vargas Guatatuca. Vargas Guatatuca was originally convicted for land trafficking in 2018, with his sentence extended to three years and four months in 2019, all of which he had served doing community service. He was arrested on June 20 in Pastaza Province after an arrest warrant had been issued a few days prior to serve part of his time in jail. CONAIE argued Vargas Guatatuca’s detention was arbitrary and illegal, as international conventions to which Ecuador is a signatory state indigenous persons are subject to prison alternatives. The court ruled Vargas Guatatuca should serve 60 days in jail and 30 in his community, then continue serving out the rest of his sentence doing community service. On November 8, President Lasso issued an executive pardon exonerating Vargas Guatatuca of charges and cancelling the fines ordered in his convictions.

The law provides indigenous persons the same civil and political rights as other citizens. The constitution recognizes Kichwa and Shuar as “official languages of intercultural relations.” The constitution grants indigenous persons and communities the right to prior consultation, which is to participate in decisions on the exploitation of nonrenewable resources located on their lands that could affect their culture or environment, although indigenous peoples’ organizations noted public- and private-sector actors often ignored prior consultation. The constitution also allows indigenous persons to participate in the economic benefits natural resource extraction projects may bring and to receive compensation for any damages that result.

In the case of environmental damage, the law mandates immediate corrective government action and full restitution from the responsible company, although some indigenous organizations asserted a lack of consultation and remedial action. The law recognizes the rights of indigenous communities to hold property communally, although the titling process remained incomplete in parts of the country. The constitution prohibits mining in urban and protected areas and limits oil drilling in Yasuni National Park.

Although confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths among indigenous communities were lower than the national average, indigenous leaders and international organizations asserted indigenous communities, like other rural low-income communities, were particularly vulnerable to the pandemic’s environmental, medical, and economic effects. Precise information on COVID-19 vaccination rates among indigenous persons was not available as of September 18, but government authorities declared they prioritized vaccinating indigenous communities and publicized several instances of vaccine drives in indigenous communities that included military-assisted vaccine transport to remote areas. The government nonetheless faced logistical challenges due to transportable vaccine availability and the physical isolation of some communities.

Media and activist groups reported environmental and anti-illegal mining activist Andres Durazno was stabbed outside his home in Azuay Province on March 17, allegedly by a relative. Activist groups called on the attorney general to open an investigation, which had not begun as of October 28.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is acquired through birth in the country, birth to an Ecuadorian mother or father abroad, or by naturalization. According to media reports, ethnic minority families and those with limited economic resources continued to show registration rates significantly lower than those of other groups. Government brigades occasionally traveled to remote rural areas to register families and persons with disabilities. While the law prohibits schools from requesting civil registration documents for children to enroll, some schools, mostly public schools, continued to require them. Other government services, including welfare payments and free primary health care, require some form of identification.

Education: The lack of schools in some areas specifically affected indigenous and refugee and migrant children, who must travel long distances to attend school.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes child abuse and provides penalties of 30 days to 26 years in prison, depending on the severity of the abuse.

In 2020 Ana Cristina Vera, director of the local NGO Surkuna, estimated six of 10 rape aggressors were immediate relatives, with most underage victims younger than 14. In 2019 the Office of the Public Prosecutor stated approximately 60 percent of rape victims were children and adolescents.

In 2019 media reported that approximately 16 percent of the 7,977 sex-crime complaints tracked by the Ministry of Education between 2014 and May 2019 were directed against minors. Teachers or school staff were accused as perpetrators in 25 percent of all complaints.

Local NGOs and the government expressed concern regarding child abuse and infanticide during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Quito Rights Protection Council reported 10 suicides and seven cases of infanticide between March and May 2020. The council stated the infanticides in that span were allegedly committed by the victims’ immediate family members. Council vice president Sybel Martinez warned that a lack of precise statistics on violence against minors could fuel impunity. The Attorney General’s Office publicized progress on several intrafamilial violence cases throughout the year.

Bullying remained a problem in schools and increasingly occurred on social media. On April 10, reforms to the Intercultural Education Law took effect, aiming to prevent and combat digital sexual violence and strengthen the fight against cybercrimes by making online bullying punishable. The law obligates educators to investigate allegations of bullying, considering the victim’s best interests. Cases that may lead to school violence (defined as incidents that may lead to death, physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological harm), harassment, or discrimination are prioritized for reporting to higher authorities within 48 hours.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal marriage age is 18. There were reports of early and forced marriage in indigenous communities, particularly in instances in which girls became pregnant following an instance of rape. Indigenous leaders reported cases in which sexual aggressors compensated violence with payment or exchange of animals, but in some cases, victims were forced to marry their aggressors. CARE International reported the government did not respond effectively to these cases, especially in Kichwa and Shuar indigenous communities.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of consent is 14. The law prohibits sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography, with penalties of 22 to 26 years’ imprisonment. The penalty for human trafficking, including child sex trafficking, is 13 to 16 years in prison. Authorities did not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. The criminal code requires proof of force, fraud, or coercion as essential elements of a trafficking crime, neglecting to recognize that anyone younger than age 18 is unable to provide such consent. Child sex trafficking remained a problem, despite government enforcement efforts.

On May 5, the Pichincha Provincial Court upheld the convictions and maximum prison sentences of 25 years and four months for five members of a criminal ring responsible for trafficking an estimated 100 teenage girls in Quito since at least 2018. The group recruited teenage girls from low-income neighborhoods to attend parties in an affluent Quito neighborhood. The case was related to a February 2020 conviction against one of the same defendants to a 34-year sentence for rape resulting in the death of a 15-year-old girl.

Displaced Children: Humanitarian organizations expressed concern that an increasing number of unaccompanied refugee and migrant children entered via irregular crossings after the government closed its borders in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. International organizations remained concerned unaccompanied children and adolescents were vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking by criminal groups.

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

Anti-Semitism

There is a small Jewish community, including an estimated 450 individuals in Quito, 40 individuals in Guayaquil, and 10 individuals elsewhere in the country. The Jewish community reported no attacks or aggressions as of September 28. Community members said that during the military escalation between Gaza and Israel in May, opinion articles in El Comercio and El Universo newspapers included comments they considered anti-Semitic. Members of the Jewish community condemned the statements, but the government did not comment on the statements.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The National Council on Disability Equality oversees government policies regarding persons with disabilities.

Although the law mandates access to buildings and promotes equal access to health, education, social security, employment, transport, and communications for persons with disabilities, the government did not fully enforce it. By law children with disabilities could attend specialized schools, but all educational establishments must accommodate students with disabilities. An educational policy NGO said nonspecialized institutions lacked the capacity and staff to accommodate the range of disabilities. The NGO said children with disabilities attended primary school at similar rates to other children, but they attended secondary education at lower rates due to a lack of access to quality support.

The law stipulates persons with disabilities have the right to health facilities and insurance coverage, job security, access and inclusion in education, and a program for scholarships and student loans. The law also requires that 4 percent of employees in all public and private enterprises with more than 25 employees be persons with disabilities, and it gives the Ombudsman’s Office responsibility for following up on alleged violations of the rights of persons with disabilities, stipulating a series of fines and punishments for lack of compliance. A March 15 media report noted that the Ministry of Labor recorded a 29 percent increase in job dismissal complaints from persons with disabilities between 2019 and 2020 (652 to 838). More broadly, the number of complaints nearly tripled between 2017 and 2020.

The law directs the electoral authorities to provide access to voting and to facilitate voting for persons with disabilities.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) activists reported that during the peaks of the COVID-19 pandemic in April and May 2020, officials at public and private hospitals blocked access to retroviral treatment and hormones to LGBTQI+ patients to focus resources on COVID-19 treatment. The sudden unavailability adversely affected LGBTQI+ individuals undergoing medical treatment.

The NGO Fundacion Ecuatoriana Equidad, a sexual health and LGBTQI+ advocacy group, said that despite a Constitutional Court order that the Ministry of Health improve the administration of HIV home treatment regimens for LGBTQI+ individuals and the Ministry of Health’s commitment to do so, treatment continued to be inadequate due to perceived poor management by the ministry.

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

LGBTQI+ groups claimed police and prosecutors did not thoroughly investigate deaths of LGBTQI+ individuals, including when there was suspicion that the killing was motivated by anti-LGBTQI+ bias. On September 3, NGO Silueta X representatives said 14 members of the LGBTQI+ community had been killed in 2020 and seven more as of September 3 (including one alleged forced disappearance by unknown perpetrators). Fundacion Ecuatoriana Equidad cited police and prosecutors’ lax attitude and the lack of technical capacity and knowledge about the LGBTQI+ individuals to explain insufficient investigations into crimes committed against LGBTQI+ persons.

Regarding the May 2020 killing of Javier Viteri, on July 7, a municipal court in Arenillas convicted and sentenced the accused person, a military conscript, to 34 years and eight months in prison.

The constitution includes the principle of nondiscrimination and the right to decide one’s sexual orientation. The law also prohibits hate crimes, but LGBTQI+ activists asserted that since the legal codification of hate crimes in 2008, there had been no hate crime convictions for crimes directed at LGBTQI+ persons. Although the law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, LGBTQI+ persons continued to suffer discrimination from both public and private entities, particularly in education, employment, and access to health care. LGBTQI+ organizations reported transgender persons suffered more discrimination because they were more visible.

LGBTQI+ persons continued to report that the government sometimes denied their right of equal access to formal education. Despite the publication of a “Guide to Prevent and Combat Discrimination Based on Sexual Diversity and Gender Identity” by the Ministry of Education in 2019, Fundacion Ecuatoriana Equidad indicated the government had not comprehensively applied the guide’s provisions and not adapted relevant regulations to implement the guide. LGBTQI+ students, particularly transgender students, sometimes were discouraged from attending classes and were more susceptible to bullying in schools. Human rights activists argued the Ministry of Education and school administrators were slow to respond to complaints regarding overall harassment, discrimination, or abuse, particularly against LGBTQI+ persons. LGBTQI+ persons involved in the commercial sex trade reported abusive situations, extortion, and mistreatment by security forces.

The law prohibits changing gender on identity documents for LGBTQI+ persons younger than 18, even with parental consent. In 2019 an LGBTQI+ NGO reported a transgender minor was denied enrollment at 15 schools under her chosen name and gender in 2017. The minor’s parents subsequently filed a lawsuit requesting that officials allow her to change her name and gender on identity documents to end discrimination against her. In 2018 the Office of the Civil Registry allowed changes on her identity card. Fundacion Ecuatoriana Equidad reported the parents then filed an inquiry with the Constitutional Court to determine the age transgender underage individuals may change their identity information. A court decision on the inquiry remained pending as of September 28.

An LGBTQI+ organization reported the existence of clandestine private treatment centers confining LGBTQI+ persons against their will to “cure” or “dehomosexualize” them despite the illegality of such treatment. According to the organization, the Ministry of Public Health had some success in identifying and closing such institutions. Alternatively, LGBTQI+ organizations said relatives also took LGBTQI+ persons to neighboring countries, where clinics reportedly used violent treatments, including rape, to change LGBTQI+ persons’ sexual orientation.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, with some exceptions, provides for the rights of workers to form and join trade unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits the dismissal of union members from the moment a union notifies the labor inspector of its general assembly until the formation of its first executive board, the first legal steps in forming a union. Employers are not required to reinstate workers fired for union activity but are required to pay compensation and fines to such workers. According to an October 17 El Comercio article, 3 percent of the total workforce was unionized, with the number of public and private unions registered by the Ministry of Labor decreasing by half since 2017. Labor unions and associations reported difficulties in registering unions in the Ministry of Labor due to excessive requirements and ministry staff shortages.

Companies that dismiss employees attempting to form a union or that dismiss union members exercising their rights face a fine of one year’s annual salary for everyone wrongfully dismissed. Individual workers still employed may take complaints against employers to the Labor Inspection Office. Individuals no longer employed may take their complaints to courts charged with protecting labor rights. Unions may also take complaints to a tripartite arbitration board established to hear these complaints. Despite the promise of receiving a mediator within 48 hours of issuing a complaint, these procedures often were subject to lengthy delays because the Ministry of Labor continued to be nonspecialized and understaffed to address all arbitration requests and appeals. Private-sector representatives alleged that boards exhibited conscious bias in favor of employees when they did convene.

All private employers with unionized employees are required to negotiate collectively when the union so requests. The law requires a minimum of 30 workers for the creation of an association, work committee, or labor union, and it does not allow foreign citizens to serve as trade union officers. In 2018 the Ministry of Labor authorized, through ministerial resolutions, eight new types of labor contracts, with specific provisions for the flower, palm, fishing, livestock, and construction sectors.

In May a provincial court ordered that the Ministry of Labor recognize the Trade Union Association of Agricultural Banana Workers and Peasants as a sector-wide union for banana workers and assigned monitoring to the Ombudsman’s Office. This decision followed recent requests by the International Labor Organization (ILO) to permit sector-wide union organizing in compliance with international labor standards. In September the Ombudsman’s Office submitted a report finding that the Ministry of Labor had not complied with the court order. Instead of appealing the decision, the ministry filed an extraordinary action for protection against the provincial court judges seeking the protection of the Constitutional Court for having to enforce the order. The Constitutional Court accepted the writ in September. The ministry had not complied with the court order as of October 28.

The law provides for the right of private-sector employees to strike on their own behalf and conduct three-day solidarity strikes or boycotts on the behalf of other industries. The law also establishes, however, that all collective labor disputes be referred to courts of conciliation and arbitration.

In most industries the law requires a 10-day “cooling-off” period from the time a strike is declared before it can take effect. In the case of the agriculture and hospitality industries, where workers are needed for “permanent care,” the law requires a 20-day “cooling-off” period from the day the strike is called, and workers may not take possession of a workplace. During this time workers and employers must agree on how many workers are needed to ensure a minimum level of service, and at least 20 percent of the workforce must continue to work to provide essential services. The law provides the employer may contract substitute personnel only when striking workers refuse to send the number of workers required to provide the minimum necessary services. Contracting substitute personnel is effectively impossible, however, as the law does not provide for time-limited, seasonal, hourly, or part-time contracts.

The law prohibits formation of unions and restricts the right to collective bargaining and striking of public-sector workers in “strategic sectors.” Such sectors include workers in the health, environmental sanitation, education, justice, firefighting, social security, electrical energy, drinking water and sewage, hydrocarbon production, fuel processing, transport and distribution, public transportation, and postal service and telecommunications sectors. Some of the sectors defined as strategic exceed the ILO standard for essential services. Workers in these sectors attempting to strike may face charges with penalties of two to five years’ imprisonment. The government effectively enforced the law on “strategic sectors.”

All unions in the public sector fall under the Confederation of Public Servants. Although most public-sector workers also maintained membership in labor-sector associations, the law does not allow such associations to bargain collectively or to strike. The law specifies that only the private sector may engage in collective bargaining.

Several unions, labor associations, and media outlets denounced the presence of military vehicles and alleged police harassment during strikes by employees of local explosives company Explocen since July 2020. The strike started after five employees allegedly were dismissed in June 2020 without due compensation. The military deployed vehicles to guard the entrance to Explocen’s facilities when the strike started, and officials stated the military presence was necessary because of the national state of emergency (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and highly dangerous nature of the materials stored and processed at the facility. Employees’ attorneys and unions denounced the protest’s “militarization.” On March 24, the strike and military presence ended when Explocen reached an agreement with workers. The Ombudsman’s Office and the Ministry of Labor supported the negotiations.

The government did not effectively enforce all applicable laws, but penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denial of civil rights, such as discrimination. Employers did not always respect freedom of association and collective bargaining, and labor rights advocacy groups said that influential business interests tied to local officials sometimes used criminal proceedings to restrict workers’ right to unionize. Independent unions often had strong ties to political movements.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including all forms of labor exploitation; child labor; illegal adoption; servile marriage; and the sale of tissues, fluids, and genetic materials of living persons. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Limited resources, limited presence in parts of the country, and inadequate victim services hampered the effectiveness of police and prosecutors, trends that NGOs reported the COVID-19 pandemic had worsened. NGOs and media outlets continued to report that children were victims of human trafficking in forced criminality, particularly drug trafficking and robbery.

Reports of forced labor of children (see section 7.c.) and women persisted. Observers most frequently reported women as victims of domestic servitude. In 2020 police detained 22 suspected traffickers. Authorities prosecuted eight individuals in seven trafficking cases and convicted and sentenced eight traffickers. In 2020 the government identified 140 victims of human trafficking and aided 126.

Indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorians, Venezuelan migrants, and Colombian refugees (see section 7.d.) were particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. Traffickers often recruited children from impoverished indigenous families under false promises of employment; these children were then forced to beg or to work as domestic servants, in sweatshops, or as street and commercial vendors within the country or in other South American countries. Ecuadorian men, women, and children were exploited in forced labor within the country’s borders, including in domestic servitude; forced begging; on banana, hemp, and palm plantations; street vending; mining; and other areas of the informal economy. According to the government, COVID-19 lockdown measures further pushed trafficking underground to occur on private properties, and in some cases even in mines or hidden locations near the country’s borders.

Men, women, and children were exploited in forced labor abroad, including in the United States and other South American countries, particularly Chile and Colombia. Traffickers used the country as a transit route for trafficking victims from Colombia, Venezuela, and the Caribbean to other South American countries and Europe.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. It sets the minimum working age for minors at 15 for all types of labor and the maximum hours a minor may work at six hours per day, five days per week. The law requires employers of minors who have not completed elementary school to give them two additional hours off from work to complete studies. The law requires employers to pay minors the same wages received by adults for the same type of employment and prohibits minors younger than age 18 from working in “dangerous and unhealthy” conditions. A 2015 ministerial accord lists 27 economic activities that qualify as dangerous and unhealthy. Other illegal activities, including slavery, prostitution, pornography, and drug trafficking, are punishable. The law identifies work that is “likely to harm the health, safety, or morals of a child,” which includes work in mines, garbage dumps, slaughterhouses, livestock, fishing, textiles, logging, and domestic service, as well as in any work environment requiring exposure to toxic or dangerous substances, dust, dangerous machinery, or loud noises.

The law establishes penalties for violations of child labor laws, including fines and closure of the business. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. If an employer commits a second child labor violation, inspectors may close the business temporarily. The law authorizes labor inspectors to conduct inspections at factories, workshops, and any other location when they consider it appropriate or when an employer or worker requests an inspection.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. The Ministries of Labor and of Economic and Social Inclusion, Rights Protection Boards, and the Minors’ Tribunals are responsible for enforcing child labor laws.

A 2019 report by the governmental Intergenerational Equality Council indicated the provinces of Bolivar, Chimborazo, and Cotopaxi had the highest child labor rates for children between the ages of five and 14. Although the government conducted two surveys in 2017 that included some information on child labor, it had not conducted a nationwide child labor survey since 2012. Government, union, and civil society officials agreed that a lack of updated statistics hampered child labor eradication efforts.

Several labor organizations and NGOs reported that no reliable data concerning child labor in the formal employment sectors was available due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to these groups, even before the pandemic, the government-led austerity measures affected the Ministry of Labor’s child labor eradication program, and thus the number of government inspections decreased.

The government also did not effectively enforce child labor laws in the informal sector. Observers noted the COVID-19 pandemic most likely increased child labor in the informal sector, as NGO surveys and studies found an increase in children supporting family-run businesses who otherwise would attend school. The worsening national economic situation and nationwide school closures triggered by the pandemic further exacerbated this trend. The most common informal economic activity was cooking meals and selling them on the streets or delivering them to customers. According to CARE International, children in rural areas were most likely found working in family-owned farms or businesses, including banana and rose farms. Children were also subjected to gold mining and the production of bricks.

As COVID-19-induced nationwide school closures continued, some parents continued to take their children to agricultural fields while the parents worked. Labor organizations reported children were largely removed from the most heavy and dangerous work. For students who could not attend virtual classes due to internet connectivity problems, some communities organized community centers so these children could continue remote learning. Many children younger than 15 in urban areas worked informally to support themselves or to augment family income by peddling on the street, shining shoes, sorting garbage, or begging. According to the NGO Partners of the Americas, city governments took some children who worked on the street to attention centers where internet connections and computers provided an opportunity to resume online learning often unavailable in the home.

Local civil society organizations reported that children conducted domestic work, including paid household work. A July 2020 study by CARE International found that during the pandemic many female house cleaners took their children, mostly girls, to their place of employment to help with the mother’s household tasks, likely increasing child labor in domestic environments.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. The law prohibits employers from using discriminatory criteria in hiring, discriminating against unions, and retaliating against striking workers and their leaders. The government did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations, but penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. An NGO reported that Ministry of Labor representatives were frequently unprepared for administrative cases regarding discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity due to a lack of familiarity with LGBTQI+ issues.

Employment discrimination against women was prevalent, particularly with respect to economic opportunities for older women and for those in the lower economic strata. A study of average salary statistics reported in media on August 25 found that the average pay gap between men and women widened between February and July. While men’s reported average monthly salary increased from $301 to $350 (or 16 percent), women’s salary decreased from $259 to $248 (or 4 percent) in that span. Reasons the article cited for this reduction in average pay for women were reduced labor opportunities and workhour reductions, as women disproportionately worked in sectors (lodging, food service, and manufacturing) most adversely affected by the COVID-19-induced economic slowdown.

The National Institute for Statistics and Census (INEC) announced the unemployment rate in July was 7.1 percent for women and 3.8 percent for men, compared with 15.7 percent and 11.6 percent, respectively, in June 2020.

Afro-Ecuadorians continued to demand more opportunities in the workforce and complained that employers often profiled them based on their job application photographs and racial stereotypes. At the conclusion of a December 2019 official country visit, the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent expressed concern about reports of impunity and also human rights abuses and violations against farm workers, the majority of whom were Afro-descendants, at banana plantations owned by Japanese subsidiary company Furukawa Plantations C.A. The Working Group was also concerned by “the lack of access to justice for people of African descent” seeking reparations for injuries doing agricultural work and welcomed the Constitutional Court’s commitment to address the backlog of labor cases against agricultural employers. NGOs and labor leaders continued to note significant delays in processing these cases. Indigenous and LGBTQI+ individuals as well as persons with disabilities also experienced employment discrimination.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a minimum monthly wage, which was above the poverty income level.

The law limits the standard work period to 40 hours a week, eight hours a day, with two consecutive days of rest per week. Miners are limited to six hours a day and may only work one additional hour a day with premium pay. Premium pay is 1.5 times the basic salary for work done from 6 a.m. to midnight. Work done from midnight to 6 a.m. receives twice the basic salary, although workers whose standard shift is at night receive a premium of 25 percent instead. Premium pay also applies to work on weekends and holidays. Overtime is limited to no more than four hours a day and a total of 12 hours a week. Mandatory overtime is prohibited. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcement of wage and hour laws. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections. The ministry issues fines for wage and hour law violations. The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage and overtime laws, but penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

Workers are entitled to a continuous 15-day annual vacation, including weekends, plus one extra day per year after five years of service. Different regulations regarding schedule and vacations apply to live-in domestic workers. The law mandates prison terms for employers who do not comply with the requirement of registering domestic workers with the Social Security Administration. INEC data showed the “adequate employment” rate – the proportion of the population working at least 40 hours per week and earning at or above the minimum salary of $400 per month – was at 33.5 percent through September, and the “underemployment rate” was at 22.7 percent.

A June 2020 law addressing COVID-19’s impact allows employers and employees to enter into force majeure agreements, although the dismissal of an employee is permitted only if the business ceased operations permanently. The law also permits employers to reduce working hours and salaries by up to 50 and 45 percent, respectively, by signing “emergency contracts” with their employees to prevent job losses. Citing government figures, media reported that as of April 20 companies had enrolled 81,309 workers under “emergency contracts,” with most of them being in the agriculture, livestock, manufacturing, and trade industries. Unions and labor organizations stated the law enabled precarious work conditions, reduced wages below the minimum wage, and allowed unfair dismissals without due compensation because of employers’ leverage over employees desperate to keep their jobs during the COVID-19 economic slowdown. Labor unions filed a lawsuit with the Constitutional Court in June challenging the provisions in the June 2020 law. A ruling by the Constitutional Court remained pending as of October 25.

Labor leaders and NGOs said there were no specific sectors with a concentration of alleged violations of wage, hour, or overtime laws. They reported the number of complaints against public and private companies in the service, tourism, agricultural, and manufacturing sectors, however, were rising because of perceived unfair dismissals mostly under “emergency contracts” as provided in the June 2020 law. They said that women and young workers were sometimes vulnerable to wage exploitation in the informal sector, and that domestic and service-sector workers sometimes had to accept less convenient conditions on hours worked, especially in the context of customer capacity and operating hour restrictions due to COVID-19. Efforts to combat forced labor were deficient. The government did not have labor inspectors solely dedicated to identifying forced labor, although they were trained to do so. The government’s 159 total reported labor inspectors through November 8 were below ILO standards for the country’s population and labor force size.

The June 2020 law facilitates and encourages teleworking options, including a worker’s right to “disconnect” from work duties for a minimum of 12 continuous hours in a 24-hour period. Ministry of Labor data through July 29 indicated more than 457,000 persons in the public and private sectors worked remotely.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law provides for the health and safety of workers and outlines occupational safety and health (OSH) standards, which are current and appropriate for the country’s main industries. These regulations and standards were not applied in the informal sector, which employed approximately 50 percent of the working population as of June. The number of inspectors was insufficient, and the government did not effectively enforce OSH laws.

Authorities may conduct labor inspections by appointment or after a worker complaint. If a worker requests an inspection and a Ministry of Labor inspector confirms a workplace hazard, the inspector then may close the workplace. Labor inspections generally occurred because of complaints, not as a preventive measure; inspectors could make unannounced visits. The COVID-19 pandemic impeded in situ inspections due to social distancing measures and budgetary constraints at the Ministry of Labor. In some cases violations were remedied, but other cases were subjected to legal challenges that delayed changes for months. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations and were often not enforced.

Some unions and labor associations alleged public- and private-sector employers sometimes failed to enforce biosecurity protocols and provide adequate protective equipment to prevent COVID-19 contagion.

The Ministry of Labor continued its enforcement reforms by increasing the number of workers protected by contracts, minimum wage standards, and registration for social security benefits.

Workers in the formal sector could generally remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. Labor representatives said that COVID-19 complicated these protections, however, as employees and their employers sometimes had a conflicting sense on the degree of risk involved in presenting themselves for work and the extent of protective measures at the workplace, while employees feared losing employment in an economic downturn.

On July 9, the Labor Ministry issued guidelines for the progressive return to work activities in the public and private sectors. The guidelines did not consider recent COVID-19 exposure or previous infection as justifiable cause for not returning to in-person work and included fines for noncompliance. On July 18, the National Federation of Public Servants expressed concern with the guidelines, arguing they prevented public-sector employees’ safe, progressive return to work. On July 22, the Pichincha Medical Association requested the city of Quito to postpone the official return to in-person work due to concerns regarding the spread of the COVID-19 delta variant in the capital, but the request was denied. COVID-19 infection rates declined in August due in large part to higher vaccination rates among the population.

Informal Sector: Most workers worked in the large informal sector and in rural areas. These workers received far fewer labor protections and were less likely to be able to remove themselves from dangerous health or safety situations without jeopardy to their employment. Informal sector workers were not covered by minimum wage laws or legally mandated benefits. OSH problems were more prevalent in the informal sector. The law singles out the health and safety of miners, but the government did not enforce safety rules in informal, often illegal, small-scale mines (frequently linked to local community leaders and organized crime), which made up the vast majority of enterprises in the mining sector. Migrants and refugees were particularly vulnerable to hazardous and exploitative working conditions. According to media and labor associations, local organizations reported complaints of Venezuelans receiving below the minimum wage, particularly in the informal sector.

Egypt

Executive Summary

According to its constitution, Egypt is a republic governed by an elected president and bicameral legislature, with the upper house reconstituted in 2020 as the Senate after a six-year absence. Presidential elections were held in 2018. Challengers to incumbent President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi withdrew ahead of the election, citing personal decisions, political pressure, legal troubles, and unfair competition; in some cases they were arrested for alleged abuses of candidacy rules. Domestic and international organizations expressed concern that government limitations on association, assembly, and expression severely constrained broad participation in the political process. A progovernment coalition won an overwhelming majority of seats in multistage, multiround elections for parliament’s reconstituted Senate and House of Representatives. Domestic and international observers said government authorities professionally administered parliamentary elections in accordance with the country’s laws and that their results were credible. Observers noted restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly, political association, and expression significantly inhibited the political climate surrounding the elections.

The Interior Ministry supervises law enforcement and internal security, including the Public Security Sector Police, the Central Security Force, the National Security Sector, and the Passports, Immigration, and Nationality Administration. The Public Security Sector Police are responsible for law enforcement nationwide. The Central Security Force protects infrastructure and is responsible for crowd control. The National Security Sector is responsible for internal security threats and counterterrorism along with other security services. The armed forces report to the minister of defense and are responsible for external defense, but they also have a mandate to assist police in protecting vital infrastructure during a state of emergency. On October 25, President Sisi announced he would not renew the state of emergency that expired on October 24 and had been in place almost continuously nationwide since 2017 after terrorist attacks on Coptic churches. On November 11, President Sisi ratified legislation allowing the president to take appropriate measures, not to exceed six months, to maintain public order and security, such as curfews or evacuations of specified areas, in the event of a natural disaster or terrorism event. The amendments also authorize the military to assist local authorities in protecting critical infrastructure. Defense forces operate in North Sinai as part of a broader national counterterrorism operation with general detention authority. The Border Guard Forces, under the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for border control. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or its agents, and by terrorist groups; forced disappearance by state security; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisals against individuals located in another country; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in a conflict, including reportedly enforced disappearances, abductions, physical abuses, and extrajudicial killings; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including arrests or prosecutions of journalists, censorship, site blocking, and the abuse of criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental and civil society organizations; restrictions on freedom of movement, including travel bans imposed on human rights defenders, journalists, and activists; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government restrictions on domestic and international human rights organizations; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons and use of the law to arrest and prosecute arbitrarily such persons.

The government failed to consistently punish or prosecute officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in government, including for corruption. In most cases the government did not comprehensively investigate allegations of human rights abuses, including most incidents of violence by security forces, contributing to an environment of impunity.

Attacks by terrorist organizations caused arbitrary and unlawful deprivation of life. Terrorist groups conducted deadly attacks on government, civilian, and security targets. Authorities investigated terrorist attacks and prosecuted alleged perpetrators. Terrorists and other armed groups abducted and killed civilians in North Sinai. There were incidents of societal sectarian violence against Coptic Christians.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were numerous reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings that occurred while making arrests or holding persons in custody or during disputes with civilians.

There were also reports of civilians killed during military operations in North Sinai.

There were reported instances of persons tortured to death and other allegations of killings in prisons and detention centers by security forces. The government charged, prosecuted, and convicted perpetrators in some cases, but lack of accountability remained a problem.

On May 25, an Italian judge ordered four senior members of the country’s security services to stand trial in Italy concerning their suspected role in the killing of Italian graduate student Giulio Regeni, who was found dead in Cairo in 2016 bearing what forensics officials said were signs of torture. On June 15, the prosecutor general gave the Italian ambassador a document for the Italian court outlining a lack of evidence in the case. On October 14, the Italian judge suspended the trial and sent the case back to a preliminary hearings judge to determine whether the defendants knew they had been charged. According to Italian media, a hearing before the preliminary hearings judge was scheduled for January 2022.

There were several reports of groups of suspected terrorists and other suspected criminals killed during security raids conducted by security forces. On August 5, Amnesty International called on the country’s Public Prosecution to investigate a video released on August 1 by the armed forces spokesperson allegedly showing two extrajudicial killings in North Sinai.

ISIS-Sinai Province (formerly known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis) conducted deadly attacks on government, civilian, and security targets in North and South Sinai. Other terrorist groups, including Harakat al-Suwad Misr, reportedly continued to operate. There were no official, published data on the number of victims of terrorist violence during the year. A combination of local and international press reporting, government press releases, and social media accounts tracking events in Sinai suggested terrorist groups killed or wounded more than 90 civilians in 2020. Approximately 15 of these civilians were reported to have been killed by booby traps left by ISIS-Sinai Province between October and December 2020.

b. Disappearance

International and local human rights groups reported continuing large numbers of enforced disappearances, alleging authorities utilized this tactic to intimidate critics.

Authorities detained individuals without producing arrest or search warrants. According to a local nongovernmental organization (NGO), authorities detained many of these individuals in unspecified National Security Sector offices and police stations, but they were not included in official registers. Authorities held detainees incommunicado and denied their requests to contact family members and lawyers.

Photojournalist Hamdy al-Zaeem was arrested on January 4 and held without knowledge of his whereabouts by his family or attorneys until he appeared on January 17 before the Supreme State Security Prosecution (State Security Prosecution), a branch of the Public Prosecution specialized in investigating national security threats, who ordered his detention pending investigation into charges of spreading false news, joining an unspecified banned group, and misusing social media. Journalist Ahmed Khalifa was arrested on January 6, the day after he covered a labor protest, and was held without knowledge of his whereabouts by his family or attorneys until he appeared on January 16 before the State Security Prosecution, who ordered his detention pending investigation into the same allegations as al-Zaeem. Khalifa was released in July, while Zaeem remained in pretrial detention at year’s end.

On June 25, 1,000 days after the 2018 disappearance of former parliamentarian Mustafa al-Naggar, 15 local and international organizations called on the government to investigate and disclose information on his whereabouts, as ordered by the Administrative Court in 2020.

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

The constitution states that no torture, intimidation, coercion, or physical or moral harm shall be inflicted upon a person whose movements are restricted or whom authorities have detained or arrested. The penal code forbids torture to induce a confession from a detained or arrested suspect but does not account for mental or psychological abuse against persons whom authorities have not formally accused, or for abuse occurring for reasons other than securing a confession. The penal code also forbids all public officials or civil servants from “employing cruelty” or “causing bodily harm” under any circumstances. Nonetheless, there were reports that government officials employed them.

Local rights organizations reported torture was systemic, including deaths that resulted from torture. According to domestic and international human rights organizations, police and prison guards resorted to torture to extract information from detainees, including minors. Reported techniques included beatings, electric shocks, psychological abuse, and sexual assault. On July 15, Human Rights First issued a report documenting alleged abuses, including torture, by security forces based on testimony from prisoners released between 2019 and 2021. Human Rights First characterized torture and other abuse as pervasive in prisons.

On March 1, detained activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, who was sentenced to five years in prison on December 20, claimed during a pretrial detention hearing that he had been subjected to incidents of intimidation after he reported hearing fellow prisoners being subjected to torture with electric shocks.

The government released journalist Solafa Magdy and her photographer husband Hossam el-Sayed on April 14 and journalist Esraa Abdel Fattah on July 18 from pretrial detention. International organizations reported that Magdy and Abdel Fattah were abused while in pretrial detention following their 2019 arrests. The abuse reportedly included beatings and suspension from a ceiling.

On September 17, a local human rights attorney said that secretary general of the Foundation for the Defense of the Oppressed, Ahmed Abd-al-Sattar Amasha, had been deprived of visits, exercise, sunlight, and access to health care for more than a year. He had been detained since his June 2020 arrest and was previously arrested in 2017, allegedly abused, and released in 2019. He joined an international campaign in 2016 urging authorities to close the maximum-security branch of Tora Prison and cofounded the League of Families of the Disappeared in 2014.

There were reports that prisoners detained on politically motivated charges were held in prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement. Local media reported that the state detained Strong Egypt party deputy president Mohamed el-Kassas in solitary confinement and had prevented him from exercising, reading, or listening to the radio since his initial arrest in 2018 on allegations of joining an unspecified banned group and spreading false news. El-Kassas was re-arrested in three new cases during continuous confinement without release, all on similar charges in 2019, in August 2020, and again on July 28.

According to human rights activists, impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. The Prosecutor General’s Office (for Interior Ministry actions) and the Military Prosecution (for military actions) are responsible for pursuing prosecutions and investigating whether security force actions were justifiable.

On April 4, the Court of Cassation upheld as a final verdict a 2019 acquittal of six police officers and two noncommissioned police personnel charged with torturing to death a citizen and forging official documents inside a police station in 2017. According to local media, the victim was arrested with his brother on charges of murdering and robbing their grandmother.

On April 10, a criminal court reconvicted, in absentia, two noncommissioned police personnel on charges of torturing to death Magdy Makeen, a donkey-cart driver, in a Cairo police station in 2016. In December 2020 a criminal court sentenced a police officer and eight other noncommissioned personnel to three years in prison in this case. A police corporal also charged in the case was acquitted.

On August 5, a criminal court acquitted 11 police officers in a retrial that challenged their suspended one-year prison sentences and their convictions for the killing of protesters during the January 25 revolution in 2011.

On December 28, a court ruled that the family of Khaled Said, who died of police brutality in 2010, would receive one million Egyptian pounds (EGP) ($62,500) in compensation. Two police officers were convicted of the crime in 2011.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were two allegations submitted during the year of sexual exploitation and abuse by the country’s peacekeepers deployed to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). This follows one allegation of attempted transactional sex in 2020 and another of sexual assault in 2016, both of which also occurred in MINUSCA. As of September investigations into the three most recent allegations were pending. A separate investigation substantiated the 2016 allegation, leading to the repatriation and, imprisonment of the perpetrator.

Human rights organizations said the Public Prosecution continued to order forced medical exams in “family values” or “debauchery” cases. On July 5, the New York Times published testimony from women who claimed sexual abuse in detention by police, prison guards, and state-employed doctors, including forced stripping, invasive examinations, so-called virginity tests, and forced anal examinations in front of onlookers (see section 6).

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to widespread overcrowding and lack of adequate access to medical care, proper sanitation and ventilation, food, and potable water.

Physical Conditions: According to domestic and international NGO observers, prison cells were overcrowded On April 11, a local human rights organization estimated the total prison population at more than 119,000 located in an estimated 78 prisons, including approximately 82,000 convicted prisoners and 37,000 pretrial detainees. Human rights groups and international observers maintained the government detained or imprisoned between 20,000 and 60,000 individuals on politically motivated grounds.

Authorities did not always separate juveniles from adults and sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. In a March 24 report based on research conducted between February 2020 and November 2020 from the experiences of 67 individuals (10 of whom had died in custody) in 16 prisons (three for women and 13 for men) in seven governorates, a local human rights organization reported that conditions in prisons and detention centers included medical negligence; solitary confinement; and the denial of visits, telephone calls, academic studies, and the provision of outside food, or some kinds of foods, to prisoners and detainees.

In July, Human Rights First released a report alleging recruitment by ISIS in the prison system. The report said that prisoners were more susceptible to recruitment in part because of poor prison conditions.

The large number of arrests and the use of pretrial detention during the year exacerbated harsh conditions and overcrowding, contributing to a significant number of deaths in prisons and detention centers. Human rights groups and the families of some deceased prisoners claimed that prison authorities denied prisoners access to potentially life-saving medical care and in some cases denied requests to transfer the prisoners to the hospital, leading to deaths in prison.

On January 5, an Interior Ministry security source denied social media accounts of the spread of COVID-19 among prison inmates and the deaths of several inmates from COVID-19. On May 17, the Minister of Health announced the government’s intent to give COVID-19 vaccines to prisoners across the country. On June 26, the Interior Ministry filed a court document in response to several lawsuits, stating that it had vaccinated 5,000 prison inmates, officers, and those working in prisons, according to local media. On August 23, the Administrative Court denied a request for COVID-19 vaccines for researcher Patrick Zaki, lawyer Mohamed Elbakr, and other high-profile detainees and prisoners, according to local media. Zaki was released on December 8 pending trial (see section 2.b.). At year’s end it remained unclear whether Elbakr had received the COVID-19 vaccine.

On July 24, imprisoned former presidential candidate and Strong Egypt Party leader Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh survived a “severe heart attack” but did not receive medical treatment despite calling out for help, according to statements by Aboul Fotouh’s son on social media. Aboul Fotouh’s son said that in the weeks prior to his heart attack, Aboul Fotouh had been prevented from buying anything from the prison canteen and from receiving injections for spinal pain. According to an August 18 report by four international organizations, 10 detainees died in custody between July 6 and August 11. Activist Mona Seif quoted her brother, imprisoned activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, saying that one of his prison mates, Ahmad Sabir, died in prison on July 11 after Sabir became ill and his cellmates shouted to guards for medical help without any response for five hours.

Inmates often relied upon outside visitors for food and other supplies or were forced to purchase those items from the prison canteen at significantly inflated prices, according to local NGOs. In September a local human rights organization reported that skin diseases were widespread among prisoners in high security prisons due to unhygienic conditions and a lack of sunlight, and in the Qanater women’s prison due to lack of clean water and overcrowding. Provisions for temperature control and lighting generally were inadequate. Reports that guards abused prisoners, including juveniles in adult facilities, were common. Prison conditions for women were reported to be marginally better than those for men. Media reported some prisoners protested conditions by going on hunger strikes.

Local media reported that the Interior Ministry’s social protection sector sent medical providers from various specialties to eight prisons (male and female) in July and August to provide medical services to prisoners. According to reports, 55 prisoners received medical evaluations and medications at Mansoura prison and 39 prisoners received limb prostheses at the Borg al-Arab prison.

There were reports authorities sometimes segregated prisoners accused of crimes related to political or security matters from other prisoners accused of nonpolitical crimes and subjected the former to verbal or physical abuse and punitive solitary confinement. On May 11, Amnesty International called for the release of political activist Ahmed Douma after what it called a “grossly unfair and politically motivated” trial that resulted in a 15-year prison sentence in 2020. Since his arrest in 2015, Douma had been held in solitary confinement for more than 2,200 days.

The law authorizes prison officials to use force against prisoners who resist orders.

Administration: Prisoners could request investigation of alleged inhuman conditions, but NGO observers claimed prisoners were reluctant to do so due to fear of retribution from prison officials. The government did not investigate most of these allegations. As required by law, the public prosecutor inspected prisons and detention centers.

The criminal procedure code and the law regulating prisons ostensibly provide for reasonable access to prisoners, but according to NGO observers and relatives, the government regularly prevented visitors’ access to detainees. Rights groups also claimed that state security emergency court hearings and trials were not accessible to family or legal counsel and detainees lacked full access to legal counsel and documents related to their charges. Authorities cited restrictions put in place during the year as part of COVID-19 preventive measures.

Independent Monitoring: The government arranged visits between January and May for delegations of local and foreign media correspondents, representatives of human rights organizations, religious leaders, and the National Council for Human Rights to Tora Prison, Borg al-Arab Prison, El Marag General Prison, Wadi al-Natroun Prison, Fayoum Prison, and three prisons in Minya Governorate.

Improvements: In October the country opened its new Wadi al-Natroun Reform and Rehabilitation Center, which included new medical facilities, vocational training spaces, and worship areas including a mosque and a church. Officials stated inmates from 12 aging prisons planned for closure would be transferred to the new prison, and the new prison will provide improved onsite medical care, including treatment for addiction and mental health, psychological therapy and services, dialysis, dental treatment, dermatology, and computerized tomography scans.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution 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 reported incidents of arbitrary arrests and detentions remained frequent, according to local and international rights groups.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

For persons other than those apprehended in the process of committing a crime, the law requires that police act based on a judicial warrant issued either under the penal code or the code of military justice, but there were numerous reports of arrests without a warrant.

Ordinary criminal courts and misdemeanor courts hear cases brought by the prosecutor general. Arrests under the penal code occurred openly and with warrants issued by a public prosecutor or judge. There was a functioning bail system, although some defendants claimed judges imposed unreasonably high bail.

Criminal defendants have the right to counsel promptly after arrest, and usually, but not always, authorities allowed access to family members. The court is obliged to provide a lawyer to indigent defendants. Nevertheless, defendants often faced administrative and, in some cases political or legal obstacles, and could not secure regular access to lawyers or family visits. A prosecutor may order four days of preventive detention for individuals suspected of committing misdemeanors or felonies. In regular criminal cases, the period of preventive detention is subject to renewal in increments of 15 days by the investigative judge up to a total of 45 days, for both misdemeanors and felonies. Before the 45th day, the prosecutor must submit the case to a misdemeanor appellate court panel of three judges, who may release the accused person or renew the detention in further increments of 45 days. In cases under the jurisdiction of the State Security Prosecution, prosecutors may renew preventive detention in increments of 15 days up to a total of 150 days, after which the prosecutor must refer the case to a criminal court panel of three judges to renew the detention in increments of 45 days.

Detention may extend from the stage of initial investigation through all stages of criminal judicial proceedings. The combined periods of prosecutor- and court-ordered detentions prior to trial may not exceed six months in cases of misdemeanors, 18 months in cases of felonies, and two years in cases involving the death penalty or life imprisonment. After the pretrial detention reaches its legal limit without a conviction, authorities must release the accused person immediately. Rights groups claimed accused persons may face additional charges after their detention limit was reached, thereby “recycling” the accused person into indefinite pretrial detention. Legal experts offered conflicting interpretations of the law in death penalty or life imprisonment cases once the trial has commenced, with some arguing there was no time limit on detention during the trial period, which may last several years.

Charges involving the death penalty or life imprisonment, such as joining an unspecified banned group that is claimed to undermine state institutions, sometimes were added to cases related to expression or other politically motivated cases. As a result, authorities might hold some individuals charged with nonviolent crimes by prolonging the duration of their trial or rearresting them into new cases to avoid the two-year pretrial detention limit.

Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution prohibits arrest, search, or detention without a judicial warrant, except for those caught in the act of a crime. These rights are suspended during a state of emergency, the most recent of which expired in October. There were frequent reports of arbitrary arrest and detention. Local activists and rights groups stated that hundreds of arrests did not comply with due-process laws. For example, authorities did not charge the detainees with crimes or refer them to prosecutors and denied access to their lawyers and families (see section 1.b.).

According to a local human rights attorney, police arrested journalist Gamal el Gaml on February 22 upon his return from his “voluntary” exile since 2017 in Istanbul. Local media noted el Gaml had gained limited notoriety in 2014 when President Sisi called him directly regarding el Gaml’s assertions that the country did not provide basic services; al-Masry al-Youm newspaper halted his regular column in 2015. On July 18, el Gaml was released pending trial.

In 2019 Ramy Kamel, a Coptic Christian human rights activist, was arrested in his home in Cairo. On June 22, the Criminal Court renewed for 45 days his pretrial detention on accusations of joining an unspecified terror group and spreading false news. An international organization stated Kamel had been held in solitary confinement since his arrest. He remained in custody at year’s end.

Inmate Abdulrahman el-Showeikh’s mother, father, and sister were arrested on April 27, which international human rights organizations claimed was in retaliation for his mother’s reports in early April that el-Showeikh had been abused in Minya Prison, as well as his brother’s April 26 social media posts from Turkey condemning the alleged abuse. El-Showeikh’s father and sister were released shortly after their arrest and his mother was accused of joining a terrorist group and publishing and broadcasting false news. On December 30, a human rights organization reported that el-Showeikh’s mother remained in pretrial detention in solitary confinement without visits or medical care for certain medical problems, according to a son’s social media post. Kholoud Said, the head of the translation unit of the publication department at Bibliotheca Alexandria, was charged on January 11 in a new case with joining an unspecified terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media, the same charges as in the original case for which she had been arrested in April 2020. Despite a December 2020 order for her release in the original case, Said was not released and remained in pretrial detention. Freelance translator Marwa Arafa remained in pretrial detention after her April 2020 arrest on similar charges. Representatives of a women’s rights organization said they could not identify any apparent reason for these arrests.

On March 17, a criminal court convicted activist Sanaa Seif, sister of imprisoned activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, and sentenced her to 18 months in prison for broadcasting false news by making allegations the government asserted were false concerning the spread of COVID-19 in prisons, defaming and insulting a public employee, and using an electronic account to commit a crime. Seif was arrested in June 2020 outside the New Cairo Public Prosecutor’s office where her family was filing a complaint seeking to receive communications from Abdel Fattah. On December 23, Seif was released after serving the entirety of her sentence.

Pretrial Detention: The government did not provide figures on the total number of pretrial detainees. Rights groups and the quasi-governmental National Council for Human Rights alleged excessive use of pretrial detention and preventive detention during trials for nonviolent crimes. Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees in the same facilities as convicted prisoners. Large backlogs in the criminal courts contributed to protracted periods of pretrial detention. Estimates of the number of pretrial and preventive detainees were unreliable. According to human rights organizations, the government sometimes rearrested detainees on charges filed in new cases to extend their detention beyond a two-year maximum.

Media reported that after four years of pretrial detention, al-Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein was released on February 6 with precautionary measures that required him to report to a police station two days per week. Hussein continued to face charges in several cases pending trial, including spreading false news and receiving foreign funds to defame the state’s reputation. On August 21, Reporters Without Borders called for the release of al-Jazeera journalist Rabie el Sheikh, who was arrested at Cairo International Airport on August 1, and three other al-Jazeera journalists in pretrial detention since 2019 and 2020. All were charged with spreading false news and membership in a terrorist group.

On August 23, the State Security Prosecution referred human rights lawyer and executive director of the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms Ezzat Ghoneim to trial before the Emergency State Security Criminal Court on charges including joining and financing the Muslim Brotherhood, deliberately broadcasting false news, and disturbing security. Ghoneim had been in pretrial detention since his 2018 arrest and was added to second case in May 2020 and a third case on May 29, all on similar charges.

Political activist Sameh Saudi, whom authorities arrested in 2018 and added to new cases in 2019 and 2020 remained in pretrial detention.

On November 20, the State Security Prosecution released journalist Ahmed Shaker after exceeding the maximum limit of 24 months of pretrial detention, according to local media. Security forces had arrested Shaker in 2019 and charged him with spreading false news and participating in a terrorist group.

The Public Prosecution released Ola Qaradawi on December 12, according to local media. Authorities had arrested Qaradawi and her husband, Hosam Khalaf, in 2017 on charges of communicating with and facilitating support for a terrorist group. At year’s end Khalaf remained in pretrial detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. Individual courts sometimes appeared to lack impartiality and to arrive at outcomes that were politically motivated or without individual findings of guilt. The government generally respected court orders. Human rights organizations claimed the State Security Prosecution bypassed court orders to release detainees by arresting them again in a new case, in some instances on the same charges.

The law imposes penalties on individuals designated by a court as terrorists, even without criminal convictions. The government has designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group and prosecutes individuals for membership in or support for the Muslim Brotherhood group. The effects of a designation include a travel ban, asset freeze, loss of political rights, and passport cancellation. The court designation may be appealed directly to the country’s highest appeals court, and authorities do not inform most individuals of their impending designation before the court rules.

The constitution states: “Civilians may not stand trial before military courts except for crimes that represent an assault against military facilities, military barracks, facilities protected by the military, designated military or border zones; military equipment, vehicles, weapons, ammunition, documents, military secrets, public funds or military factories; crimes related to conscription; or crimes that represent an assault against its officers or personnel because of the performance of their duties.”

Under the state of emergency that expired on October 24, authorities regularly used military courts to try civilians accused of threatening national security. Public access to information concerning military trials was limited. Military trials were difficult to monitor because media were usually subjected to restraint orders. Rights groups and lawyers said defense attorneys in military trials had difficulty gaining access to their clients and to documentation related to the cases.

Authorities released journalist Moataz Wadnan on July 18. Police arrested Wadnan in 2018, after he conducted a press interview with the former head of the Central Audit Organization, and charged Wadnan with joining an unspecified banned group and spreading false news. Two days after a court ordered Wadnan’s release in May 2020, the State Security Prosecution added him to a new case with the additional charges of inciting terrorist crimes. Before his July 18 release, Wadnan had been in continuous pretrial detention for more than three years. Journalist Mostafa al-Asaar, who was also arrested in 2018, and lawyer Mahienour al-Masry, who was arrested in 2019 after she defended detainees arrested during street protests, were released on July 18. Police charged all three with joining a banned group and spreading false news.

Some trials involving hundreds of defendants continued, particularly in cases involving demonstrators sympathetic to former president Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013 and 2014.

On April 8, Mahmoud Ezzat was sentenced to life in prison for inciting violence and other terrorism-related charges, stemming from clashes outside the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in 2013 that resulted in the killing of nine persons and injuring of 91 others.

On June 14, the Court of Cassation issued a final ruling upholding the death penalty sentences for 12 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including three senior Brotherhood leaders: Mohamed El-Beltagy, Safwat Hegazy, and Abdel-Rahman El-Bar. The court also commuted the death sentences to life imprisonment for 31 others in the same case, the 2013 Rabaa sit-in.

On July 11, in a separate case, the Court of Cassation upheld the 2019 sentencing of 10 Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including Mohamed Badie, to life imprisonment on charges of killing policemen, organizing mass jail breaks, and undermining national security by allegedly conspiring with foreign militant groups, including Hamas and Hezbollah, during 2011 unrest. The Court of Cassation in the same case also overturned the convictions of eight mid-level Muslim Brotherhood members who had been sentenced in 2019 to 15 years in prison. It remained unclear at year’s end whether they were released or were held pending charges in other cases.

In an August 23 statement, a local human rights organization said the Public Prosecution refused to allow attorneys to visit blogger Mohamed Ibrahim (aka “Mohamed Oxygen”) after Ibrahim reportedly attempted suicide in pretrial detention in July. According to his attorneys, Ibrahim had been suffering mentally from mistreatment, including because of authorities depriving him family visits for a period exceeding 15 months, which the government said was due to COVID-19 preventive measures. Ibrahim had been in pretrial detention between his 2019 arrest and his December 20 conviction on allegations of joining an unspecified banned group, spreading false news, and misusing social media, after he tweeted a list of protesters and journalists detained in 2019 who had protested alleged military corruption. On October 16, the State Security Prosecution referred Ibrahim, activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, and human rights lawyer Mohamed Elbakr to trial before an emergency court. On December 20, an emergency court sentenced Abdel Fattah to five years in prison, and Ibrahim and Elbakr to four years in prison. Human rights groups and activists said the trial lacked due process and called for presidential commutation or pardon for all three individuals; at year’s end their sentences remained in place.

Khaled Lotfy, founder of the Tanmia bookstores and publishing house, remained in custody at year’s end. He was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to five years in prison by a military court for distributing the Arabic edition of The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel, as well as charges of spreading false news and allegedly divulging military secrets.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary often failed to uphold this right.

The law presumes defendants are innocent, and authorities usually inform defendants promptly of charges against them. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials. Attendance is mandatory for individuals charged with felonies and optional for those charged with misdemeanors. Civilian criminal and misdemeanor trials usually are public. During the year authorities denied entrance to representatives of civil society, media, foreign embassies, and family members attempting to attend trial and pretrial detention hearings. Defendants have the right to consult an attorney, and the government is responsible for providing counsel if the defendant cannot afford a lawyer. Defendants have the right to free interpretation by a court-assigned interpreter from the moment charged through all appeals. The law allows defendants to question witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants generally have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The constitution provides for the right of an accused person to remain silent in his own trial. Defendants have the right of appeal up to the Court of Cassation. Judicial and executive review is available to individuals sentenced to the death penalty. Judges must seek the nonbinding review of the grand mufti on all death sentences, and the president must confirm all such sentences.

The law permits individual members of the public to file charges with the prosecutor general, who is charged with deciding whether the evidence justifies referring the charges for a trial. Observers reported, however, that due to unclear evidentiary standards, the Prosecutor General’s Office investigated and referred for trial most such cases, regardless of the strength of the evidence.

On June 15, President Sisi ratified law 70/2021, which criminalizes, with a fine, the filming, photographing, or recording of criminal court hearings without prior permission from the presiding judge and prosecutor general.

On November 11, the president ratified amendments to a 2015 terrorism law that ban the photography, recording, or live broadcasting of trial sessions involving any terrorism crimes without prior approval.

On May 24, an international human rights organization said there had been at least 53 mass trials since 2011, in which 2,182 persons were sentenced to death.

On August 13, Amnesty International said the government had executed at least 81 persons in 2021. On July 4, authorities executed engineering student Moataz Hassan, who was convicted of participating in the 2018 attempted assassination of Major General Mustafa al-Nimr. A human rights organization claimed security forces had coerced Hassan’s confession with torture and threats after his 2018 arrest.

Military courts are not open to the public. Defendants in military courts nominally enjoyed the same fair trial assurances as those in civilian courts, but the military judiciary has wide discretion to curtail these rights on public security grounds and regularly did so. Military courts often tried defendants in a matter of hours, frequently in groups, and sometimes without access to an attorney, leading lawyers and NGOs to assert they did not meet basic standards of due process. Consequently, the rapid rulings by military courts sometimes prevented defendants from exercising due process rights and undermined fair trial assurances. Defendants in military courts have the right to consult an attorney, but sometimes authorities denied them timely access to counsel. According to rights groups, authorities permitted defendants in military trials visits from their attorneys only once every six months, in contrast with the civilian court system, where authorities allowed defendants in detention attorney visits every 15 days.

The military judiciary law governing the military court system grants defendants in the military court system the right to appeal up to the Supreme Military Court of Appeals. The president or his delegate must certify sentences by military courts. There were limited media reports concerning the ratification of military court sentences. In 2019 local independent media reported that the military ruler ordered the retrial of one military case presented for ratification. State security emergency courts, which were activated pursuant to the nationwide state of emergency in effect between 2017 and October, had jurisdiction concerning cases related to the state of emergency, which had been broadly interpreted to include several politically motivated cases. By law verdicts in state security emergency courts have no avenue for judicial appeals and require ratification, annulment, amendment, or an order for retrial by the president or his delegate.

On June 13, the Cairo 24 private news website asked the prime minister not to ratify the June 10 state security emergency misdemeanor court’s convictions against journalists Islam Saadi and Moamen Samir for publishing and spreading false news. Local media had reported on June 12 that their arrests came after they took photographs of Saadi’s mother in a government hospital where she was being treated for COVID-19.

On June 22, the state security emergency misdemeanor court convicted Central European University researcher Ahmed Samir Santawy and sentenced him to four years in prison and a fine for joining a terrorist group and publishing false news. International and local human rights organizations condemned the action and called on the president, in the absence of the possibility for judicial appeal, to commute the sentence. At year’s end Santawy’s conviction remained subject to ratification by the president or his delegate. According to local media, Santawy was questioned in December 2020 upon his arrival in the country to visit family, regarding his research on women’s rights for his graduate studies program in Vienna. On January 23, security forces searched his family’s apartment in South Sinai and ordered Santawy to report to the National Security office in Cairo. Santawy voluntarily reported to a police station in Cairo on February 1 and appeared before the State Security Prosecution on February 6. Local human rights organizations reported that Santawy and former member of parliament Ziyad el-Aleimy, whose five-year emergency court prison sentence on November 17 was ratified on November 24 (see section 2.a.), were physically abused in detention by security forces on May 21.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of significant numbers of political prisoners and detainees, although verifiable estimates of their total number were not available. Human rights groups and international observers maintained the government detained or imprisoned between 20,000 and 60,000 persons solely or chiefly because of their political beliefs or activities.

Amnesty: The government periodically issued pardons of prisoners, sometimes including individuals whose cases human rights organizations considered to be politically motivated. Local press reported that the Interior Ministry Prisons Authority ordered the release of thousands of inmates based on presidential decrees in April, May, July, and October on the Eid al-Fitr, Eid El Adha, Sinai Liberation Day, and Armed Forces Day holidays.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion: According to local media and international human rights organizations, on February 10, police raided a house in Luxor belonging to the family of Germany-based academic and political activist Taqadum al-Khatib, seizing personal property and documents belonging to Khatib’s parents. Khatib previously served in the National Association for Change in Egypt and had posted recollections of Mubarak’s overthrow in the weeks leading up to the Luxor raid. In February security forces raided the homes of six relatives of a prominent human rights activist based abroad. Two family members were arrested, while others were questioned regarding their contact with the activist.

On February 11, Human Rights Watch called on the government to reverse its December 2020 decree, published in the official gazette, that revoked the citizenship of Ghada Naguib, a political activist and frequent critic of the government who lived in Turkey. The government’s decision stated Naguib falsely claimed she was born in Cairo and cited Law 26 of 1975, which gives the government the power to revoke citizenship without judicial review. Naguib denied any false statements and said she was born in the country to a Syrian father.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals had access to civil courts for lawsuits relating to human rights abuses and filed such lawsuits during the year. Nonetheless, courts often dismissed such cases or acquitted defendants claiming insufficient evidence or conflicting witness testimonies. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Property Seizure and Restitution

The Supreme Standing Committee for Human Rights (Standing Committee) and the National Council for Human Rights (National Council) released reports in April and February, in part to review grievances faced by North Sinai residents following government counterterrorism operations in 2018 that resulted in demolition of homes and commercial buildings and seizure of farmland to establish a buffer zone in North Sinai Governorate, which authorities stated was needed to interdict weapons smuggling and incursions, including to and from the Gaza Strip. The government implemented plans to expand the commercial and military capacity of the Arish Airport, south of al-Arish, which local NGOs said threatened to displace 4,000 families.

The Standing Committee reported $224 million (out of a total $260 million budgeted) in government expenditures as of April 2020 used to compensate North Sinai residents for houses or land lost or damaged in counterterrorism operations, compensation for the families of “martyrs” and injured, as well as for humanitarian and medical aid and social assistance. The Standing Committee report detailed $196 million in housing and agricultural compensation. The Ministry of Planning’s Citizen Investment Plan for North and South Sinai governorates was established to provide $548 million to further develop housing infrastructure and public services in the area.

According to the National Council, North Sinai residents complained that slow compensation distribution coincided with rising construction costs and inflation, which complicated efforts to use reimbursements to acquire a comparable house or plot of land elsewhere. Residents also complained of lack of documentation regarding ownership, maximum compensation limits, the government’s inability to conduct assessments due to security problems, and rent previously owed to the government for farming on government land.

On March 17, Human Rights Watch alleged the military’s continuing home demolitions and forced evictions during the armed conflict in North Sinai were abuses of international humanitarian law and likely amounted to war crimes.

On March 19, local media reported that police detained five residents of Tersa district in Giza during a small gathering of 30 residents to protest the February cabinet decision to demolish 27 legally registered residential buildings. According to local media, local officials tried to persuade the residents to sign eviction notices, which most refused to do without sufficient guarantees of compensation. On March 20, local media reported the administrator of a Facebook page campaigning against the government actions, also a Tersa district resident, was detained at his home.

In December a Cairo governorate source told media that the government paid 454 million EGP ($28.4 million) to residents in compensation for demolishing their homes to accommodate a highway expansion project.

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

The constitution provides for the privacy of the home, correspondence, telephone calls, and other means of communication. Nevertheless, there were reports that security agencies placed political activists, journalists, foreigners, and writers under surveillance; monitored their private communications; screened their correspondence, including email and social media accounts; examined their bank records; searched their persons and homes without judicial authorization; and confiscated personal property in an extrajudicial manner. Ahead of planned protests or demonstrations, there were reports police stopped young persons in public places and searched their mobile phones for evidence of involvement in political activities deemed antigovernment in nature.

The constitution protects the right to privacy, including on the internet. The constitution provides for the confidentiality and “inviolability” of postal, telegraphic, and electronic correspondence; telephone calls; and other means of communication. They may not be confiscated, revealed, or monitored except with a judicial order, only for a definite period, and only in cases defined by law. The law allows the president to issue written or oral directives to monitor and intercept all forms of communication and correspondence, impose censorship prior to publication, and confiscate publications.

Surveillance was a significant concern for internet users. The constitution states that private communications “may only be confiscated, examined, or monitored by causal judicial order, for a limited period of time, and in cases specified by the law.” Judicial warrants are required for authorities to enter, search, or monitor private property such as homes. During a state of emergency, warrantless searches are allowed provided the Public Prosecution is notified within 24 hours, and police may detain suspects for up to seven days before handing them over to the prosecution. The government’s surveillance operations lacked transparency, potentially violating the constitution’s privacy protections. There were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority, including cyberattacks to gain access to devices and accounts belonging to critics of the government.

On February 5, the government released film director and screenwriter Moamen Hassan from detention pending trial on allegations of using social media for the purpose of “promoting a terrorist act.” Local media reported that on January 25, security forces arrested Hassan after stopping his taxi in the vicinity of Tahrir Square, searching his mobile phone, and alleging he had sent suspicious texts containing inappropriate political comments regarding the government. Hassan reportedly appeared before the State Security Prosecution on January 31, and a court ordered his release on February 4.

On August 9, a local human rights organization claimed the Public Prosecution’s Communication, Guidance, and Social Media Department, established in 2019 to monitor the internet for crimes, facilitated mass surveillance without due process of law.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

The conflict in North Sinai involving government security forces, terrorist organizations, and other armed groups (including militias and criminal gangs) continued. According to press releases and international media reports, at least 135 armed forces soldiers were killed in attacks on government positions or in counterterrorist operations during the year. The government continued to impose restrictions on North Sinai residents’ travel to the country’s mainland and movement within North Sinai Governorate and severely restricted media access to North Sinai.

Killings: The government acknowledged no civilian deaths due to security force actions. Human rights organizations alleged that some persons killed by security forces were civilians. According to an international NGO, at least 26 civilian deaths, 51 security force deaths, and 31 terrorist deaths occurred in the conflict in Sinai between January and July. According to an ISIS media affiliate, ISIS-Sinai Province claimed 101 attacks resulting in 206 casualties during the year.

Terrorist and other armed groups continued to target the armed forces and civilians, using gunfire, improvised explosive devices, and other tactics.

According to another international organization’s July 31 report covering January through July, ISIS-Sinai Province killed approximately 22 civilians, including a woman and a child; kidnapped 26 civilians; and killed approximately 51 members of the armed forces, including seven from an armed group of North Sinai tribes fighting alongside the army. The same report documented four civilian deaths by security forces.

Abductions: Terrorist groups and other armed groups abducted civilians in North Sinai, almost always alleging cooperation with the government as the rationale. According to human rights groups, terrorist groups and other armed groups sometimes released abductees; some abductees were shot or beheaded. According to media and social media reports, at least 30 civilians were abducted by terrorist and militant elements in Sinai between January and August. In June, ISIS-Sinai Province reportedly abducted five construction contractors supporting a government developmental project near the al-Salam canal.

Other Conflict-related Abuse: Explosions caused by hidden explosive devices killed at least two children during the year. Approximately 15 civilians died between October and December 2020 due to improvised explosive devices left behind by ISIS-Sinai Province members following an offensive in North Sinai.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but includes a clause stating, “It may be subject to limited censorship in times of war or public mobilization.” The government frequently did not respect this right. Human rights defenders, journalists, activists, and others regularly faced criminal prosecution on charges that observers assessed were brought in response to criticism of the government. Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on freedom of assembly and association. According to the law, newspapers are required to print their issues at licensed printing houses registered with the Supreme Council for Media Regulation; news websites must host their servers in the country; newspapers must submit 20 copies of each printed issue to the council; and news websites and television outlets must keep copies of all published or broadcast material online for one year and submit a copy of their published or broadcast material to the council every month. The law also prohibits any recording, filming, or interviews in public places with the intention of broadcasting them on a media outlet without a permit issued by the council.

Freedom of Expression: Citizens expressed their views on a wide range of political and social topics. The government initiated investigations and prosecutions based on allegations of incitement of violence, insults to religion, insults to public figures and institutions such as the judiciary and the military, or abuse of public morals.

The law provides a broad definition of terrorism, to include “any act harming national unity or social peace.” Human rights observers noted that authorities regularly used the ambiguous definition to stifle nonviolent speech and nonviolent opposition activity.

On January 6, the General Authority for Health Insurance banned photography inside hospitals and banned mobile phones from intensive care units. The decision reportedly came after citizens published videos from hospitals showing deaths and suffering of COVID-19 patients due to alleged shortages in the oxygen supplies. The government denied oxygen shortages had contributed to COVID-19-related deaths.

Housing rights researcher Ibrahim Ezzedine remained in pretrial detention since 2019, more than the two years permitted by law. According to a local human rights organization, he was detained after criticizing the government’s urban slums policies and appeared in 2019 before the State Security Prosecution, where he was accused of joining a banned group and spreading false news.

Between January and June, a local organization that tracks freedom of association and speech recorded 65 abuses of the freedoms of media and artistic and digital expression. For example, in 2019 several political figures, including former member of parliament Ziyad el-Aleimy and journalists Hossam Moanes and Hisham Fouad, were arrested on criminal charges of joining a banned group and spreading false news after they met to form the Alliance of Hope political group to run in parliamentary elections. On July 14, they were referred to trial before a misdemeanor emergency court. On November 17, the emergency court sentenced el-Aleimy to five years in prison and a fine, and Moanes and Fouad to four years in prison and a fine, all for spreading false news inside and outside the country. On November 24, the prime minister, as President Sisi’s delegate, ratified the sentences. The defense team told local press that “many legal violations took place in this case” and claimed they were not given access to more than 1,000 prosecution documents. Local human rights lawyers said the sentences issued by the emergency court could not be appealed and that only the president or his delegate could choose to annul, amend, or not implement the sentences. At year’s end the three remained imprisoned. On July 14, the Court of Cassation upheld an April 2020 ruling to include 13 Alliance of Hope defendants on the terrorism list, including el-Aleimy and activist Ramy Shaath, for alleged collaboration with the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

According to media reports, on February 22, the State Security Prosecution transferred Hazem Hosni, spokesperson for Sami Anan’s 2018 presidential campaign and Cairo University political science professor, to house arrest pending further investigations. On June 27, a human rights lawyer announced the criminal court reduced Hosni’s house arrest from seven to three days per week. Hosni had been held in pretrial detention since his 2019 arrest.

Sinai activists Ashraf al-Hefni and Ashraf Ayoub were released on May 27, according to local media. Al-Hefni, who advocated for human rights and the rights of residents of Sinai but publicly rejected “normalization” with Israel, was detained in 2019. Ayoub had been detained since August 2020.

After a criminal court ordered human rights lawyer Mohamed Ramadan’s release on June 13, Ramadan appeared on June 15, still detained, before the State Security Prosecution in a new case on allegations of joining a banned group and spreading false news. Ramadan had been arrested in 2018 for “inciting social unrest” after he posted a photograph of himself wearing a yellow vest akin to those worn by political protesters in France. As of year’s end, he remained in pretrial detention.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media expressed a variety of views but with significant restrictions. The constitution, penal code, and the media and publications law govern media topics. The government regulated the licensing of newspapers and controlled the printing and distribution of most newspapers, including private newspapers. The law does not impose restrictions on newspaper ownership.

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

Police arrested several journalists during the year for covering politically sensitive topics, some of whom were released, while others remained in detention. Photojournalist Hamdy al-Zaeem was arrested on January 4, one day after he covered worker protests at a chemical plant. Al-Zaeem appeared before the State Security Prosecution on January 16, where he was detained pending trial on allegations of joining a terrorist group and spreading false news on social media, according to local media. At year’s end he remained in pretrial detention.

Journalist Hamdy Atef Hashem Abdel Fattah was arrested on January 4, after publishing a video showing lack of oxygen for COVID-19 patients at a hospital in Gharbia Governorate. He appeared before the State Security Prosecution on January 11 and was subsequently detained on charges of joining a terrorist group and spreading false news on social media, according to media. At year’s end he remained in pretrial detention.

According to a local NGO, cartoonist Ashraf Hamdy was released between August and September pending trial on allegations of misusing social media and spreading false information. He was arrested on January 25 after posting a video on the 10th anniversary of the January 25 revolution.

Business News company owner Mustafa Saqr was released on March 8. He had been held in pretrial detention on allegations of colluding with a terrorist organization, spreading false news, and misusing social media since his April 2020 arrest after publishing an article that discussed the impact of COVID-19 on the economy. On March 8, Islam al-Kalhy, a journalist affiliated with Daarb news website, who was arrested while covering a demonstration in Monieb, Giza, in September 2020, and freelance journalist Hassan al-Qabbani, who was arrested in 2019, were also released.

On April 13, the State Security Prosecution released journalist and former al-Dostour Party leader Khaled Dawoud pending investigation of charges of colluding with a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media. Dawoud had been held in pretrial detention since his arrest in 2019.

According to the organization, a plainclothes security officer arrested laborer Ahmed al-Araby on May 12 in Banha based on political social media posts he made. The organization added that during the 19 days after his arrest, al-Araby was subjected to beating and electric shocks, interrogated as to whether he had links to the Muslim Brotherhood, and forced to confess involvement in street demonstrations, which he later recanted. He remained in pretrial detention pending trial on allegations of joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media.

As of December the Committee to Protect Journalists reported 25 journalists were imprisoned in the country.

Violence and Harassment: According to media reports and local and international human rights groups, state actors arrested, imprisoned, harassed, and intimidated journalists. The family of detained journalist Mohamed Salah said on social media that Salah had been subjected to severe physical assault and abuse in pretrial detention on January 9. Human rights organizations added that the abuse included stripping Salah and his cell mates of their clothes, hanging them in a hallway, and beating them with metal objects. Amnesty International reported in May that Salah was arrested in 2019, beaten at a police station in December 2020, ordered released, and rearrested in a new case without release. At year’s end he remained in pretrial detention.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Official censorship occurred. The emergency law allows the president to censor information during a state of emergency.

On January 25, an administrative court ordered the Media Regulating Authority to ban YouTube channels that broadcast a film produced in 2013 regarding the Prophet Mohammed that was found to be offensive. On June 30, authorities asked al-Maraya Publishing House to not display and sell a book by imprisoned political activist Ahmed Douma at the Cairo International Book Fair, according to local media.

Media rights organizations said the government blocked thousands of websites, including 127 news websites, including Mada Masr, alManassa, and Daarb.

The law considers websites and social media accounts with at least 5,000 subscribers to be media outlets, requires them to pay a licensing fee, and grants the Supreme Council for Media Regulation broad discretion to block their content. On August 23, the council announced that it blocked some websites it said failed to apply for such a license.

The number of arrests for social media posts reportedly had a chilling effect on online speech. Some activists and many journalists reported privately they self-censored criticism of the government or comments that could be perceived as sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, due to the government designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization and the progovernment media environment. Publishers were also wary of publishing books that criticized religious institutions, such as al-Azhar, or challenged Islamic doctrine. Online journalists were also reluctant to discuss sensitive topics.

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

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

The law imposes a fine on any person who “intentionally publishes…or spreads false news.” The fine is many times the average annual salary of most local journalists. The government maintained hotlines for members of the public to call or leave text messages reporting fake news in either traditional or social media that endangers state security.

On May 29, former ambassador to Venezuela Yehia Negm was arrested on allegations of joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media after he posted a tweet criticizing the government’s management of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam topic.

Atef Hasballah, editor in chief of Alkarar Press website, was released during the year on precautionary measures pending trial, according to a local NGO. Hasballah was arrested in March 2020 following a post on his Facebook page questioning official statistics on the spread of COVID-19 cases in the country.

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

Internet Freedom

The constitution prohibits the government from “arbitrarily” interrupting, disconnecting, or depriving citizens seeking to use all forms of internet communications.

Telecommunications services and internet service providers are regulated by the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority under the telecommunication regulation law. The law does not guarantee the independence of the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. The government centralized internet infrastructure and fiber-optic cables, allowing considerable state control over internet access, including restricting and disrupting user access and censoring online content. Law enforcement agencies restricted or disrupted individuals’ access to the internet, and the government monitored social media accounts and internet usage. The public prosecutor prosecuted individuals accused of posting “insulting” material.

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

The cybercrime law states, “The relevant investigating authority may, when the evidence indicates that a website is broadcasting phrases, numbers, pictures, videos, or any promotional material that constitutes one of the crimes enshrined in this law and poses a threat to national security or endangers the security or economy of the country, order the blocking of the website.”

On January 12, the Cairo Economic Appeals Court annulled the two-year sentences of TikTok influencers Haneen Hossam and Mawada Eladhm and three other defendants. The court also annulled Hossam’s fine but upheld the same fine for the other defendants. Charges included violating family values, inciting “debauchery,” publishing content deemed inappropriate, and recruiting others to commit similar crimes. On June 20, in a separate case, the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Hossam in absentia to 10 years in prison and a fine, and Eladhm and three others to six years in prison and fines. All five were convicted on charges of human trafficking, running social media accounts with the aim of recruiting young women for video sharing online, and publishing video content deemed inappropriate by authorities. The objectionable content included dancing and lip-syncing, which are common on the platform. After being sentenced in absentia, Hossam posted a video on June 22 in which she asked President Sisi to order a retrial and was subsequently arrested in Cairo. On November 4, a court ordered a retrial in her case, which was scheduled for January 18, 2022. In August 2020 a criminal court upheld an administrative decision to freeze the assets of Hossam and Eladhm.

TikTok influencer Manar Samy remained imprisoned serving her September 2020 sentence of three years in prison with hard labor for “inciting debauchery and violating family values” for content she posted on social media. On July 4, the Benha Criminal Court acquitted members of Samy’s family, who had been arrested in 2020 for resisting authorities. On June 13, the Economic Misdemeanor Court of Appeals upheld the Economic Misdemeanor Court’s September 30 convictions of TikTok influencers Sherifa Rifaat, known as “Sherry Hanim,” and her daughter Zumoroda for assaulting family values and inciting prostitution, based on photographs posted to social media. The court of appeals reduced their sentences from six years in prison to five years and fined each of them.

There were reports the government temporarily blocked access to internet messaging applications.

The government attempted to disrupt the communications of terrorist groups operating in Sinai by cutting mobile services, internet, and sometimes landlines.

As part of investigations, security forces may apply for warrants from the prosecutor general to access mobile phone company databases to obtain information regarding activities of specific customers, which observers noted could lead to lack of online anonymity.

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

On May 3, a local media rights organization reported that the state had blocked hundreds of websites, including 127 news websites. The blocked sites included international NGOs, local human rights NGOs, and numerous virtual private network services. Some blockages appeared to respond to critical coverage of the government or to disrupt antigovernment political activity or demonstrations.

In 2017 the news website Mada Masr sued the government seeking information on why it was blocked. In 2018 the Court of Administrative Justice referred the case for technical review by the Justice Ministry’s Authority of Experts. This review remained pending without resolution at year’s end. According to a local human rights organization, in April the Media Regulating Authority issued licenses for 40 private news websites, including Cairo 24, while not acting on the license requests of 110 other websites. This was part of a legal requirement to regulate the status of electronic press websites in the country.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were reports of government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. The removal of references to the country’s 2011 and 2013 revolutions from high school history class curricula continued after a 2017 decree from the Ministry of Education and Technical Education. According to media and local rights groups, a degree of self-censorship, similar to that reported by nonacademic commentators, existed when academics publicly commented on sensitive political and socioeconomic matters. University faculty members and Ministry of Education employees (including teachers) needed security agency approval to travel abroad for academic or professional purposes. Faculty and officials at public universities and research centers also had to obtain Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ permission to travel abroad for any reason. Some public universities restricted campus visits of foreign speakers or delegations or required a faculty chaperone for delegations of university students traveling to the United States.

In May the prosecutor general renewed University of Washington doctoral student Walid Salem’s travel ban, according to a statement by local and international human rights organizations. Their statement added that Salem was also prevented from traveling in May 2020 when authorities at Cairo International Airport confiscated his passport. Salem had been on probation since 2018 pending trial on charges of spreading false news and belonging to a terrorist group.

On July 12, authorities released Alia Mossallam, a postdoctoral fellow at the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Berlin, on bail pending trial on allegations of joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media after they arrested her at the Cairo International Airport on July 11 upon her arrival from Berlin, according to a human rights lawyer. Mosallam was researching the history of the country’s social and political movements through popular memory, according to local media.

On November 17, authorities reportedly released Ayman Mansour Nada pending trial on allegations of insulting the president of Cairo University and several university officials and using social media to commit the crime. Nada, a Cairo University media professor, was arrested in September after he criticized the government-appointed president of Cairo University and government-aligned media professionals.

There was censorship of cultural events. A prime ministerial decree declares it unlawful to hold a special event or festival without “prior license from the Ministry of Culture and liaising with relevant state entities.” This requirement adds to existing regulations, under which organizations must obtain a permit from the Ministry of Culture’s Censorship Board, as well as permits from the Interior Ministry and the relevant artists’ union for concerts, performances, and other cultural events. The Ministry of Culture must approve all scripts and final productions of plays and films. The ministry censored foreign films to be shown in theaters but did not censor the same films sold as DVDs.

On June 27, the Musicians Syndicate banned five singers of Mahraganat music, a popular street-music genre, from performing in the country because they did not obtain a permit to work or belong to the syndicate. The syndicate banned nine others on November 17 for the same reasons.

On July 25, the Administrative Court ordered the Central Administration for Censorship of Audio and Audiovisual Works to grant the film The Last Days of the City, which deals with the January 25 revolution, a license to be shown inside the country. According to local media, the ruling was final and had to be implemented. The film, which was produced in 2016 and won several international film festival awards, was first denied presentation in the country at the 2016 Cairo International Film Festival.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly “according to notification regulated by law.” The demonstrations law includes an expansive list of prohibited activities, giving a judge the authority to prohibit or curtail planned demonstrations after submitting an official memorandum. Domestic and international human rights organizations asserted the law did not meet international standards regarding freedom of assembly. A government-imposed exclusion zone prohibits protests within 2,600 feet (790 meters) of vital governmental institutions.

The Prison Regulation Law prevents the conditional release of those convicted of assembly crimes, among other crimes.

There were protests during the year, mostly small, and some occurred without government interference. In most cases the government rigorously enforced the law restricting demonstrations, in some instances using force, including in cases of small groups of protesters demonstrating peacefully.

On December 8, Patrick George Zaki, a student at the University of Bologna, was released pending trial before an emergency court. He faced charges of inciting individuals to protest in 2019, spreading false news, promoting terrorism, and harming national security. He had been held in pretrial detention since his February 2020 arrest at Cairo International Airport, after which media reported he was beaten and subjected to electric shocks.

According to a local human rights organization, thousands of persons whom authorities arrested during 2013 and 2014 due to their participation in demonstrations (some of which were peaceful) remained imprisoned; however, authorities released others who had completed their sentences. Authorities reportedly held such individuals under charges of attending an unauthorized protest, incitement to violence, or “blocking roads.” Human rights groups claimed authorities inflated or used these charges solely to target individuals suspected of being members of groups in opposition to the government or those who sought to exercise the rights to free assembly or association.

On June 4, security forces broke up a demonstration in the Shooting Club area in Alexandria and arrested approximately 30 residents protesting government plans to relocate them to a new location in the governorate. While most detained residents were immediately released, 13 remained in detention until June 17 on charges of inciting protests, throwing stones at security forces, and injuring security forces. The 13 were acquitted on December 29.

Since his 2018 arrest, activist Mohamed Adel remained in pretrial detention in three separate cases, related to allegations of violating the protest law, joining a banned group, and spreading false news.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association. The law governing associations, however, significantly restricts this right.

A 2019 law governing NGOs eliminated prison sentences as penalties and removed formal oversight roles for security and intelligence authorities. On January 14, the government published executive regulations clarifying that NGOs would have exclusive access to and control of NGO funds as well as procedural protections, such as impartial administrative and judicial appeal mechanisms. The 2019 law stipulates that NGOs are established through notification; however, the executive regulations require NGOs to provide extensive data to register with authorities, including information on founders and planned activities. All NGOs must receive the approval of the Ministry of Social Solidarity to register, receive funding, or conduct activities. Further, international NGOs are required to receive approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to register to operate. NGOs must also comply with money laundering and antiterrorism legislations.

The penal code criminalizes the request for or acceptance of foreign funds, materiel, weapons, ammunition, or “other things” by any individual or group from states or local or international nongovernmental organizations “with the intent to harm the national interest.” Those convicted may be sentenced to life in prison (or the death penalty in the case of public officials) for crimes committed during times of war or with “terrorist purpose.”

At year’s end lawyer Amr Emam remained in pretrial detention pending investigations on charges of colluding with a terrorist organization, publishing false news, and misusing social media to spread false information. Emam was arrested in 2019 after he began a hunger strike and sit-in to protest the arrests, alleged abuse, and continued detention of journalist Esraa Abdel Fattah, activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, and lawyer Mohamed Elbakr. Esraa Abdel Fattah was released on June 9, while Alaa Abdel Fattah and Elbakr remained imprisoned following their December 20 convictions by an emergency state security misdemeanors court, which sentenced them to five and four years, respectively (see section 1.c.). At year’s end their convictions remained subject to ratification by the president or his delegate.

Ibrahim Metwally Hegazy, a human rights lawyer and founder of the Association of the Families of the Disappeared, remained in pretrial detention since his 2017 arrest at the Cairo International Airport while traveling to Geneva to participate in the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.

The government listed the Muslim Brotherhood as a designated terrorist organization. On July 28, the Court of Cassation upheld the life sentences of Muslim Brotherhood supreme guide Mohamed Badie, his deputy Khairat el-Shater, and six others who were convicted in 2019 on charges of collaborating with Hamas.

Authorities continued investigations into local NGOs that received foreign funding under Case 173, originally brought in 2011. On October 21, local media reported that 75 locally organized NGOs had charges dismissed in Case 173 to date, although at least six continued to face charges.

On January 20, the Administrative Court annulled the Cairo Governor’s 2016 decision to close the El-Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture. El-Nadeem was among the local NGOs still facing charges in Case 173 of receiving foreign funds.

On January 28, the Administrative Court ordered the Ministry of Social Solidarity to approve a 1.5 million euro ($1.76 million) grant from the embassies of Germany, Switzerland, and Norway to the Sadat Association for Development and Social Care, which was headed by former member of parliament and opposition figure Mohamed Anwar Sadat. This came in response to the Sadat Association’s 2018 lawsuit challenging the ministry’s denial of the grant based on security grounds. The court ruled a rejection on security concerns, without specifics, was insufficient. The court also declared that the Sadat Association was registered under the 2002 NGO law and the donors were working legally in the country, and that denying the grant would prevent the Sadat Association from exercising its constitutional and international convention rights to operate without restrictions as long as its activities did not disrupt public peace or safety.

On July 31, the Court of Cassation turned down the prosecution’s appeal of the 2017 acquittal of spouses Aya Hijazi and Mohamed Hassanein, founders of the Belady Foundation NGO, and their codefendants of torturing children, sexual assault, forcing children to participate in illegal demonstrations, and operating a criminal group for the purposes of trafficking, among other charges.

On February 2, the NGO Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights announced that it was forced to vacate its office after the landlord suddenly gave the lease to the parliamentary bloc of the Youth Coalition for Parties and Politicians, a body created by President Sisi in 2018. The organization added that troubles with its lease started after the November 2020 arrests and December 2020 releases of its members Mohamed Basheer, Karim Ennarah, and Gasser Abdel Razek on charges of joining a terror group and spreading false news. The three remained subject to court-ordered travel bans and asset freezes.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, albeit with some exceptions, including the treatment of potential refugees and asylum seekers.

In-country Movement: Citizens and foreigners may not travel freely in areas of the country designated as military zones. The government sought to prevent private individuals, journalists, civil society figures, and international organizations from entering North Sinai on safety grounds, which the government stated were necessary restrictions in response to long-running counterterrorism operations. According to a local human rights organization, security forces set up security checkpoints in downtown Cairo and other locations around the anniversaries of street protests and conducted searches and arrests without warrants.

Foreign Travel: The constitution states, “No citizen may be prevented from leaving the State territory.” Nonetheless, men who have not completed compulsory military service and have not obtained an exemption may not travel abroad or emigrate. National identification cards indicated completion of military service.

Authorities required citizens between ages 18 and 40 to obtain permission from the Interior Ministry to travel to 16 countries: Georgia, Guinea, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Qatar, South Africa, South Korea, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, and Yemen. Enforcement of these regulations was sporadic. The government stated it intended these regulations to make it more difficult for citizens to join terrorist groups and to stop the flight of criminals. These regulations also affected the ability of other individuals to travel outside the country. Authorities maintained a “no-fly” list that prevented some defendants in court cases from fleeing the country.

The government imposed travel bans on some human rights defenders and political activists who were under investigation or formally charged. Local human rights groups maintained that authorities used travel bans to intimidate and silence human rights defenders. A 2018 court ruling stated a travel ban “does not require the investigation of certain facts and their certainty,” but there must be “serious evidence that there are reasons for it and that the decision to prevent travel is due to security reasons and the interests of the state.” Case 173 defendants who still had travel bans or asset freezes included Hossam Bahgat, Mohamed Zarea, Bahey Eldin Hassan, Abd El Hafez Tayal, and Mostafa El Hassan. On August 24, political science professor Hassan Nafaa posted on Twitter that hours before he intended to travel abroad that day, he learned that he had been banned from traveling. Nafaa appealed to the prosecutor general to reconsider the list of those banned from traveling, claiming the ban in general had changed from a precautionary measure into punishment outside the scope of the law. In March 2020 the State Security Prosecution released Nafaa along with 14 others.

Exile: There was no government-imposed exile, and the constitution prohibits the government from expelling citizens or banning citizens from returning to the country. Some Mubarak- and Morsi-era politicians lived outside the country by choice and stated they faced threats of prosecution.

On June 6, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not have to renew the passport of Ayman Nour, the president of the opposition New Ghad Party, who was living abroad. Nour had filed a lawsuit when the ministry refused to renew his passport at the country’s consulates in Turkey and Lebanon.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: The constitution provides for the protection of political refugees, but the law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a comprehensive legal regime for providing protection to refugees. The government granted UNHCR authority to make refugee status determinations. UNHCR does not register Libyan citizens; neither does it register or assist Palestinian refugees in the country.

According to UNHCR, as of August asylum seekers in the country came mainly from Syria, as well as from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, South Sudan, Sudan, and Yemen.

In 2013 the government began applying a system of visa and security clearance requirements for Syrian nationals and Palestinian refugees from Syria, thus assuring no direct entries from Syria, since the country lacked consular services there. Following the UNHCR’s visit in 2017, the country relaxed its visa requirements for Syrians seeking family reunification.

Reports of irregular movements of individuals, including asylum seekers, and detention of foreign nationals attempting to depart the country irregularly via the Mediterranean by boat, had almost stopped, according to UNHCR, following enactment and enforcement of a law dramatically increasing patrols on the country’s Mediterranean coast in 2016.

UNHCR had limited access to detention centers and border areas, except in cases upon approval by authorities. Local rights groups faced continued resistance from the government when trying to interview detainees at Qanater men’s and women’s prisons outside Cairo, which housed most detained refugees and asylum seekers. Authorities generally released asylum seekers registered with UNHCR but frequently did not release detained migrants, many of whom were Eritrean, Ethiopian, Somali, and Sudanese, who may have had a basis for asylum claims. Authorities often held detained migrants as unregistered asylum seekers in police stations and sometimes sent them to regular prisons alongside convicted criminals or deported them.

The government did not recognize UNHCR’s mandate to offer services to Palestinians outside of the fields of operations of the UN Relief and Works Agency, reportedly due to a belief that allowing UNHCR registration would negate Palestinian refugees’ right of return. Approximately 2,900 Palestinian refugees from Syria were also present in the country, the majority reportedly in Cairo. The Palestinian Authority mission in the country provided limited assistance to this population. The Swiss Red Cross also provided some humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees from Syria.

Refoulement: Although the government often contacted UNHCR upon detaining unregistered migrants and asylum seekers, authorities reportedly sometimes encouraged unregistered detainees to choose to return to their countries of origin or a neighboring country to avoid continued detention, even in cases where the individuals expressed a fear of return. The number of these cases was unknown.

On September 10, Amnesty International called on the government to halt the threatened deportation of two Eritrean nationals to Eritrea, where they could face persecution. Local media reported the two had been detained since 2012 and 2013. At year’s end they had not been deported. The two men claimed to be Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Authorities deported eight Eritrean migrants on October 19, seven on October 31, and 24 on December 30, including several children, to Asmara, where they were detained upon arrival, according to local media and local NGOs. Despite multiple requests, UNHCR said it was not granted access to the detainees to make a refugee determination. Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement on November 19 “deploring” the country’s abuse of the principle of nonrefoulement.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Media, NGOs, and UNHCR staff reported multiple cases of attacks against refugees, particularly women and children. According to UNHCR, refugees sometimes reported harassment, sexual harassment, and discrimination. Refugee women and girls, particularly Sudanese and other sub-Saharan Africans, faced the greatest risk of societal, sexual, and gender-based violence.

According to UNHCR and press reports, police security sweeps continued in neighborhoods known to house Syrian, Sudanese, and other African refugees, as well as migrants, resulting in increased detentions. Detainees at times reported authorities subjected them to verbal abuse and poor detention conditions.

Employment: No law grants or prohibits refugees the right to work. Those seeking employment were hampered by lack of jobs and societal discrimination, particularly against Sudanese and other sub-Saharan Africans. Refugees who found work took low-paying jobs in the informal market, such as domestic servants, and were vulnerable to financial and sexual exploitation by employers.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees, in particular non-Arabic-speaking refugees from Sudan and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, faced barriers to accessing some services, including health care and public education. The Interior Ministry restricted access for some international organizations seeking to assist migrants and refugees in Sinai. UNHCR provided some refugees with modest support for education and health care, as well as small monthly financial assistance grants for particularly vulnerable refugees. The International Organization for Migration provided additional assistance to particularly vulnerable migrants and individual asylum cases that were either rejected or being processed by UNHCR.

Refugee children not enrolled in public schools mainly attended refugee-run schools or private schools, or they were home schooled. The law requires government hospitals to provide free emergency medical care to refugees, but many hospitals could not do so. In some cases hospitals reportedly insisted that refugees provide payment in advance of receiving services or refused to provide services to refugees. One local refugee agency reported some refugees died due to the lack of medical care.

g. Stateless Persons

Of the eight stateless persons known to UNHCR, most were Armenians displaced for more than 50 years. According to a local civil society organization, the number of stateless persons in the country was likely higher than the number recorded by UNHCR. The government and UNHCR lacked a mechanism for identifying stateless persons, including those of disputed Sudanese/South Sudanese nationality and those of disputed Ethiopian/Eritrean nationality. A majority of the approximately 70,000 Palestinian refugees were stateless.

On February 11, the Interior Ministry announced it granted citizenship to three brothers from the al-Muzaina tribe in Dahab, South Sinai. Media reported in February that some Bedouins in Sinai remained stateless after Israel handed the Sinai back to the country in 1982, and others remained stateless in disputed border areas with Sudan.

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. Constraints on freedom of expression, association, and assembly, however, limited citizens’ ability to do so.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: There were two rounds of elections in 2020 for the 200 elected seats in the re-established 300-seat upper house, called the Senate, and for the 568 elected seats of the House of Representatives. A progovernment coalition won an overwhelming majority of the Senate’s 200 elected seats; the president appointed the remaining 100 seats. Election observers documented visible judicial supervision, a tight security presence, and COVID-19 precautions in place. Local media noted higher than expected participation by women and youth voters. One political coalition alleged instances of vote rigging and bribery that advantaged an opponent political party during the House of Representatives’ elections. Some opposition parties questioned the youth turnout, especially in poorer areas, and claimed young persons were “bussed in” to vote. No significant acts of violence or disturbances to the election processes were observed.

Domestic and international organizations expressed concern that government limitations on freedoms of speech, association, and assembly severely constrained broad participation in the political process. On July 12, the Public Prosecution referred Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights executive director Hossam Bahgat to court on charges of insulting the National Elections Authority, spreading false rumors alleging electoral fraud, and using social media accounts to commit crimes, based on a tweet Bahgat posted in December 2020 criticizing the 2020 parliamentary elections as marred with widespread abuses. Bahgat was not detained in the case. In November the court found Bahgat guilty of insulting the National Elections Authority and fined him. Bahgat’s lawyers announced they planned to appeal.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution grants citizens the ability to form, register, and operate political parties. The law requires new parties to have a minimum of 5,000 members from each of at least 10 governorates. The constitution also states: “No political activity may be practiced and no political parties may be formed based on religion or discrimination based on gender, origin, or sectarian basis or geographic location. No activity that is hostile to democratic principles, secretive, or of military or quasi-military nature may be practiced. Political parties may not be dissolved except by virtue of a court judgment.”

On November 18, the Court of Cassation rejected the appeals of former presidential candidate and Strong Egypt Party leader Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, Strong Egypt Party deputy Mohamed el-Kassas, lawyer Mohamed Elbakr, activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, and others challenging their placement on the terrorism list for five years. Aboul Fotouh was placed on the terrorism list. On August 31, the State Security Prosecution referred Aboul Fotouh, el-Kassas, and others to criminal trial on charges of leading a terrorist group, financing a terrorist group, possessing weapons and ammunition, promoting the ideas of a terrorist group, and deliberately broadcasting false news, statements, and rumors at home and abroad. Aboul Fotouh and el-Kassas had reportedly been held in solitary confinement in pretrial detention since their 2018 arrests.

The Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, and the Islamist Building and Development Party, remained banned. Authorities did not ban other Islamist parties, including the Strong Egypt Party.

On June 19, local media reported that the Supreme Administrative Court refused to hear two lawsuits demanding the cessation of all activities of the Bread and Freedom Party and the Strong Egypt Party on the grounds that the leaders were members of banned groups.

The government does not broadcast or publish parliamentary sessions in the House of Representatives or Senate. On May 26, a local human rights organization filed a lawsuit challenging this as violating the constitution’s provisions on holding parliamentary sessions in public.

In September 2020 the National Election Authority disqualified Mohamed Anwar Sadat, head of the Reform and Development Party, from running in the 2020 House of Representatives elections, citing Sadat’s failure, as a military school graduate, to obtain approval from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to run in the election as required by law for active or retired military personnel before running in presidential, parliamentary, or local council elections. In October 2020 the Administrative Court rejected Sadat’s lawsuit to challenge the decision.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: The law requires that women receive at least 10 percent of Senate seats and 25 percent of House seats. Women held 40 seats in the 300-seat Senate (13 percent) and 148 seats in the 568-seat House of Representatives (26 percent).

No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Social and cultural barriers, however, limited women’s political participation and leadership in most political parties and some government institutions.

Eight women led cabinet ministries, including one Christian woman, and two women served as deputy ministers. There were two Christians (in Ismailia and Damietta Governorates) among the appointed governors of the 27 governorates. In 2018 authorities appointed Manal Awad Michael, a Christian woman, governor of Damietta. On June 2, President Sisi announced that for the first time, women could work at the State Council and the Public Prosecution starting on October 1. On June 14, the Administrative Prosecution Authority appointed two female chief administrative prosecutors (in Menoufia and Qena Governorates), which it stated brought to 24 the number of female chief administrative prosecutors appointed since June 2020. In December 2020 a female academic was appointed as deputy to the president of the Supreme Constitutional Court. In September 2020 the General Assembly of the Cairo Economic Court appointed for the first time a female judge as the head of civil division circuit of an appellate court. In 2018 the Supreme Judiciary Council promoted 16 female judges to higher courts, including the Qena Appeals Court. Legal experts stated there were approximately 66 female judges serving in family, criminal, economic, appeals, and misdemeanor courts; that total was less than 1 percent of judges. Several senior judges were Christian.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not consistently implement the law effectively. There were reports of government corruption during the year, sometimes with impunity.

Corruption: On April 7, the Cairo Criminal Court acquitted Ahmed Shafik, former prime minister and presidential candidate, Captain Tawfiq Mohamed Assi, former chair of EgyptAir Holding Company, and Ibrahim Manaa, former civil aviation minister, of misappropriation of public funds from 2002 to 2011, according to local media.

On April 13, the Control Authority referred former member of parliament Gamal al-Showeikh and 12 other defendants, including public officials, for prosecution on charges of accepting bribes to influence a real estate project in Cairo. Al-Showeikh was originally arrested in March 2020.

On November 8, the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Abdel Azim Hussein, former head of the tax authority, to 10 years in prison and a 674,000 EGP ($42,000) fine on corruption charges.

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

International and local human rights organizations stated the government continued to be uncooperative with their efforts to investigate alleged abuses of human rights. On September 11, the government launched a five-year National Human Rights Strategy that included a focus on jobs, health care, clean water, food, and affordable housing, and initiatives to enhance civil society and free expression. It also called for human rights training for police and prison officers, whistleblower protections, reforms to pretrial detention, increased government and civil society collaboration on human rights matters, and continued prison inspections by the National Council for Human Rights and civil society, to improve respect of human rights. Activists and NGOs cited a lack of details on timelines or implementation of the strategy, and a focus on quality-of-life topics and not freedom of expression and association.

The Supreme Standing Committee for Human Rights, chaired by the minister of foreign affairs as an intragovernmental body, developed the strategy over 18 months of consultations with government and civil society leaders. Domestic civil society organizations acknowledged the consultations, but some criticized them as insufficient. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that with an October meeting between it and 50 NGOs led by the Supreme Standing Committee for Human Rights, consultations had begun to implement the strategy and plans for the Year of Civil Society in 2022, announced concurrently with the strategy. The Awqaf and Social Solidarity Ministries created human rights units in September and November, respectively, and the Ministry of Local Development revised its human rights unit in October, all in response to the cabinet’s order that each ministry and governorate establish a human rights unit.

Extended delays in gaining government approvals and an unclear legal environment continued to limit the ability of domestic and international NGOs to operate. State-owned and independent media at times depicted NGOs, particularly international NGOs and domestic NGOs that received funding from international sources, as undertaking subversive activities. Some NGOs reported receiving visits or calls to staff, both at work and at home, from security service officers and tax officials monitoring their activities, as well as harassment.

Human rights defenders and political activists were also subjected to governmental and societal harassment and intimidation, including through travel bans (see section 2.d.).

Well established, independent domestic human rights NGOs struggled to operate as a result of pressure from security forces throughout the country. Online censorship (see section 2.a.) restricted the roles of internet activists and bloggers in publicizing information concerning human rights abuses. Authorities sometimes allowed civil society organizations not registered as NGOs to operate, but such organizations reported harassment, along with threats of government interference, investigation, asset freezes, or closure.

The government continued investigations into the receipt of foreign funding by several human rights organizations, dropping the cases against several organizations that had been charged originally while continuing cases against others (see section 2.b.). Major international human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, had not maintained offices in the country since 2014 due to security restrictions and lawsuits targeting their presence in the country.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: Authorities did not allow the International Committee of the Red Cross access to prisoners and detainees.

Government Human Rights Bodies: On December 29, President Sisi ratified the House of Representative’s October 4 announcement of a new 27-person National Council for Human Rights headed by Ambassador Moushira Khattab, former minister of family and population and the first woman to head the council. According to the National Council for Women (NCW), 44 percent of the new members were women. The quasi-governmental council is charged with monitoring the human rights situation, issuing reports and recommending legislation that improves human rights.

Other government human rights bodies included the Supreme Standing Committee for Human Rights; Justice Ministry General Department of Human Rights; Prosecutor General Human Rights Office; State Information Service Human Rights Unit; Ministry of Foreign Affairs Human Rights and International, Social, and Humanitarian Department; Ministry of Local Development Human Rights Unit; Ministry of Social Solidarity Human Rights Unit; Awqaf Ministry Human Rights Unit; and human rights units in each of the country’s governorates.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, prescribing penalties of 15 to 25 years’ imprisonment, or life imprisonment for cases of rape involving armed abduction. Spousal rape is not illegal. The government improved its enforcement of the law. Civil society organizations reported instances of police pressuring survivors not to pursue charges.

On April 11, the Cairo Criminal Court convicted Ahmed Bassam Zaki and sentenced him to eight years’ total imprisonment – seven years for sexual assault on three minor girls and one year for drug use. The court acquitted Zaki of violating the privacy of survivors, threatening survivors, and abusing social media and telecommunications. The Cairo Economic Court convicted Zaki in a separate case in December 2020 for misuse of social media and sexual assault and sentenced him to three years in prison with labor. On March 15, an appeals court heard Zaki’s appeal in this separate case, but a decision had not been reported by year’s end. Zaki’s July 2020 arrest, after more than 50 women accused him online of rape, sexual assault, and harassment dating back to 2016, gave rise to what media referred to as the country’s #MeToo movement.

On May 11, the Public Prosecution announced that none of the men it ordered arrested in 2020 for allegedly gang raping a woman at the Fairmont Nile City hotel in 2014 would be tried, due to a “lack of evidence,” and that it had released the men it detained in the case. Prosecutors pointed to a six-year lag between the incident and its being reported, the difficulty in identifying individuals based on photographs made available, the inability of the prosecution to access a video clip of the rape, and inconsistent and recanted testimony as factors that impaired efforts to bring the case to trial. In a separate rape case, the North Cairo Criminal Court on November 9 sentenced two of the defendants released in the Fairmont Nile City case to life in prison and a third to 15 years in prison. On August 10, the Shubra El-Kheima Criminal Court sentenced a doctor to seven years in prison for drugging and sexually assaulting a schoolteacher receiving treatment at his clinic.

Domestic violence was a significant problem. The law does not prohibit domestic violence or spousal abuse, but authorities may apply provisions relating to assault with accompanying penalties. The law requires that an assault survivor produce multiple eyewitnesses, a difficult condition for domestic abuse survivor. Police often treated domestic violence as a family matter rather than as a criminal matter.

The Interior Ministry includes a unit responsible for combating sexual and gender-based violence. The NCW was responsible for coordinating government and civil society efforts to empower women. In September the prime minister issued a decree to establish the country’s first integrated governorate-level units to serve survivors of violence. These units are mandated to coordinate and improve integrated survivor-centered services to women. An NCW study found that approximately 1.5 million women reported domestic violence each year. According to NCW and UNICEF data, the COVID-19 pandemic increased the risks of violence and economic hardships for women.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is illegal, and the government strengthened legislation banning the practice, but it remained a serious problem. Although declining, FGM/C continued to be widely practiced. The prevalence, however, was reportedly much higher among older age groups. Type 3 FGM/C (infibulation) was more prevalent in the South (Aswan and Nubia), and in some cases was associated with difficulty in giving birth, obstructed labor, and higher rates of neonatal mortality. The government enlisted the support of religious leaders to combat cultural acceptance of FGM/C and encourage family planning. According to international and local observers, the government took steps to enforce the FGM/C law. In 2019 the government formed a national task force to end FGM/C, led by the National Council for Women and the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood.

On April 28, President Sisi ratified amendments to the penal code that increase FGM/C minimum sentences from one to 15 years to five to 20 years in prison, removed the “medical exception” in the law, introduced bans for medical providers and medical institutions from providing medical services for a period after involvement in the crime, and extended criminal liability to anyone supporting the crime, including family members of the survivor. On March 28, a local human rights organization said the extended criminal liability to anyone involved in the crime could inhibit some survivors and family members from reporting the crime due to fear their relatives might be arrested.

According to local media reports, authorities arrested a father and a retired nurse on February 2 after they allegedly conducted FGM/C on a 15-year-old girl at her home in a poor district in Qalyoubia Governorate. The father took his daughter, who suffered severe complications, to a nearby hospital, where the attending physician reported the incident to the Public Prosecution, resulting in the two arrests. National Council for Women head Maya Morsi praised the quick action of authorities and called on parliament to quickly pass draft legislation (formally introduced on January 24 and ratified April 28), to sharpen the FGM/C penalties.

On September 25, using the new FGM/C law, a criminal court sentenced a nurse to 10 years in prison, the longest sentence ever given in the country for FGM/C. In the same case, the court also sentenced the father to three years in prison for subjecting his eight-year-old daughter to FGM/C.

On October 13, the Public Prosecution detained a doctor who reportedly performed FGM/C operations in Beni Suef pending investigation and released the mother of an FGM/C survivor on bail.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law allows leniency towards men who kill their wives upon discovering them in an act of adultery. The law does not specifically address “honor” crimes, which authorities treated as any other crime. In January a local NGO said there were at least 14 “honor killings” in the country in 2020. In March local media reported that the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced a man to five years in prison for killing his sister because he believed she committed “inappropriate” and “suspicious” acts. On May 9, a court in Abbasiya sentenced three defendants to 10 years in prison for the death of a female doctor who was thrown to her death from the balcony in her Cairo apartment after she invited a man to her apartment. On November 17, an Assiut criminal court sentenced a man to three years in prison for killing his mother after a video reportedly showed her in an “immoral relationship” with another person.

Sexual Harassment: While the government took several steps to prevent sexual harassment, it remained a serious problem. On August 18, the president ratified amendments to the penal code that upgrade sexual harassment to a felony offense, increase minimum sentences to two to seven years in prison (up from six months to five years), increase minimum fines, and add a provision that repeat offenders may face double the prison time. On October 17, under the new amendments, a misdemeanor court sentenced a young man accused of harassing a girl at a Cairo Metro station to three years and six months in prison.

Media and NGOs reported that sexual harassment by police was also a problem and that the potential for further harassment, lengthy legal procedures, and lack of survivor protections further discouraged women from filing complaints. On November 9, the North Cairo Criminal Court sentenced physician Michael Fahmy to life imprisonment for forcibly molesting six girls inside his clinic. The court acquitted his wife. Charges against the two included the kidnapping of six girls by luring them to his residence and a private clinic and making them believe that they needed “special treatment and examination.” Some survivors spoke out regarding harassment on social media in September 2020.

On July 15, the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced dentist Bassem Samir to 16 years in prison for sexual harassment and misconduct against male patients and visitors to his clinic, including actor Abbas Aboul Hassan and singer Tameem Youness.

On October 31, the Mansoura Economic Misdemeanors Court convicted two lawyers for defamation of and threats against the survivor of mass harassment in Mit Ghamr in December 2020. One lawyer was sentenced to two years in prison and a fine, and the other lawyer to six months in prison and a fine. Media reported the two lawyers published videos and personal photographs of the survivor with the aim of threatening her to change her statements against their clients, who were accused of sexual assault but acquitted by the Mansoura Criminal Court on March 21 on a procedural error. On March 23, local media quoted the survivor saying during the trial that she was threatened with murder, maiming, and rape. The prosecution appealed the verdict on May 17 that acquitted the seven defendants.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. There were no reports regarding the ability of vulnerable populations (individuals with disabilities, members of minorities, etc.) to provide informed consent to medical treatment affecting reproductive health, including for sterilization.

The Ministry of Health and Population distributed contraception and assigned personnel to attend births, offer postpartum care to mothers and children, and provide treatment for sexually transmitted diseases at minimal or no cost. The government also did not restrict family-planning decisions. Gender norms and social, cultural, economic, and religious barriers inhibited some women’s ability to make reproductive decisions and to access contraceptives. Some women lacked access to information on reproductive health, and the limited availability of female health-care providers reduced access to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth, in view of the preference many women had for female health-care providers for social and religious reasons.

There was limited information on government assistance to survivors of sexual assault, including whether emergency contraception was available as part of clinical management of rape.

Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal rights for male and female citizens. While the government took steps to improve their situation, women did not enjoy the same legal rights and opportunities as men, and discrimination was widespread. Aspects of the law and traditional societal practices disadvantaged women in family, social, and economic life.

Women faced widespread societal discrimination, threats to their physical security, and workplace bias in favor of men, thus hindering women’s social and economic advancement.

Laws affecting marriage and personal status generally corresponded to an individual’s religious group. A female Muslim citizen cannot legally marry a non-Muslim man. If she were to do so, authorities could charge her with adultery and consider her children illegitimate. Under the government’s interpretation of Islamic law, any children from such a marriage could be placed in the custody of a male Muslim guardian. Khula (divorce) allows a Muslim woman to obtain a divorce without her husband’s consent, provided she forgoes all her financial rights, including alimony, dowry, and other benefits. The Coptic Orthodox Church permits divorce only in rare circumstances, such as adultery or conversion of one spouse to another religion. Other Christian churches permitted divorce on a case-by-case basis.

On January 3, the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that the penal code unconstitutionally discriminates against women by stipulating longer prison terms for adultery for women, in hearing the appeal of a women sentenced to two years in prison for adultery.

The law follows sharia in matters of inheritance; therefore, a Muslim female heir generally receives one-half the amount of a male heir’s inheritance, and Christian widows of Muslims have no inheritance rights. A sole Muslim female heir receives one-half her parents’ estate, and the balance goes to the siblings of the parents or the children of the siblings if the siblings are deceased. A sole male heir inherits his parents’ entire estate.

In marriage and divorce cases, a woman’s testimony must be judged credible to be admissible. Usually, the woman accomplishes credibility by conveying her testimony through an adult male relative or representative. The law assumes a man’s testimony is credible unless proven otherwise.

In a June 2 meeting with top judicial figures, President Sisi announced that for the first time in the country’s history women would be allowed to work at the State Council and the Public Prosecution, starting on October 1. He also announced that the State Lawsuits Authority would be required to state a reason for rejecting any judicial applicants, and that personnel of the same rank in the State Council, Administrative Prosecution, State Lawsuits Authority, and judiciary would receive the same financial entitlements, including equal wages. A local NGO said in a Facebook statement on August 22 that the Supreme Judicial Council approved the prosecutor general’s request to transfer 11 female judges, including one Copt, to work in the Public Prosecution for the judicial year from September until September 2022.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution states all citizens “are equal in rights, freedoms, and general duties without discrimination based on religion, belief, gender, origin, race, color, language, disability, social class, political or geographic affiliation, or any other reason.” It does not specify age, citizenship, sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV-positive or other communicable disease status. The main groups facing racial or ethnic violence and discrimination included Nubians and Bedouins.

Nubians are indigenous to northern Sudan and the south of the country. Population estimates for this ethnolinguistic group ranged from 100,000, according to a government census in the early 1960s, to approximately four million in other estimates.

Although positive steps regarding compensation reportedly were made for the damage Nubians suffered because of the building of the Aswan Low Dam in 1902 and later the construction of the Aswan High Dam, completed in 1971, no land return had occurred as of year’s end.

During the year the government provided compensation to a limited number of Nubians (11,500 according to government estimates). Nubian activists complained compensation was disbursed only to those who provided documents proving their properties had been destroyed.

Conflict and war in the Sinai Peninsula over decades contributed to the disruption of the lives of Bedouin there.

The country also hosted approximately 6.3 million migrants, according to 2020 estimates from the International Organization for Migration. More than half of the migrants were from Sudan and South Sudan, where conflicts continued to displace tens of thousands of persons annually. Migrants reported incidents of racial insults and sexual harassment due to their skin color.

In October 2020 the killing of a 12-year-old Sudanese boy, Mohamed Hassan, by a local man led to large protests, which security forces dispersed using tear gas and a water cannon and reportedly arrested 70 Sudanese refugees and migrants. The local man was later arrested and convicted of murdering the boy.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship through their parents. The mother or the father transmits citizenship and nationality. The government attempted to register all births soon after delivery, but some citizens in remote and tribal areas such as the Sinai Peninsula registered births late or could not document their citizenship. In some cases failure to register resulted in denial of public services, particularly in urban areas where most services required presentation of a national identification card.

On March 29, local media reported that a mother was pursuing a paternity lawsuit she filed in July 2020 to receive a birth certificate for her daughter conceived through rape. The report added that the woman needed to file a lawsuit, since the law requires the names of both biological parents and the biological father had refused to acknowledge his paternity.

On June 19, the Supreme Administrative Court in Alexandria issued a final verdict ruling that a wife has the right to obtain a birth certificate for her child without the husband’s presence if she submits an official marriage contract and her husband’s data. The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by a woman whose husband claimed that evidence for the birth certificate could only come from him.

Education: Education is compulsory, free, and universal until the ninth grade. The law provides this benefit to stateless persons and refugees. Public schools enrolled Syrian, Yemeni, Sudanese, and South Sudanese refugees. Refugees of other nationalities often chose not to attend public schools because of administrative barriers, discrimination and bullying, and preferences for English-language instruction or for other curricula.

Child Abuse: The constitution stipulates the government shall protect children from all forms of violence, abuse, mistreatment, and commercial and sexual exploitation. According to a local rights group, authorities recorded hundreds of cases of alleged child abuse each month. The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, which operated a telephone hotline, worked on child abuse matters, and several civil society organizations assisted runaway and abandoned children.

Rights organizations reported children faced mistreatment in detention, including torture, sharing cells with adults, denial of their right to counsel, and authorities’ failure to notify their families. Media reported that six detained children died and 19 were seriously injured in a fire that broke out on June 3 during a fight between detained minors inside a juvenile detention center in Cairo Governorate. Local media reported that on June 7, the Public Prosecution ordered the detention pending investigation of four members of the center’s management, who were later sentenced by a lower court and then acquitted by an appellate court on December 27.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18. A government study published in March 2020 reported that 2.5 percent of the population in Upper Egypt governorates were married between the ages of 15 and 17, and the percentage of girls in that age group who had previously been married exceeded that of boys. Informal marriages could lead to contested paternity and leave female minors without alimony and other claims available to women with registered marriages. Families reportedly sometimes forced adolescent girls to marry wealthy foreign men in what were known locally as “tourism” or “summer” marriages for the purpose of sexual exploitation, prostitution, or forced labor. According to the law, a foreign man who wants to marry a local woman more than 25 years younger than he must pay her 50,000 EGP ($3,030). Women’s rights organizations argued that allowing foreign men to pay a fine to marry much younger women represented a form of trafficking and encouragement of child marriage. They called on the government to eliminate the system.

The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood and governorate child protection units identified several attempted child marriages. In an April 4 statement, the council said it had identified an attempt by parents to marry their daughter, age 15, in Minya Governorate based on an April 3 citizen notification to the council’s hotline. The statement added that the girl’s parents had subsequently signed an affidavit with the girl’s fiance promising to not complete the marriage until the girl was 18 and agreeing to periodic government-led counseling sessions regarding the negative effects of child marriage and verification that the marriage would not be completed before the promised date.

On May 8 and August 10, local media reported that the Dar al-Salam child protection unit in Sohag Governorate identified a total of 11 attempts by several parents to marry their minor children, several reported through the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood hotline. The reports added that the parents of the minors subsequently signed affidavits agreeing to not complete the marriages until the minors reached the age of 18.

On March 10, the child protection unit at the Akhmeem Center in Sohag announced it had stopped a marriage of a minor in the village of al-Sawamah Sharq after receiving a report that a person was preparing to marry off his 16-year-old sister.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides for sentences of not less than five years’ imprisonment and fines for conviction of commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. The government did not adequately enforce the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is age 18.

On May 24, the Giza Criminal Court sentenced four defendants to prison for the May 2020 sexual assault against Tik Tok influencer Menna Abdel Aziz, a minor. The first defendant was sentenced to 11 years in prison for rape under threat, kidnapping with fraud and coercion, drug use, and breaking the COVID-19 curfew. The second defendant was sentenced to nine years in prison for indecent assault by force and threat, possession of a weapon, beating the survivor, theft, drug possession, and violating the COVID-19 curfew. The third defendant was sentenced to eight years in prison for indecent assault, violating the survivor’s privacy by publishing a video without her consent, beating the survivor, theft, and drug possession. The fourth defendant was sentenced to four years in prison for theft and drug possession. On May 24, a local human rights organization said that the Public Prosecution should have protected Abdel Aziz from the beginning instead of arresting and detaining her for 114 days after the May 2020 incident, when Abdel Aziz claimed in a social media video that an acquaintance and others had sexually assaulted her.

On April 27, a Cairo criminal court sentenced a man to 10 years in prison for sexually assaulting a minor girl in Maadi. According to local media, the man lured the girl, who was selling tissues in the street in Maadi, into a residential building where he committed the crime.

Displaced Children: The Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics estimated in 2014 there were 16,000 homeless children in the country living in the streets. More recent data was not available, but experts estimated that up to two million children were on the streets. The ministry offered shelters to street children, but many chose not to use them because staff reportedly treated the children as if they were criminals, according to local rights groups. According to rights groups, the incidence of violence, prostitution, and drug dealing in these shelters was high. Religious institutions and NGOs provided services for street children, including meals, clothing, and literacy classes. The Ministry of Health and Population provided mobile health clinics staffed by nurses and social workers. The Ministry of Social Solidarity also provided 17 mobile units in 10 governorates that offered emergency services, including food and health care, to street children. The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood in cooperation with UN Office on Drugs and Crime implemented targeted interventions to reduce drug abuse by displaced children by training social workers and police officers on problem identification and treatment options. The program also worked to shift the perception of displaced children by authorities and service providers from criminals to survivors.

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

Anti-Semitism

The country’s Jewish community reportedly numbered as few as 10 individuals.

On March 9, the Jerusalem Post reported that the Ministry of Education approved a school subject that allows children to study verses from Jewish scripture.

On June 22, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said that school textbooks contained both positive and negative information regarding Jews. There were also isolated reports of anti-Semitic comments and examination questions in classrooms. The ADL also reported that a broad array of anti-Semitic books was displayed by exhibitors at the annual, state-run Cairo International Book Fair.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Organ Harvesting

The government’s interagency National Coordinating Committee for Preventing and Combating Illegal Migration and Trafficking in Persons reported that between April 2020 and March 31 the Interior Ministry processed eight criminal cases for organ trafficking with 29 defendants and 39 victims.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution states persons with disabilities are equal without discrimination before the law. The law prohibits discrimination in education, employment, health, political activity, rehabilitation, training, and legal protection. On December 23, President Sisi ratified new amendments to the law that stipulate a prison sentence of no less than two years, a fine, or both for bullying persons with disabilities, with prison terms and fines doubled for repeat offenders. Persons with disabilities do not have access on an equal basis with others to education, health services, public buildings and transportation. The new National Human Rights Strategy included a section on the rights for persons with disabilities. The strategy calls for helping persons with disabilities enjoy all rights under the law and calls for increased medical and educational services for persons with disabilities.

The law provides for persons with disabilities to gain access to vocational training and employment. Government policy sets a quota for employing 5 percent of workers with disabilities for companies with more than 50 employees. Authorities did not enforce the quota requirement, and companies often had persons with disabilities on their payroll to meet the quota without employing them. Government-operated treatment centers for persons with disabilities, especially children, were of poor quality.

The National Council for People with Disabilities, an independent body, aimed to promote, develop, and protect the rights of persons with disabilities and their constitutional dignity. The council signed a cooperation protocol with the Justice Ministry to address the rights of persons with disabilities and to train employees in the government on how to help persons with hearing disabilities.

Persons with disabilities rode government-owned mass transit buses without charge, but the buses were not wheelchair accessible. Persons with disabilities received subsidies to purchase household products, wheelchairs, and prosthetic devices. Some children with disabilities attended schools with their nondisabled peers while others attended segregated schools. Some of the segregated institutions were informal schools run by NGOs. Some parents of children with disabilities complained on social media of the lack of experience of teacher assistants assigned to help their children.

On May 5, local media reported that EgyptAir announced a 20 percent discount for passengers with disabilities on international flights and a 10 percent discount to their flight companions.

On May 11, local media reported that the National Telecom Regulatory Authority announced a 50 percent discount for customers with disabilities on their monthly voice and internet packages.

On August 29, local media reported that the minister of social solidarity announced the addition of sign language to the state-run digital platform to raise awareness for youth regarding marriage.

On September 3 and November 16, the UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders issued official statements of concern regarding the continued pretrial detention of university student Oqaba Alaa Labib Hashad, who she said was unable to walk without his prosthetic limb. The November 16 statement reported Hashad was arrested in 2019 and was allegedly subjected to physical and psychological torture, including being suspended from a ceiling and subjected to electric shocks. The statement said that a prison investigator reportedly took Hashad’s prosthetic leg in January in retaliation for a human rights report his exiled brother had published. The statement added that Hashad was held in solitary confinement without family visits for three months after he complained on March 5 of the lack of his prosthetic leg.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

HIV-positive individuals faced significant social stigma and discrimination in society and the workplace. The health-care system provided anonymous counseling and testing for HIV, free adult and pediatric antiretroviral therapy, and support groups.

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

While the law does not explicitly criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons were arrested and prosecuted on charges such as “debauchery,” “prostitution,” and “violating family values,” for which the law provides for prison sentences of up to 10 years. According to a local rights group, there were more than 250 reports of such arrests since 2013. Rights groups and activists reported harassment by police, including physical assault and forced payment of bribes to provide information concerning other LGBTQI+ individuals or to avoid arrest. There were reports that authorities used social media, dating websites, and mobile phone apps to entrap persons they suspected of being gay or transgender, a method LGBTQI+ advocates described as especially effective since LGBTQI+-friendly public spaces had largely closed in recent years. Rights groups reported that authorities, including the Forensic Medical Authority, conducted forced anal examinations, which rights groups indicated primarily targeted LGBTQI+ individuals. The law allows for conducting forced anal exams in cases of “debauchery.”

Authorities did not use antidiscrimination laws to protect LGBTQI+ individuals. Legal discrimination and social stigma impeded LGBTQI+ persons from organizing or advocating publicly in defense of their rights. Information was not available on discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination. There were reports of arrests and harassment of LGBTQI+ individuals. Intimidation and the risk of arrest greatly restricted open reporting and contributed to self-censorship. The government has the authority to deport or bar entry to the country of LGBTQI+ foreigners.

The Egyptian Medical Syndicate allows for gender-affirming treatment with approval by a special committee composed of medical doctors and al-Azhar clergy, according to international media citing a local LGBTQI+ activist on February 6. The committee relies on a fatwa that stipulates gender affirming treatment must be “medically necessary” and justified by a “biological,” not a “mental” matter. According to Human Rights Watch, the surgery was allowed only for intersex persons, which left transgender individuals to seek treatment from unregulated and often unsafe clinics. On August 26, according to Human Rights Watch, Ezz Eldin, a 26-year-old transgender man, bled to death following surgery in an underground clinic.

On May 6, border guards prevented two transgender Israelis from entering Sinai for tourism because they did not appear to belong to the sex listed in their passports.

According to a LGBTQI+ rights organization 2020 annual report issued in January, authorities arrested 25 LGBTQI+ individuals in 2020 and conducted forced anal exams on six persons.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and strike, but it imposes significant restrictions. The constitution provides for freedom of association. The law prescribes union elections every four years and imposes a strict hierarchy for union formation consisting of a company-level trade union committee, a profession or industry-level general union, and a national-level union. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws or levy penalties commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. However, penalties for engaging in illegal strikes were more stringent. The law requires centralized tripartite negotiations that include workers, represented by a union affiliated with the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (Union Federation), business owners, and the Ministry of Manpower overseeing and monitoring negotiations and agreements. The government seldom followed the requirement for tripartite negotiations in collective disputes, leaving workers to negotiate directly with employers, typically after resorting to a strike. In March 2020 workers from al-Masryia Company for Weaving and Textile struck for alleged unpaid raises and bonuses. Media reported in late December 2020 that management and worker representatives reached an agreement on compensation and back pay without the participation of the Ministry of Manpower.

The constitution provides for the right to “peaceful” strikes, and the law permits them but imposes significant restrictions, including prior approval by a general trade union affiliated with the Union Federation. In April the International Labor Organization (ILO) removed the country from the preliminary list of cases for discussion by the ILO Committee on the Application of Standards, which discusses discrepancies between a country’s law and practice and ILO conventions the country has ratified.

In July more than 1,200 workers at the Nile Linen Group, based in Alexandria’s special economic zone, went on strike concerning the company’s refusal to implement agreed-upon wage increases and add workers’ family members to company health insurance policies. Four days later, local media reported that the Nile Linen Group’s union committee reached an agreement with management regarding certain aspects of the wage dispute and agreed to resume negotiations on the remaining demands.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. In March the head of the union at the Alexandria Spinning and Weaving Company, Ashraf Abdel Moneim, alleged that the company had transferred seven committee members to new positions in retaliation for the workers’ refusal to implement the company’s decision to stop production and dismiss workers. According to media reports, Lord International Company terminated 84 workers in August following strikes by approximately 2,000 workers demanding that the company comply with the country’s minimum wage laws.

The Ministry of Manpower and affiliated directorates did not allow trade unions to adopt any bylaws other than those provided in the law. This position, according to local workers’ rights organizations, was contrary to the law, which states that unions may use the statutory bylaws as guidance to develop their own.

The government occasionally arrested workers who staged strikes or criticized the government, and it rarely reversed arbitrary dismissals. On January 22, local media reported that the government released two doctors arrested in 2020 for posting comments to Facebook critical of the government’s coronavirus response. Labor union activist Khalil Rizk was released on May 21 pending trial on charges of spreading false news, misuse of social media, and membership in a banned group. Authorities had first arrested Rizk in 2019 while he was advocating for workers in a pharmaceutical factory engaged in a dispute with management concerning wages.

In March the Ministry of Manpower announced, without stating when, that it had previously established a trade union grievance committee to examine complaints submitted by trade union organizations and provide unions with technical assistance in meeting regulatory requirements.

Independent unions continued to face pressure to dissolve. In many cases the Ministry of Manpower delayed responding to unions’ applications for legal status, leaving many in legal limbo. In other instances the Ministry of Manpower refused to legalize proposed unions if a Union Federation-affiliated counterpart existed.

Workers sometimes staged sit-ins on government and private property, often without obtaining the necessary permits. In July the Court of Cassation ruled that prison sentences for organizing protests without permits would apply to protest organizers and participants.

For a period of 12 months ending in August, a monthly 1 percent deduction was made from the net income of all public-sector employees and 0.5 percent of the net income of pensioners to fund efforts to address the economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution states no work may be compulsory except by virtue of a law. The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government did not effectively enforce the prohibition. The government conducted awareness-raising activities for migrant laborers, and domestic workers, a population vulnerable to trafficking, and worked with NGOs to provide some assistance to survivors of human trafficking, including forced labor. Penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit or criminalize all the worst forms of child labor or provide sufficient protection for children from exploitation in the workplace, including limitations on working hours, and occupational safety and health restrictions.  Children were subjected to the worst forms of child labor, including in commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as a result of human trafficking, quarrying limestone, and organized begging.  The law sets the minimum age for regular employment at age 15 and at age 13 for seasonal employment.  The constitution defines a child as anyone younger than 18.  A Ministry of Manpower decree bars children younger than 18 from 44 specific hazardous occupations, while the law prohibits employment of children younger than 18 from work that “puts the health, safety, or morals of the child into danger.”  Provincial governors, with the approval of the minister of education, may authorize seasonal work (often agricultural) for children age 13 and older, provided duties are not hazardous and do not interfere with schooling.  The law limits children’s work hours and mandates breaks.

The government did not effectively enforce child labor laws.  The maximum penalties for violating laws against child labor were fines and therefore not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.  The Ministry of Manpower, in coordination with the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood and the Interior Ministry, enforced child labor laws in state-owned enterprises and private-sector establishments through inspections and supervision of factory management.  Labor inspectors generally operated without adequate training on child labor matters, although the Ministry of Manpower offered some child labor-specific training.  The government did not inspect noncommercial farms for child labor, and there were very limited monitoring and enforcement mechanisms for children in domestic service.  Authorities implemented several social, educational, and poverty reduction programs to reduce children’s vulnerability to exploitative labor.  The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, working with the Ministries of Education and Technical Education and of Social Solidarity, sought to provide working children with social security safeguards and to reduce school dropout rates by providing families with alternative sources of income.

Estimates on the number of child laborers varied. According to the 2012 joint International Labor Organization and Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics child labor survey, of the 1.8 million children working, 1.6 million were engaged in hazardous or unlawful forms of labor, primarily in the agricultural sector in rural areas but also in domestic work and factories in urban areas, often under hazardous conditions. Children also worked in light industry, the aluminum industry, limestone production, construction sites, brick production, and service businesses such as auto repair. According to government, NGO, and media reports, the number of street children in Cairo continued to increase due to deteriorating economic conditions. Such children were at greater risk of sexual exploitation or forced begging. In some cases employers abused or overworked children.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution states all citizens “are equal in rights, freedoms, and general duties without discrimination based on religion, belief, gender, origin, race, color, language, disability, social class, political or geographic affiliation, or any other reason.” It does not specify age, citizenship, sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV-positive or other communicable disease status. The law does not specifically protect some categories of workers, including agricultural and domestic workers, and other sectors of the informal economy. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

No law grants or prohibits refugees the right to work. Those seeking employment were hampered by lack of jobs and societal discrimination, particularly against Sudanese and other sub-Saharan Africans. Refugees who found work took low-paying jobs in the informal market, such as domestic servants, and were vulnerable to exploitation by employers.

Labor laws provide for equal rates of pay for equal work for men and women in the public but not the private sector. Educated women had employment opportunities, but social pressure against women pursuing a career was strong. On April 19, the Ministry of Manpower issued new labor regulations that removed gender-based restrictions preventing women from working in the evenings and performing jobs related to manufacturing spirits, fireworks, fertilizers, pesticides, asphalt, painting metals, radioactive substances, and moving machines. The new regulations require employers to provide women safe transportation and working conditions at night and grant women the right to perform any job function except in fields with chemical, physical, biological, and engineering risks during pregnancy and lactation periods.

Large sectors of the economy controlled by the military excluded women from high-level positions. While the law provides for persons with disabilities to gain access to vocational training and employment, the government did not effectively enforce prohibitions against such discrimination. Discrimination also occurred against women and migrant workers (see sections 2.d. and 6), as well as workers based on their political views.

An employee facing discrimination may file a report with the local government labor office. If the employee and the employer are unable to reach an amicable settlement, they may file their claim in administrative court, which may order the employer to redress the complaint or to pay damages or legal fees. According to local rights groups, implementation of the law was inadequate. Additionally, the lengthy and expensive litigation process could deter employees from filing claims. On January 21, the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development announced the creation of an Equal Opportunities Unit to prevent discrimination and promote gender equity and inclusiveness in the ministry. On July 3, the Supreme Administrative Court reversed a decision by the Health Insurance Board to terminate a female worker for being sexually harassed in the street. The board had previously said the employee’s termination was necessary since she would be “offensive to her colleagues” as a woman who had been sexually harassed.

Local rights groups reported several cases of employers dismissing workers or depriving them from work for expressing antigovernment opinions. On August 1, President Sisi ratified new amendments to the civil service law that authorize the government to summarily dismiss public employees who commit certain acts against the state. The minister of transportation had asked parliament to pass such a law to enable the ministry to terminate 162 employees, whom the minister claimed were members of the Muslim Brotherhood and had contributed to several railway crashes. According to progovernment media reports, the Supreme Council for Universities tasked university presidents on July 26 with compiling a list of “terrorist employees” to terminate pursuant to the new law. The law allows employees to appeal termination decisions to the Administrative Court and protects the pension and severance pay of terminated individuals.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The government sets a monthly minimum wage for government employees and public-sector workers, which is above the poverty line. The law stipulates a maximum 48-hour workweek for the public and private sectors and provides for premium pay for overtime and work on rest days and national holidays. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. According to labor rights organizations, the government implemented the minimum wage for public-sector workers but applied it only to direct government employees and included benefits and bonuses in calculating total salaries. For government employees and public business-sector workers, the government also set a maximum wage limit per month. The government sets worker health and safety standards, for example, by prohibiting employers from maintaining hazardous working conditions. The law excludes agricultural, fisheries, and domestic workers from regulations concerning wages, hours, and working conditions.

The law does not require equal pay for equal work. Penalties for violating laws on acceptable conditions of work were not commensurate with crimes such as fraud, which are punishable by imprisonment.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health standards were not always appropriate for the main industries, such as agriculture, manufacturing, and services. The Ministry of Manpower is responsible for enforcing labor laws and standards for working conditions. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for violations included imprisonment and fines, but they were not effectively enforced. It was unclear whether such penalties were commensurate with laws such as negligence. Labor inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to employment, although authorities did not reliably enforce this right. Little information was available on workplace fatalities and accidents. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with occupational safety and health experts and the employer and not the worker.

On November 10, the medical syndicate announced that approximately 633 doctors had died of COVID-19 since March 2020. According to media reports, laborers in some remote areas worked in extremely dangerous environments. In March, 20 persons were killed (and 24 others injured) when a fire broke out in a garment factory north of Cairo. In the following month, approximately eight individuals died (with two others injured) when a 10-story building housing a garment factory collapsed. On August 14, five persons were killed in an oil refining plant in the Abu Rawash Industrial Zone. Local media reported the arrest of the plant owners by authorities following an investigation, which revealed that the plant had been operating unlicensed and illegally for four years. In North Sinai workers’ movements were restricted by local government-established curfews and checkpoints run by both the military and nonstate armed groups in the area due to the military’s campaign against militants.

The government provided services, such as free health care, to all citizens, but the quality of services was often poor. Other benefits, such as social insurance, were available only to employees in the formal sector. Many private-sector employers reportedly required workers to sign undated resignation letters as a condition of employment, which the employers could use to terminate employees at will. On June 18, the minister of manpower utilized an emergency fund created to pay workers’ wages in the event of economic hardship to assist 257 workers of the Egyptian Company for Modern Food Industries.

Informal Sector: The Ministry of Manpower did not attempt to apply labor standards to the informal sector. Many persons throughout the country faced poor working conditions, especially in the informal economy, which employed up to 40 percent of workers, according to some estimates. According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, approximately 11.9 million of the 25.7 million workers in the labor force did not have formal contracts with employers and were categorized as “informal” workers. Obstacles to improving working conditions in both the private sector and informal sector included uneven application or lack of regulations and restrictions on engaging in peaceful protests as a means of negotiating resolutions to workplace disparities. Domestic workers, agricultural workers, workers in rock quarries, and other parts of the informal sector were most likely to face hazardous or exploitative conditions. There were reports of employer abuse of citizen and undocumented foreign workers, especially domestic workers, particularly Sudanese and other sub-Saharan Africans.

El Salvador

Executive Summary

El Salvador is a constitutional multiparty republic with a democratically elected government. In 2019 voters elected Nayib Bukele as president for a five-year term. The election was generally free and fair, according to international observers. Municipal and legislative elections took place on February 28 and were largely free and fair.

The National Civilian Police, overseen by the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, is responsible for maintaining public security. The Ministry of Defense is responsible for maintaining national security. Although the constitution separates public security and military functions, it allows the president to use the armed forces “in exceptional circumstances” to maintain internal peace and public security “when all other measures have been exhausted.” The military is responsible for securing international borders and conducting joint patrols with the civilian police. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful killings of suspected gang members and others by security forces; forced disappearances by military personnel; torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists and censorship; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; serious acts of government corruption; lack of consistent investigation and accountability for gender-based violence; significant barriers to accessing reproductive health; and crimes involving violence by security forces against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex individuals.

Impunity persisted in the security forces, executive branch, and justice system. In some cases authorities investigated and prosecuted persons accused of committing crimes and human rights abuses. Impunity for official corruption remained endemic.

Organized criminal elements, including local and transnational gangs and narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of violent crimes. They committed killings and acts of extortion, kidnapping, human trafficking, intimidation, and other threats and violence. They directed these acts against police, judicial authorities, the business community, journalists, women, and members of vulnerable populations.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed politically motivated killings. There were reports, however, of security force involvement in extrajudicial killings of suspected gang members. As of October 25, the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDDH) was investigating seven cases of extrajudicial killings, six attributed to the members of the National Civilian Police (PNC) and one to the armed forces.

On January 31, PNC officers arrested three men on charges of double homicide after they killed two supporters of opposition party Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) following a soccer match. The three perpetrators worked for the Ministry of Health. President Bukele tweeted that the attack was a plot hatched by his political rivals to damage his Nuevas Ideas party’s chances in the February 28 legislative and municipal elections, but there was no evidence of a plot.

On July 19, PNC officers in Guacotecti, Cabanas Department, killed two brothers suspected of being members of transnational gang MS-13. According to relatives, PNC officers arrived at the house to arrest the two brothers who had outstanding warrants, and the brothers fled with rifles when they saw the police officers. The victims’ father said his two sons previously received threats from police, claiming the PNC officers planned the shooting and told him, “We are going to kill your children.”

The First Justice of the Peace of Santa Tecla, La Libertad Department, ordered the provisional arrest of four soldiers for the aggravated homicide of a 30-year-old engineer on August 12. The soldiers from the Apolo Task Force claimed the victim attacked them with a firearm from his vehicle and that the soldiers returned fire. The Scientific Technical Police found no firearms or bullet casings in the vehicle, and the victim’s hands did not have traces of gunpowder.

On February 7, the First Trial Court of Santa Tecla convicted three PNC officers of aggravated homicide and sentenced each of them to 25 years in prison for the 2017 extrajudicial killings of three persons in San Jose Villanueva, La Libertad Department. The PNC officers claimed they received information that the three persons in the vehicle were armed gang members, but the prosecutor showed that the PNC officers intercepted the vehicle and shot the victims without confrontation.

b. Disappearance

Media reports alleged that security and law enforcement officials were involved in unlawful disappearances. According to reports, the PNC recorded 989 disappearances between January 1 and June 29, an increase from the same period in 2020 when the PNC tracked 728 cases. The PNC reported that 545 of those reported missing were later found alive and 51 found dead. Minister of Justice and Public Security Gustavo Villatoro explained that many disappeared persons were victims of homicide, as criminals hid the bodies of their victims to avoid charges of homicide.

On April 7, the Foundation for Studies for the Application of Law released a study stating that the illegal practice of disappearing a person was no longer exclusive to gangs and that police, soldiers, and extermination groups viewed unlawful disappearances as a low-cost, effective way of resolving conflicts. According to a Human Rights Observatory of the Central American University (OUDH) report published in September, extermination groups operated with police, military, and civilian members, simulating legal actions such as searches, raids, and police operations in addition to illegal actions such as arbitrary detentions and killings. The report also noted that between 2015 and 2020, the Attorney General’s Office identified approximately 15 extermination groups in the country.

On May 31, Minister of Justice and Public Security Gustavo Villatoro criticized families who posted photographs of their missing relatives on social media accounts and asked them instead to file a formal complaint with the PNC or the Attorney General’s Office. Villatoro accused the families of psychologically damaging their missing children who eventually are found and stated most persons leave their families because they want to leave their life partner or because they did not get enough attention at home.

On June 1, the daily newspaper El Diario de Hoy reported that the Attorney General’s Office stopped the regular practice of publishing the photographs and information of missing persons following the arrival of the new attorney general, Rodolfo Delgado, on May 1. The Attorney General’s Office recorded more missing persons (5,381) than homicides (2,940) during the first two years of the Bukele administration, with most of the victims disappeared in areas with a high presence of gangs.

The Attorney General’s Office reported 66 minors as missing in the first 10 months of the year, 15 boys and 51 girls. All cases were under investigation.

On December 1, the daily newspaper La Prensa Grafica reported the findings from a study by the OUDH showing that between June 2019 and June 2021, only four cases of missing persons ended in a conviction. This number represented well less than 1 percent of the total cases of missing persons initiated by the Prosecutor’s Office.

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

The law prohibits such practices, but there were reports of violations. As of August 31, the PDDH had received 13 complaints of torture or cruel or inhuman treatment by the PNC and one by the armed forces, compared with 15 and two complaints, respectively, as of August 2020. The PDDH also received 62 complaints of mistreatment and disproportionate use of force by the PNC and seven by the armed forces, compared with 55 and four complaints, respectively, as of August 2020.

As of September the PNC registered a total of 95 accusations against police officers involved in crimes and offenses. Of the 95 accusations, 38 concerned homicides committed by police officers. The PNC received 296 complaints of general misconduct in the same period, including but not limited to torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading acts of punishment. Three of the 296 complaints were referred to the Attorney General’s Office for prosecution, while the 293 unresolved cases remained under investigation by the PNC.

On March 12, the Attorney General’s Office issued arrest warrants for four PNC officers for the torture of a minor and a woman in 2017 in Sensuntepeque, Cabanas Department. According to a video widely circulated on social media, PNC officers Cristian Neftali Franco Vasquez, Elvis Alirio Montenegro Beltran, Omar Alexander Pineda Chevez, and Mario Enrique Perez Chavez beat the minor to force him to reveal the hiding location of drugs and weapons. One of the officers fired a warning shot when a woman who witnessed the beating began to complain.

On April 30, El Diario de Hoy reported that an armed forces officer was arrested for shooting Rene Alfredo Lainez Andasol in the face in Victoria, Cabanas Department. The Attorney General’s Office accused the soldier of attempted homicide.

On June 23, the Sentencing Court of Cojutepeque, Cuscatlan Department, sentenced PNC officer Juan Carlos Portillo Velasquez to 12 years in prison for the aggravated rape of an adolescent in 2018. According to the Attorney General’s Office, Portillo Velasquez abused his position by ordering a 17-year-old girl to enter her home and remove her clothes under the guise of checking for gang-related tattoos. His partner caught him in the act of rape and informed his supervisors.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were no new allegations against El Salvadoran peacekeepers brought in the year. The most recent allegation was submitted in March 2020 concerning sexual exploitation and abuse by Salvadoran peacekeepers deployed to the UN Mission in South Sudan, allegedly involving an exploitative relationship with an adult. As of October the United Nations had found the allegation of sexual exploitation or abuse to be unsubstantiated but found evidence of fraternization and repatriated the perpetrator.

Impunity was a problem in the PNC and armed forces. Factors contributing to impunity included politicization and general corruption. The Attorney General’s Office investigates whether security force killings were justifiable and pursues prosecutions, and the PDDH investigates complaints of such killings. The government provided annual training to military units to dissuade any potential for gross abuses of human rights, such as the training provided to the Marine Infantry Battalion by the navy’s Legal Unit on the need to respect human rights. The government repeatedly defied a June 2020 judicial order to allow expert witnesses access to inspect military archives to determine criminal responsibility for the 1981 El Mozote massacre.

Previous government efforts to counter impunity were also eliminated. In June President Bukele ended the cooperative agreement with the Organization of American States to back the International Organization Against Impunity in El Salvador. Civil society organizations condemned this action and characterized it as a step backwards in the fight against impunity and corruption in the country. The government pursued actions against members of other parties governing in past administrations and judges who had served a long time in a so-called effort to “clean house” of influence of officials appointed under previous administrations. Civil society organizations criticized many of these actions as politically motivated.

Impunity in the executive branch also remained a problem. From January through September, the Attorney General’s Office reported that it processed 150 cases of embezzlement, illicit negotiations, illicit enrichment, and bribery perpetrated by government employees. Of these cases, only seven resulted in convictions.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and life threatening due to gross overcrowding, unhygienic conditions, and gang activity.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a serious threat to prisoners’ health and welfare. The prison system had a capacity for 30,864 inmates, but as of April 19, held more than 36,500 inmates. Director of Penal Centers Osiris Luna reported that the General Directorate of Penal Centers (DGCP) reduced the overcrowding of prisons from 50 percent to 12 percent and stated one of the objectives of the government’s Territorial Control Plan was to reduce the number of prisons from 23 to 10. Police holding facilities were equally crowded. In May the director of the National Civilian Police stated that there were approximately 5,000 persons in police holding cells, including prosecuted and convicted individuals who could not be transferred to the overcrowded prisons. Convicted inmates and pretrial detainees were sometimes held in the same prison cells.

Gangs remained prevalent in prisons. As of April the DGCP reported approximately 51 percent (18,652 prisoners) of the prison population were active or former gang members.

According to the PDDH, many prisons had inadequate sanitation, potable water, ventilation, temperature control, medical care, and lighting. Inmates experienced gastrointestinal illnesses and skin problems due to poor water quality.

According to the DGCP, 94 inmates died between January 2020 and February 2021. PDDH deputy attorney Beatriz Campos said most of the deaths were due to chronic diseases, including kidney failure, respiratory diseases, and HIV. Campos said the DGCP received nine to 15 complaints daily, with 90 percent related to inquiries about health.

Administration: The PDDH has authority to investigate credible allegations of inhuman conditions. The government suspended visits to prisons in March 2020, which continued as of November. According to February 14 media reports, relatives of inmates had not communicated with inmates in a year. Despite an article of the PDDH law that allows the PDDH to have free and immediate access to prisons to inspect and guarantee the human rights of the inmates, the DGCP denied entry to PDDH staff in March. On August 12, the DGCP again denied the PDDH access to prisons despite the Second Peace Court authorizing the PDDH entry to visit three former government officials in prison after receiving complaints from the officials’ relatives on their state of health.

On June 17, La Prensa Grafica reported that relatives of an inmate who died inside Mariona Prison in San Salvador Department on June 7 learned of the death through Facebook. Prison Directorate personnel failed to inform the family of the deceased in a timely manner.

Independent Monitoring: The prison system was closed to visits during the year, allowing only employees to enter. Professional and family visits, inspections of institutions, and visits by international organizations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), churches, and others were suspended, although there were reports of sporadic entries granted based on personal connections with prison officials to members of the clergy and nonprofits.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court is responsible for addressing these types of cases.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The constitution requires a written warrant of arrest except in cases where an individual is caught in the act of committing a crime. Authorities generally apprehended persons with warrants based on evidence and issued by a judge, although this was frequently ignored when allegations of gang membership arose. Police generally informed detainees promptly of charges against them.

The law permits release on bail for detainees who are unlikely to flee or whose release would not impede the investigation of the case. The bail system functioned adequately in most cases. The courts generally enforced a ruling that interrogation without the presence of counsel is coercive, and that evidence obtained in such a manner is inadmissible. As a result PNC authorities typically delayed questioning until a public defender or an attorney arrived. The constitution permits the PNC to hold suspects for 72 hours before presenting them to court. The law allows up to six months for investigation of serious crimes before requiring either a trial or dismissal of the case; this period may be extended by an appeals court. Many cases continued beyond the legally prescribed period.

Arbitrary Arrest: As of August 31, the PDDH reported 25 complaints of arbitrary detention or illegal detention, compared with 22 from January to August 2020.

According to media reports, on April 22, the Attorney General’s Office accused PNC officers Miguel Angel Hernandez, Luis Edgardo Chavez, Cesar Ernesto Menjivar, Milton Cesar Hernandez, Oscar Antonio Mancia, and Jose Leodan Menjivar of at least a dozen illegal acts, including arbitrarily detaining citizens.

On July 21, the Original Blue organization, a local NGO that seeks social transformation and supports vulnerable populations, reported that young persons in areas identified as having high presence of gangs were victims of arbitrary or illegal detentions by the PNC. The report included testimony from 12 individuals who said they were detained illegally.

On September 1, a vocal critic of President Bukele’s proposal to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender of El Salvador was arrested without a warrant and without explanation of the reason of his arrest. He was released the same day with no charges filed.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a significant problem. Some persons remained in pretrial detention longer than the maximum legal sentences for their alleged crimes. In such circumstances detainees were permitted to request a Supreme Court review of their continued detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, the government did not always respect judicial independence, and the judiciary was burdened by inefficiency.

While the government generally respected court orders, some agencies ignored or minimally complied with orders.

As of August 31, the PDDH received 65 complaints of lack of a fair public trial, compared with 12 such complaints as of August 2020.

On May 1, during the first plenary session of the newly elected Legislative Assembly, legislators of the majority Nuevas Ideas, a political party founded by President Bukele, and their allies voted to dismiss all five magistrates of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice and the attorney general without granting any of them due process. Critics contended the dismissals lacked legal cause and amounted to an unconstitutional power grab. The president defended the votes, claiming the Legislative Assembly had the authority to do this according to the constitution. On June 30, the Legislative Assembly installed new judges loyal to the president to replace the five dismissed magistrates.

On August 31, the Legislative Assembly used an emergency waiver process to pass two judicial career laws, instead of following the constitutionally prescribed process that judicial reforms must originate from the Supreme Court. The laws mandate the retirement of judges and prosecutors aged 60 or older and also those who have completed 30 years of service or more. In addition the attorney general and Supreme Court were given authority, at their discretion, to transfer prosecutors and judges between districts. While the Legislative Assembly justified the actions as an effort to rid the courts of corruption, legal analysts argued the laws were unconstitutional and were enacted to allow the ruling political party to appoint loyal replacement judges. More than 200 judges were forced by the new laws to retire, including Judge Jorge Guzman Urquilla, the magistrate overseeing the prosecution of 13 surviving former military officers for the alleged El Mozote massacre of more than 800 civilians in 1981. Although the Supreme Court offered him a one-time exception to remain in his position, Judge Guzman resigned in protest before the law went into effect.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, although some trial court judges were subject to political, economic, or other corrupting influences. By law juries hear only a narrow group of cases, such as environmental complaints. In those cases, after the jury determines innocence or guilt, a panel of judges decides the sentence.

Defendants have the right to be present in court (except in virtual trials; see below), question witnesses, and present witnesses and evidence. The constitution further provides for the presumption of innocence, the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges, the right to a trial without undue delay (seldom observed), protection from self-incrimination, the right to communicate with an attorney of choice, the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, freedom from coercion, the right to appeal, and government-provided legal counsel for the indigent.

In criminal cases a judge may allow a private plaintiff to participate in trial proceedings (calling and cross-examining witnesses, providing evidence, etc.), assisting the prosecuting attorney in the trial procedure. Defendants have the right to free assistance of an interpreter. Authorities did not always respect these legal rights and protections. Although a jury’s verdict is final, a judge’s verdict is subject to appeal. Trials are public unless a judge seals a case.

The law allows for virtual trials for gang membership charges to proceed without the defendants present, although with defense counsel participating. The law requires judicial and prison authorities to provide a video copy of the virtual trial to the defendants within 72 hours so they may exercise their right to defense.

Virtual trials often involved group hearings before a judge, with defense lawyers physically present in the courtroom but defendants appearing by video, unable to consult with their defense lawyers in real time. This practice continued throughout the year due to precautionary measures taken by the courts to curb the spread of COVID-19. The number of virtual trials increased but continued to involve delays due to lack of equipment, technical problems, and lack of coordination between courts and penitentiaries.

Legal experts identified overall issues with the legal system, pointing to an overreliance on witness testimony, as opposed to the use of forensics or other scientific evidence. For example the justice system lacked DNA analysis and other forensic capabilities.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no clear reports of political prisoners or detainees, but media reported several detentions of opposition party members and questioned the legitimacy of the detentions.

On June 4, Attorney General Rodolfo Delgado ordered the arrest of former mayor of San Salvador and prominent opposition politician Ernesto Muyshondt for the charge of misappropriation of tax withholdings to the detriment of the Public Treasury while mayor. The arrest occurred minutes after the Second Investigative Court of San Salvador ordered house arrest for Muyshondt for the crimes of electoral fraud and illicit associations for allegedly negotiating with gangs in exchange for votes in the 2015 legislative elections. As he was escorted from the court, Muyshondt declared himself as “the first political prisoner of the Bukele dictatorship.” Despite a court order from the Third Criminal Chamber again granting house arrest for Muyshondt, the General Directorate of Penal Centers never released him, claiming it did not have an available ankle-monitoring bracelet. On October 1, newly appointed judges in the Third Criminal Chamber overturned the house arrest order, and Muyshondt remained in prison.

In July, five former FMLN party officials were detained but were not immediately informed of the reason for their detention. Several hours later they learned about the charges against them during a press conference. The officials remained in prison while awaiting the investigation of their crimes and were denied visitation despite a court order granting visitation by family and attorneys.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The law provides for access to the courts, enabling litigants to submit civil lawsuits seeking damages for, as well as cessation of, human rights violations. Domestic court orders generally were enforced. Most attorneys pursued criminal prosecution and later requested civil compensation.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the state intelligence service tracked journalists or collected information regarding their private lives.

In many neighborhoods gangs and other armed groups targeted certain persons and interfered with privacy, family, and home life. Efforts by authorities to remedy these situations were generally ineffective.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, although the government at times did not respect this right. The law permits the executive branch to use the emergency broadcasting service to take control of all broadcast and cable networks temporarily to televise political programming.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Journalists from several digital and print media outlets publicly accused President Bukele, his administration, and his supporters of a pattern of harassment designed to constrain media. In public statements and in testimony to the Legislative Assembly, journalists claimed the president and his cabinet officials bullied them on Twitter, threatened them with physical harm, launched unwarranted financial investigations into their taxes and funding sources, denied them access to press conferences, and surveilled them. Senior officials, such as legal advisor Javier Argueta, called for actions against journalists who criticized the government. The increased villainization of the role of media inspired supporters of the president to threaten journalists as well. The president denied threatening journalists and dismissed accusations he was stifling freedom of the press.

On September 29, the jury of the Maria Moors Cabot award from Columbia University, the Governing Council of the Gabriel Garcia Marquez Foundation, Reporters without Borders, and the Inter American Press Association issued statements in which they demanded that President Bukele cease attacks against critical media in the country.

In November the president of the Association of Salvadoran Journalists (APES) stated at a journalism forum that journalists were seen by the government as enemies of the state. He also confirmed that an increasing number of journalists were under attack by the government.

Violence and Harassment: On June 6, Minister of Justice and Public Security Gustavo Villatoro confirmed during a radio interview that the government was investigating and monitoring many journalists for what he alleged was their irresponsible coverage of crime.

On July 7, a PNC officer slapped a journalist in the face, claiming the journalist had entered a crime scene. A video showed PNC officer Raul Martinez Velasquez hit Jorge Beltran, a journalist for El Diario de Hoy, while Beltran was reporting on the recovery of the body of a missing student kidnapped and killed by gang members in Apopa, San Salvador Department. In response the PNC issued memorandums on July 20 and July 22 instructing police officers to act with professionalism and to adhere to the law and respect for human rights when interacting with citizens.

As of August 30, APES had registered 173 violations of the exercise of journalism, an increase of 73 percent, compared with 2020. Among these were physical aggression, digital harassment, blocking access to public information, intimidation, and sexual harassment. APES noted 84 violations against the exercise of journalism during the February 28 municipal and legislative elections, most of which the PNC perpetrated. As of August 31, the PDDH had received four complaints of violence against journalists by government officials, compared with 10 as of August 2020.

On April 14, the digital newspaper El Faro published the preliminary results of the audit the Ministry of Finance had performed on the newspaper over a one-year period. According to the ministry’s audit, El Faro evaded approximately $34,000 in taxes in 2017. The newspaper disputed the finding, saying it was an attempt by the government to again harass and threaten the organization, and it vowed to fight the finding in court if needed.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: On May 5, the Legislative Assembly reformed the printing law to eliminate tax exemptions on the importation of raw materials, machinery, and equipment for printing materials. The Inter American Press Association described the reform as a “serious attack against democracy” that would impact the local newspaper industry. Romeo Auerbach, a legislative assembly member from the Grand Alliance for National Unity (GANA) party, justified the reform by arguing that the print media had evaded paying taxes for decades.

On June 14, the First Justice of the Peace of Santa Ana, Santa Ana Department, ordered the local investigative magazine Factum to take down its June 12 article about killings in Chalchuapa, Santa Ana Department, because the article included details of the crimes that were declared confidential. The Attorney General’s Office supported the court’s decision by citing the Special Comprehensive Law for a Life Free of Violence for , which prevents the disclosure of the victim’s identifying information. Factum sourced its article from a witness statement that detailed the names, dates, and modus operandi of 13 killings that occurred in Chalchuapa in 2020 and 2021, directly contradicting the government’s claim that the homicides occurred more than a decade ago.

On June 21, Minister Villatoro accused independent media of causing anxiety and deceiving persons and asked citizens to inform themselves through state-owned media instead.

On July 6, the General Directorate of Migration and Foreigners (DGME) denied a work permit to Mexican journalist Daniel Lizarraga of El Faro because he allegedly could not prove that he was a journalist. The DGME notified Lizarraga that he had five days to leave the country. On July 9, the DGME also denied the work permit of Roman Gressier, another El Faro journalist. According to the DGME, Gressier failed to comply with the provision to remain in the country while his permit was in process.

On July 15, Minister Villatoro stated the PNC would further limit access to crime scenes to prevent the publication of violent images. Villatoro justified the restriction to protect the mental health of children.

Nongovernmental Impact: APES noted journalists who reported on gangs and narcotics trafficking were subject to kidnappings, threats, and intimidation. Observers reported that gangs also charged print media companies to distribute in their communities, costing media outlets as much as 20 percent of their revenues.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but there were times the government limited these freedoms (see section 7.a.).

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

On September 5, La Prensa Grafica reported that PNC officers using professional equipment took photographs of persons protesting the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice’s ruling allowing for the re-election of the president.

On September 15, thousands of protesters marched against the Supreme Court ruling allowing the re-election of the president, the dismissal of justices older than age 60, bitcoin adoption as legal tender in the country, and other recent actions by the government. Some of the marchers included Legislative Assembly staff and judges. On September 17, 75 employees of the Legislative Assembly were arbitrarily dismissed. The union representing Legislative Assembly staff members said the employees who attended the September 15 protests were among those fired. The dismissed staff members had worked in the communications, radio, and television units as well as the Access to Public Information Office. The Legislative Assembly used police to escort the dismissed employees out of their workplace.

On September 26, some judges claimed that they were transferred to preside in remote courts in retaliation for their participation in the September 15 protest.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights, although many nongovernmental organizations that were critical of the government or whose activities did not align with government policies faced threats or restrictions during the year (see section 5).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights, although in many areas the government could not ensure freedom of movement due to criminal gang activity.

In-country Movement: The major gangs controlled access to their specific territories. Gang members did not allow persons living in another gang’s area to enter their territory, even when travelling via public transportation. Gangs forced persons to present government-issued identification cards (containing their addresses) to determine their residence. If gang members discovered that a person lived in a rival gang’s territory, that person risked being killed, beaten, or denied entry to the territory. Bus companies paid extortion fees to operate within gang territories, often paying numerous fees for the different areas in which they operated. The extortion costs were passed on to customers.

On April 12, gang members in Santa Tecla, La Libertad Department, beat a 77-year-old priest who tried to circumvent heavy traffic and accidentally entered a neighborhood with gang presence. When the priest slowed down to ask for directions, gang members surrounded his vehicle and demanded to know why he was in their neighborhood. The gang members then beat the priest and took photographs of his identity documents.

On August 25, gang members killed a 25-year-old man in Ciudad Delgado, San Salvador Department. The victim was helping change a tire on his friend’s vehicle when MS-13 gang members approached them to demand their identity documents, where they lived, and what they were doing in the neighborhood. When the gang members realized the victim and his friend resided in a different neighborhood, the gang members shot the victim, while the friend managed to escape.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) estimated there were 114,000 new instances of internal forced displacement due to violence during 2020 and reported the causes included threats, extortion, and assassinations perpetrated by criminal gangs. The IDMC also reported 17,000 additional internally displaced persons (IDPs) due to hurricanes Eta and Iota in 2020.

More than 30 families that lived in Panchimalco, San Salvador Department, abandoned their homes on May 25 after receiving threats from gang members. The families, some of whom had lived in Panchimalco for more than 40 years, feared their lives would be in danger after the gang threatened to hold the village responsible for the disappearance of a gang member.

Comprehensive, up-to-date data on internal displacement was not available, but the NGO Cristosal counted 200 persons displaced between January and June. As of August 31, the PDDH reported 53 cases of forced internal displacement. Beatriz Campos, a PDDH attorney, said 90 percent of forced internal displacement cases were caused by gangs in their community and the other 10 percent due to PNC harassment of youth in high-risk communities.

Although the government passed new IDP legislation in January 2020, authorities had yet to take substantial action to fund or implement the law. The government failed to allocate sufficient funding to the Unit of Attention to Victims of Internal Forced Displacement, the entity tasked with the implementation of the law. According to the Due Process of Law Foundation, implementation of the law was further hindered by the lack of clear implementing regulations and available records of IDPs in the country.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and some assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern, although this was often difficult in gang-controlled neighborhoods.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees, but it has major regulatory and operational gaps. The Commission for the Refugee Status is responsible for refugee status determinations but does not have its own budget.

The legal framework requires persons with international protection needs to file their claim within five days of entering the country; the criteria for case decisions is unclear; and the appeals process is decided by the same government entity that issues the initial decision.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent legislative and municipal elections occurred in February. Nuevas Ideas, the party affiliated with President Bukele, won 56 of 84 seats in the Legislative Assembly and 152 of 262 mayorships. The election reports published by the Organization of American States (OAS) and the EU electoral mission noted the election generally met international standards.

Observers noted that political and economic conditions prior to the elections may have been instrumental in swaying public support towards the Nuevas Ideas party, thus creating an unfair advantage for Nuevas Ideas candidates. Beginning in June 2020, the government withheld funding to the municipalities through the Social Development Fund, citing lack of funds due to the pandemic. Municipalities were not able to pay their employees and their bills and provided only limited services to residents. The lack of funding may have created the impression among voters that the sitting municipal leaders, who all belonged to oppositional political parties, were ineffective. Nuevas Ideas candidates then campaigned to bring about improvements to the political and economic situation within municipalities.

Before the February elections, the government failed to provide campaign finances to all political candidates as required by law, severely limiting the ability of the opposition parties to advertise their candidates. Candidates from the Nuevas Ideas party were not limited by the lack of government campaign financing because they had received campaign funds through private sources. As a result the election advertisements were predominantly from Nuevas Ideas candidates.

Political Parties and Political Participation: While the law prohibits public officials from campaigning in elections, the provision was not consistently enforced.

On May 5, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice ordered the Legislative Assembly to make the necessary regulatory adjustments to provide suffrage to Salvadorans living abroad and allow all citizens to register and run as candidates for the legislative and municipal elections in 2024.

On September 3, the Constitutional Chamber approved a ruling to allow for the immediate re-election of the president despite the express prohibition on re-election by the constitution. The Constitutional Chamber determined that historical interpretations of the constitutional limits on re-election were erroneous and that sitting presidents may run for re-election if they resign the office six months prior to the end of the presidential term. Critics decried the ruling as an attack on democracy and pointed out that the Constitutional Chamber issuing the ruling was composed of five magistrates appointed by the Legislative Assembly on May 1 in a maneuver that was itself controversial.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The law requires all registered political parties to have at least 30 percent of their candidates for the Legislative Assembly be women. On May 1, El Diario de Hoy reported a low rate of women’s participation in politics, stating that women held 24 of the 84 seats in the Legislative Assembly, two seats fewer than in the previous Legislative Assembly. Women held 30 of the 262 mayoralty offices.

According to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, 328,215 persons with disabilities registered to vote in the February 28 elections. The tribunal launched a campaign to encourage the political participation of persons with disabilities and added accommodations such as braille ballots.

The February 28 election was the first time in the country’s history to include a transgender candidate and an openly gay candidate. Alejandra Menjivar, a transgender woman, ran as a candidate for the Central American Parliament from the FMLN party. Erick Ivan Ortiz, an openly gay man, ran as a candidate for the Legislative Assembly from the Nuestro Tiempo party. Neither candidate won their respective election.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials. Although the Supreme Court investigated corruption in the executive and judicial branches and referred some cases to the Attorney General’s Office for possible criminal indictment, corruption and impunity remained endemic.

Multiple officials in the executive branch were accused of engaging in corrupt acts. In many instances the government either ignored the actions or took steps to actively prevent prosecution of those officials unless the officials were political opponents or were members of previous administrations.

Corruption: On August 23, El Faro followed up on its September 2020 story accusing the Bukele administration of negotiating with senior gang leaders since 2019 to obtain electoral support and a reduction in homicides prior to this year’s legislative and municipal elections. Citing photographs and audio recordings, El Faro reported that former attorney general Raul Melara’s investigation found evidence that the Bukele administration negotiated with the MS-13 and 18th Street gangs and that the DGCP removed hard drives and hundreds of logbooks documenting the negotiations four days after the publication of the initial article.

On September 19, El Faro reported that the Attorney General’s Office under former attorney general Melara found evidence that Bureau of Prisons Director Osiris Luna embezzled $1.6 million worth of food between September and November 2020 from the Public Health Emergency Program, a government food program assisting families during the pandemic. There was also evidence that Luna then resold these goods to a merchant who was known to sell contraband.

According to media reports, President Bukele dismissed Minister of Justice and Public Security Eduardo Rogelio Rivas Polanco in March due to Rivas Polanco diverting public funds to a private account to finance his presidential candidacy in the 2024 elections.

On May 6, the Legislative Assembly approved the Law for the Use of Products for Medical Treatments in Exceptional Public Health Situations Caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic. The law includes provisions to shield vaccine manufacturers from liability and allows the government to bypass procurement and transparency regulations. According to the NGO Democracy, Transparency, and Justice Foundation, the new law seeks to retroactively protect government officials from misuse of public money for pandemic spending that occurred before the approval of the law.

On June 4, President Bukele announced the termination of the cooperation agreement with the OAS, bringing an end to the International Commission Against Impunity in El Salvador (CICIES). The president claimed the termination was in response to the OAS announcing the hiring of former San Salvador mayor Ernesto Muyshondt as an advisor to the OAS. The president explained that Muyshondt faced criminal proceedings for negotiating with gangs for electoral support and therefore the government could not continue to work with an organization that hired a criminal as an advisor. Analysts and media reported that CICIES was investigating Bukele administration officials and speculated that the president used the Muyshondt issue as a pretense to terminate the CICIES agreement to stymie the investigations into his administration. In July, OAS representatives stated they offered Muyshondt an honorary contract but did not formally hire him and that the contract was never signed. Head of CICIES Ronalth Ochaeta said CICIES sent 12 cases of possible corruption from five government institutions to the Attorney General’s Office on April 7. As of September 13, the Attorney General’s Office had not revealed the details of those investigations.

Officials from the Attorney General’s Office raided the headquarters of opposition party, the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) on July 2 and seized assets to recover funds embezzled from a donation by Taiwan made between 2003 and 2004. Attorney General Rodolfo Delgado stated that former president Antonio Saca financed his electoral campaign with $10 million donated by Taiwan for reconstruction projects following two earthquakes in 2001.

On July 22, the PNC arrested five former government officials on charges of illicit enrichment for having received illegal side payments that exceeded their salaries authorized by law. All five served in the administration of former president Mauricio Funes, who remained under political asylum protection in Nicaragua to evade charges of illicit enrichment. Attorney General Delgado also issued arrest warrants for four more government officials, including former president Salvador Sanchez Ceren, who left the country in December 2020 and became a citizen of Nicaragua on July 30. Funes, Ceren, the five arrested officials, and the other former officials with arrest warrants all belonged to opposition party FMLN.

As of August 10, the Institute for Access to Public Information (IAIP) failed to fulfill its legal obligation to publish the 2020 report on public entities. The report, approved in November 2020, evaluated the transparency performance of 98 government institutions and 60 municipalities and was expected to cover information related to purchases, contracts, or tenders made during the COVID-19 pandemic. After President Bukele appointed three commissioners to the IAIP, the institute decided in December 2020 to postpone publication of the report. As of August 20, the Ethics Tribunal reported that it had opened 170 administrative proceedings against 240 public officials. The Ethics Tribunal imposed sanctions on 19 cases and referred 18 cases to the Attorney General’s Office.

On September 8, the Legislative Assembly approved reforms to the criminal procedure code to remove the statute of limitations and apply the law retroactively to crimes of corruption.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups critical of the Bukele administration and Nuevas Ideas party were subjects of government investigations and surveillance. Government officials were not cooperative and responsive to their views.

On June 2, President Bukele gave a speech announcing the beginning of “the battle of the people against the ideological apparatus,” referring to civil society organizations and media as an “internal enemy” that controls the people’s way of thinking.

On July 30, the president summoned representatives from civil society organizations for a four-hour closed-door meeting at the Presidential House. The civil society organizations reported that the president agreed to reduce confrontational speeches attacking the press and civil society and made a commitment to not persecute journalists or others critical of the government. Observers noted the president has not kept his promise.

On November 12, the Ministry of Finance presented to the Attorney General’s Office evidence of alleged money laundering and tax evasion by a nongovernmental organization dedicated to economic and social development. The ministry claimed their audit showed the organization moved $50 million to a tax haven on a Caribbean island. Although the press announcement did not include the name of the organization, representatives of the Salvadoran Foundation for Economic and Social Development later confirmed they were the subject of the audit. They said that they were innocent of the accusations and claimed the organization and other NGOs who were critical of the actions of the government had been persecuted.

In November several members of NGOs, civil society organizations and journalists received an alert on their cellphones from Apple saying they may have been the target of state-sponsored espionage. Among the recipients of the alert were members of the Institute of Human Rights of the Central American University, Cristosal, and the Democracy, Transparency and Justice Foundation as well as journalists from El Faro, La Prensa Grafica, El Diario de Hoy, Disruptiva Magazine, Gato Encerrado magazine, Diario El Mundo, and independent journalists.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The principal human rights investigative and monitoring body is the autonomous PDDH, whose ombudsman is nominated by the Legislative Assembly for a three-year term. The PDDH regularly issued advisory opinions, reports, and press releases on prominent human rights cases. The PDDH ombudsman, Jose Apolonio Tobar, requested access to monitor conditions in the prisons but had not been allowed to enter the prisons since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. In addition the budget approved by the Legislative Assembly for the PDDH in the coming year was again significantly cut.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, and the law’s definition of rape may apply to spousal rape, at the judge’s discretion. The law requires the Attorney General’s Office to prosecute rape cases whether or not the victim presses charges, and the law does not permit the victim to withdraw the criminal charge. The penalty for conviction of rape is generally imprisonment for six to 10 years. Laws against rape were not effectively enforced.

The law prohibits domestic violence and generally provides for sentences for conviction ranging from one to three years in prison, although some forms of domestic violence carry higher penalties. The law also permits restraining orders against offenders. Laws against domestic violence remained poorly enforced, and violence against women, including domestic violence, remained a widespread and serious problem.

According to a newly published survey, the first of its kind carried out by the General Directorate of Statistics and Census (DIGESTYC), six of 10 women older than age 15 suffered some type of sexual violence in their life. The data was collected in 2019 but not disclosed until March due to difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.) Sixty-three percent of women ages 15 to 19 and 72 percent of women ages 30 to 34 reported having suffered sexual violence.

Between January and April, the Attorney General’s Office received 441 complaints of domestic violence, which encompasses domestic violence toward any member of the family, including children. Observers noted this number likely did not capture most domestic violence cases, particularly those perpetrated against women. On November 3, several women’s organizations discussed in a forum the 2019 National Data System on Violence against Women of the Ministry of Justice and DIGESTYC, which showed that 68 percent of women older than 15 years suffered sexual violence, but only 5.3 percent sought help. The organizations attributed this low reporting number to women’s distrust of state institutions.

On January 15, the Specialized Sentencing Court for a Life Free of Violence for Women sentenced David Eliseo Diaz Ramirez to 35 years in prison for femicide. Diaz Ramirez and several gang members killed a woman in Tutunichapa, San Salvador Department, in 2019 because she refused to have sex with them.

On May 8, the PNC found more than a dozen bodies, most of them girls and women, buried in the house of former police officer Hugo Ernesto Chavez Osorio, who was arrested on May 6 for the murders of two women. According to the PNC investigation, Chavez Osorio raped his victims and then killed them before burying their bodies in his house.

The Organization of Salvadoran Women for Peace (ORMUSA) reported that the Ministry of Health registered 6,938 pregnant girls or adolescents in the first six months of the year, including 156 girls ages 10 and 11 who were raped and became pregnant. During the first half of the year, the number of pregnancies among girls between the ages of 10-14 increased 9 percent as compared to the same period in 2020. ORMUSA attributed this to several causes, including a lack of government policy for preventing pregnancies in girls and adolescents, a lack of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education, and an increase in sexual violence. According to the Feminist Collective, families did not report the rapes to the PNC and the Attorney General’s Office because the rapist was commonly a relative of the victim and the families considered it an embarrassment.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and establishes sentences if convicted of five to eight years’ imprisonment. Courts also may impose additional fines in cases in which the perpetrator held a position of trust or authority over the victim. The law mandates that employers take measures against sexual harassment and create and implement preventive programs. The government, however, did not enforce sexual harassment laws effectively.

On March 11, the Second Sentencing Court sentenced Jose Misael Maldonado Palacios, a corporal of the Third Infantry Brigade of the San Miguel Armed Forces, to six years in prison for improper sexual conduct against two employees. The Specialized Attention Unit for Crimes related to Children, Adolescents, and Women stated that in March 2020, Maldonado Palacios offered to pay two women in exchange for sexual acts inside the barracks.

On March 19, the Attorney General’s Office announced the arrest of Salvador Alcides Villegas, general manager of the Council of Mayors of Usulutan. Villegas was formally accused of sexual harassment of three women, including touching and improper sexual expressions. The victims told the authorities that Villegas touched their legs, breasts, and buttocks.

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

The law bans abortion. Civil society advocates expressed concern that the ban led to the wrongful incarceration of women who suffered severe pregnancy complications, including miscarriages.

In March the Inter-American Court of Human Rights concluded that the government violated the right to personal freedom, life, health, and justice of Manuela, a woman sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2008 for the aggravated homicide of her unborn child. Manuela died from cancer in 2010 after not receiving timely and appropriate treatment in prison.

On June 2, the Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion in El Salvador reported that at least 17 women were in prison on charges of having an abortion after suffering out-of-hospital obstetric emergencies. One of the women, Sara Rogel, received early parole, and the Second Court of Penitentiary Surveillance in Cojutepeque, Cuscatlan Department, released her from prison on June 7. Rogel suffered an obstetric emergency in 2012 when she slipped while washing clothes and was sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated homicide for allegedly having an abortion. The court commuted Rogel’s sentence to 10 years in January, and Rogel received early parole after the Attorney General’s Office declined to appeal the decision.

The government-run Institute for Women’s Development implements the National Care System which aims to improve the care, protection, and access to justice for victims of sexual and other types of violence. The specialized comprehensive care includes medical care, counseling, family planning, medical examinations, and treatment of sexually transmitted infections in victims of sexual violence and services were generally available throughout the country.

ORMUSA reported that the closure of Ciudad Mujer health centers throughout the country since June 2019, shortly after President Bukele became president, had created a barrier to women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons receiving timely health services. Following the closure of the centers, women and LGBTQI+ persons were subjected to long delays to see doctors, and the doctors were not specialized in the field of reproductive health and health issues specific to the LGBTQI+ community, as were the doctors in the Ciudad Mujer health centers.

Discrimination: The constitution grants women and men the same legal status in family, religious, personal status, and nationality laws. There were no reports of discrimination in marriage, divorce, child custody, education, and judicial processes. The law also provides equal rights for men and women in the areas of property rights, inheritance, employment, access to credit, business ownership, and housing. The law establishes sentences of one to three years in prison for public officials convicted of denying a person’s civil rights based on gender and six months to two years for employers convicted of discriminating against women in the workplace, but employees generally did not report such violations due to fear of employer reprisals.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Systemic racial discrimination existed towards those in the Afro-descendent community and indigenous groups. There are several laws to protect members of racial or ethnic minorities or groups from violence and discrimination. The law provides for individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples to practice ethnic minority traditions, participate in decision-making on issues that affect their rights, and for protection against discrimination. In 2018 the government implemented the Public Policy for Indigenous Communities in El Salvador, which focused on the inclusion of ethnic groups in all social and economic aspects. The government did not enforce the laws effectively, and the administration took no further action to implement the 2018 policy. The government did not recognize indigenous persons of the Afro-descendent community in the last population census in 2007.

Indigenous Peoples

The constitution recognizes indigenous peoples and states that the government will adopt policies to maintain and develop the ethnic and cultural identity, world view, values, and spirituality of indigenous peoples. The law provides for the preservation of languages and archeological sites. The municipalities of Cacaopera and Yucuaiquin, in the eastern part of the country, have special laws to recognize their indigenous cultural heritage.

The law does not include the right to be consulted regarding development and other projects envisioned on indigenous land, nor does it provide indigenous peoples the right to share in revenue from exploitation of natural resources on historically indigenous lands. The government did not demarcate any lands as belonging to indigenous communities. Because few indigenous persons possessed title to land, opportunities for bank loans and other forms of credit remained limited.

According to the most recent census, from 2007, there were 60 indigenous groups, making up 0.4 percent of citizens, mainly from the Nahua-Pipl, Lencas, Cacaopera (Kakwira), and Maya Chorti groups. According to the Institute of the Faculty of Sciences and Humanities of the University of El Salvador, political parties did not consider proposals in favor of indigenous peoples as part of their electoral platforms.

On January 10, Nahuat language teacher Hector Martinez reported that the indigenous Nahuat language was only spoken in four municipalities: Santo Domingo de Guzman, Cuisnahuat, Nahuizalco, and Tacbua. The 2007 census showed there were only 197 Nahuat speakers, but Martinez said the number was drastically fewer because the Nahuat speakers were all elderly and living in extreme poverty. According to the culture law, Spanish is the official language of the country, but “the state is obliged to promote and conserve the rescue, teaching, and respect of ancestral languages throughout the territory.”

On October 17, members of indigenous groups marched against the current administration, demanding visibility of their complaints a stop to the destruction of their sacred places and ceremonial sites such as Tacushcalco and Nexapan archeological sites and the Sensunapan River.

Members of indigenous groups said they do not feel represented by the government or any public official. They said that the government has not responded to their various requests, which included the return of indigenous lands taken by the government, respect for ancestral form of governance, and more access to health care, education, social welfare, and employment.

Indigenous communities reported they faced racial discrimination and economic disadvantage. On November 11, the EU, International Organization for Migration, and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported that 27 percent of the indigenous population planned to migrate out of the country. According to the report, the main cause of migration intention was a lack of employment options.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth within the country and from their parents. The law requires parents to register a child within 15 days of birth or pay a small fine. Failure to register may result in denial of school enrollment.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a serious and widespread problem. The law gives children the right to petition the government without parental consent. Penalties for conviction of breaking the law include losing custody of the child and three to 26 years’ imprisonment, depending on the nature of the abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18. The law bans child marriage to prevent child abusers from avoiding imprisonment by marrying their underage victims, and the law likewise bans exceptions to child marriage in cases where the minor is pregnant.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Child sex trafficking is prohibited by law. Prison sentences for convicted traffickers stipulate imprisonment from 16 to 20 years.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. The law classifies statutory rape as sexual relations with anyone younger than age 18 and includes penalties for conviction of four to 13 years’ imprisonment.

The law prohibits paying anyone younger than age 18 for sexual services. The law prohibits participating in, facilitating, or purchasing materials containing child pornography and provides for prison sentences of up to 16 years for conviction of violations. Despite these provisions, sexual exploitation of children remained a problem.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community totaled approximately 150 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities do not have access to education, health services, public buildings, or transportation on an equal basis with others.

The percentage of children with disabilities enrolled in the public school system is very low. The Ministry of Education’s last reported statistics in 2018 indicated only 1,158 students with disabilities were enrolled in high schools across the country, representing fewer than 0.01 percent of all secondary students. Disability advocates said that this low percentage was due to the lack of ramps and other accommodations for students with disabilities. The government provided very little support for schools to include accommodations, and there were few teachers trained to teach students with disabilities.

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, but the government did not enforce these laws. The National Council for Comprehensive Attention to Persons with Disability (CONAIPD), composed of representatives from multiple government entities, is the governmental agency responsible for protecting disability rights, but it lacked enforcement power. According to a CONAIPD representative, the government did not effectively enforce legal requirements for access to buildings, information, and communications for persons with disabilities. Few access ramps or provisions for the mobility of persons with disabilities existed.

CONAIPD stated there was no mechanism to verify compliance with the law requiring businesses and nongovernment agencies to hire one person with disabilities for every 25 hires. CONAIPD reported employers frequently fired persons who acquired disabilities and would not consider persons with disabilities for work for which they qualified. In addition some academic institutions did not accept children with disabilities.

No formal system existed for filing with the government a discrimination complaint involving a disability.

On May 24, Elba Chacon, coordinator of the human rights program at the Network of Survivors and Persons with Disabilities Foundation, asked the government to update the statistics on persons with disabilities. CONAIPD last carried out the National Survey of in Persons with Disabilities 2015. Chacon said the government did not have updated statistics on access to government services and resources for persons with disabilities.

Organizations of persons with disabilities protested outside the Ministry of Finance on August 30 to demand the government comply with the Special Law on the Inclusion Persons with Disabilities of that was implemented in January. The law includes plans to create a new CONAIPD with greater autonomy to hear complaints and impose sanctions for noncompliance with the law; however, the ministry did not allocate a budget to carry out the law.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although the law prohibits discrimination based on HIV/AIDS status, Entre Amigos, an NGO that works on issues concerning LGBTQI+ persons, reported HIV-related discrimination was widespread. As of August 31, the PDDH reported three alleged cases of discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS.

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

Police and gangs continue to commit acts of violence against LGBTQI+ individuals. These actions were tolerated by the government, and perpetrators were rarely prosecuted.

On February 20, the Attorney General’s Office announced three MS-13 gang members were convicted of homicide for the 2017 murders of two transgender women in San Luis Talpa, La Paz Department, and each was sentenced to more than 60 years in prison. The Prosecutor’s Office handled the case as a quarrel between gangs and not as a crime related to gender identity of the victims, and as a result the Prosecutor’s Office did not categorize the homicides as hate crimes.

On April 25, Zashy del Cid, a transgender woman, died in San Miguel after she was shot in the back while walking down the street. As of June 5, police had made no arrests. A report by Association Communicating and Training Trans Women in El Salvador (COMCAVIS Trans) found that gangs were responsible for nearly two-thirds of the violence against the LGBTQI+ community.

LGBTQI+ activists reported to the Attorney General’s Office that they received death threats on social media. Police generally failed to act on these reports. NGOs reported that public officials, including police, engaged in violence and discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons. Persons from the LGBTQI+ community stated the PNC and officials from the Attorney General’s Office harassed transgender and gay individuals who reported cases of violence against LGBTQI+ persons, including by conducting unnecessary and invasive strip searches.

In 2020 the Bukele administration eliminated five presidential secretariats created under the previous administration, including the Secretariat of Inclusion. The responsibilities of the secretariat moved to the Gender and Diversity Office in the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, which has no authority to influence policy and insufficient support to implement programs. It did not provide any significant public services.

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, which applies to discrimination in housing, employment, nationality, and access to government services. Gender identity and sexual orientation are included in the law covering hate crimes, along with race and political affiliation. Despite the existence of these laws, the government has not taken enforcement actions against violators.

As of August 31, the PDDH reported seven alleged cases of discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons. The PDDH confirmed on February 14 that they opened an investigation into the possible discrimination against an army officer who complained of being discharged due to his sexual orientation. On January 31, the Lieutenant Cristian Adalberto Castro Grijalva was discharged from the army for “public or private conduct that is notoriously immoral or contrary to good customs or public order.” Castro Grijalva said his sexual orientation was not a secret and that it never affected his performance.

Supreme Electoral Tribunal guidelines state individuals may not be denied the right to vote because the photograph on their identification card does not match their physical appearance. Nonetheless, media documented cases of transgender persons who faced harassment while voting in the municipal elections during the year because their name and photograph on their national identification document did not match their expression of gender identity.

COMCAVIS Trans reported that the LGBTQI+ community faced discrimination when obtaining health care. Lesbian women said their gynecologists only focused on HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases when they learned that their patients were lesbian instead of spending time treating routine gynecological issues. According to COMCAVIS Trans, transgender persons also faced discrimination from medical staff when they insisted on calling patients by their legal name instead of their chosen names.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of most workers to form and join independent unions, to strike, and to bargain collectively. The law also prohibits antiunion discrimination, although it does not require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Military personnel, national police, judges, and high-level public officers may not form or join unions. The labor code does not cover public-sector workers and municipal workers, whose wages and terms of employment are regulated by the 1961 civil service law. Only citizens may serve on unions’ executive committees. The labor code also bars individuals from holding membership in more than one trade union.

Unions must meet complex requirements to register, including having a minimum membership of 35 individuals. If the Ministry of Labor denies registration, the law prohibits any attempt to organize for up to six months following the denial. Collective bargaining is obligatory only if the union represents a majority of workers.

Unions experienced lengthy delays by the Ministry of Labor in processing their credentials, some facing up to eight months when it previously took a maximum of two months. Without credentials, unions cannot participate in collective bargaining. According to media reports, the Ministry of Labor rewarded like-minded unions with expedited credentials and punished unions critical of the government with delays in their certification. Minister of Labor Rolando Castro stated the delays were due to incorrect or incomplete information in their paperwork.

The law contains cumbersome and complex procedures for conducting a legal strike. The law does not recognize the right to strike for public and municipal employees or for workers in essential services. The law does not specify which services meet this definition, and courts therefore applied this provision on a case-by-case basis. The law requires that 30 percent of all workers in an enterprise must support a strike for it to be legal and that 51 percent must support the strike before all workers are bound by the decision to strike. Unions may strike only to obtain or modify a collective bargaining agreement or to protect the common professional interests of the workers. Unions must engage in negotiation, mediation, and arbitration processes before striking, although many unions often skipped or expedited these steps. The law prohibits workers from appealing a government decision declaring a strike illegal.

In lieu of requiring employers to reinstate illegally dismissed workers, the law requires employers to pay those workers the equivalent of 30 days of their basic salary for each year of service. The law specifies 30 reasons for which an employer may terminate a worker’s contract without triggering any additional responsibilities, including consistent negligence, leaking private company information, or committing immoral acts while on duty. An employer may legally suspend workers, including due to an economic downturn or market conditions.

The government did not effectively enforce the laws on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, and penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. Judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. According to union representatives, the government inconsistently enforced labor rights for a wide range of workers, and enforcement was dependent upon the political affiliations of their labor unions. Unions reported that their members frequently faced violence or threats of violence and that viable legal recourse against such violence was unavailable. Gang activity made it difficult for workers, who continued to be harassed and exposed to violence, to exercise their union activities freely.

Most unions functioned independently from the government and political parties, although many generally were aligned with political parties of Nuevas Ideas, GANA, ARENA, and the FMLN. Workers at times engaged in strikes regardless of whether the strikes met legal requirements.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government generally did not effectively enforce such laws. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The Ministry of Labor did not report on forced labor; however, it increased investigations. and adults were exposed to forced begging, domestic work, agricultural labor, construction, textile industry, and street work. Adults from neighboring countries were forced to work in construction, domestic work, and other informal sector jobs, sometimes under threat of physical violence. Gangs subjected children to forced labor in illicit activities, including selling or transporting drugs and committing homicides (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the employment of children younger than age 14 but does not prohibit all the worst forms of child labor. The law allows children between ages 14 and 18 to engage in light work if it does not damage the child’s health or development or interfere with compulsory education. The law prohibits children younger than 16 from working more than six hours per day and 34 hours per week; those younger than 18 are prohibited from working at night or in hazardous occupations. The Ministry of Labor maintained a list of types of hazardous work, which included repairing heavy machinery, mining, handling weapons, fishing and harvesting mollusks, and working at heights above five feet while doing construction, erecting antennas, or working on billboards. Children ages 16 and older may engage in light work on coffee and sugar plantations and in the fishing industry if it does not harm their health or interfere with their education.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws but did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Labor inspectors focused almost exclusively on the formal sector. According to the ministry, from January through August 2020, officials conducted 220 child labor inspections in the formal sector and found no minors working. By comparison, in 2017, according to the ministry, there were 140,700 children and adolescents working, of whom 91,257 were employed in “dangerous work” in the informal sector. No information on any investigations or prosecutions by the government was available. The ministry did not effectively enforce child labor laws in the informal sector, which represented almost 75 percent of the economy.

There were reports of children younger than age 16 engaging in the worst forms of child labor, including in coffee cultivation, fishing, shellfish collection, and fireworks production. Children were subjected to other worst forms of child labor, including commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children) and recruitment into illegal gangs to perform illicit activities in the arms and narcotics trades, including committing homicide. Children were engaged in child labor, including domestic work, construction, work in textiles, the production of cereal grains and baked goods, cattle raising, and sales. Orphans and children from poor families frequently worked as street vendors and general laborers in small businesses despite the presence of law enforcement officials.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution, labor laws, and state regulations prohibit discrimination based on age, race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin (except in cases determined to protect local workers), social origin, gender, disability, language, or HIV-positive status. The government did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations, and penalties were not commensurate to laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. Sexual orientation and gender identity are not protected in the constitution or labor law, although the PDDH and the Ministry of Labor actively sought to protect workers against discrimination on those grounds.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to age, gender, disability, and sexual orientation or gender identity (see sections 6 and 7.e.). According to the Ministry of Labor, migrant workers have the same rights as citizens, but the ministry did not effectively protect their rights.

On January 27, the Legislative Assembly approved the Special Law for the Protection of the Elderly, which prohibits establishing an age limit for job applications, using age as a cause to dismiss an employee, or forcing an employee to retire due to age.

On August 31, the Legislative Assembly approved reforms to the Law of the Judicial Career, establishing that all judges older than 60 years or with more than 30 years of service must be removed from their position. The law affected 156 judges across the country but excluded the Supreme Court of Justice, which may grant exceptions to the judges of their choosing (see section 1.e.).

Although the law provides for equal pay between men and women, women did not receive equal pay. In July the United Nations reported that women made 18 percent less than men in the same jobs. The report also stated that 53 percent of the population in the country were women and that one-third of households were supported only by the income of women.

On April 19, a Mr. Wings restaurant in Soyapango, San Salvador Department, fired an employee for being pregnant. On April 20, the Ministry of Labor confirmed that the employee had been reinstated after an intervention by a team of inspectors from the ministry. The ministry also warned the restaurant against seeking any retaliation against the employee.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The government sets the minimum wage, which varies by sector. All the wage rates were above poverty income levels.

Wage and Hour Laws: The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcement of wage and hour laws. The law sets a maximum normal workweek of 44 hours – limited to no more than six days and to no more than eight hours per day – but allows overtime, which is to be paid at double the usual hourly wage. The law mandates that full-time employees receive pay for an eight-hour day of rest in addition to the 44-hour normal workweek. The law provides that employers must pay double time for work on designated annual holidays, a Christmas bonus based on the time of service of the employee, and 15 days of paid annual leave. The law prohibits compulsory overtime for all workers other than domestic employees, such as maids and gardeners, who are obligated to work on holidays if their employer makes this request. In such cases they are entitled to double pay. The government did not adequately enforce these laws, and penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

Occupational Safety and Health: The Ministry of Labor is responsible for setting and enforcing occupational safety and health (OSH) standards, and the law establishes a tripartite committee to review these. The law requires employers to take steps to meet OSH requirements in the workplace, including providing proper equipment and training and a violence-free environment. Employers who violate labor laws may be penalized, but penalties were not commensurate with those for other similar crimes; some companies reportedly found it more cost effective to pay the fines than to comply with the law. The law promotes occupational safety awareness, training, and worker participation in OSH matters. While the laws were appropriate for the main industries and the government trained its inspectors on these standards, it did not effectively enforce them.

The number of inspectors was insufficient to deter violations. Inspectors did not have the authority to initiate unannounced inspections or sanctions. Inspections were scheduled under a calendar set by the Inspections Directorate or to verify a complaint, and labor inspectors did not notify the company prior to their arrival. Allegations of corruption among labor inspectors continued. The Labor Ministry received complaints regarding failure to pay overtime, minimum wage violations, unpaid salaries, and cases of employers illegally withholding benefits (including social security and pension funds) from workers.

Reports of overtime and wage violations existed in several sectors. According to the Labor Ministry, employers in the agricultural sector routinely violated the laws requiring annual bonuses, vacation days, or rest days. Women in domestic service faced exploitation, mistreatment, verbal abuse, threats, sexual harassment, and generally poor work conditions. Workers in the textile industry reportedly experienced violations of wage, hour, and safety laws. According to the Women Transforming Association, certain apparel companies violated women’s rights through occupational-health violations and unpaid overtime. The government was ineffective in pursuing such violations.

In some cases the country’s high crime rate undermined acceptable conditions of work as well as workers’ psychological and physical health. Some workers, such as bus drivers, bill collectors, messengers, and teachers in high-risk areas, reported being subject to extortion and death threats by gang members. The PNC received 1,131 complaints of extortion from January to August. In 2020 extortion victims totaled 1,345 for the entire year, in which five months were mandatory national lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of August the average of extortion complaints was five per day, while in all of 2020 the total was four per day.

On January 11, Diario El Mundo reported that coffee farmers complained that gangs operating near the farms did not allow cutters from outside the neighborhood to enter the farms to work unless they paid an extortion fee.

After the killing of a bus employee on July 2, there was a seven-day work stoppage of public buses on Route 151 in San Jose Villanueva, La Libertad Department, forcing approximately 5,000 persons who used the 24 buses on the route to walk or find more costly detours. Although the PNC did not present a motive for the killing, residents claimed that gang members shot and killed the man for not paying the extortion fee.

Workers may legally remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities did not effectively enforce this law.

Informal Sector: The informal sector represented almost 75 percent of the economy. Workers in the informal sector were not protected by labor laws and were not inspected by the Ministry of Labor. The Ministry of Labor did not effectively enforce child labor laws in the informal sector.

Equatorial Guinea

Executive Summary

Equatorial Guinea is nominally a multiparty constitutional republic. Since a military coup in 1979, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has dominated all branches of government in collaboration with his clan and political party, the Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea, which he founded in 1991. In 2016 President Obiang claimed to receive 93.7 percent of the vote in a presidential election that many considered neither free nor fair. In 2017 the country held legislative and municipal elections that lacked independent domestic or international monitoring and verification of the voter census, registration, and tabulation of ballots. The ruling party and its 14 coalition parties won 92 percent of the vote, taking all 75 Senate seats, 99 of 100 seats in the lower chamber, and all except one seat in municipal councils.

The vice president (Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, eldest son of President Obiang) has overall control of 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. Police report to the minister of national security, while gendarmes report to the Ministry of National Defense. Military personnel, who report to the minister of national defense, also fulfill police functions in border areas, sensitive sites, and high-traffic areas. Both ministers report to the vice president directly. Additional police elements are in the Ministries of Interior (border and traffic police), Finance (customs enforcement), and Justice (investigative and prosecuting police). Presidential security officials also exercise police functions at or near presidential facilities. Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings, by the government; torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government or on behalf of the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations; restrictions on freedom of movement and residence within the territory of a state and on the right to leave the country; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic or intimate partner violence; trafficking in persons; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons.

The government took some steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses or engaged in corruption, including certain cases prompted by criticism from the press and public, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, but impunity was a serious problem.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were anecdotal accounts of deaths in prison due to injuries inflicted by prison staff.

No specific office investigates the legality of security force killings.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices, 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 members of opposition parties, according to opposition leaders. Security personnel particularly abused persons suspected of plotting against the government, often with little or no evidence against them. Lawyers and other observers who visited prisons and jails reported serious abuses, including beatings and torture.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, citizen activists documented police officers and the military using excessive force, including beating citizens who did not abide by the government’s preventive actions, such as not adhering to mask mandates.

Authorities later fired, suspended, or arrested some of these officials, and government officials reminded security personnel to treat their fellow citizens with respect.

Police reportedly beat and threatened detainees to extract information or to force confessions.

Some military personnel and police reportedly raped, sexually assaulted, or beat women, including at checkpoints. Foreigners recounted being harassed at checkpoints, including having guns pointed at them without provocation. Senior government officials took few steps to address such violence and were sometimes implicated in ordering the violence.

Impunity was a significant problem within the security forces, due to corruption, politicization of the forces, poor training, and the ability of senior government officials to order extrajudicial acts. An inspector general’s office within the Ministry of National Security investigates abuses within the ministry.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in the country’s three prisons and 12 police station jails were generally harsh and occasionally life-threatening due to severe physical and emotional abuse, overcrowding, disease, inadequate food, poorly trained staff, limited oversight, and lack of medical care. The COVID-19 pandemic made these conditions especially concerning, particularly in Black Beach prison in Malabo.

Physical Conditions: 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.

Statistics on prisoner deaths were unavailable. There were anecdotal accounts of deaths in prison due to injuries inflicted by prison staff.

Prison cells were overcrowded, dirty, and lacked mattresses. Up to 30 detainees commonly shared one toilet that lacked toilet paper and a functioning door. Inmates rarely had access to exercise. Diseases such as COVID-19, malaria, typhoid, tuberculosis, hepatitis C, and HIV and 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 were 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 the detainees. In some cases prisoners were reportedly left in solitary confinement for extended periods.

The Ministries of Justice and National Security operated civilian prisons on military installations, with military personnel handling security outside the prisons and civilians providing security and other services within them. There were reports that military and police personnel ran the most important prisons and prevented civilian authorities from entering them. There was little information on conditions in those prisons.

Administration: Authorities did not regularly investigate credible allegations of mistreatment. Visitors and religious observance were restricted for political prisoners. Visitors had to pay guards small bribes to see detainees. Since 2020 authorities restricted visitation rights for family members and for legal counsel due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation stated that they visited prisons to report concerns, such as possible incarceration of victims of trafficking in persons.

Independent Monitoring: There was no independent monitoring of prisons or detention centers.

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.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law 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 this determination often took longer, sometimes several months. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) indicated most detainees were not charged and that judges typically failed to issue a writ of habeas corpus within the legal limit of 72 hours.

Some foreign nationals who did not have legal status complained of detention and deportation without a trial or administrative hearing. 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 in the case of political detainees. The law prohibits incommunicado detention, but local police chiefs did not always respect this prohibition.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were numerous reported cases of arbitrary arrests. The government arbitrarily arrested immigrants, opposition members, and others. Many detainees complained that bribes had to be paid to obtain release.

Police detained foreign nationals 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 making foreign nationals vulnerable to abuse through harassment, abuse, extortion, detention, and not renewing residence and work permits in a timely manner.

On September 23, authorities arrested 12 nurses in the clinic Campo Yaounde and detained them for five days in the gendarmerie jail for allegedly vaccinating foreigners in contravention of government policy. After five days, authorities released them without charge.

In October police and gendarmes arrested hundreds of foreigners, mainly from West and Central Africa, ostensibly to verify residence and employment documentation, although some who produced documents also faced arrest. Authorities held many at the national soccer stadium in Malabo.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem and in previous years 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. Authorities did not respect this right, and detainees could not challenge the validity of the charges against them.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law 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 and magistrates sometimes decided cases on political grounds, and many were members of the ruling party; others sought bribes. Impunity for politically motivated abuses was a problem, and human rights activists and opposition members had little legal recourse to protest such abuses. Authorities did not always respect court orders, and many persons turned to the legislature, the Constitutional Court, or the president in his executive role for enforcement of civil judgments on matters such as employment, land, and personal injury disputes, circumventing appropriate legal processes altogether. Credible reports alleged judges decided in favor of plaintiffs in cases against international companies in return for a percentage of damages awarded.

The military justice system 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 have no right of appeal to a higher court.

In June a military court tried three individuals for crimes related to accidental explosions at a military barracks complex in a heavily populated neighborhood outside of Bata. The government stated 98 persons were killed and 617 injured, but Human Rights Watch and a local NGO reported the death toll may have been considerably higher. Two of the individuals received prison sentences of 30 and 70 years respectively, and the third was acquitted. Lawyers including the Equatoguinean Commission of Jurists criticized the trying of the case in a military court, in view of the high number of civilian casualties, the lack of opportunity for the victims to testify or observe at the trial, and the legal requirement that the attorney general “defend the interests of the people.” Legal observers considered the trial lacked genuine accountability and transparency, as evidenced by the relatively low rank of the accused and the relative lack of evidence presented for such a complex event.

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 trail, 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. The courts, however, generally did not respect these rights. Defendants have the right to a 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, they were rarely 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. Authorities did not respect these provisions of the law.

During the 2019 trial of the alleged 2017 coup plotters, authorities tried many defendants in absentia, did not consistently provide interpreters for individuals from other African countries, and severely limited defense lawyers’ ability to meet with their clients, ask questions, or cross-examine prosecution witnesses. In 2019 the American Bar Association, which had observers at the trial, noted the proceedings’ many egregious irregularities. The convicted defendants remained in prison, except for those outside the country whom the government considered fugitives. The appeal process ended in November 2020 with the Supreme Court upholding the convictions.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of political prisoners or detainees, but no data was available on their number or length of detention. They were often held at Black Beach Prison, where they remained without charge or trial and without access to attorneys or human rights or humanitarian organizations for months at a time.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

Although the government engaged in such abuses in previous years, there were no reports of reprisals against individuals located outside the country.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights abuses through domestic courts or other administrative mechanisms, such as filing petitions with the Chamber of Deputies’ Commission on Human Rights.

The government sometimes failed to comply with court decisions pertaining to human rights, including political rights. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse court decisions to the ombudsman or the legislature.

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. Military and police personnel committed many break-ins.

Authorities reportedly monitored opposition members, NGOs, journalists, and foreign diplomats, including through internet and telephone surveillance. Members of civil society and opposition parties reported both covert and overt surveillance by security services.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, 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. Most journalists practiced self-censorship. Those who did not were subject to government surveillance, arrests, 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. In some cases authorities reprimanded individuals, removed them from their jobs, or both. For example, in 2020 the then minister of health publicly insulted a nurse who privately criticized the government’s initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: A limited number of independent media outlets were active and expressed a variety of views, but not without restriction. The country had one marginally independent newspaper that published sporadically, and an online news portal published articles including criticism of the government. Print media outlets were extremely limited. Persons close to the president, including his son, the vice president, owned the few private media outlets that existed; the vice president owned the only private broadcast media. Starting a newspaper was a complicated process governed by an ambiguous law and impeded by government bureaucracy; creating a digital presence was less onerous. Accreditation was cumbersome for both local and foreign journalists. International magazines occasionally were available in grocery stores and hotels in major cities, providing some access to global news sources.

The government owned the only national radio and television broadcast system. Journalists who worked for these entities could not report freely.

The government denied or left pending requests by political parties to establish private radio stations. Satellite broadcasts were widely available, including a French-language television channel, which the government partially owned.

International news agencies did not have correspondents or regular stringers in the country. As most foreigners need visas to visit the country, the time-consuming nature of the process effectively dissuaded some journalists from travelling, although international media covered major events. In other cases the government may have prevented reporters from obtaining visas.

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 media content through official prepublication censorship. The law also establishes criminal, civil, and administrative penalties for violation of its provisions. Journalists routinely practiced self-censorship, fearing government retaliation.

The only publishing facility available to newspapers was located at the Ministry of Information, Press, and Radio, where officials censored printed materials.  At least one newspaper publisher stated it was cheaper and easier to print newspapers abroad than locally, citing censorship as one reason.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used criminal libel and slander laws to restrict public discussion. For example, on July 30, authorities detained social activist Noelia Asama for three days in the local gendarmerie jail for alleged libel and slander against the vice president.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. The government imposed many additional restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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, including for political parties (see section 3, Political Parties and Political Participation). 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 ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE).

Civil society and political opposition members met infrequently, claiming that any gathering of activists or individuals perceived to be engaged in political activities would be seen as suspicious, and authorities would harass or detain participants.

Activists judged one curfew the government ostensibly put in place as a measure against COVID-19 to be politically motivated, since authorities allowed ruling party political events to continue, but restricted similar opposition party events.

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.

Politically motivated crackdowns on civil society organizations remained a problem, including the temporary detention of civil society activists without charge. The government was slow to authorize NGOs, especially those that worked in areas considered sensitive by the government, including human rights or those with members associated with opposition parties.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) association Somos Parte del Mundo (We are Part of the World) was still not registered after submitting its request in 2016. Local social and advocacy organization Somos + (We are More) submitted a registration request in 2018 and was also still not registered, apparently due to an opposition party member being one of its members. The legally established period for government approval is two months. In December the Ministry of Interior threatened to revoke the registration of faith-based NGO Apoyo Misionero Obra Humanitaria (Missionary Support for Humanitarian Work) for partnering with Somos + to provide lunches to children in a rural school.

The law prohibits the formation of political parties along ethnic lines. Some parties have been unable to register for years (see section 3, Political Parties and Political Representation). Only one labor organization was believed to be registered (see section 7.a.).

The law limits the amount of funding civil society organizations can receive from foreign sources to approximately 53,000 CFA francs ($96) per year. The government also pressured NGOs, especially those focused on human rights, through both overt and covert means (see section 5).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government often restricted these rights. Multiple members of the opposition reported that authorities delayed the renewal of their identity documents, effectively limiting their ability to travel within the country and abroad.

In-country Movement: Police at roadblocks routinely checked travelers, and some engaged in petty extortion. The government also conducted frequent roundups of foreign nationals at roadblocks, claiming the need to counter irregular immigration, delinquent activities, and coup attempts. The government imposed tight restrictions on interdistrict movement, nominally due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but used such restrictions to increase extortion attempts and threaten immigrants.

Foreign Travel: The government at times issued temporary travel prohibitions on senior government officials due to alleged national security concerns. After nearly two years, opposition party Citizens for Innovation (CI) leader Gabriel Nze Obiang in December had no update on his passport renewal requests, although the regular waiting period to receive a new document was approximately two to four weeks. Authorities did not permit him to travel internationally. The government stopped issuing travel documents for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government did not generally cooperate 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, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern. UNHCR did not maintain an office in country.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, but the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.

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 2017 legislative and municipal elections, the PDGE and 14 coalition parties claimed 92 percent of the vote in the country’s closed-list party system. The PDGE and its coalition partners took all 75 Senate seats and 99 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 2018 and was never allowed to take his seat. At the local level, the PDGE coalition won all but one of the municipal council seats and all but 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 blocked access to social media, opposition websites, and international channels during the electoral campaigns. Authorities closely monitored and tightly controlled public gatherings. Political parties required government authorization to hold rallies; the PDGE received preferential treatment.

Only government-selected observers participated in the election. They could not communicate for more than a week before the elections because of 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. 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. Electoral officials, led by the head of the electoral commission (the minister of interior, who was also a member of the ruling party), denied some opposition candidates the opportunity to register and applied requirements irregularly.

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. Some opposition political parties chose to boycott the elections in protest.

The government and the PDGE had a near-absolute monopoly of national media, leaving opposition political parties with almost no means to disseminate their message. Despite a “pact” regulating access to media and political financing and supposedly providing free weekly national radio and television spots for opposition parties, the PDGE received hourly radio and television coverage before and during the campaign period while opposition parties received almost none. The PDGE was also able to cover cities throughout the country 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 the 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 head the NEC. Election laws regarding the NEC were not enforced.

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 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 independent opposition parties Convergence for Social Democracy and CI. Most parties joined the PDGE coalition as part of the “aligned opposition.”

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 disclosed.

The government subjected opposition members to arbitrary arrest and harassment before and after the legislative and presidential 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 law establishing procedures to register political parties remained banned for allegedly “supporting terrorism.” The government formally abolished permit requirements for political party meetings within party buildings but required prior permission for public events, such as meetings in other venues or marches, and frequently denied the permit requests.

Despite laws that authorities stated were designed to facilitate the registration of political parties, the government prevented the registration of opposition parties. The government deregistered the CI in 2018, and it remained suspended, despite the 2018 general political amnesty and the 2018 presidential pardon of its members for sedition and other offenses. Authorities did not allow elected CI officials to take their positions in local and national offices. Attempts by CI officials to reregister or create a new party met with bureaucratic delays that appeared intended to prevent registration. High-level government officials claimed in February the party could reregister if Gabriel Nze Obiang resigned as the party leader.

Authorities removed civil servants for political reasons and without due process. Party affiliation remained a key factor in obtaining government employment.

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.

In October the PDGE concluded a “gira,” or tour of the country, in advance of the 2022 legislative elections. No opposition party conducted a gira, due to a curfew imposed at the end of the PDGE gira and to a lack of funding.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Patriarchal cultural influences, however, limited women’s political participation, especially in rural areas.

The president, vice president, prime minister, deputy prime minister, all three vice prime ministers, and the president of the chamber of deputies were men; the president of the Senate was a woman. After the 2017 elections, women occupied 21 of 72 Senate seats and 11 of 100 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. In the reshuffled August 2020 cabinet, three of the 25 cabinet ministers were women, and two of the 24 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 most of the top ranks. Estimated to constitute 80 percent of the population, the Fang group exercised dominant political and economic power. The law prohibits parties that are not national, eliminating opportunities for minority or regionally focused parties, although minorities were represented in most major parties, including the PDGE.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides severe criminal penalties for official corruption, the government did not effectively implement the law. There are no specific laws concerning conflict of interest or nepotism. On May 10, the government passed an anticorruption measure, Law No. 1/2021, imposing stricter standards of behavior on public officials regarding their interactions with the formal and informal private sector.

Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption. The president and members of his inner circle continued to amass personal fortunes from the revenues associated with monopolies on all domestic commercial ventures, as well as timber and oil exports. Corruption at all levels of government was a severe problem.

According to Freedom House, the budget process was “opaque.” The government continued to improve fiscal transparency, including auditing state-owned enterprises and public debt using international accounting firms and publishing data on public-sector debt in the budget.

Corruption: Numerous foreign investigations continued into high-level official corruption.

On July 28, France’s highest court upheld conviction of the vice president for money laundering and embezzling public funds. French authorities were expected to return $177 million in seized assets to the country.

In July 2020 authorities arrested 13 officials of the treasury for allegedly stealing financial instruments worth more than $500,000. In February authorities tried and convicted the defendants and sentenced them to five-year prison sentences and substantial fines.

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

The law restricts NGO activity. The country’s few domestic NGOs mainly focused on topics such as health, women’s empowerment, and elder care. The Center for Studies and Initiatives for the Development of Equatorial Guinea (CEIDGE) was one of the few NGOs that made public statements regarding government corruption and human rights abuses. After authorities revoked its charter in 2019, CEIDGE remained unable to conduct operations.

The government was generally suspicious of human rights activities, claiming human rights concerns were largely prompted by antigovernment exile groups and hostile foreign NGOs. Government officials rarely were cooperative and responsive to the views of human rights groups, although they cooperated in some areas, such as on combatting trafficking in persons and gender-based violence. Government officials used media outlets to try to discredit civil society actors, categorizing them as supporters of the opposition and critics of the government. The few local activists who sought to address human rights risked intimidation, harassment, unlawful detention, and other reprisals. Somos + conducted democracy events and advocated for the rights of citizens. Lack of accreditation hampered its effectiveness.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government did not generally cooperate with UN bodies focused on human rights matters or other international human rights organizations. The government did not fully cooperate with visits by representatives of human rights organizations. Members of international human rights NGOs continued to report difficulties obtaining visas to visit the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Commission on Human Rights, which is part of the Chamber of Deputies’ Committee for Complaints and Petitions, received citizen petitions. A government-funded Center for Human Rights and Democracy held human rights awareness campaigns. These human rights bodies were not fully operational, independent, or effective. An ombudsman and a coordinator for the government’s efforts to combat trafficking in persons were also not fully operational or effective.

Government officials responsible for addressing human rights problems functioned more to defend the government from accusations than to investigate human rights complaints or compile statistics.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal and punishable by 12 to 20 years’ imprisonment and fines. The law does not address spousal rape or the gender of rape survivors. The government did not enforce the law effectively, in part due to reluctance of survivors and their families to report rape. Even when survivors reported rape, police and judicial officials were reluctant to act, particularly if alleged perpetrators were politically connected or members of the military or police. LGBTQI+ women and transgender men were particularly vulnerable to sexual violence in the military, and these same groups reported abuse by their families including rape as a form of so-called conversion therapy. Transgender women reported harassment, rape, and sexual abuse in police custody.

Domestic violence is illegal. The penalty for assault ranges from one to 20 years’ imprisonment. Survivors were reluctant to report cases, and the government did not enforce the law effectively, with police and the judiciary reluctant to prosecute cases. Authorities generally treated domestic violence as a private matter to be resolved in the home, did not protect the anonymity of survivors, and often disclosed victims’ whereabouts to their alleged abusers. No statistics were available on prosecutions, convictions, or punishments.

National television on several occasions broadcast interviews with underage girls, in some cases concealing their faces, being coerced by authorities into withdrawing rape allegations. Sometimes the girls withdrew their allegations following financial settlements with their alleged rapists, or due to family or community pressure. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Gender Equality mediated some domestic disputes but had no enforcement powers.

The government-controlled media regularly broadcast public service announcements regarding domestic violence and trafficking in persons.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: In rural areas there were instances of levirate marriage, the practice by which a woman is required to marry her deceased husband’s brother, often against her will. Under such practice, women were not allowed to inherit their late husbands’ possessions. In some cases large bride prices paid to a wife’s family made it difficult for women to leave their marriages because, despite the law’s requirement for an equitable division of assets, traditional practices within the majority Fang ethnic group require reimbursement of the bride price and additional goods accrued during the marriage to a husband’s family in the case of divorce.

Sexual Harassment: Although the law prohibits sexual harassment, it continued to be a problem. The government made no effort to address the problem, and no statistics were available.

In June anonymous sources reported sexual extortion and abuse by officials on several women’s national sports teams, particularly regarding selection to the teams.

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

Legal, social, and cultural barriers and government policies impeded access to sexual and reproductive health services. LGBTQI+ individuals were generally not afforded the ability to manage their reproductive health.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors, including interviews and medical examinations at hospitals and clinics, although service providers had no specific training on handling sexual violence. Emergency contraception was not available as part of the clinical management of rape cases. There was limited access to postabortion care.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the maternal mortality rate was 301 per 100,000 live births in 2017. Major factors affecting maternal mortality included poverty, poor medical training, and limited access to health care, especially in rural areas. Prenatal and obstetric care was free in government clinics but limited primarily to the cities of Malabo and Bata. The WHO reported that skilled health personnel attended 68 percent of births, but only 21 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied through modern methods. The birth rate was 176 per 1,000 girls and women ages 15 to 19. Factors likely contributing to the high birth rate included cultural tolerance for childbirth out of wedlock, low access to sexual education and contraception in rural populations, and economic constraints forcing girls into relationship with older men who could support families.

Discrimination: While the constitution provides for equality between men and women, the law discriminates against women in matters of nationality (for example, it is easier for a man to pass citizenship to a foreign woman through marriage than it is for a woman to pass citizenship to a foreign man), real and personal property, and inheritance. The prevalence of negative stereotypes and adverse cultural norms and customs was believed to contribute to discrimination against women.

Custom confined women in rural areas largely to traditional roles. Women in urban areas experienced less overt discrimination but did not enjoy pay or access to employment and credit on an equal basis with men (see section 7.d, Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation).

The government provided courses, seminars, conferences, and media programs to sensitize the population and government agencies to the needs and rights of women. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Gender Equality held events for International Women’s Day to raise public awareness of these rights. The ministry also provided technical assistance and financial support to rural women.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law does not protect members of racial or ethnic minorities or groups from violence and discrimination.

Societal discrimination, harassment by security forces, and political marginalization of minorities were problems (see section 1.d, Arbitrary Arrest, and section 3, Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups).

The predominant ethnic group, the Fang, dominated politics and the economy. Foreigners were often victimized, including documented and irregular immigrants from Benin, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Togo, and other African countries, a significant portion of the labor force. The government required immigrants to have relevant documents, partly to address concerns regarding trafficking in persons, although police and gendarmes used documentation status to extort bribes from foreigners at routine traffic stops. In October police and gendarmes arrested hundreds of foreigners, ostensibly to verify immigration and employment documentation (see section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest).

In public speeches President Obiang frequently referred to foreigners as a security and terrorist threat and warned of a renewal of colonialism by foreign interests.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from (at least) one citizen parent, whether born in the country or abroad, but not automatically from birth on the country’s territory. If both parents are foreigners, a person born in the country can claim nationality at age 18, but the process was extremely burdensome and rarely resulted in approved citizenship. The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare requires parents to register all births and adjudicates them on a nondiscriminatory basis. Failure to register a child may result in denial of public services.

Education: Education is tuition free and compulsory until age 16, although all students are required to pay for registration, textbooks, and other materials. Most children attended school through the primary grades (sixth grade) (see section 7.c., Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment). Boys and girls generally completed secondary or vocational schooling. The Ministry of Education required teenage girls to take a pregnancy test, and those who tested positive were not allowed to attend school. LGBTQI+ girls reported discrimination or exclusion by teachers. Chores and work at home also limited girls’ access to secondary education, especially in rural areas. School enrollment was nearly identical in the elementary grades (50.1 percent for boys versus 49.9 percent for girls). By high school the percentage of girls declined slightly (50.7 percent for boys versus 49.3 percent for girls). Efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 resulted in smaller class sizes and additional school sessions. While this left many children outside the classroom due to a lack of space and staff in 2020, the hiring of temporary teachers increased staffing in public schools. Attention to school attendance generally focused more on citizen children than on their foreign resident peers.

Child Abuse: Abuse of minors is illegal, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. Corporal punishment was a culturally accepted method of discipline, including in schools.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 14. UNICEF reported, using 2011 data, that 9 percent of women were married before age 15 and 30 percent before age 18. Forced marriage occurred, especially in rural areas, although no statistics were available. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Gender Equality operated programs to deter child marriage but did not address forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children is illegal, but authorities generally did not identify nor prosecute offenders. The law specifically addresses the sale, offering, or use of children for commercial sex, and child pornography generally, and antitrafficking provisions include sexual exploitation and pornography as examples of cases of trafficking-related crimes. The law on trafficking children, however, requires a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion, and therefore does not criminalize all forms of child trafficking. The minimum age of sexual consent is 18.

Underage girls and boys were exploited in commercial sex, particularly in the two largest cities, Malabo and Bata. During the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a local NGO, transgender children were particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation, and 10 to 15 children were sexually exploited and transported between Bata and Malabo.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community was small, likely fewer than 100 persons. There were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities cannot access education, health services, public buildings and transportation on an equal basis with others. New buildings must reportedly be accessible to persons with disabilities, but inaccessible public buildings and schools remained an obstacle, including some newly constructed government buildings. Access to other state services such as health services, information, communications, transportation, and the judicial system are not explicitly provided by law.

Authorities did not investigate incidents of violence or other abuses against persons with disabilities. The law does not prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. While the law requires companies employing more than 50 employees hire a certain percentage of persons with disabilities, few if any did so. Domestic and international NGOs reported allegations that employment as a person with disabilities without high-level political sponsorship was nearly impossible. Women with disabilities reported that it was nearly impossible to obtain employment without a personal recommendation from the president’s wife.

The law does not prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. While the law requires companies employing more than 50 employees hire a certain percentage of persons with disabilities, few if any did so. Domestic and international NGOs reported allegations that employment as a person with disabilities without high-level political sponsorship was nearly impossible. Women with disabilities reported that it was nearly impossible to obtain employment without a personal recommendation from the president’s wife.

Persons with disabilities may vote and otherwise participate in civic affairs, but lack of physical access to buildings posed a barrier to full participation. Children with disabilities attended primary, secondary, and higher education, although generally no accommodations were made for their disabilities. A small number of private schools for children with disabilities operated with a combination of public and private funding.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Despite frequent public statements and radio campaigns advocating nondiscrimination, including one by President Obiang, there remained stigma regarding persons with HIV or AIDS, and many individuals kept their illness hidden. The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare estimated that less than half of persons with HIV or AIDS sought treatment, and that some persons likely avoided the no-cost treatment because of associated social stigma.

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

Security forces reportedly subjected LGBTQI+ individuals to discrimination and violence, including rape and other sexual violence, within the military and in jails and prisons. Authorities did not investigate these abuses.

No laws criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, but societal stigmatization of and discrimination against the LGBTQI+ community was a problem. The government made no effort to combat this stigma and discrimination. The government and laws do not formally recognize or protect the existence of LGBTQI+ persons or groups; no laws prohibit discrimination. The government’s position was that such sexual orientations and gender identities were inconsistent with cultural beliefs.

LGBTQI+ individuals often faced stigma from their families as well as from the government and employers. Families sometimes rejected children and forced them to leave home, often resulting in them quitting school. Authorities removed some LGBTQI+ individuals from government jobs and academia because of their perceived or actual sexual orientation. School officials reportedly denied transgender children access to some educational facilities. There were persistent reports that family members raped LGBTQI+ women to impregnate them and supposedly convert them to heterosexuality. Family members also reportedly raped transgender men. There were also reports of families of LGBTQI+ parents taking children away.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides workers the right to establish unions, affiliate with unions of their choice, and collectively bargain. The law also allows unions to conduct activities without interference. The law requires a union to have at least 50 members from a workplace to register, however, effectively blocking most union formation. The government did not generally allow unions to organize.

The government did not effectively enforce laws providing freedom of association or the right to collective bargaining. All unions must register with the government, but the registration process was costly, burdensome, opaque, and slow. The Union Organization of Small Farmers was the only legal, operational labor union. Authorities refused to recognize other unions, including the Workers Union of Equatorial Guinea, Independent Service Union, Teachers’ Trade Union Association, and the Rural Workers Organization. Most often those seeking to organize were co-opted into existing political party structures by means of pressure and incentives.

The law broadly acknowledges the right to engage in strikes, but no implementing legislation defines legitimate grounds for striking. No law requires the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity, although such dismissal may fall under wrongful termination. The government has never authorized a strike.

The government did not protect the right of unions to conduct their activities without interference. Penalties were not applied but were commensurate with those for other laws involving denial of civil rights, such as discrimination.

Labor NGOs faced restrictions and were unable to operate.

Dismissed workers could appeal to the Ministry of Labor and Social Security through their regional delegate, but there was little trust in the fairness of the system.  Citizens and foreigners with valid work permits have the right to appeal Ministry of Labor and Social Security decisions to a special standing committee of the House of Deputies established to hear citizen complaints regarding decisions by any government agency.  The committee was not active.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security conducted numerous workplace inspections to verify adherence to laws on forced labor, however, many inspections ended in bribery of the labor inspectors and no significant findings of forced or coerced labor. Despite creating an online tool and telephone numbers to report cases of forced labor and promoting its efforts online, the government did not effectively enforce the law or take sufficient action to end trafficking, and forced labor occurred. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes and are included in the law against trafficking in persons.

Employees in the public and private sector were often paid months late, although the minister of public administration and administrative reform denied any delays in salary payment for central government workers. Some workers, especially those from overseas, quit their jobs because of nonpayment, having effectively worked for months without compensation.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits some of the worst forms of child labor. There is no law that specifically prohibits using a child for illicit purposes; under the antitrafficking law, perpetrators must use coercion to be prosecuted. The law prohibits employment of children younger than age 18. With the authorization of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security and their parents or guardians, however, minors between ages 16 and 18 may perform light work that does not interfere with their schooling. The minimum age for apprenticeships is 16.

Minors are permitted to work only during the day, and their workday is limited to six hours, for which they are paid the equivalent of an eight-hour daytime work rate. The government has yet to publish any list of hazardous types of work prohibited for children.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, but labor inspectors focused mainly on the construction industry and not on child labor. The laws were not effectively enforced, and penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The government does not have data on the worst forms of child labor.

Children were reportedly transported from nearby countries, primarily Benin, Cameroon, Gabon, Nigeria, and Togo, and forced to work as domestic servants, market laborers, street vendors, launderers, and beggars. Increasingly there were reports of local children brought from rural areas to work as domestic servants in Malabo and Bata. The government occasionally provided social services on an ad hoc basis to children found working in markets. Government officials called attention to children working in markets and as street vendors and increased oversight of this sector of the economy. The law prohibits children from working as street vendors to reduce child labor.

Some children worked in family businesses, mostly in the informal economy, and were seen selling used clothes, fruit, and vegetables, especially on weekends. Other children worked as servers or cooks in family restaurants and bars.

The United Nations also documented children working as scrap metal salvagers in the aftermath of the March explosions at a military barracks outside of Bata (see also section 1.e, Trial Procedures).

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination based on race, skin color, sex, political opinion, national origin, social status, or union affiliation. Labor laws do not prohibit discrimination based on age, religion, disability, sexual orientation, language, HIV and AIDS status, or refugee or stateless status. The government did not effectively enforce these laws and regulations. Penalties were not commensurate to laws related to civil rights. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to political affiliation, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, and HIV and AIDS status. Wage discrimination against foreign migrant workers occurred. High-ranking members of independent opposition parties were unable to find work and were barred from government employment.

The government does not have an agency responsible for the protection of persons unable to work due to permanent or temporary illness or other health conditions. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security did not effectively enforce the legal mandate to employ a specific percentage of persons with disabilities in companies with 50 employees or more, nor did the government take steps to accommodate them in the workplace.

The country continued to have large gender gaps in education, equal pay, and employment opportunities. Deep-rooted stereotypes and ethnic traditions impeded women’s employment opportunities, and pregnant women, women with disabilities, and LGBTQI+ women faced further barriers. Women mostly worked in the informal sector, where they did not have access to benefits or social security. The lack of enforcement left women vulnerable to discrimination, but they rarely complained due to fear of reprisals. Additionally, the informal sector provided some women with sufficient economic resources to finance major purchases, education abroad for family members, and self-sustainability that was not provided in similar positions in the formal economy. The government did not maintain accurate or updated statistics on unemployment generally, nor by segment of society.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Gender Equality continued a program to promote self-employment among rural women.  The president’s wife, on an ad hoc basis, donated funds to promote female-owned businesses.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law requires employers to pay citizens at the same rate as foreigners and to pay domestic workers not less than 60 percent of the national minimum wage. The government enforced neither requirement. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes and were seldom enforced.

The standard work week is eight hours a day and 48 hours a week for daytime work, six hours a day and 36 hours a week for night work, and seven hours a day and 42 hours a week for mixed day and night work. Offshore workdays in the oil and gas sector are a minimum of 12 hours, of which eight hours are considered regular work and four hours are counted as overtime. The workday includes one hour for meals and breaks. The law also requires paid leave for government holidays, annual leave, and bonuses of 15 days’ pay twice yearly. Overtime is not mandatory, except as provided by law or special agreement, and is prohibited for pregnant workers. The law allows overtime for night work. Premium pay is required for overtime and holidays. Women have six weeks prematernity and postmaternity leave that can be extended for medical reasons. The law provides for two paid daily breaks of one hour each to breast feed.

Occupational Safety and Health: Appropriate occupational safety and health (OSH) standards provide for protection of workers from occupational hazards. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is responsible for setting and enforcing minimum wage, workweek rules, and OSH standards. The government did not effectively enforce OSH laws, and penalties for violating these laws were not commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence. The ministry did not publish the results of its OSH inspections.

The ministry conducted numerous workplace inspections to verify adherence to labor laws regarding pay, benefits, and working conditions. The small number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce the law effectively. When inspectors found violations, the government required some employers to correct the problem, pay fines, or pay reparations to the employees. The law permits workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

Legal protections exist for employees who are injured or killed on the job and for those who are exposed to dangerous chemicals, but these protections were generally extended only to those in the formal sector. Protections in the hydrocarbons sector exceeded minimum international safety standards.

Foreigners, including migrants from other parts of Africa, Asia, and the Americas, were sometimes subjected to poor working conditions. Some workers were exposed to hazardous chemicals, supplied with insufficient safety gear, and subjected to excessively long hours. An existing ministry website and a telephone hotline established during the year enabled workers to report workplace irregularities and violations, including safety concerns and forced labor. No cases had been reported to the hotline as of October.

Informal Sector: The government did not monitor the informal sector, which employed most workers. The country’s informal sector was estimated to have reached 32 percent of GDP by 2017 in response to growing demand for goods and services. The informal sector is mainly made up of small businesses that provide consumables and services, such as frozen food, produce stands, fish and fish products, hair salons, convenience stores, auto repair shops, restaurants, and bars. Most of the businesses are owned by women or by African immigrants. Employees and businesses in the informal sector are vulnerable to extorsion and abuse from officials, including demands for bribes, occasional demolition of structures, and harassment from police and gendarmes.

Eritrea

Executive Summary

Eritrea is a highly centralized, authoritarian regime under the control of President Isaias Afwerki. A constitution drafted in 1997 was never implemented. The People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, headed by the president, is the sole political party. There have been no national-level elections since an independence referendum in 1993.

Police are responsible for maintaining internal security, and the armed forces are responsible for external security, but the government sometimes used the armed forces, reserves, demobilized soldiers, or civilian militia to meet domestic as well as external security requirements. Agents of the national security service, a separate agency that 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. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over most security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

The country continued to experience significant adverse changes in its human rights situation due to its intervention in the conflict in northern Ethiopia, which began in November 2020 and continued throughout the year. The Eritrean Defense Forces were responsible for widespread and serious human rights abuses, including execution, rape, and torture of civilians within Ethiopia.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful and arbitrary killings; forced disappearance; torture; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners; serious problems with judicial independence; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in a conflict, including reportedly unlawful and widespread civilian harm, rape, and enforced disappearances; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including censorship and the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; severe restrictions on religious freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement and residence within the territory of the state and on the right to leave the country; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government restrictions on domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic or intimate partner violence; trafficking in persons; existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; outlawing of independent trade unions; and the worst forms of child labor.

The government did not generally take steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights abuses. Impunity for such abuses was the norm.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

While there were no credible reports of unlawful or politically motivated killings within the country, there were credible reports that government forces deployed in northern Ethiopia committed arbitrary or unlawful killings (see section 1.g.).

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 disappearances or to investigate or punish those responsible. 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. The disappeared included persons presumably detained for political and religious beliefs, journalists, and individuals suspected of evading national service and militia duties; others were disappeared for unknown offenses.

There were no known developments in the case of the G-15, a group of former ruling party members and officials who called for reforms, and of journalists detained in 2001.

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

The law prohibits torture. Reports of torture, however, continued, especially against political prisoners. According to UN experts, torture is allegedly common at the Eiraeiro prison. Former prisoners who have escaped the country have reported being tied up and held upside down on frames, legs and arms bound, while their feet, legs and buttocks were beaten with sticks or wire.

In August 2019, Human Rights Watch published a report documenting security forces’ torture, including by beating, prisoners, army deserters, national service evaders, of persons attempting to flee the country without travel documents, and members of certain religious groups.

Former prisoners described two specific forms of punishment by security forces known as “helicopter” and “8.” For “helicopter,” prisoners lie face down on the ground and their hands and legs are tied behind them. For “8,” they are tied to a tree. Prisoners were often forced to stay in either position for 24-48 hours, in some cases longer, and only released to eat or to relieve themselves. 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.

Lack of transparency and access to information made it impossible to determine the numbers or circumstances of deaths due to torture or other abuse.

Impunity remained a serious problem among security forces. The government did not release any information to indicate it had conducted investigations of alleged abuses, making it difficult to assess the extent of the problem among the different branches of the security services.

The Eritrean Defense Forces (EDF) were responsible for serious human rights abuses, including execution, rape, and torture of civilians, within Ethiopia as part of its military involvement there (see section 1.g.).

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Detention conditions reportedly remained harsh, leading to serious damage to health and, in some instances, death, but the lack of independent access made accurate reporting impossible.

Physical Conditions: There were numerous official and unofficial detention centers, some located in military camps. The law requires that 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 death rates 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. There was no available information to determine whether the government acted against persons responsible for detainee deaths.

Authorities are believed to have continued the practice of holding some detainees incommunicado in metal shipping containers and underground cells without toilets or beds. The government did not consistently provide adequate basic or emergency medical care in prisons or detention centers. Food, sanitation, ventilation, and lighting were inadequate, and potable water was sometimes available only for purchase.

Former prisoners described prolonged food shortages, which sometimes led to anemia or even the need for hospitalization. One former prisoner claimed to have been without food for 42 days. Other former prisoners reported no such issues.

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. Political prisoners were thought to be more likely to be held in the underground cells.

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.

The government did not grant consular access to detained dual nationals, whom it considers to be only Eritrean. Authorities generally did not permit family visits with persons detained, arrested, or convicted for national security reasons. Former prisoners reported some religious literature was considered contraband, and its possession could result in torture. 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 of prisoner conditions by independent government or nongovernmental observers or by international bodies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross. The government also did not provide the international committee with information about or access to reported Ethiopian and Djiboutian prisoners of war detained in the country.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The unimplemented constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government did not observe these provisions.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law stipulates that, unless a crime is in progress, police must investigate 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 for 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 informing them the reason for their detention. Authorities sometimes arbitrarily changed charges during detention. The law provides for a bail system, but bail was often denied for no apparent reason, and bail amounts were capricious.

Detainees held on national security grounds did not have access to counsel. Other detainees, including indigent persons, also often did not have such access. Incommunicado detention was widespread. Detainees did not have routine access to visitors.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrest occurred frequently. 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 without an exit visa or passport, and for unspecified national security threats. Authorities also continued to arrest members of unregistered Christian groups. 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 identify those unwilling to participate in the militia.

During the year the government both arrested and released religious prisoners. According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, officials released 70 religious prisoners in January and February: six on January 27, and 64 on February 1. On April 5, Release International reported two new sets of arrests, one of 23 women in Asmara and the other of 12 women in Assab. On April 12, BBC reported that 36 Christians were released on bail, including 22 of the 23 arrested in Asmara (first reported by Release International) and of 14 who had been in prison on the Dahlak islands for four years. In September, according to Christianity Today, 15 more Christians were arrested, all of whom had previously been imprisoned for their religion.

Some 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: Authorities brought few, if any, persons detained on alleged 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 provides for an independent judiciary, but executive control of the judiciary continued, and the judiciary was neither independent nor impartial. 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 and public trial, although it allows for limits on the public nature for cases involving national security. In practice, these rights were not respected.

There is no presumption of innocence or right 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 a 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 the rights to defendants in cases deemed unrelated to national security. There is no right of 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 have the right to present evidence and witnesses. In normal cases, defendants can choose their attorney or have one assigned to them, but this right is not afforded to defendants in national security cases.

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 were elected by the community.

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 duty (see also section 1.b., Disappearance). In 2019 Amnesty International estimated there were hundreds of “prisoners of conscience… including journalists, former politicians and practitioners of unauthorized religions.” The government did not permit access to political detainees, most of whom were housed in unofficial facilities.

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 prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, but the government did not respect these rights.

Many citizens believed the government monitored cell phones. Authorities required permits to use SIM cards.

The government used an extensive informer system to gather information.

Without notice, authorities reportedly entered homes and threatened individuals without explanation. Security forces reportedly detained and interrogated the parents, spouses, or siblings of individuals who evaded national service or fled the country.

Ruling party administration offices and their associated local militia units, composed of persons who had finished their national service but were still required to assist with security matters, reportedly checked homes or whole neighborhoods to confirm residents’ attendance at national service projects.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

Killings: The EDF were reportedly responsible for deliberately killing civilians, including Eritrean refugees, in northern Ethiopia as part of the conflict there. On May 21, the Attorney General of Ethiopia accused the EDF of killing 110 civilians in November 2020, including 40 who were pulled from their homes in house-to-house raids. Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Tigray described a systematic effort by the EDF to inflict as much harm on the ethnic Tigrayan population as possible in areas where the EDF operated. IDPs reported that in some cases, the EDF used knives or bayonets to slash the torsos of pregnant women and then left them for dead. The EDF reportedly forced survivors to leave the bodies of the dead where they lay or face execution themselves. Many IDPs recounted instances of witnessing the rape, murder, and torture of friends and family members by the EDF.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: According to media and NGO reports, the EDF was responsible for massacres, looting, and sexual assaults in Tigray; EDF troops raped, tortured, and executed civilians; the EDF also destroyed property and ransacked businesses; and the EDF purposely shot civilians in the street and carried out systematic house-to-house searches, executing men and boys, and forcibly evicted Tigrayan families from their residences.

The EDF also reportedly engaged in sexual violence to terrorize and traumatize Tigrayan civilians. IDPs also spoke of a “scorched earth” policy intended to prevent IDPs from returning home.

According to Amnesty International, several women reported being raped by EDF personnel inside Ethiopia, including some who reported being held captive for weeks. According to Human Rights Watch, Eritrean soldiers forcibly repatriated Eritrean refugees and largely destroyed the Hitsats and Shimelba refugee camps. Human Rights Watch said Eritrean troops killed at least 31 individuals in Hitsats town. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UN refugee agency), more than 7,600 of the 20,000 refugees sheltering at the Hitsats and Shimelba camps in October 2020 remained unaccounted for as of August.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

Although the law provides 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.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The law bans private broadcast media and foreign ownership of media. 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 by anyone lacking a permit and the printing or dissemination of prohibited foreign publications are punishable under the law.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reported there were 16 journalists in detention.

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 required government approval, and a subscriber’s bill could be paid only in hard currency, but access to free Egyptian satellite television was common. Satellite radio stations operated by diaspora Eritreans reached listeners in the country. Citizens could also receive radio broadcasts originating in Ethiopia.

Violence and Harassment: The government did not provide information on the location or health of journalists it detained and who were held incommunicado.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law requires submission of documents, including books, to the government for approval prior to publication. Most independent journalists were 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.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes libel as a misdemeanor and prescribes a punishment of between one and six months’ imprisonment and a fine. The law also criminalizes “malicious injury to honor or reputation,” which covers true statements communicated solely to damage a person’s reputation and prescribes a punishment of less than one month in prison and a fine. It is unclear if these provisions were enforced.

National Security: The government repeatedly asserted national security concerns were the basis of limitations on free speech and expression.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for freedom of assembly, but the government restricted this right. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities investigated and interfered with large gatherings lacking prior approval, except for government-affiliated organizations or of religious observances of the four officially registered religious groups. As a COVID-19 pandemic preventative measure, large gatherings (other than government-organized events) were banned.

Freedom of Association

The law provides citizens the right to form organizations for political, social, economic, and cultural ends. It specifies 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 prohibited the formation of nongovernmental 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 https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.