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Afghanistan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, but the government sometimes restricted these rights to varying degrees.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: While the law provides for freedom of speech, which was widely exercised, there were reports authorities at times used pressure, regulations, and threats to silence critics. Freedom of speech was also considerably more constrained at the provincial level, where local power brokers, such as former mujahedin-era military leaders, exerted significant influence and authority to intimidate or threaten their critics, both private citizens and journalists.

Press and Media Freedoms: While media reported independently throughout the year, often openly criticizing the government, full press freedoms were lacking. At times authorities used pressure, regulations, and threats to silence critics. Politicians, security officials, and others in positions of power arrested, threatened, or harassed journalists because of their coverage. Freedom of speech and an independent media were even more constrained at the provincial level, where many media outlets had links to specific personalities or political parties, to include former mujahedin military leaders who owned many of the broadcasting stations and print media and influenced their content.

Print media continued to publish independent magazines, newsletters, and newspapers. A wide range of editorials and dailies openly criticized the government. There were concerns, however, that media independence and safety remained at high risk in light of increased attacks. Due to high levels of illiteracy, television and radio were the preferred information source for most citizens. Radio remained more widespread due to its relative accessibility, with approximately 75 percent radio penetration, compared with approximately 50 percent for television.

The Ministry of Information and Culture has authority to regulate the press and media. In 2015 the ministry dissolved the Media Violations Investigation Commission, whose evaluations of complaints against journalists were criticized as biased and not based on the law. Human Rights Watch reported the ministry routinely ignored officials who threatened, intimidated, or even physically attacked members of the press. While the ministry has legal responsibility for regulating media, the council of religious scholars (the Ulema Council) had considerable influence over media affairs.

In January the information ministry created the Independent Mass Media Commission. The commission is responsible for reregistering all media outlets in the country. Media activists condemned the new reregistration process, citing the high fees to undergo the process would hurt media outlets, particularly the smaller radio and television stations in the provinces. As of September media advocates had been able to delay the implementation of the new reregistration regulation.

In February, after the president issued a decree to implement current media laws and strengthen freedom of expression, the executive created a committee to investigate cases of violence against journalists. The committee met multiple times in the first half of the year and identified 432 cases eligible for investigation. The committee sent the cases to the appropriate government institutions associated with the violations for investigation, including the Ministry of Interior and NDS forces. As of September none of the government institutions had started an investigation or provided a response to the committee.

In May parliament members criticized the lack of full implementation of the 2014 Access to Information law. The Commission on Monitoring Access to Information stated a lack of budget and lack of government support resulted in weak implementation of the law.

Violence and Harassment: Government used threats, violence, and intimidation to silence opposition journalists, particularly those who spoke out about impunity, war crimes, government officials, and powerful local figures. The AJSC reported that 50 percent of 101 incidents of attacks against journalists, including 13 cases of killings, 30 cases of beatings, 35 cases of intimidation, 17 cases of abuse, and six cases of injury, were attributed to government officials. In an October 30 press conference, Nai, an NGO supporting media freedom, reported that violence against media workers had increased to approximately 370 cases, in comparison with 95 cases in 2015. According to Nai, nearly 300 journalists left their jobs during the year due to threats. For example, according to reports, on June 5, police beat a reporter from Kawoon Ghag Radio while he reporting on an event where donations were distributed to poor families.

On August 29, while the president visited Bamyan Province to inaugurate the refurbished provincial airport, progovernment forces, including the president’s protective detail, allegedly harassed and beat protesters and journalists. Some journalists reported government security forces used violence against them and removed film or digital photographs from their equipment. Human Rights Watch received reports of NDS forces detaining journalists and activists for 24 hours. The Presidential Palace first rejected claims of journalists being beaten or detained during the August Bamyan visit, but later the president ordered an investigation.

On August 28, the leading independent daily newspaper, Hasht-e-Subh, intentionally left an entire page empty of content in all Herat city editions to highlight censorship of a news feature detailing corruption and smuggling allegations against Herat provincial council chief Kamran Alizai. The newspaper’s editor in chief, Parwiz Kawa, publicly stated the blank page demonstrated what he termed was a “preventive and protective” protest against an unnamed “powerful official.” He said editors were responding to threats against their regional offices by Alizai, who also maintained an illegal private militia. On the following day, Hasht-e-Subh published an article claiming the AGO assured editors that Alizai was under investigation, had been suspended from his duties, and had been banned from leaving the country. In the meantime the president’s deputy spokesperson, Shah Hussain Murtazawi, told Hasht-e-Subh, “Anyone who challenges independent media would be harshly confronted by the government.”

Prevailing security conditions created a dangerous environment for journalists, even when they were not specific targets. Media organizations and journalists operating in remote areas were more vulnerable to violence and intimidation because of the increased level of insecurity and pronounced fear from insurgents, warlords, and organized criminals. They also reported local governmental authorities were less cooperative in facilitating access to information.

On August 24, the National Security Council approved a new set of guidelines to address cases of violence against journalists. The new initiative entails the creation of a joint national committee in Kabul and separate committees in provincial capitals, a coordination center to investigate and identify perpetrators of violence against journalists, and a support committee to be run by the NDS to identify threats against journalists. The joint committee, to be chaired by the second vice president, was expected to register new cases, call for support from judicial bodies to prosecute perpetrators, and publicly share statistics on cases. Activists welcomed the government’s initiative.

An independent organization focused on the safety of journalists continued to operate a safe house for journalists facing threats. It reported law enforcement officials generally cooperated in assisting journalists who faced credible threats, although limited investigative capacity meant many cases remained unresolved. The Afghan Independent Bar Association established a media law committee to provide legal support, expertise, and services to media organizations.

Women constituted approximately 20 percent of media workers, compared with 30 percent in 2015. Some women oversaw radio stations across the country, and some radio stations emphasized almost exclusively female concerns. Nevertheless, female reporters found it difficult to practice their profession. Poor security, lack of training, and unsafe working conditions limited the participation of women in the media. The AJSC released a special report in March on the situation of female journalists, noting that sexual harassment continued to be wide spread in the media industry. If not subjected to sexual harassment and abuse at work, female journalists often faced pressure by their families to leave the media profession or at least not to show their faces on television.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government reportedly sought to restrict reporting on topics deemed contrary to the government’s messaging.

Some media observers claimed journalists reporting on administrative corruption, land embezzlement, and local officials’ involvement in narcotics trafficking engaged in self-censorship due to fear of violent retribution by provincial police officials and powerful families. Fearing retribution by government officials, media outlets sometimes preferred to quote from foreign media reports on sensitive topics and in some cases fed stories to foreign journalists.

Nai conducted a survey in Kabul and five different provinces that revealed 94 percent of local social media users practiced self-censorship, fearing security threats and intimidation,

Libel Laws: The penal code and the mass media law prescribe jail sentences and fines for defamation. Authorities sometime used defamation as a pretext to suppress criticism of government officials.

National Security: Journalists complained government officials frequently invoked the national interest exception in the Access to Information law to avoid disclosing certain information.

Nongovernmental Impact: Journalists continued to face threats from the Taliban and other insurgents. Some reporters acknowledged they avoided criticizing the insurgency and some neighboring countries in their reporting because they feared Taliban retribution. In February, two Afghan Adib radio workers in Pol-e Khomri in Baghlan Province were brutally attacked, leaving one in a coma. Taliban forces reportedly were behind the attack, although no group claimed responsibility.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reported local and foreign reporters continued to be at risk of kidnapping.

The Taliban continued to threaten journalists associated with two privately owned Afghan television outlets, ToloNews TV, and 1TV. The Taliban’s military commission designated both outlets as “military objectives” due to their perceived disrespectful coverage and claims that they broadcast propaganda, ridiculed religion, and injected the minds of youth with immorality. The Taliban for the first time openly threatened ToloNews in 2015, after the news channel reported allegations of executions, rape, kidnappings, and other abuses by the Taliban when Kunduz fell to the antigovernment group. On January 20, a Taliban suicide bomber in Kabul targeted and struck a minibus carrying Kaboora production staff, an affiliate of ToloNews, killing seven. On June 8, unknown gunmen launched a grenade attack on Enikas Radio in Jalalabad, just three days after an American journalist and a translator embedded in a local security forces convoy were killed by an ambush in Helmand Province on June 5.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

Media outlets and activists routinely used social media to discuss political developments, and Facebook was widely used in urban areas. The Taliban used the internet and social media (for example, Twitter) to spread its messages. Internet usage remained relatively low due to high prices, inadequate local content, and illiteracy.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no reports that the government imposed restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events during the year.

Albania

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of viewpoints, although there were some efforts to exert direct and indirect political and economic pressure on the media, including threats and violence against journalists who tried to investigate crime and corruption stories. Political pressure, corruption, and lack of funding constrained the independent print media, and journalists reportedly practiced self-censorship.

Online media saw a dramatic growth during the year, which added to the diversity of views. According to 2015 estimates, approximately 15 percent of the country’s 1,500 reporters worked in online media outlets.

In its annual Media Sustainability Index, the International Research and Exchanges Board indicated that the economic crisis continued to erode the independence of the media. At least one major newspaper closed for financial reasons. Funding for organizations that pushed for a more independent press remained limited, and the press was vulnerable to misuse under constant political and economic pressure.

The majority of citizens received their news from television and radio. The independence of the Audiovisual Media Authority, the regulator of the broadcast media market, remained questionable. The role of the authority remained limited, even after its board was fully staffed in mid-year.

In May the Constitutional Court decided in favor of a petition by the Albanian Electronic Media Association to abrogate a law that prevented an individual shareholder from owning more than a 40 percent share in a national broadcast media outlet. Some observers viewed the decision as paving the way to the potential monopolization of the already small number of national digital broadcast licenses. The EU, the Council of Europe, and the OSCE had previously criticized a 2015 attempt by the Assembly to annul the same article.

While private television stations generally operated free of direct government influence, most owners used the content of their broadcasts to influence government action toward their other businesses. Business owners also freely used media outlets to gain favor and promote their interests with political parties.

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

On May 9, the Union of Albanian Journalists denounced the severe beating of sports journalist Eduard Ilnica, allegedly for reporting on the violent behavior of a coach during a soccer match. Authorities arrested the coach and released him on bail. There were reports that Ilnica decided not to press charges after reaching a private agreement with the defendant, but the prosecutor’s office took the case to court; a trial was pending.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists often practiced self-censorship to avoid violence and harassment and as a response to pressure from publishers and editors seeking to advance their political and economic interests. A 2015 survey by the Balkan Investigative Regional Network Albania found that large commercial companies and important advertisers were key sources of pressure. Lack of economic security reduced reporters’ independence and contributed to bias in reporting. Albanian journalist unions continued to report significant delays in salary payments to reporters at most media outlets. Financial problems led some journalists to rely more heavily on outside sources of income.

On August 20, the Union of Albanian Journalists condemned the so-called arbitrary dismissal of Alida Tota, news director at A1 TV, allegedly for reporting the August death of a 17-year-old boy working in the Sharra landfill near Tirana. A letter from the station owner to Tota published in the media stated that she was employed for an indefinite trial period and would be terminated from her position. Tota claimed she was dismissed because the Sharra story held the municipality of Tirana responsible for the conditions of child labor in the landfill.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law permits private parties to file criminal charges and obtain financial compensation for insult or deliberate publication of defamatory information. NGOs reported that the fines, which could be as much as three million leks ($24,000), were excessive and, combined with the entry of a conviction into the defendant’s criminal record, undermined freedom of expression.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to June data from Internet World Stats, 1.82 million persons, or approximately 60 percent of the population, used the internet. Approximately 35 percent of users accessed the internet through mobile telephones.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Algeria

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and independent media outlets criticized government officials and policies, but the government restricted these rights. The government’s techniques included harassment of some critics; arbitrary enforcement of vaguely worded laws; informal pressure on publishers, editors, advertisers, and journalists; and control of a significant proportion of the country’s advertising money and printing capabilities. Some media figures alleged the government used its control over most printing houses and large amounts of public sector advertising preferentially, and that the lack of clear regulations over these practices permitted it to exert undue influence on press outlets.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals were limited in their ability to criticize the government publicly without reprisal. Authorities arrested and detained citizens for doing so, and citizens practiced self-restraint in expressing public criticism. The law criminalizing speech about the conduct of the security forces during the internal conflict of the 1990s remained in force, although there were no cases of arrest or prosecution under the law during the year. The law provides for up to three years’ imprisonment for tracts, bulletins, or flyers that “may harm the national interest” or up to one year for defaming or insulting the president, parliament, army, or state institutions. Government officials monitored political meetings. Authorities used laws against slander of public officials to restrict public discussion.

On August 3, the government published a law passed by parliament that broadens laws on defamation to cover the conduct of retired military officers. The law specifies that retired officers who engage in a “dereliction of duty that harms the honor and respect due to state institutions constitutes an outrage and defamation” and can result in legal action under applicable laws. The law further prohibits speech that damages “the authority and the public image of the military institution.”

In March a court in Tlemcen issued human rights activist Zoulikha Belarbi a DZD 100,000 ($916) fine for posting a photograph on Facebook that was deemed insulting to President Bouteflika. The offending post showed a retouched image of the president and other political figures that made them look like characters from a Turkish television show, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Press and Media Freedoms: The National Agency for Publishing and Advertising (ANEP) controls public advertising for print media. According to the NGO Reporters without Borders, private advertising existed but frequently came from businesses with close links to the ruling political party. In September 2015 ANEP stated it represented only half of the total advertising market, while nongovernmental sources assessed the majority of daily newspapers depended on ANEP-authorized advertising to finance their operations. Minister of Communication Hamid Grine stated in February that ANEP’s budget had been cut by 50 percent. The government’s lack of transparency over its use of state-funded advertising permitted it to exert undue influence over print media.

Activists and journalists criticized the government for criminally prosecuting two KBC TV journalists, Mehdi Benaissa and Ryad Hartouf, for allegedly making false statements in their applications for filming permits and their alleged unauthorized use of a television studio. The studio had previously belonged to Al-Atlas TV, which authorities shut down in 2014. In addition to the arrests of Benaissa and Hartouf, authorities shut down two of KBC’s political satire programs, which were filmed in the studio in question. Benaissa and Hartouf’s suspended sentences were announced on July 18, shortly after a court on July 13 canceled the sale of KBC’s parent company, El Khabar Group, to a subsidiary of a company owned by businessman Issad Rebrab, who has been critical of the government. The Ministry of Communication, which had sued to cancel the transaction, said the ruling was based on the law’s prohibition on one person owning multiple news outlets.

In October 2015 Algiers police raided the headquarters of El-Watan El-Djazairya, a private, foreign-based television station broadcasting in the country, and closed down the station upon orders of the Algiers mayor. Minister of Communication Grine accused the television station of “harming a state symbol” during an interview it transmitted on October 3, 2015, with the former emir of the Islamic Salvation Army, Madani Mezrag. During the interview Mezrag indirectly threatened President Bouteflika after the president affirmed the government would not let Mezrag form a political party due to his connection to terrorist activities. In September, Djaafar Chelli, the former owner of El Watan El-Djazairya, received a DZD 10 million ($91,575) fine for broadcasting the interview with Mezrag.

Many civil society organizations, government opponents, and political parties, including legal Islamist parties, had access to independent print and broadcast media and used them to express their views. Opposition parties also disseminated information via the internet and published communiques but stated they did not have access to the national television and radio. Journalists from independent print and broadcast media expressed frustration over the near impossibility of receiving information from public officials. With the exception of several daily newspapers, the majority of print media outlets relied on the government for physical printing materials and operations.

In January a court reclassified a charge against journalist and LADDH board member Hassan Bouras, resulting in his release from El Bayadh prison after three months in custody. Prosecutors had charged Bouras in October 2015 with insulting a government body and inciting armed conflict against the state. As of November charges against Bouras had not been dropped, according to his lawyer. Separately, in November an El Bayadh court indicted Bouras for producing a video alleging that certain police officials and judges were involved in corruption. The court on November 28 convicted Bouras of complicity in offending a judicial officer, law enforcement officers, and a public body and of unlawfully practicing a profession regulated by law, sentencing him to one year in prison plus fines. Bouras’s appeal remained pending at year’s end.

Organizations wishing to initiate regular publications must obtain authorization from the government. The law requires the director of the publication to hold Algerian citizenship. The law additionally prohibits local periodicals from receiving direct or indirect material support from foreign sources. The CNCPPDH noted in its 2014 annual report that lack of a law controlling advertising was the largest hurdle to improving transparency of the distribution of public advertising (see also section 5). In May CNCPPDH president Farouk Ksentini said that depriving certain newspapers of public advertising revenue was “contrary to democracy and a violation of the constitution.”

In September the Ministry of Communication stated there were 332 accredited written publications, which included 149 daily newspapers, 47 weekly and 75 monthly magazines, and other specialized publications. Of the daily printed publications, the ministry stated six were state-operated.

The ministry’s Media Directorate is responsible for issuing and renewing accreditations to foreign media outlets operating in the country. Although this accreditation is required to operate legally, the vast majority of foreign media were not accredited. While the government tolerated their operations in the past, Minister Grine stated in April the number of private satellite channels that would receive frequencies would be limited to 13. He said in September that foreign-based unaccredited television outlets would be shut down. As of year’s end, however, the government had not shut down any such outlets. On June 20, the government instated the Audiovisual Regulatory Authority (ARAV), a nine-member body that regulates television and radio. In August ARAV published regulations that require the shareholders and managers of any radio or television channel to be Algerian citizens and prohibits them from broadcasting content that offends “values anchored in Algerian society.”

The ministry also issues and renews accreditation of foreign correspondents reporting in the country. According to the ministry, 13 accredited foreign press agencies reported during the year. In addition to five private domestic television channels, 12 foreign broadcasting channels and two foreign radio stations operated throughout the year.

The law mandates that online news outlets must inform the government of their activities but does not require them to request authorization to operate.

Violence and Harassment: News sources critical of the government reported instances of government harassment and intimidation due to their reporting. Government officials arrested and temporarily detained journalists.

On June 27, police arrested Mohamed Tamalt, a freelance journalist and blogger based in the United Kingdom. He was charged with insulting President Bouteflika on Facebook and sentenced to two years in prison and a DZD 200,000 ($1,832) fine. On December 11, Tamalt died following a prolonged hunger strike protesting his arrest and continued imprisonment.

On June 21, police officers encircled the new headquarters of the El Watan daily newspaper and ordered its staff to vacate the building. Local officials said the building did not conform to the construction permits granted by the government. As of September El Watan had not been permitted to take occupancy of the building.

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

Some observers viewed the July conviction of two KBC TV journalists and the cancelation of the sale of KBC’s parent company, El Khabar Group, as motivated by the political views expressed in KBC’s programming and by the owner of the company that attempted to purchase El Khabar Group.

On May 3, Minister Grine called on private companies to cease advertising in three unnamed newspapers, widely assumed to be the El KhabarEl Watan, and Liberte newspapers, viewed as critical of the government. In an interview published online that day, the director general of El Khabar said Minister Grine’s opposition to El Khabar was based on the fact that it “does not follow the editorial line that he wishes.”

In a May 23 speech calling for unaccredited foreign satellite channels to be shut down, Prime Minister Sellal criticized channels that “use misleading advertising, violate private life, strike a blow to the dignity of persons, spread disinformation, and worse still, attack the cohesion of Algerian society through calls for hatred, regionalism, and chaos.”

Libel/Slander Laws: NGOs and observers criticized the law on defamation as vaguely drafted and the definitions therein as failing to comport with internationally recognized norms. The law defines defamation as “any allegation or imputation of a fact offending the honor or consideration of a person, or of the body to which the fact is imputed.” The law does not require that the fact alleged or imputed be false or that the statement be made with malicious intent to damage another individual’s reputation. Defamation is not a crime but carries a fine ranging from DZD 100,000 to DZD 500,000 ($916 to $4,579). The Ministry of Justice did not provide information on the percentage of defamation claims that originated from private citizens, as opposed to government officials.

The law criminalizes statements denigrating Islam or insulting the Prophet Mohammed or “messengers of God.” On June 14, the National Gendarmerie published a press release saying it had “dismantled an international criminal network of blasphemers and anti-Muslim proselytizers on the internet.” News reports appeared to reference the case when they reported the arrests of Rachid Fodil and one or two other men in M’Sila Province, but the status of charges against them was unclear as of September. On July 31, police in Setif arrested Slimane Bouhafs, a Christian convert, for posting statements on his Facebook page questioning the morals of the Prophet Mohammed. A court tried and convicted Bouhafs the same day and sentenced him on August 7 to five years in prison, plus a DZD 100,000 ($916) fine. On September 6, his sentence was reduced to three years in prison.

Mohamed Chergui, a journalist for the El-Djoumhouria newspaper, was sentenced to three years in prison and a DZD 200,000 ($1,832) fine in February 2015 for a column he wrote in 2014 that was deemed offensive to the Prophet Mohammed and Islam. In April an appeals court in Oran overturned his conviction and ordered his release.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government impeded access to the internet and monitored certain e-mail and social media sites. On June 18, state-run media reported the government planned to block access to social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, on June 19-23 during nationwide high school exams. The decision was in response to previous leaks of exam results, which were posted on social media earlier in the month. On June 19-20, internet users reported that access to not only social media, but nearly all websites, was blocked. While internet service returned on June 20, access to social media was not fully restored until June 24.

In January police arrested an activist for the unemployed, Belkacem Khencha, and in May he was sentenced to six months in prison for posting a video on Facebook criticizing the judicial system’s handling of arrests of fellow activists.

In a July statement, the human rights organization Collective of Families of the Disappeared said the government had blocked Radio of the Voiceless, the online radio station it launched in June, making it inaccessible to the public.

Internet users regularly exercised their right to free expression and association online, including through online forums, social media, and e-mail. Activists reported that some postings on social media could result in arrest and questioning; observers widely understood that the intelligence services closely monitored the activities of political and human rights activists on social media sites, including Facebook.

The law on cybercrime establishes procedures for using electronic data in prosecutions and outlines the responsibilities of service providers to cooperate with authorities. Under the law the government may conduct electronic surveillance operations to prevent offenses amounting to terrorist or subversive acts and infractions against state security, pursuant to written authorization from a competent judicial authority.

By law internet service providers face criminal penalties for the material and websites they host, especially if subject matters are “incompatible with morality or public opinion.” The Ministries of Justice, Interior, and Post, Information Technology, and Communication have oversight responsibilities. The law provides sentences of six months to five years in prison and fines between DZD 50,000 and DZD 500,000 ($458 and $4,579) for users who do not comply with the law, including the obligation to cooperate with law enforcement authorities against cybercrime.

In September the government estimated there were 18,583,427 internet users in the country in 2015. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 38.2 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Academic seminars and colloquia occurred with limited governmental interference. The Ministry of Culture reviewed the content of films before they could be shown, as well as books before publication or importation. The Ministry of Religious Affairs did the same for religious publications.

Andorra

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Actions to Expand Press Freedom: In February the Barcelona hate crimes prosecutor gave the first-ever training on hate crimes and discrimination to Andorran judges, prosecutors, and attorneys. In July the Andorran prosecutor’s office delivered a similar training to justice staff members.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 38 percent of the population had a fixed broadband subscription to the internet, and 97 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Angola

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press; however, state dominance of most media outlets and self-censorship by journalists limited the practical application of these rights. Most private media organizations were located in the capital.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals reported practicing self-censorship but generally were able to criticize government policies without fear of direct reprisal. Social media was widely used in the larger cities and provided an open forum for discussion. There are no laws restricting the use or content of social media.

Press and Media Freedoms: Private radio and print media criticized the government openly and harshly. Authorities occasionally threatened journalists and publishers with harassment and arrest for covering sensitive stories. Journalists routinely complained of lack of transparency and communication from government press offices and other government officials. This often led to one-sided reporting, with opposition and civil society figures frequently voicing their opinions in privately owned media outlets while government officials kept silent even on noncontroversial issues. During the year, the government created a senior-level department to coordinate government communication with the media and established the practice of weekly briefings during which journalists could question a government minister. The briefings were broadcast on television and radio.

Official news outlets, including Angolan Public Television, Radio Nacional, and the Jornal de Angolanewspaper, favored the ruling party and gave only limited coverage to opposition political parties. Opposition parties received only limited coverage of their legislative participation in the National Assembly. During the year, however, official news outlets made a noticeable effort to include opposition party members and other commentators in nationally televised debates on issues such as politics, the rule of law, and the economy.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities arrested, harassed, and intimidated journalists. For example, on August 30, security forces stopped a team of journalists from the newspaper Novo Jornal driving within the Zango demolition site (section 1.e.), according to an article published in the newspaper September 2. Security force members allegedly searched the journalists’ vehicle and confiscated their belongings. They then allegedly transported the journalists in a military vehicle and threatened to beat and try them in court. One journalist allegedly was beaten. The security force members released the journalists after six hours and returned their belongings, with the exception of a video camera and 20,000 kwanza ($118).

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced self-censorship. Security force members at times did not allow journalists to digitally record police violence against civilians. For example, on May 24, journalist and foreign news service stringer Coque Mukuta was beaten and detained by local police outside of Luanda, after witnessing an altercation between street vendors (zungeiras), police, and Criminal Investigation Service agents and trying to interview one of the street vendors involved in the incident. Mukuta alleged that police forced him into a police vehicle, beat him, confiscated his possessions, and detained him for 12 hours. Mukuta filed a formal complaint against the policeman who beat him.

The minister of social communication, spokesperson of the presidency, and the national director of information maintained significant decision-making authority over the media. It was commonly understood these individuals actively vetted news stories in the state-controlled print, television, and radio media and exercised considerable authority over some privately owned outlets. State-controlled media and private media outlets owned by those close to the government rarely published or broadcast stories critical of the ruling party, government officials, or government policies.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a crime punishable by imprisonment or a fine, and unlike in most cases in which defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty (see section 1.e.), defendants in defamation cases have the burden of proving their innocence by providing evidence of the validity of the allegedly damaging material.

Several journalists in print media, radio, and political blogs faced libel and defamation lawsuits. Journalists complained the government used libel laws to limit their ability to report on corruption and nepotistic practices. According to the PGR, some journalists abused their positions and published inaccurate stories about government officials without verifying the facts or providing the accused the right of reply. In May 2015, a judge found journalist and human rights activist Rafael Marques guilty of criminal libel and gave him a six-month suspended sentence, which could be reinstated at any point up to two years from the date of sentencing if Marques committed another crime.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal oversight. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2015 approximately 12 percent of residents had access to the internet. In 2014 the government started the program Angola On-line, a free Wi-Fi service.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Antigua and Barbuda

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government respected these rights on a somewhat limited basis.

In February an opposition spokesperson claimed on the radio that he possessed evidence of corruption in the government-operated Citizenship by Investment Program. The police detained him to compel him to provide evidence for his public claims. When the spokesperson refused to provide evidence, the police charged him with public mischief and making a false claim. The magistrate’s court dismissed the case in September.

Press and Media Freedoms: Privately owned print media, including daily and weekly newspapers, were active and offered a range of opinions. There were claims, however, that the government did not allow fair access to opposition and independent media.

Libel/Slander Laws: As of June no libel cases had been filed, unlike in previous years, when politicians in both parties often filed libel cases against individual members of the other party.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to 2014 International Telecommunication Union data, the most recent available, 64 percent of the population had access to the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Argentina

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Press and Media Freedoms: On August 24, the government issued a resolution limiting the use of advertising funds for political purposes and established criteria in line with inter-American standards. Thereafter, some newspapers, magazines, and websites that benefited from the distribution of public advertising money during the former administration–which multiple observers asserted was unbalanced and discriminatory in favor of media sources that supported government policies–either shut down or faced serious economic problems.

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

On April 11, unknown assailants attacked a journalist from television Channel TN who was covering former president Cristina Kirchner’s departure from Santa Cruz. The following day assailants attacked Radio Mitre reporters while they reported Kirchner’s appearance in court in Buenos Aires.

On September 4, an anonymous individual threatened well-known journalist Luis Majul via text message while he was interviewing a protected witness in a legal case involving former administration officials.

Two armed assailants who broke into the home of radio journalist Sergio Hurgado in December 2015 remained in pretrial detention while their criminal prosecution continued. Hurtado regularly reported on drug use and trafficking in San Antonio Areco, Buenos Aires Province. The assailants, known to local residents for selling drugs, issued Hurtado a warning: “Stop talking about drugs on the radio. We had orders to kill you.” Both assailants raped Hurtado’s wife, with the journalist’s children sleeping nearby, before stealing money and property.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: On March 20, Roberto Navarro of television station C5N alleged that his program Politica Economica was cancelled for one day for “political reasons.” Navarro said that he planned to broadcast a special report portraying a business partner of President Mauricio Macri in a negative light.

Actions to Expand Press Freedom: On April 6, Congress eliminated the former Audiovisual Communications Enforcement Authority and another media oversight agency and created a single National Communications Authority. President Macri introduced the changes to the Audiovisual Communications Services Act by way of an executive decree in December 2015.

On September 29, the government established a protocol to protect journalists in cases where their activities entail risks, allowing journalists to request protective measures from the Ministry of Security. Measures include confidentiality of the subject matter, nature, scope, and details of the research as well as the protection of personal data of the journalists or third parties related to the investigation.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Individuals and groups could engage in the expression of views via the internet, including the use of e-mail and social networks. The World Bank reported that 69 percent of citizens used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Armenia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, but the government’s respect for these rights was uneven. Print, online, and broadcast media generally expressed views sympathetic to their owners or advertisers, a mix of government officials and oligarchs. There were several instances of violence toward journalists in connection with their coverage of peaceful protests.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: While most individuals were able to criticize the government publicly or privately and discuss matters of general public interest without fear of reprisal, members of media often exercised self-censorship to avoid official harassment.

On August 7, the independent media portal Medialab.am organized an open-air exhibit of its political cartoons following refusals from various hall owners in Yerevan to rent it exhibition space. On the night of the show, Medialab director Marianna Grigoryan’s car was burglarized, and all posters and T-shirts with the cartoons intended to be displayed during the weeklong show were stolen. On September 30, police suspended the investigation after failing to identify the perpetrators.

Press and Media Freedoms: Print and broadcast media generally lacked diversity of political opinion and objective reporting. Private individuals or groups owned most newspapers, and newspapers, with limited circulation, tended to reflect the political leanings of proprietors and financial backers, who in turn were often close to the government. Broadcast media, particularly national television, remained the primary source of news and information for the majority of the population. Politicians in the ruling party and politically connected executives owned most stations, and the stations presented one-sided views of events. Regional television channels provided some alternative viewpoints, often through externally produced content. On politically sensitive topics, however, media overwhelmingly provided only government-supported views and analysis.

The few independent media outlets, mostly online, were not self-sustainable and survived through international funding. During the year one such outlet, Armenia Now, regarded by media experts and the public as providing professional and unbiased content, closed after donations from an American-Armenian philanthropist ended. According to media experts, even a permanent readership was insufficient to save an outlet from financial collapse in an environment where financial patronage often controlled content.

In December 2015, the National Assembly changed the law regulating the issuance of channels on the digital broadcast network. Media watchdogs criticized the amendments, asserting they sought to consolidate progovernment outlets’ control over the media market.

The government did not generally control the content of online media, which together with social networks, served as an important alternative source of information. Unlike broadcast media, online media and social networks tended to provide diverse political opinions. The livestreaming of important political events gained in importance among the online media outlets, especially during public protests. Nevertheless, online media also showed signs of the influence by politically connected owners and advertisers. There were credible reports that both online and broadcast media outlets were in the hands of a few government-affiliated individuals. Traditional and online media ownership remained nontransparent.

Violence and Harassment: Police targeted journalists covering public protests and subjected them to violence. As of August 9, authorities charged four police officers with violence against journalists. Investigations continued at year’s end.

On July 29, police and armed civilians acting in coordination with them used stun grenades, wooden clubs, and metal bars against journalists and damaged or seized their equipment while dispersing a rally of persons sympathetic with the demands of the Sasna Tsrer group. As a result, 24 reporters and operators suffered injuries. Before the rally’s dispersal, police instructed the journalists to move away from the main crowd for safety. According to numerous accounts, after journalists complied, police fired the first stun grenades toward them.

The Prosecutor General’s Office and SIS initiated criminal investigations into the violence. Police also announced that they were seeking to identify the civilians who beat the journalists. While police searched for those involved, reporters and social media users posted photos of three such “civilians”, identifying one as Arshak Hakobyan, the head of security for national Chief of Police Vladimir Gasparyan, and two others as Gasparyan’s personal bodyguards. According to official information eight civilians were charged in connection with this case, four of whom–Seyran Karapetyan, Vladmir Mkhitaryan, Davit Sargsyan, and Karen Grigoryan–were convicted and sentenced to one year in prison and fined 200,000 drams ($420). Authorities forwarded the cases against three others, Gor Khachatryan, Garegin Hovsepyan, and Tigran Aharanoyan, to the courts, while the case against Sargis Sahakyan remained under investigation. As of November 25, no law enforcement officers had been charged and the investigation continued at year’s end (see sections 1.c., 1.d., and 2.b.).

On August 9, more than a year after police beat and detained journalists while dispersing a peaceful June 2015 protest in downtown Yerevan, SIS announced it had charged four police officers, Davit Perikhanyan, Kostan Budaghyan, Tachat Noratunkyan, and Artur Ayvazyan, with obstructing the activities of four reporters in this case. Media NGOs considered the decision inadequate, in view of the fact that two dozen journalists had suffered from police abuse, which, they maintained, high-ranking police officials had ordered. As of November 28, the trial against the four officers and the investigation into the other instances of abuse continued.

Censorship and Content Restrictions: Media outlets, particularly broadcasters, feared reprisals for reports critical of the government. Such reprisals could include lawsuits, the threat of losing a broadcast license, selective tax investigation, or loss of revenue when advertisers learned an outlet was in disfavor with the government. Fear of retribution resulted in media self-censorship. The escalation of the armed conflict with Azerbaijan in April was marked by a higher degree of self-censorship by media outlets as well as social media users, who uncritically presented only government or de facto Nagorno-Karabakh authorities’ reports on the conflict.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Individuals and groups could generally engage in the expression of views via the internet, including by e-mail. Some human rights activists and opposition party members claimed, however, that authorities monitored their e-mail and other internet communications (see section 1.f.). On the morning of July 17, the first day of the armed takeover of the Erebuni police compound, access to Facebook was inexplicably unavailable for approximately 45 minutes. This was the only case of possible government disruption of internet access during the year.

The International Telecommunication Union estimated that 58 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were some reports of government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events.

Both the administration and student councils of the most prominent state universities were politicized and affiliated with the RPA. For example, the president of the Board of Trustees of Yerevan State University, Serzh Sargsyan, was president of the country. Government ministers led, or were members of, the boards of trustees of other universities. According to human rights observers, student councils in most universities experienced various forms of pressure to support the interests of the university rather than those of the student body and to keep the student body focused on nonpolitical and less sensitive issues.

During elections as well as the December 2015 referendum, authorities used public educational institutions (schools, universities, and even kindergartens) to support RPA activities to influence the youth. Lack of employment opportunities for teachers and scholars limited their willingness to refuse to engage in such political activity. During the December 2015 constitutional referendum, there were numerous reports of school principals pressing employees to promote the “yes” campaign for constitutional changes pushed by the ruling party. Many school administrators also participated in referendum commissions, creating a potential for election violations. Media reported on one teacher, Karpis Pashoyan, who lost his job for refusing to promote the “yes” campaign and trying to prevent referendum fraud.

Australia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Although the constitution does not explicitly provide for freedom of speech or press, the High Court has held that the constitution implies a right to freedom of expression, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and press.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The internet was widely available to and used by citizens. In February the Australia Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported that 86 percent of households had access to the internet at home in 2014-15.

Law enforcement agencies require a warrant to intercept telecommunications, including internet communications. In emergencies the director general of the ASIO may issue a warrant for this purpose without prior judicial authorization, but the attorney general must be informed.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) maintained a list of “refused classification” website content, primarily pertaining to child pornography, sexual violence, and other activities illegal in the country, compiled because of a consumer complaints process. The ACMA may issue a notice to the internet service provider to remove domestically hosted “refused classification” material, or links to such material, that is the subject of a complaint if an investigation concludes the complaint is justified. The list is available to providers of filtering software. An owner or operator of such a website can appeal an ACMA decision to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), an executive body that reviews administrative decisions by government entities. Since 2010 three major telecommunications providers voluntarily blocked websites on Interpol’s list of child-abuse links.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Austria

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law prohibits incitement, insult, or contempt against a group because of its members’ race, nationality, religion, or ethnicity if the statement violates human dignity, and imposes criminal penalties for violations. The government strictly enforced these laws (see section 6, Anti-Semitism).

Press and Media Freedoms: The law prohibits public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification of the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity in print media, broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers or journals, and provides criminal penalties for violations. The government strictly enforced these laws (see section 6, Anti-Semitism).

Libel/Slander Laws: Strict libel and slander laws created conditions that discouraged reporting of governmental abuse. For example, many observers believed the ability and willingness of police to sue for libel or slander discouraged individuals from reporting police abuses.

INTERNET FREEDOM

With limited exceptions, the government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Authorities continued to restrict access to websites containing information that violated the law, such as neo-Nazi sites. The law barring neo-Nazi activity provides for one- to 10-year prison sentences for public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification of National Socialist crimes. The criminal code provision on incitement provides for prison sentences of up to five years. Authorities restricted access to prohibited websites by trying to shut them down and by forbidding the country’s internet service providers from carrying them.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Azerbaijan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

While the law provides for freedom of speech and press and specifically prohibits press censorship, the government habitually violated these rights. The government limited freedom of speech and media independence. Journalists faced intimidation and at times were beaten and imprisoned. NGOs considered at least six journalists and bloggers to be political prisoners or detainees as of year’s end. During the year authorities continued pressure on media, journalists in exile, and their relatives.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The constitution provides for freedom of speech, but the government continued to repress subjects considered politically sensitive. For example, in the period leading up to the September constitutional referendum, authorities arrested selected activists who criticized the referendum. Arrests included that of opposition activist and economist Natig Jafarli, the executive secretary of the opposition REAL Movement, on August 12. Activists who were arrested were secular democratic opposition figures, although authorities cited alleged ties to Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who was accused by Turkey of having organized the failed July 15 coup attempt there, to justify some of the arrests. Activists whose arrests were based on such alleged ties included Fuad Ahmadli of the opposition Popular Front Party, and Faiq Amirov, the financial director of opposition newspaper Azadliq, who was also the assistant to Popular Front Party chair Ali Karimli.

In October Human Rights Watch reported the government continued to crack down on critics and dissenting voices, including through the politically motivated arrests of at least 20 political and youth activists during the year. The incarceration of persons who attempted to exercise freedom of speech raised concerns about authorities’ use of the judicial system to punish dissent. In addition, the government attempted to impede criticism by threatening some peaceful activists who spoke out against politically motivated imprisonments–including those in the Nardaran case (see section 1.c.)–and by monitoring political and civil society meetings.

The constitution prohibits hate speech, defined as “propaganda provoking racial, national, religious and social discord and animosity.” Under the September constitutional referendum, “hostility based on any other criteria” also is prohibited.

Press and Media Freedoms: A number of opposition and independent print and online media outlets expressed a wide variety of views on government policies. Newspaper circulation rates remained low, not surpassing 5,000 in most cases.

Beginning in 2014 the government blocked the sale of newspapers in the metro and on the street, limiting sales to government-approved kiosks. During the year the government restricted the sale of opposition newspapers at such kiosks. Credible reports indicated opposition newspapers were available outside Baku only in limited numbers due to the refusal of a number of distributors to carry them. In September the opposition newspaper Azadlig discontinued its print edition when it was unable to conduct banking operations following the arrest of its financial director, who was also an active member of the Popular Front Party. Authorities then prevented the newspaper from continuing payment on loans.

The law allows authorities to close media outlets deemed to be broadcasting extremist propaganda or discriminating on ethnic grounds, among other offenses. On July 29, the Baku Court of Appeals revoked the license of the semi-independent privately owned ANS television station based on a lawsuit filed by the National Television and Radio Council (NTRC). The lawsuit was initiated after ANS announced its intention to air an interview with exiled Turkish religious figure Fethullah Gulen and Turkish authorities protested the planned broadcast after accusing Gulen of plotting the July 15 coup attempt in Turkey. The NTRC accused ANS of propagating terrorism and violating the law. ANS appealed; on September 21, the Supreme Court upheld the Court of Appeals verdict, resulting in the closure of what had been the country’s sole independent television station until late 2006, when its independence began to decline. It had operated for 25 years.

Foreign services, including Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and the BBC, remained prohibited from broadcasting on FM radio frequencies, although the Russian service Sputnik was allowed to broadcast news on a local radio network.

While authorities released six journalists and bloggers during the year, local NGOs considered at least seven journalists and bloggers and two writers/poets to be political prisoners or detainees as of year’s end. For example, on January 29, the Absheron District Court sentenced opposition Azadlig newspaper journalist Seymur Hazi to five years in prison. Authorities continued exerting pressure on leading media rights organizations similar to that applied to other NGOs in the country.

During the year authorities continued pressure on independent media outlets outside the country and those associated with them in the country. For example, authorities continued the criminal case against Meydan TV initiated in August 2015. The Prosecutor General’s Office investigated more than 15 individuals in the case for alleged illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion, and abuse of power. Official pressure on journalists also included the incarceration of relatives of journalists in exile, including Azadliq editor in chief Ganimat Zahidov’s nephew and cousin, and bans on an increasing number of journalists and some relatives of journalists in exile from traveling outside the country (see section 2.d.).

Violence and Harassment: Local observers reported 33 physical assaults on at least 21 journalists during the year. The attacks mainly targeted journalists from Radio Liberty, Azadliq and other newspapers, Meydan TV, and Obyektiv Television. For example, on November 26, police detained journalist Teymur Karimov from internet-based TV Kanal 13 after an unknown person attacked Karimov while he was preparing a video report on water supply problems in the Barda District. Police threatened the journalist with filing a criminal case on charges of assault if he did not erase all his recordings.

Impunity for assaults against journalists remained a problem. The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) reported in August that more than nine out of every 10 cases of physical attacks on journalists remained unsolved. There were no indications authorities held police officers accountable for physical assaults on journalists in prior years.

Journalists and media rights leaders continued to call for full accountability for the August 2015 beating and death of journalist and IRFS chairman Rasim Aliyev, who reported receiving threatening messages three weeks earlier; the 2011 killing of journalist Rafiq Tagi, against whom Iranian cleric Grand Ayatollah Fazel Lankarani issued a fatwa; and the 2005 killing of independent editor and journalist Elmar Huseynov.

Lawsuits suspected of being politically motivated were used also to intimidate journalists and media outlets. During the year approximately 29 court cases were initiated against journalists or media outlets, with plaintiffs demanding 1.3 million manat ($720,000) in compensation; courts ultimately imposed 95,000 manat ($53,000) in fines.

The majority of independent and opposition newspapers remained in a precarious financial situation and experienced problems paying wages, taxes, and periodic court fines. Most relied on political parties, influential sponsors, or the State Media Fund for financing.

The government prohibited some state libraries from subscribing to opposition and independent newspapers, prevented state businesses from buying advertising in opposition newspapers, and put pressure on private businesses not to advertise in them. As a result, paid advertising was largely absent in opposition media. Political commentators noted these practices reduced the wages that opposition and independent outlets could pay to their journalists, which allowed progovernment outlets to hire away quality staff. In addition, international media monitoring reports indicated that intimidation by Ministry of Taxes authorities further limited the independence of media.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most media practiced self-censorship and avoided topics considered politically sensitive due to fear of government retaliation. The NTRC required that local, privately owned television and radio stations not rebroadcast complete news programs of foreign origin.

On June 12, police seized the work of the Ganun Publishing House in Baku under the pretext of having received a bomb threat to the building. Civil society activists reported that authorities raided the publishing house after it printed posters advocating the release of imprisoned head of the REAL democratic movement, Ilgar Mammadov. The director of the publishing house, Shahbaz Khuduoghlu, reported that police took some published materials and printing molds from the office.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a criminal offense and covers written and verbal statements. The law provides for large fines and up to three years’ imprisonment for persons convicted of libel. Conviction of defamation is punishable by fines ranging from 100 to 1,000 manat ($55.60 to $556) and imprisonment for six months to three years.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The websites of Voice of America, RFE/RL, and Germany-based opposition media outlet Meydan TV were intermittently blocked during the year.

Radio Liberty and the opposition newspaper Azadlig reported denial of access to their Internet-based resources on November 28 and December 2 for publicizing critical online articles on proposed legislative amendments in the parliament. These outages became chronic by mid-December, with Voice of America and RFE/RL becoming only sporadically available inside Azerbaijan. Although the government denied involvement, the outages originated from within Delta Telecom, a company with close ties to the government that controlled over 90 percent of Internet traffic in Azerbaijan. The government also required internet service providers to be licensed and have formal agreements with the Ministry of Communications and High Technologies. According to International Telecommunication Union statistics, approximately 77 percent of the country’s population used the internet in 2015.

The law imposes criminal penalties for conviction of libel and insult on the internet. On November 29, the Milli Mejlis passed new articles to the criminal code that expand those penalties. Article 148-1, stipulates fines of from 1,000 to 1,500 manat ($556 to $833), or public works from 360 to 480 hours, or corrective work up to two years or one year imprisonment for insults and slander through using fake web nicknames or Internet profiles. A second new provision, Article 323, stipulates fines from 1,000 up to 1,500 manat ($556 to $833) or imprisonment up to three years for insulting the honor and dignity of the president.

There were strong indications that the government monitored the internet communications of democracy activists. For example, after detaining Popular Front deputy chairman Fuad Gahramanli in December 2015, authorities prosecuted him on charges related to his exercise of freedom of expression on Facebook (see section 1.e.). In addition, many youth activists who were questioned, detained, or jailed frequently had posted criticism of alleged government corruption and human rights abuses online. The activists included video blogger Husseyn Azizoghlu, who had posted videos online that mocked police officers for planting drugs and falsifying evidence and was detained for 15 days on January. Other cases involved Popular Front Party member Fizuli Huseynov, who received 30 days’ detention on January 27 after having criticized the government on Facebook, and blogger Mehman Huseynov, who was briefly detained in September and threatened with physical abuse if he did not stop posting video and images of police violence.

The Freedom House annual Freedom on the Net report, covering the period June 2015 through May, stated that the government “demonstrated its willingness to shutdown connectivity in times of civil unrest, disconnecting the entire village of Nardaran from the internet for several days following police clashes.” The report acknowledged that the government did not extensively block online content, while noting that “netizens” (citizens of the net) and their families faced arrest and intimidation.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government on occasion restricted academic freedom. Opposition party members continued to report difficulties finding jobs teaching at schools and universities. Authorities fired most known opposition party members teaching in state educational institutions in previous years. NGOs reported local executive authorities occasionally prevented the expression of minority cultures, for example, by prohibiting cultural events at local community centers and the teaching of local dialects.

Bahrain

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, “provided that the fundamental beliefs of Islamic doctrine are not infringed, the unity of the people is not prejudiced, and discord and sectarianism are not aroused.” In practice the government limited freedom of speech and press through active prosecution of individuals under libel, slander, and national security laws that targeted civilian and professional journalists and by passing legislation to limit speech in print and social media.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law forbids any speech that infringes on public order or morals. While individuals openly expressed critical opinions regarding domestic political and social issues in private settings, those who publicly expressed such opinions often faced repercussions. During the year the government took steps against what it considered acts of civil disobedience, which included critical speech, under charges of unlawful assembly or “insulting the king.” A 2014 amendment to the penal code increased penalties to no less than one year and no more than seven years in prison, plus a fine, for anyone who “offends the monarch of the Kingdom of Bahrain, the flag, or the national emblem.”

On June 13, police arrested Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) president Nabeel Rajab for tweets released in April 2015 criticizing Saudi-led coalition’s military operations in Yemen and treatment of prisoners in Jaw Prison. Police initially arrested Rajab on these charges in April 2015 but released him from prison in July 2015 when he received a pardon in connection with a previous arrest. Rajab’s trial on the latter charges began in July and continued as of year’s end. At his hearing on December 28, the judge ordered Rajab released on bail; however, on the same day, the public prosecutor announced that Rajab would remain in detention under investigation on separate charges stemming from “publishing false news and statements” for statements in a New York Times op-ed published in Rajab’s name on September 4 and another article attributed to Rajab that was published in the French newspaper Le Monde on December 19. That case had not gone to trial as of year’s end, and Rajab remained in custody.

In July 2015 authorities arrested Ibrahim Sharif after he delivered a speech calling for reforms and making reference to the “embers of revolution.” This arrest came 23 days after the king pardoned him for a conviction stemming from involvement in the 2011 unrest, for which Sharif had spent more than four years in prison. In the 2015 case, the prosecutor charged Sharif with “promoting political change through forceful means.” On February 24, a criminal court found him guilty of “inciting hatred against the regime” and sentenced him to one year in jail. The authorities released him on July 11. On November 7, the appeals process concluded with no additional jail time for Sharif, although a travel ban remained in effect at year’s end. Authorities also brought charges of “inciting hatred and contempt against the regime” against Sharif on November 13 after he gave an interview to the Associated Press in which he said that the November visit by United Kingdom Prince Charles and wife Camilla could “whitewash” the ongoing crackdown on dissent. Sharif was not taken into police custody, and the charges were dropped on November 24.

On June 21, an appeals court upheld a one-year jail sentence against women’s rights activist Ghada Jamsheer in conjunction with a series of tweets about corruption at a local hospital and a physical altercation that happened when she was in pretrial detention in 2014. Authorities arrested Jamsheer on August 15 when she returned from a trip abroad. She was released from prison on December 14 under the agreement that she would perform community service in lieu of serving the remaining time on her sentence.

On February 2, an appeals court upheld a nine-month sentence issued against activist Zainab al-Khawaja in June 2015 for trespassing. In October 2015 a different appeals court reduced a separate sentence against her for tearing up a picture of the king in court from three years to one year. Al-Khawaja claimed she tore up the picture as a political statement, while the government maintained the charge against her was for contempt of court. Police took al-Khawaja into custody on March 14 to serve these two sentences, but authorities released her on May 31 for “humanitarian reasons” after she served 2.5 months of her 21-month sentence. She subsequently left the country and at year’s end remained abroad.

Press and Media Freedoms: The government did not own any print media, but the Ministry of Information Affairs and other government entities exercised considerable control over privately owned domestic print media.

The government owned and operated all domestic radio and television stations. Audiences generally received radio and television broadcasts in Arabic, Farsi, and English from countries in the region, including by satellite, without interference. The ministry reviewed all books and publications prior to issuing printing licenses. The Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs reviewed books that discussed religion.

The Ministry of Information Affairs did not renew the accreditation of three journalists who worked for international media agencies, Nazeha Saeed, Reem Khalifa, and Hasan Jamali. The ministry did not give reason for its decision, nor was recourse available. It brought criminal complaints against journalists who continued to work without accreditation.

Violence and Harassment: According to local journalists, authorities harassed, arrested, or threatened journalists and photographers due to their reporting. Authorities claimed, however, that some individuals who identified themselves as journalists and photographers associated with violent opposition groups and produced propaganda and recruiting videos for these groups. International media representatives reported difficulty in obtaining visas to work as journalists. The government arrested or deported individuals who were in the country on other types of visas and who engaged in even limited journalistic activities. The government sentenced several journalists and bloggers arrested in 2015-16 to prison for social media postings.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government censorship occurred. Ministry of Information Affairs personnel actively monitored and blocked stories on matters deemed sensitive, especially those related to sectarianism, national security, or criticism of the royal family, the Saudi royal family, or the judiciary. Journalists widely practiced self-censorship. Some members of media reported government officials contacted editors directly and told them to stop writing about certain subjects or told them not to publish a press release or story.

The press and publications law prohibits anti-Islamic content in media and mandates imprisonment for “exposing the state’s official religion for offense and criticism.” The law states, “any publication that prejudices the ruling system of the country and its official religion can be banned from publication by a ministerial order.”

Index on Censorship, an international NGO that supports freedom of expression, reported the ministry’s Press and Publications Directorate banned and confiscated all copies of the book, Political Organizations and Societies in Bahrain, coauthored by Bahraini writer Abbas al-Murshid, and another book by al-Murshid, Bahrain in the Gulf Gazetteer. Additionally, a number of books remained banned from 2010, including the Arabic translation of The Personal Diary of Charles Belgrave and Unbridled Hatreds: Reading in the Fate of Ancient Hatreds, by Bahraini author Nader Kadim.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government enforced libel and national security-related laws restricting freedom of the press. The penal code prohibits libel, slander, and “divulging secrets”; and it stipulates a punishment of imprisonment for no more than two years or a fine of no more than 200 dinars ($540). Application of the slander law was selective.

National Security: National security-related law provides for fines of as much as 10,000 dinars ($27,000) and prison sentences of at least six months for criticizing the king or inciting actions that undermine state security, as well as fines of up to 2,000 dinars ($5,400) for 14 related offenses. Punishable activities include publicizing statements issued by a foreign state or organization before obtaining ministry approval, publishing any reports that may adversely affect the dinar’s value, reporting any offense against a head of a state that maintains diplomatic relations with the country, and publishing offensive remarks about an accredited representative of a foreign country due to acts connected with the person’s position.

INTERNET FREEDOM

More than 90 percent of citizens had access to the internet. The government restricted internet freedom and monitored individuals’ online activities, including via social media, leading to degradation of internet and mobile phone services for some neighborhoods and to legal action against some internet users.

On January 4, police arrested optometrist, Dr. Saeed al-Samahiji, for tweets critical of Saudi Arabia’s execution of Shia cleric and political activist Nimr al-Nimr. On April 7, a criminal court sentenced him to a one-year prison term for “insulting a neighboring country.” The appeals court upheld the conviction on September 7. He remained in Jaw Prison at year’s end.

Three days after a sit-in outside of Sheikh Isa Qassim’s house in Diraz began in late June, residents complained that mobile phone networks and internet services were significantly reduced each evening. The offshore-based Bahrain Watch organization concluded two of the three main Internet Service Providers in the country deliberately restricted access for some users each day during certain times.

In 2013 the Ministry of Communication blocked 70 websites in accordance with laws passed following parliament’s recommendations. The government stated that it took this action to prevent access to “terrorist materials,” but NGOs asserted many of the websites featured only political speech. As of year’s end, the websites were intermittently accessible.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Some academics engaged in self-censorship, avoiding discussion of contentious political issues.

Human rights advocates claimed government officials unfairly distributed university scholarships and were biased against Shia, for both political and religious reasons, when admitting students into certain programs. In 2011 the government instituted interviews into the university selection process, partially to correct for grade inflation, as there is no national standardized test to account for different grading practices across secondary schools; however, students reported authorities asked them about their and their families’ political beliefs as part of the interviews. The government maintained it distributed all scholarships and made all placements based on merit.

Bangladesh

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government sometimes failed to respect these rights. There were significant limitations on freedom of speech. Some journalists self-censored their criticisms of the government due to harassment and fear of reprisal.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The constitution equates criticism of the constitution with sedition. Punishment for sedition ranges from three years’ to life imprisonment. Several high profile individuals were charged with sedition, including BNP leader Khaleda Zia, TV personality Mahmudur Rahman Manna, and reporter Kanok Sarwar, but the government did not proceed with prosecutions. The law limits hate speech but does not define clearly what constitutes hate speech, leaving the government with broad powers of interpretation. The government may restrict speech deemed to be against the security of the state; against friendly relations with foreign states; and against public order, decency, or morality; or that constitutes contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to an offense.

Press and Media Freedoms: Both print and online independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views; however, media outlets that criticized the government experienced negative government pressure. For example, independent journalists alleged that intelligence services influenced media outlets in part by withholding financially important government advertising and pressing private companies to withhold their advertising as well.

The government maintains editorial control over the Bangladesh public television station (BTV), and private channels were mandated to air government content at no cost. Civil society said that there was political interference in the licensing process, as all television channel licenses granted by the government were for stations supporting the ruling party.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities, including intelligence services on some occasions, subjected journalists to physical attack, harassment, and intimidation. In February, members of the ruling party initiated 79 sedition and defamation cases in multiple courts against Mahfuz Anam, editor of The Daily Star, for publishing reports of corruption involving Prime Minister Hasina in 2007 and 2008. Hasina publicly stated Anam’s newspaper and its sister media outlet, Prothom Alo, would be punished for publishing the reports.

The government imprisoned several prominent editors affiliated with the BNP, including the arrest of 81-year-old journalist Shafiq Rehman in April on charges relating to his alleged role in a plot to cause harm to Hasina’s son. On September 6, the Supreme Court granted him three-month conditional bail after four and a half months of detention. The government continued to pursue charges against the editor of Amar Desh, Mahmudur Rahman, whom police arrested in 2013 for publishing Skype conversations between the Chairman of the ICT and a private consultant on ICT cases. Although the High Court granted Rahman bail on September 8, the Appellate Court chamber judge stayed his bail until October 30, further prolonging his detention of nearly four years. Rahman was released on bail on November 23.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Privately owned newspapers usually enjoyed broad freedom to carry diverse views. Political polarization and self-censorship in an atmosphere of fear remained a problem, however. The media generally favored one of the two major political parties. Ownership of the media is influenced by politics, and both the government and big businesses used advertising as a weapon to control the media.

The government sought to censor the media indirectly through threats and harassment. On multiple occasions, government officials asked privately owned television channels not to broadcast the opposition’s activities and statements. One talk show host reported overt censorship from Directorate General of Forces Intelligence personnel, who intimidated and threatened the host and the channel until owners finally cancelled the program. When the host continued working on another program, he reported receiving word for word instructions from security forces for behavior on air and being subject to surveillance and death threats via text, letter, and voice messages. The host was ultimately forced to flee the country. The well regarded newspapers Prothom Alo and Daily Star were denied access to prime-ministerial events because they published reports critical of the government and prime minister.

Both the government and businesses used the threat of pulling advertising dollars to pressure the media to avoid unfavorable coverage.

According to some journalists and human rights NGOs, journalists engaged in self-censorship, particularly due to fear of security-force retribution. Although public criticism of the government was common and vocal, some media figures expressed fear of harassment by the government.

The government did not subject foreign publications and films to stringent review and censorship. Some international media outlets reported delays and difficulties in obtaining visas. One television producer reported that the government would only issue a visa if the government were allowed to review and approve their coverage. A government-managed film censorship board reviewed local and foreign films and had the authority to censor or ban films on the grounds of state security, law and order, religious sentiment, obscenity, foreign relations, defamation, or plagiarism, but it was less strict than in the past. In January the Bangladesh Censor Board upheld a ban on the movie “Rana Plaza,” originally set to premier in September 2015. The film told the story of a garment factory worker’s 17-day fight to survive under debris following the April 24, 2013 eponymous factory collapse. Video rental libraries and DVD shops stocked a wide variety of films, and government efforts to enforce censorship on rentals were sporadic and ineffective.

The government at times censored objectionable comments regarding national leaders. In April, the government refiled a criminal defamation complaint against news editor Probir Sikder for “tarnishing the image” of a minister.

National Security: In some cases, the government criticized media outlets for reporting that allegedly compromised national security. The prime minister and other government officials criticized local media for their live telecast of government counter terrorism efforts during the July 1 Holey Bakery terrorist attack and, following the incident, the government enacted a blanket ban on live television news coverage of terrorist attack and disaster rescue operations.

Nongovernmental Impact: Atheist, secular, and LGBTI writers and bloggers reported they continued to receive death threats from extremist organizations. Following his inclusion in a “hit list” of 34 individuals published online by Ansar al-Islam (a purported AQIS affiliate) in November 2015, one blogger reported frequent threats via Facebook messenger and persistent surveillance, including an incident in April when four masked individuals with weapons followed him before being scared away by police. On April 7, blogger Najimuddin Samad was killed in Dhaka; investigation into the murder was ongoing.

A journalist at a prominent newspaper reported receiving frequent death threats since September 2015, including from persons claiming affiliation with Da’esh. The journalist reported receiving almost daily text messages with threats and passages from the Quran describing death, such as “consider doomsday as if tomorrow,” and “all will see the Prophet at the graveyard.” Several other outlets experienced similar threats, some of which culminated in bias-based murders.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were isolated incidents of government restriction and disruption of access to the internet and censorship of online content. Approximately 14.4 percent of the population has access to the internet according to the International Telecommunication Union. The BTRC reported approximately 63.9 million internet subscriptions in July, including roughly 60 million mobile internet subscriptions (one individual may have more than one subscription). Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) telephony were illegal, but the laws were rarely enforced against individuals.

There were several incidents of government interference in internet communications, filtering or blocking of access, restricting content, and censoring websites or other communications and internet services. Many websites were suspended or closed based on vague criteria, or with explicit reference to their pro-opposition content in violation of legal requirements. The BTRC is charged with the regulation of telecommunications. It carries out law enforcement and government requests to block content by ordering internet service providers to take action. In May the BTRC blocked encrypted communication applications Threema and Wickr as well as several blogs and Facebook posts it deemed to be crafted in “malice to Islam.” The BTRC Chairman later stated that the BTRC only blocks websites or services upon the request of law enforcement or MOHA and does not take independent action to block any websites or services. In July, the BTRC carried out a directive of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police to block 30 websites and Facebook pages for allegedly inciting militancy or running anti-religion propaganda. On August 2, the BTRC initiated a temporary shutdown of internet and mobile telephone services in a section of Dhaka city. BTRC officials stated that the exercise, the first in a series of temporary shutdowns, was to test the agency’s ability to restrict access to communications to protect public safety in the event of an emergency, such as a terror attack. On August 4, the BTRC carried out a directive to block 35 news websites that had published material critical of the government and current political leaders or were perceived to feature overt support for political opposition groups. Many of the sites remained blocked at the end of the year.

Facebook’s “biannual government requests report” for January to June 2016 showed the government made nine requests for data pursuant to legal process regarding eight users or accounts and one emergency request for data regarding one user or account in that period. Facebook reported producing some data in response to one request pursuant to legal process and one emergency request. The 10 total requests for data regarding nine users or accounts made by the government in the first half of 2016 is a slight decrease from the 12 requests for data regarding 31 users or accounts made in second half of 2015. Facebook further reported that two pieces of content were restricted at the BTRC’s request in the first half of 2016, due to alleged violation of local law regarding blasphemy and the Bangladesh Information and Communications Technology Act.

Google’s biannual transparency report for July to December 2015 showed the government made two requests for removal of two YouTube videos in that period. One request was related to alleged defamation and the other was related to alleged copyright violation. Google, which owns YouTube, did not comply with either request. Twitter’s biannual Transparency Report for January to June 2016 showed no requests for data or content removal from the government. In Twitter’s July to December 2015 report, the government made 10 requests for account information regarding 25 accounts, all pursuant to emergency disclosure requests. Law enforcement officers may submit an emergency disclosure request to Twitter on the basis of an exigent emergency that involves the danger of death or serious physical injury to a person that Twitter may have information necessary to protect. Twitter provided some information in response to six of those requests.

Individuals and groups generally engaged in the expression of views via the internet, although some activists stated that fear of prosecution under the Information and Communication Technology Act (ICTA) limited their online speech. The government used the ICTA and the threat of sedition charges, which carry a possible death penalty, to limit online activity and curtail freedom of expression online. The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission filtered internet content that the government deemed harmful to national unity and religious beliefs. The ICTA was amended in 2013 to increase penalties for cybercrime, make more offenses ineligible for bail, and give law enforcement officers broader authority to arrest violators without a court order. Opponents of the ICTA stated that section 57, which criminalizes the posting online of inflammatory or derogatory information against the state or individuals, stifles freedom of speech and is unconstitutional. The High Court previously rejected pleas challenging the constitutionality of section 57. The Cabinet approved a draft of the controversial digital security act in August, which includes a provision for life imprisonment for spreading negative propaganda through digital devices regarding the country’s independence war and founding leader. The law was under review by the Law Ministry at the year’s end.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Although the government placed few restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, media groups reported authorities discouraged research on sensitive religious and political topics that might fuel possible religious or communal tensions. Academic publications on the 1971 independence war were also subject to scrutiny and government approval. Appointment of teachers in universities continued to be politicized, and in September the Ministry of Education suggested that police or intelligence agencies should review teachers’ personal information to ensure that they are not involved in antigovernment or criminal activities.

Barbados

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 76 percent of citizens used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Belarus

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press. The government did not respect these rights and enforced numerous laws to control and censor the public and the media. Moreover, the state press propagated views in support of President Lukashenka and official policies, without giving room for critical voices.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals could not criticize President Lukashenka and the government publicly or discuss matters of general public interest without fear of reprisal. Authorities videotaped political meetings, conducted frequent identity checks, and used other forms of intimidation. Authorities also prohibited wearing facemasks, displaying unregistered or opposition flags and symbols, and displaying placards bearing messages deemed threatening to the government or public order.

On January 29, a Minsk district court fined three men, Maksim Pekarski, Viachaslau Kasinerau, and Vadzim Zheromski, in the so-called graffiti case; the fines ranged from 630 rubles ($300) to 1,050 rubles ($500) on the charges of property damage. While the judge dropped the criminal charges of hooliganism and vandalism, the three were convicted of painting graffiti with patriotic slogans, such as, “Belarus should be Belarusian,” that police deemed to be “promoting violence in society and disregard of universally accepted rules of conduct.” Police brutally detained the three men and their two associates, who were later released without charge, in August 2015, and Kasinerau told the press in September 2015 that during his detention, police bundled him into a bus, and an officer hit him in the face, fracturing his jaw. When they arrived at the police precinct, investigators pressured him to plead guilty and showed him records of his private phone conversations with his spouse, which were reportedly wiretapped months before the arrest. Although authorities opened an investigation into his reported beating, there were no developments during the year in bringing any charges related to police brutality.

The law also limits free speech by criminalizing actions such as giving information to a foreigner about the political, economic, social, military, or international situation of the country that authorities deem false or derogatory.

Press and Media Freedoms: Government restrictions limited access to information and often resulted in media self-censorship. State-controlled media did not provide balanced coverage and overwhelmingly presented the official version of events. Appearances by opposition politicians on state media were limited, primarily to those required by law during election campaigns. Authorities warned, fined, detained, and interrogated members of media.

Under the law, the government may close a publication, printed or online, after two warnings in one year for violating a range of restrictions on the press. Additionally, regulations give authorities arbitrary power to prohibit or censor reporting. The Information Ministry can suspend periodicals or newspapers for three months without a court ruling. The law also prohibits the media from disseminating information on behalf of unregistered political parties, trade unions, and NGOs.

On March 2, the Information Ministry announced that it issued warnings to two independent, internet publications: the online newspaper Yezhednevnik and the online version of the print newspaper Nasha Niva. The former purportedly violated the media law by using images of World War II German military equipment in an article about the armed forces’ readiness checks, which, according to the ministry “discredited the army.” Nasha Niva was warned for violating the law by publishing an article about the demographic situation in the country, which reportedly did not comply with figures released by the National Statistics Committee, and discredited the “successful” demographic policies of the government. The independent Belarusian Association of Journalists condemned the warnings as far-fetched penalties, violations of media freedom, and an unacceptable measure to censor publications.

Limited information was available in the state-run press about the September parliamentary election, including about independent candidates. Although authorities did not generally censor the publication of candidates’ programs in print media, some opposition candidates complained that local television channels refused to televise their addresses. For example, in Hrodna Mikalai Ulasevich, a United Civic Party member and antinuclear activist, accused authorities of not broadcasting his speech, which included criticism of the country’s nuclear power plant project and discussion of corruption and lack of local governance. In another case, Siarhei Kalyakin, leader of the Just World Belarusian Party of the Left, complained to the regional election commission that the text of his biography was edited without his authorization on the official poster listing the biographies of all candidates in the Orsha district. The printed text of Kalyakin’s biography was missing a sentence referring to Kalyakin’s efforts as an MP to impeach President Lukashenka in 1996. State media otherwise provided only limited coverage of the campaign, focusing largely on the activities of the president and other state officials as well as political statements of the Central Election Commission chairperson.

On February 7, Information Minister Liliya Ananich warned media about criticizing the government and against publicizing inaccurate information, in particular taking remarks or statements out of a broader context, and fomenting negative sentiments, which she described as “destructive.” She committed to continue tight monitoring of the internet and printed media, so “they serve [the cause of] consolidation of society.” Ananich stated that any media violating the country’s laws would receive official warnings and subsequently be blocked.

The Information Ministry continued to deny registration to independent media outlets. In spite of the lack of registration, independent media, including newspapers, magazines, and internet news websites, sought to provide coverage of events. They operated, however, under repressive media laws, and most faced discriminatory publishing and distribution policies, including limiting access to government officials and press briefings, controlling the size of press runs of papers, and raising the cost of printing.

State-owned media dominated the information field and maintained the highest circulation through generous subsidies and preferences. There was no countrywide private television. The state-owned postal system, Belposhta, and the state-owned kiosk system, Belsayuzdruk, continued to refuse to deliver or sell numerous independent newspapers that covered politics. For example, on September 14, Aksana Kolb, an editor of the Novy Chas independent weekly newspaper, told the press that Belposhta and Belsayuzdruk had refused to distribute the newspaper through their subscription and retail chains, respectively. Novy Chas is a Belarusian-language weekly that publishes materials about national culture, history, identity, and information related to reinforcing the country’s sovereignty. The exclusion of the independent printed press from the state distribution system and the requirement that private stores secure registration to sell printed media effectively limited the ability of the independent press to distribute their publications.

Although authorities continued to allow the circulation of Narodnaya Volya and Nasha Niva, two independent national newspapers, through state distribution systems, they remained subject to restrictions on the number of copies allowed to circulate.

Several independent newspapers, including Vitsyebski KuryerSalidarnascBDG, and Bobruysky Kuryer, disseminated internet-only versions due to printing and distribution restrictions.

International media continued to operate in the country but not without interference and prior censorship. Euronews and the Russian channels First Channel, NTV, and RTR were generally available, although only through paid cable services in many parts of the country and then with a lag time that allowed the removal of news deemed undesirable by authorities. At times authorities blocked, censored, or replaced their international news programs with local programming.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities continued to harass and detain local and foreign journalists routinely.

Security forces continually hampered efforts of independent journalists to cover demonstrations and protests in Minsk and across the country. The independent Belarusian Association of Journalists reported that, as of November 11, police detained at least six journalists while performing their professional duties.

The government routinely denied accreditation to journalists who work with foreign media. As of November 1, at least two journalists had been fined in 10 cases for not having government accreditation or cooperating with a foreign media outlet.

Agnieszka Romaszewska-Guzy, director of the Warsaw-based Belarusian-language channel Belsat, told media on June 1 that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to its application to accredit 10 local journalists. The ministry was supposed to respond to the accreditation application by May 21. She pledged that the unregistered Minsk-based office and journalists across the country would continue their operations and would “not adjust our reporting to meet the Belarusian authorities’ wishes because we represent free journalism.”

Independent journalist and military expert Aliaksandr Alesin was detained in November 2014 and faced charges of cooperating with foreign intelligence sources, which carry a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment. He was released in December 2014, although he was banned from leaving the country. On January 20, he told the press that authorities suspended the criminal charges brought against him for allegedly “establishing cooperation on a confidential basis with a foreign security or intelligence service.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government exerted pressure on the vast majority of independent publications to exercise self-censorship, warning them not to report on certain topics or criticize the government. The government tightly and directly controlled the content of state broadcast and print media. Local independent television stations operated in some areas and reported local news, although most were under government pressure to forgo reporting on national and sensitive issues or risk censorship.

Authorities allowed only state-run radio and television networks to broadcast nationwide. The government used this national monopoly to disseminate its version of events and minimize alternative or opposing viewpoints. Authorities banned state media from citing works and broadcasting music by independent local and well-known foreign musicians, artists, writers, and painters who were named on an alleged, unofficial nationwide blacklist for speaking in support of political prisoners and opposition or democratic activists.

Authorities warned businesses not to advertise in newspapers that criticized the government. As a result, independent media outlets operated under severe budgetary constraints.

Journalists reporting for international media that gave extensive coverage to the country, such as the Warsaw-based independent satellite channel Belsat TV and Radio Racyja, were denied press accreditation and received warnings from the Prosecutor’s Office and heavy fines.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a criminal offense. There are large fines and prison sentences of up to four years for defaming or insulting the president. Penalties for defamation of character make no distinction between private and public persons. A public figure who is criticized for poor performance while in office may sue both the journalist and the media outlet that disseminated the critical report.

On September 23, a Minsk city court declined an appeal in the case of Aliaksandr Lapitski, who was convicted on April 12 of “committing socially dangerous acts” and violating Article 368 (“insulting the President of the Republic of Belarus”), Article 369 (“insulting the authorities”), Article 391 (“insulting a judge or a lay judge”) of the Criminal Code of Belarus. The charges against Lapitski stem from e-mails and blog posts he wrote that, according to the authorities, insulted the president. Authorities alleged that Lapitski suffered from mental illness and sentenced him to a period of compulsory psychiatric treatment. Human rights group Vyasna called on authorities to end prosecution for defamation offenses and claimed that Lapitski’s involuntary hospitalization infringed on his personal freedom.

National Security: Authorities frequently cited national security as grounds for censorship of media.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government interfered with internet freedom by reportedly monitoring e-mail and internet chat rooms. While individuals, groups, and publications were generally able to engage in the peaceful expression of views via the internet, including by e-mail, all who did so risked possible legal and personal repercussions, and at times were believed to practice self-censorship. Opposition activists’ e-mails and other web-based communications were likely to be monitored.

In January 2015 authorities introduced media law amendments making news websites and any internet information sources subject to the same regulations as print media. Under the amended law, online news providers must remove content and publish corrections if ordered to do so by the authorities and must adhere to a prohibition against “extremist” information. Amendments also restricted access to websites whose content includes promotion of violence, wars, “extremist activities”; materials related to illicit weapons, explosives, and drugs; trafficking in persons; pornography; and information that can harm the national interests of the country. Authorities may block access to sites that fail to obey government orders, including because of a single violation of distributing prohibited information, without a prosecutor or court’s mandate. In addition, owners of internet sites may be held liable for users’ comments that carry any prohibited information, and these sites may be blocked. The amended law also mandates the creation of a database of news websites. If a news website receives two or more formal warnings from the authorities, it may be removed from the database and lose its right to distribute information. Amendments also prohibit foreign states and foreign individuals from holding more than a 20 percent stake in local media companies.

While the list of blocked internet resources remained unavailable to the public, from January 2015 to March 2016 the Ministry of Information reportedly blocked access to 46 internet sites for drug trafficking, for distributing extremist materials, for illicit promotion of medications, for child pornography or for other content violations. Independent online media outlets were not generally blocked during the year, however, the election monitoring mission of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) stated in a postelection press conference that its observers monitoring online news noted at least four online news sources, including popular news portal tut.by, had unexplained outages on election day, September 11.

The authorities reportedly monitored internet traffic. By law the telecommunications monopoly, Beltelekam, and other organizations authorized by the government have the exclusive right to maintain internet domains.

A presidential edict requires registration of service providers and internet websites, and requires the collection of information on users at internet cafes. It requires service providers to store data on individuals’ internet use for a year and provide that information to law enforcement agencies upon request. Violations of the edict are punishable by prison sentences.

State companies and organizations, which included the workplaces of up to 70 percent of the country’s workers, reportedly had internet filters.

In response to the government’s interference and internet restrictions, many opposition groups and independent newspapers switched to internet domains operating outside the country. Observers said the few remaining independent media sites with domestic “.BY” (Belarus) domain suffixes practiced self-censorship at times.

On several occasions, cyberattacks of unknown origin temporarily disabled independent news portals and social networking sites.

According to various media sources, the number of internet users reached more than seven million persons, of which approximately 90 percent used the internet daily or numerous times a month. Internet penetration was approximately 83 percent among users 15 to 50 years of age.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events.

Educational institutions were required to teach an official state ideology that combined reverence for the achievements of the former Soviet Union and of Belarus under the leadership of Lukashenka. Government-mandated textbooks contained a heavily propagandized version of history and other subjects. Authorities obligated all schools, including private institutions, to follow state directives to inculcate the official ideology and prohibited schools from being led by opposition members. The education minister has the right to appoint and dismiss the heads of private educational institutions.

Use of the word “academic” was restricted, and NGOs were prohibited from including the word “academy” in their titles. Opportunities to receive a higher education in the Belarusian language (vice Russian) in the majority of fields of study were scarce. The administrations of higher educational institutions made no effort to accommodate students wishing to study in Belarusian-language classes.

The Belarusian Republican Youth Union (BRYU), an official organization modeled on the Soviet-era KOMSOMOL, urged university students to join the BRYU to receive benefits and dormitory rooms. Local authorities also pressured BRYU members to campaign on behalf of government parliamentary candidates and to vote early. Students from various universities and colleges reported to an independent election-monitoring group that their faculties were pressuring students into early voting by threatening them with eviction from their dormitories. Additionally, authorities at times reportedly pressured students to act as informants for the country’s security services.

According to an Education Ministry directive, educational institutions may expel students who engage in anti-government or unsanctioned political activity and must ensure the proper ideological education of students. School officials, however, cited poor academic performance or absence from classes as the official reason for expulsions. On January 20, Hleb Vaykul, a second-year student of the philology department, received final orders of his expulsion from the Belarusian State University. Earlier in January Vaykul announced he had been expelled, at which time the university stated the expulsion orders had not been signed. The student called his expulsion politically motivated as he was one of the organizers of a December 2015 student protest against the university’s decision to impose fees to retake exams. Authorities fined Vaykul 324 rubles ($175) for organizing through the “Students Against” community on the social networking website VKontakte and participating in the unsanctioned demonstration. The university administration stated Vaykul was expelled for failing to pass an examination on the psychology of literary works three times and not attending classes for the course during the fall semester.

The government continued to discourage and prevent teachers and activists from advancing the wider use of the Belarusian language and the preservation of Belarusian culture. A number of universities across the country continued not to enroll students in their undergraduate Belarusian linguistic programs for teachers of the Belarusian language and literature, citing low demand and a low number of applications in recent years.

The government also restricted cultural events, selectively approving performances of what they deemed opposition music groups at small concert halls. Approvals required groups to go through cumbersome and time-consuming procedures to receive permissions. The procedures continued to force some opposition theater and music groups out of public venues and into bars and private apartments by banning their performances.

Organizers of Theater Ch, an independent theater troupe, announced on January 20 that their two scheduled performances at the Modern Arts Center in Minsk were cancelled with short notice by the center’s administration. Opposition leaders, 2010 presidential candidates, and former political prisoners Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu and Mikalai Statkevich attended the premier of their play What to do with the Tiger? and took pictures with the cast after the performance. The administration of the Modern Arts Center claimed they cancelled the performances after only four tickets were sold, while Theater Ch’s managers reported that the two shows in January were sold out. The Polish Institute in Minsk sponsored the production of the play.

The government also restricted the activities of a nonofficial writers union, the independent Union of Belarusian Writers, and extensively supported the progovernment Union of Writers of Belarus. Authorities harassed distributors of books authored by critical and independent writers or written in the Belarusian language. Although sold at bookstores and online across the country, authorities did not allow printing houses and publishers to print copies of books by Sviatlana Aleksievich, winner of the Nobel prize for literature.

Belgium

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Holocaust denial, defamation, sexist remarks and attitudes that target a specific individual, and incitement to hatred are criminal offenses punishable by a minimum of eight days (for Holocaust denial) or one month (incitement to hatred and sexist remarks/attitudes) and up to one year in prison and fines, plus a possible revocation of the right to vote or run for public office. If the incitement to hatred was based on racism or xenophobia, the case would be tried in the regular courts. If, however, the incitement stemmed from other motives, including homophobia or religious bias, a longer and more costly trial by jury generally would be required. The government prosecuted and courts convicted persons under these laws.

In November 2015 a Liege court sentenced French stand-up comedian Dieudonne to two months of prison and a 9,000 euro ($9,900) fine for incitement to hatred, anti-Semitic and discriminatory statements, and Holocaust denial. Dieudonne made the statements during a 2012 one-man show he held in Liege. Police attended and recorded the show. Dieudonne appealed the ruling.

Press and Media Freedoms: The prohibition of Holocaust denial, defamation, sexist remarks and attitudes that target a specific individual, and incitement to hatred apply to the print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to estimates compiled by the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 85 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Belize

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

In an August session of the House of Representatives, four police officers forcibly removed a news reporter, which raised concerns about the treatment of the media. Other journalists were forcibly pushed out of the media gallery, allegedly under instructions from the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Reporters claimed it was an attempt to censor their coverage of the actions of police inside the chamber (when an opposition representative was also forcibly removed).

Libel/Slander Laws: Independent groups noted some concerns with defamation suits. In July Secretary General Myrtle Palacio of the opposition People’s United Party (PUP) sued the editor of the ruling UDP newspaper (The Guardian) for defamation of character after the newspaper published a cartoon depicting Palacio practicing and endorsing witchcraft. Palacio argued the cartoon was an attack on her reputation and her culture (Garifuna). The court sided with the newspaper’s editor and ordered Palacio to pay the defendant’s court costs of BZ$5,000 ($2,500).

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the Caribbean-based Broadband Commission for Digital Development, 20 percent of households were connected to broadband internet, but the telecommunication companies offering wireless internet service estimated that approximately 40 percent of the population had access to the internet by the end of 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Benin

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

There were a large number of public and private media outlets, including two public and five private television stations, one public and 50 private radio stations, and approximately 175 newspapers and periodicals. Many of these were openly critical of authorities, nearly always without consequence.

Unlike in previous years, there were few reports the government inhibited freedom of the press.

Press and Media Freedoms: The press and media were closely regulated, and the government considered itself to have an essential role in ensuring the press did not behave in an “irresponsible” or “destabilizing” way. The High Authority for Audiovisual and Communication (HAAC) is a quasi-governmental commission with members appointed by the president, private media, and the legislature. HAAC has a dual–and perhaps inherently contradictory–role of ensuring press freedom and protecting the country against inflammatory, irresponsible, or destabilizing coverage. On February 3, HAAC banned private television broadcaster Golfe TV from any political reporting, including coverage of news on the presidential election. HAAC issued this decision because Golfe TV violated a previous HAAC decree restricting media coverage of events prior to the official opening of the presidential election campaign season. On February 9, HAAC lifted the suspension following a meeting with members of the Federation of Radio and Television Employers.

On February 2, HAAC issued two decrees to grant all 33 presidential candidates equal access to state-owned and private media for publicizing their political agenda.

The government typically countered accusations of infringing on press freedom with arguments stating the need to support press freedoms while also preventing press activity that may threaten the stability of the country or willfully misinform the public. In January 2015 the government banned the reprint and distribution of an issue of the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo. The statement condemned the terrorist attacks that took place in France that month while simultaneously noting the government’s responsibility to provide for public safety and respect of religious principles and public figures.

Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. Publications criticized the government freely and frequently. A nongovernmental media ethics commission censured some journalists for unethical conduct, such as reporting falsehoods or inaccuracies or releasing information that was embargoed by the government.

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

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

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

Libel/Slander Laws: In January 2015, after years of lobbying by professional media associations, the National Assembly passed a revised press code, the Information and Communication Code, repealing the previous code that imposed prison sentences for conviction of certain abuses of freedom of expression. The press code, signed into law by the president in March 2015, disallows prison sentences for journalists charged with defamation and some other offenses. Although journalists may no longer be imprisoned for libel and slander, they may face legal prosecution and fines for incitement of crimes through the press.

In January 2015, prior to the enactment of the code, a broadcast journalist from the state-owned television station (ORTB) criticized a decision by the president to participate in a march in Paris against terrorism. He also called on the president to allow freedom of the press and political debates within public media. He was later suspended from doing live programs. Professional media associations, NGOs, and ethics groups denounced the measure as retaliatory. In response to trade union and NGO demonstrations, the ORTB director claimed the removal of the journalist was consistent with internal office regulations but then reinstated the television journalist.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 6.8 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Bhutan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and press. Citizens could publicly and privately criticize the government without reprisal.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The constitution provides for freedom of speech including for members of the press. Defamation can carry criminal penalties, and citizens were cautious in their expression, especially as it related to criticism of the royal family or government practices.

Press and Media Freedoms: The media law does not provide specific protections for journalists or guarantee freedom of information. The media law also prohibits media outlets from supporting political parties. Media sources suggested that while there was commitment to media freedom at the highest levels, some media professionals continued to find bureaucrats unwilling to share information, especially on issues of corruption and violations of the law. Independent media outlets relied heavily on government advertisements for revenue, and most news outlets struggled to generate sufficient revenue to operate.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In its Freedom in the World 2016 report, Freedom House reported that a 2015 survey of 119 current and former Bhutanese journalists revealed general concerns about press freedom and access to information. Local contacts reported increased use of social media to raise complaints of official misconduct or abuse.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government generally permitted individuals and groups to engage in peaceful expression of views via the internet. Government officials stated the government did not block access, restrict content, or censor websites. Freedom House reported the government occasionally blocked access to websites containing pornography or information deemed offensive to the state. Such blocked information typically did not extend to political content. The Annual Statistics 2015 of the Ministry of Information and Communications estimated the number of internet users at 61.15 percent of the population.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Bolivia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

While the constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, the government did not allow media outlets to express opinions without some reprisal. Government actions to curb dissenting opinion and criticisms created a climate of hostility towards independent journalists and media. Some media sources reported the government pressured and intimidated them to report favorably about its policies, particularly by withholding of government advertising and imposing steep taxes. Members of the press also alleged government officials publicly harassed individual journalists, both verbally and legally, resulting in several prominent journalists ceasing their work or fleeing the country to avoid legal prosecution. Other sources reported that the government intimidated and threatened media outlets perceived to be critical of the government, in an attempt to censor journalists. Members of the government publicly labeled various independent media outlets and individual journalists as being part of a “Cartel of Lies,” in attempts to discredit their reporting; one negative result of such treatment was that journalists practiced self-censorship. Further, the government used its advertising funds to support government-friendly media and deny resources to media it considered critical of the government. The special rapporteur for freedom of expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights noted during his August visit that the government’s actions against the media did not contribute to a climate of plurality, tolerance, or respect for freedom of expression.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: On May 10, Minister of the Presidency Juan Ramon Quintana accused Wilson Garcia, the then executive director of the print and digital newspaper Sol de Pando, of sedition. During the time of the accusation, Garcia was in the city of Cobija investigating an international human trafficking and prostitution ring that had supposed ties to several government officials. Garcia intimated throughout the investigating his suspicions that Quintana was either directly or tangentially involved in this illegal operation. Shortly thereafter Quintana ordered Garcia to appear in court on sedition charges in the city of Cochabamba. On May 12, Garcia fled to Rio Branco, Brazil, due to fears that he would be arrested if he appeared in court. The judge in the case issued an arrest warrant when Garcia did not appear at his court appointment. The warrant was still active, and legal action against Garcia remained pending.

In May independent journalist Carlos Valverde fled the country after government officials issued threats of legal action against him for publishing articles about government corruption and nepotism. In February, Valverde accused President Morales of involvement in “influence peddling” with Morales’ former partner, Gabriela Zapata, and CAMC. In response to this article, several of Valverde’s family members reported being followed to and from home and work and harassed by police on several occasions. After Valverde fled, Morales personally commented on this situation through his twitter account, stating, “Whoever hides themselves or escapes is a confessed delinquent, not a politically persecuted person.” While the government, including Morales, was absolved of any wrongdoing in the case, Zapata remained in prison under pretrial detention.

President Morales initiated criminal proceedings against well-known journalist Humberto Vacaflor for defamation and slander after Vacaflor publicized accusations that Morales ordered the execution of the Andrade family in 2000. Although other individuals, including a former senator who represented the ruling MAS party, corroborated Vacaflor’s assertions, the case against him went forward. On September 28, the judge denied Vacaflor’s petition to move the case to an independent press tribunal and gave Vacaflor five days publicly to retract the accusations he made against Morales. On September 29, Vacaflor retracted the accusations, stating the system was too powerful for him to fight. Morales “accepted” the retraction on October 4, and the government apparently dropped the case against the journalist.

During a May 19 address to parliament, Minister of the Presidency Quintana accused the independent newspapers ErbolEl Deber, and Pagina Siete and the news agency Fides of forming a “Cartel of Lies.” According to Quintana, this “unit” actively worked in conjunction with a foreign embassy to discredit the government and President Morales. The president, vice president, and other top officials in the government used this branding in an attempt to undermine and silence opposition journalists, columnists, and op-ed writers. Morales also asserted Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression Edison Lanza Robatto was aligned with the “Cartel” after Lanza’s August 24 commentary on the lack of media freedoms in the country.

In an apparent case of self-censorship, the Red Uno news network fired Enrique Salazar for publicly arguing with Minister of Communication Marianela Paco during a live broadcast on May 20. Red Uno had ties to the government as the wife of Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera was its main news anchor.

Press and Media Freedoms: Some media outlets alleged the government pressured news organizations to report favorably about government policies and retaliated against news organizations that did not comply. The National Press Association and several journalists alleged the government’s retaliatory tactics included withdrawing all of its advertisements, thus denying a significant source of revenue, and launching stringent tax audits, which forced companies to spend time and resources to defend themselves. According to Supreme Decree 181, the government is responsible for providing goods and services to all media outlets in a nondiscriminatory manner. Moreover, the withholding of these government-guaranteed goods and services is in direct violation of Declaration of Principles of the Freedom of Expression Declaration adopted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. There were many credible reports that the government chose not to deliver these goods to media outlets they designated as adversarial to the government. Certain independent outlets did not receive funding from the government after being identified as part of the “Cartel of Lies.”

On August 19, Marco Antonio Dipp, leader of the Sucre-based daily newspaper Correo del Sur, sent a denunciation letter to the mayor, MAS party member Ivan Arcienega, claiming that he prohibited Correo del Sur from receiving any funds from the municipal government. On August 21, the National Press Association decried the economic asphyxiation of independent media at the national, departmental, and municipal levels. The association also asserted that this financial attack against independent media was made more acute by the February 21 referendum loss, which the government blamed in large part on social media and the press. The secretary general of the municipality stated that Dipp’s accusations were false and that the government was not unfairly biased; according to the secretary, it was less expensive for the city to advertise in other publications.

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

Authorities disputed the idea that they were economically suffocating any media outlets. Minister of Communication Paco cited the August modification of Telecommunications Law, which provides for broadcasting licenses to broadcast media outlets until November 30, 2019, as proof of the existence of freedom of expression. According to the director of the telecommunications and transportation authority, the modifications of the law would positively affect 135 media outlets. Under the new version, media outlets can retain their licenses until 2019–three years past the original expiration date. Nonetheless, outlets must still bid on their licenses. Critics expressed concern that it would permit government officials to turn bidding into an opaque and unfair process for those media outlets that were critical of the government.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of violence and harassment against members of the press corps, especially those who reported on the February 21 referendum proceedings and results and on various protests throughout the year. Jesus Alanoca, of the newspaper El Deber, and Alvaro Valero were arrested while covering demonstrations in La Paz. The vice minister of the interior claimed that Alanoca was detained because he was not carrying proper credentials to cover the protests, although Alanoca stated that he showed both his journalist credentials and his government identification at the time of his arrest. Before either was allowed to leave custody, police ordered that they destroy all their footage of the protests. Valero reported being victimized again during the course of his work when he was attacked during a demonstration two days after he was released from police custody. Reporters without Borders noted that the government-affiliated group Satucos intimidated Australian filmmaker Daniel Fallshawn on several occasions for his documentation of the protests by disability activists.

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

In January writer Diego Ayo published an investigation about the now defunct Indigenous Fund in which he mentioned specific points of corruption in the handling of the fund that caused economic damage to the government. On May 24, government officials who were conducting an investigation into the Indigenous Fund corruption scandal asked Ayo to “correct himself” and remove his work to prevent anyone else from reading the information he published. Additionally, the officials instructed Ayo that the only information about the Indigenous Fund case should emanate from an official government office, thereby prohibiting him from republishing his investigation.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government systematically monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Nevertheless, after the loss of the February 21 referendum, government officials proposed two different initiatives aimed at regulating social networks. The government blamed social media attacks against the government as a major reason for Morales’ defeat in the referendum. While these measures were not approved, the government managed to pass a supreme decree that establishes the General Directorate of Social Networks, an entity under the control of the Ministry of Communication, shortly after the referendum loss. This new institution is tasked with directing the government’s “dissemination, consultation, and interaction” with cyber communities.

The Ministry of Government publicly warned citizens involved in the August miners’ protest against posting any videos on social media of the negotiation process between the miners and now deceased vice minister of interior, Rodolfo Illanes. The ministry stated that any individual found violating this order would face legal consequences. There is no law prohibiting a citizen’s ability to publish this content on any social outlet.

In June the Telecommunications and Transportation Authority reported 6.9 million mobile internet users (in an estimated population of 11 million). The connections to the internet from mobile sources represented 96.7 percent of all internet connections. The remaining percentage of individuals maintained the full range of connectivity in their homes. The three main reasons for low penetration were economic barriers, speed deficiencies, and poor access to broadband, which limited access beyond urban areas.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, although political considerations allegedly influenced academic appointments, and government entities promoted a culture of self-censorship.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and press, but governmental respect for these rights continued to deteriorate during the year. Intimidation, harassment, and threats against journalists and media outlets intensified, while media coverage continued to reflect ethnic and political allegiances. Deterioration of the political situation further encouraged reporting that incited political and ethnic intolerance. Absence of transparency in media ownership remained a problem. In the RS, authorities sporadically implemented a law enacted in 2015 restricting internet speech critical of officials and other individuals.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law prohibits expression that provokes racial, ethnic, or other forms of intolerance, to include “hate speech,” but authorities did not enforce these restrictions. There were no new legal or administrative measures restricting freedom of speech adopted during the first nine months of the year.

According to data from the BiH Journalists’ Association covering 2006 to 2015, authorities prosecuted only 15 percent of reported criminal acts committed against journalists and investigated less than one-third of all cases alleging violation of journalists’ rights. In response, the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees and relevant state-level parliamentary committees began documenting violations of freedom of expression. The BiH Journalists’ Association subsequently noted increased readiness on the part of law enforcement agencies and prosecutors’ offices to address violations of press freedom.

Independent analysts noted the continuing tendency of politicians and other leaders to label unwanted criticism as hate speech or national treason. As of August, the official Communications Regulatory Agency (CRA) registered one complaint alleging hate speech, which it rejected. By the end of August, the self-regulatory BiH Press Council received 118 complaints related to hate speech. The council determined that, in the first eight months of the year, there were 39 cases of incitement and speech spreading hate. Most instances occurred in online media.

Press and Media Freedoms: The law prohibiting expression that provokes racial, ethnic, or other forms of intolerance applies to print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals but was not enforced. Laws delegate responsibility for safeguarding freedom of the press in most instances to the cantons in the Federation and to the entity-level authorities in the RS. Numerous outlets continued to express a wide variety of views, but coverage diverged along political and ethnic lines, and media outlets continued to be subject to excessive influence from governments, political parties, and private interest groups. A number of independent print-media outlets continued to encounter financial problems that endangered their operations.

Authorities continued to exert pressure on media outlets to discourage some forms of expression, and party and governmental control over the major information outlets narrowed the range of opinions represented in both entities. Public broadcasters remained under strong pressure from government and political forces due to a lack of long-term financial stability and dependence on politically controlled funding sources. These factors limited their independence and resulted in news that was consistently subjective and politically biased.

The public broadcasters Radio and Television of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BHRT), Radio and Television of the Republika Srpska (RTRS), and Federation Radio and Television (FTV) faced continued financial instability due to the loss of dedicated tax revenue. The nationwide public broadcaster BHRT, whose content was assessed as being the most balanced and politically neutral, announced on May 30 that it may be forced to suspend programming due to lack of funds. Institutional instability within the governing structures of the FTV continued, leaving the Federation entity public broadcaster vulnerable to political pressure. While the FTV continued to demonstrate layers of political bias, the RS government directly controlled the RTRS, using it as a mouthpiece for the RS political establishment. The entity governments further undercut the independence of their respective broadcasters by excluding the CRA from the process of appointing governing boards for the broadcasters. Remaining subject to competing political interests, the various authorities failed to establish a public broadcasting service corporation to oversee the operations of all public broadcasters in the country as the law requires.

Violence and Harassment: Intimidation and threats against journalists continued during the year. There were instances of intimidation and politically motivated litigation against journalists for unfavorable reporting on government leaders and authorities. As of December, the Free Media Help Line recorded 58 cases involving violations of journalists’ rights and freedoms or pressure from government and law enforcement officials.

On March 13, several participants of a Serbian ultranationalist rally in Ravna Gora near the city of Visegrad verbally and physically assaulted an N1 television news crew and forced an FTV crew to cease filming. The N1 crew notified police, who arrested one assailant several hours later. The vice president of the Federation, the Sarajevo Canton prime minister, the chairman of the state-level Council of Ministers, the Association of BiH Journalists, the FTV and N1 editorial boards, and many political parties and NGOs condemned the attack.

On May 14, while reporting on simultaneous opposition and ruling party political rallies in Banja Luka, a BNTV crew was verbally assaulted by a group that called them traitors and demanded they leave the site of the rally. At the same event, an unidentified assailant physically assaulted RTL Croatia reporter Petar Panjikota, punching him in the head during a live broadcast. BNTV journalist Vladimir Kovacevic later received written threats via Facebook from Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) activist Brane Covickovic, who was dissatisfied with Kovacevic’s coverage of the event. The Croatian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the OSCE, the Association of BiH Journalists, the Banja Luka Club of Journalists, and the Croatian Journalists’ Association, among others, condemned the attacks and urged authorities to investigate.

On May 25, Luka Petrovic, the general secretary of the SNSD and member of the RS National Assembly, allegedly threatened Dragisa Sikimic, the editor in chief of the web portal MojaHercegovina.info. Dissatisfied with the portal’s reporting, Pertrovic reportedly told Sikimic that “those who play with fire would get burned” and threatened a lawsuit intended to bankrupt the online daily. He allegedly also insulted Sikimic because of a physical disability. In response the Association of BiH Journalists sent a written warning to Petrovic and demanded a public apology. The OSCE representative for freedom of the media also condemned the incident.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some political parties attempted to influence editorial policies and media content through legal and financial measures. As a result, some media outlets practiced self-censorship.

In some instances, media sources reported that officials threatened outlets with loss of advertising or limited their access to official information. Prevailing practices indicated that close connections between major advertisers and political circles allowed for biased distribution of advertising time. Public companies, most of which were under the control of political parties, remained the key advertisers. Outlets critical of ruling parties claimed they faced difficulties in obtaining advertising.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The state government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that it monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The law prohibits expression provoking racial, ethnic, or other intolerance, to include hate speech. Authorities did not enforce these prohibitions for online media.

In the RS, authorities sporadically implemented a controversial 2015 law that declared that internet-based social networks were part of the public domain and provided fines for “insulting or disturbing” content, not clearly defined, published on the internet. In April 2015 authorities detained Sanel Menzil from Kotor Varos for a comment posted on his Facebook account regarding an attack on a police station in Zvornik several days earlier. According to media reports, Menzil condemned the attack but criticized the decision by Federation authorities to declare a day of mourning. In May 2015 Adis Kusmic from Banja Luka was among 31 arrested in a RS Police operation after posting a Facebook comment critical of the RS president, Milorad Dodik. Both Menzil and Kusmic were interviewed by police but never arrested. Media reports in August asserted that authorities had invoked the RS law on 11 different occasions in the preceding 18 months, mostly for insults and threats posted on Facebook; in most instances, the perpetrators reportedly were fined.

Adoption of the law initially met negative and strong reaction from journalists, NGOs, opposition political parties, and the international community in the country. In late June, the RS Constitutional Court rejected as unfounded an appeal submitted jointly by Transparency International, the BiH Journalists’ Association, and the Banja Luka Club of Journalists that challenged the legality and constitutionality of the legislation.

According to the CRA’s annual report for 2015, approximately 72 percent of the population used the internet that year.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The country’s eight public universities remained segregated along ethnic lines, including their curriculums, diplomas, and relevant school activities. Professors sometimes used prejudicial language in their lectures. The selection of textbooks and school materials reinforced discrimination and prejudice.

Botswana

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, however the law restricts the speech of some government officials and fines persons found guilty of insulting public officials or national symbols. The law states, “Any person in a public place or at a public gathering (who) uses abusive, obscene, or insulting language in relation to the President, any other member of the National Assembly, or any public officer” is guilty of an offense and may be fined up to 400 pula ($39). The penal code also states that any person who insults the country’s coat of arms, flag, presidential standard, or national anthem is guilty of an offense and may be fined up to 500 pula ($48).

On September 13, security services arrested a man in Maun for allegedly producing and disseminating a satirical digitally manipulated image of President Khama. The INK Center for Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit organization based in Gaborone, condemned the arrest as a violation of freedom of expression.

Press and Media Freedoms: NGOs reported the government attempted to limit press freedom and continued to dominate domestic broadcasting. The INK Center for Investigative Journalism said the environment for journalists was one of “intimidation” by officials.

The government owned and operated the Botswana Press Agency, which dominated the print media through its free, nationally distributed newspaper, Daily News, and two state-operated FM radio stations. State-owned media generally featured reporting favorable to the government and, according to some observers, were susceptible to political interference. Opposition political parties claimed state media coverage heavily favored the ruling party.

The independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views, which frequently included strong criticism of the government; however, members of the media complained they were sometimes subject to government pressure to portray the government and the country in a positive light. Private media organizations had more difficulty than government-owned media obtaining access to government-held information.

Violence and Harassment: On March 17, police detained overnight a journalist who wrote a series of articles exposing corruption by government officials. Initially charging the journalist with receiving stolen property, the Directorate of Public Prosecutions later dropped all charges. The INK Center for Investigative Journalism called the arrest a government “scare tactic.”

On August 8, the BPS arrested and detained for several hours two print media journalists as well as a radio talk show host and his producer who were covering a protest outside the National Assembly. One of the journalists arrested was the president of the Botswana Media and Allied Workers Union, which condemned the incident.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some members of civil society organizations alleged the government occasionally censored stories in the government-run media it deemed undesirable. Government journalists sometimes practiced self-censorship. One civil society organization asserted self-censorship among journalists was growing.

Libel/Slander Laws: In 2014 police arrested Sunday Standard editor Outsa Mokone and charged him with sedition for publishing articles about an automobile accident allegedly involving President Khama. Observers noted the use of the penal code’s sedition clause for a newspaper article was unprecedented and further noted the Sunday Standard had recently published several articles exposing corruption allegations within the DIS. Lawyers for Mokone sought to have the charges dropped based on the penal code’s infringement of the defendant’s constitutional right to freedom of expression. On August 30, the High Court ruled the penal code’s sedition clause was constitutional and charges of sedition against Mokone could proceed.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2015 approximately 27 percent of individuals used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Brazil

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were sometimes subject to harassment and physical attacks as a result of their reporting. According to Reporters without Borders, four journalists were killed in the country through September. On August 16, Mauricio Campos Rosa, owner of the newspaper O Grito, was killed in Belo Horizonte, the state capital of Minas Gerais. According to a local radio station, the motive was likely related to Rosa’s journalistic investigations into corruption involving city councilors and a cooperative responsible for garbage collection.

In February the newspaper Gazeta do Povo, based in the state of Parana, published a list of “super salaries” containing the names of judges, public prosecutors, and civil servants who earned more than the maximum salary allowed by law when government benefits were included in the calculation. In response judges and public prosecutors in Parana initiated 37 lawsuits against the newspaper and its employees. In July, Supreme Court Justice Carmen Lucia suspended the lawsuit spending a decision on the proper jurisdiction for the cases. The NGO Committee to Protect Journalists denounced the lawsuits as “judicial harassment.”

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

Private individuals and official bodies took legal action against internet service providers and providers of online social media platforms, such as Google and Facebook, holding them accountable for content posted to or provided by users of the platform. During the year there were at least three instances of messaging applications such as WhatsApp being temporarily blocked for users throughout the country due to judicial decisions related to criminal investigations. A Supreme Federal Court judge overturned the WhatsApp shutdown within hours, citing it as a violation of the constitutional right to freedom of speech.

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

According to CGI.br, the country’s internet management committee, 51 percent of households had access to the internet in 2015 and 58 percent of the population used the internet. The government promoted digital inclusion by providing free satellite internet access to remote areas; broadband access to municipal governments, schools, and health centers; computers to selected populations; and other assistance targeting vulnerable communities.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Brunei

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Under the emergency powers and the Sedition Act, the government restricted freedoms of speech and press.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Members of the LegCo are allowed to “speak their opinions freely,” but they are prohibited from using language or exhibiting behavior deemed “irresponsible, derogatory, scandalous, or injurious.” Under the Sedition Act, it is an offense to challenge the royal family’s authority. The act also makes it an offense to challenge “the standing or prominence of the national philosophy, the Malay Islamic Monarchy concept.” This concept, the all-pervasive ideology that underscores the Sedition Act, proclaims Islam as the state religion and monarchical rule as the sole form of government to uphold the rights and privileges of the Brunei Malay race. The law also criminalizes any act, matter, or word intended to promote “feelings of ill will or hostility” between classes of persons or “wound religious feelings.” No cases of persons charged under the Sedition Act were reported.

The SPC includes provisions barring contempt for or insult of the sultan, administration of sharia, or any law related to Islam. There were no known cases of persons charged under these sections, but online criticism of the law was largely self-censored, and online newspapers ceased allowing comments on stories after the sultan issued repeated warnings.

All public musical or theatrical performances required prior approval by a censorship board made up of officials from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministries of Home Affairs and Religious Affairs. The SPC was interpreted by the government as prohibiting public celebration of religions other than Islam, including displaying Christmas decorations.

Press and Media Freedoms: The Sedition Act requires local newspapers to obtain operating licenses and prior government approval of foreign editorial staff, journalists, and printers. The law also gives the government the right to bar distribution of foreign publications and requires distributors of foreign publications to obtain a government permit. The law allows the government to close a newspaper without giving prior notice or showing cause. In November, one of the two English-language dailies ceased operations without prior notice; the newspaper’s website and social media presence were removed without access to archives. Although the Board of Directors attributed the closure to business sustainability, poor journalistic standards, and competition from alternative media, there were widespread reports that the government shuttered the paper as a result of a complaint from the Saudi Arabian Embassy regarding alleged “inaccurate” reporting on a change in visa costs for Bruneians visiting Saudi Arabia.

Foreign newspapers were routinely available, although the government must approve their distribution. Internet versions of local and foreign media were routinely available without censorship or blocking.

The government owned the only domestic television station. Three Malaysian television stations were also available, along with two satellite television services. Some content was subject to censorship based on theme or content, including sexual or religious content, but such censorship was not consistent.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Sedition Act provides for prosecution of newspaper publishers, proprietors, or editors who publish anything allegedly having a seditious intent. The government may suspend publication for up to one year and prohibit publishers, printers, or editors from publishing, writing, or editing any other newspaper. The government may also seize printing equipment. Persons convicted under the act face fines of up to 5,000 Brunei dollars (BND) ($3,640) and jail terms of up to three years. Journalists deemed to have published or written “false and malicious” reports may be subjected to fines or prison sentences. During the year the government reprimanded the media for their portrayal of certain events and encouraged reporters to avoid covering controversial topics such as the territorial disputes in the South China Sea. At least one editorial viewed as critical of government policy was removed from news sites, but there were no reports of fines or charges. The government maintained that most censorship aimed to stop violent content from entering the country.

The SPC includes regulations barring the publication or importation of publications giving instruction in Islam contrary to sharia. It also bars the distribution of publications related to religions other than Islam to Muslims or persons with no religion. The SPC bars the publication, broadcast, or public expression of a list of words generally associated with Islam (such as the Quran) in a non-Islamic context. The SPC also prohibits religious teaching without written approval. There were no reports of charges under these regulations.

Journalists commonly reported practicing self-censorship because of social pressure, reports of government interference, and legal and professional concerns.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government monitored private e-mail and internet chat room exchanges believed to be propagating religious extremism or otherwise subversive, including those of religious minorities or on topics deemed immoral. The Ministry of Communications and the Prime Minister’s Office enforced the law that requires internet service providers and internet cafe operators to register with the director of broadcasting in the Prime Minister’s Office. The Attorney General’s Chambers and the Authority for Info-Communications Technology Industry advised internet service and content providers to monitor for content contrary to public interest, national harmony, and social morals. The government blocked websites promoting violent extremism and some websites containing sexually explicit material. Internet companies self-censor content and reserve the right to cut off internet access without prior notice. The government also ran an awareness campaign aimed at warning citizens about the misuse and social ills associated with social media, including the use of social media to criticize Islam, sharia, or the monarchy.

The great majority of the population had access to the internet and the country had a high rate of social media usage. Social media websites were widely accessible.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

While there are no official government restrictions on academic freedom, quasi-governmental authorities must approve public lectures, academic conferences, and visiting scholars. Academics reported practicing self-censorship, and some researchers chose to publish from overseas under a pseudonym when they perceived that certain subject matter would not be well received. Religious authorities reviewed publications to ensure compliance with social norms.

A censorship board made up of officials from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministries of Home Affairs and Religious Affairs determined the suitability of concerts, movies, cultural shows, and other public performances, and censored, banned, or restricted these activities. Traditional Chinese New Year lion dance performances were limited to a two-day period and confined to Chinese temples, Chinese school halls, and private residencies of Chinese association members.

Bulgaria

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. Concerns persisted, however, that corporate and political pressure combined with the growing and nontransparent concentration of media ownership and distribution networks, as well as government regulation of resources and support for the media, gravely damaged media pluralism.

According to the Association of European Journalists Bulgaria (AEJ), a “culture of pressure” was steadily restricting media pluralism. A survey conducted in 2015 by the AEJ showed that 72 percent of journalists witnessed their colleagues being subjected to pressure, 67 percent stated that politicians significantly interfered with their work, 54 percent were personally prevented from freely exercising their profession, 43 percent admitted to pressure from the government and local institutions, and 41 percent were the targets of rumor spreading and slander. In January the AEJ expressed concern that public institutions could “buy” the media and influence editorial content through a provision in the law that allows direct public procurement of media airtime without transparent selection procedures.

The International Research and Exchanges Board’s (IREX) 2016 media sustainability index indicated “significant shifts on the Bulgarian media ownership scene” and “a radical increase in corporate and political propaganda.” IREX noted that the media market was defined by a growing number of quasi-media, externally funded propaganda mouthpieces and progovernment propaganda outlets leading smear campaigns against politicians, journalists, and media who “do not follow the official line.” Reports of intimidation and violence against journalists continued.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals criticized the government without official reprisal. In rural areas offering fewer employment opportunities, however, individuals were more hesitant to criticize local governments. The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee expressed concern over the “deterioration of the freedom of expression, particularly the freedom and ethical standards of practicing journalism.”

In June Sofia Administrative Court revoked the 100,000 lev ($56,000) fine on Economedia imposed in 2015 by the Financial Supervision Commission (FSC) over publications in Capital Daily and Dnevnik Online perceived as aiming to destabilize the banking sector. As of September, Economedia was still appealing a second 50,000 lev ($28,000) fine imposed by the FSC after Economedia outlets implicated FSC chair Stoyan Mavrodiev in a money laundering case and accused him of having connections with an organized crime figure. NGOs commented that the National Assembly, which appoints the FSC chair, and other authorities declined to address the press allegations.

The penal code provides for one to four years’ imprisonment for incitement to “hate speech.” The law defines hate speech as speech that instigates hatred, discrimination, or violence based on race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, marital or social status, or disability. In July the Open Society Institute presented a survey highlighting “a disturbing trend of increasing public occurrence and acceptance of hate speech.” NGOs noted that hate speech escalated especially around the time of elections, turning into a common form of expression, not just for xenophobic politicians but also for media and social network commentators. Paid “trolls” populated forums and social media of all media outlets, targeting political opponents with racist and xenophobic comments.

As of July prosecutors had opened 12 hate crime investigations and had pursued two indictments.

Press and Media Freedoms: The media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Laws restricting “hate speech” also applied to material appearing in the print media. According to the Reporters without Borders’ 2016 World Press Freedom Index, the press environment was “dominated by corruption and collusion between media, politicians and oligarchs” and the FSC deterred journalists from “shedding light on problems with the country’s banks and the banking regulatory system.” Following a June European Court of Human Rights ruling that publishers are obliged to control the content of their forums, some online media outlets imposed stricter policies on postings. Domestic and international organizations criticized both print and electronic media for lack of ownership and financial transparency, editorial bias, and susceptibility to economic and political influence.

Violence and Harassment: In January authorities in Pomorie arrested Martin Dushev on charges of severely beating journalist Stoyan Tonchev, who was hospitalized with multiple injuries to his head and body. According to Tonchev, the attack was prompted by his online criticism of the local government. In March the court released Dushev on bail and, as of September, an investigation was in progress.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists continued to privately report self-censorship, editorial prohibitions on covering specific persons and subjects, and the imposition of a political point of view by corporate leaders. In July the AEJ demanded Culture Minister Vezhdi Rashidov’s resignation following his letter to the public broadcaster BNT in which he accused Georgi Angelov, the host of a morning culture show, of encouraging criticism of the government and “advised” him to be careful what he said because the government paid his salary. On April 13, Nova TV terminated its contract with cartoonist Chavdar Nikolov and removed all his cartoons from its website following posting of his cartoon featuring the prime minister as leader of a vigilante group that captures migrants at the border.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is illegal and punishable by a 3,000-15,000 lev ($1,700-$8,400) fine and public censure. The courts usually interpreted the law in a manner favoring journalistic expression. Journalists’ reporting on corruption or mismanagement prompted many defamation cases brought by politicians, government officials, and other persons in public positions.

In September the Sofia City Court exonerated the owner and editor of the online outlet e-vestnik, Ivan Bakalov, of slander charges filed by the owner of Investbank stemming from his 2011 publications on the banking system. In May the Sofia Regional Court exonerated Bakalov of the criminal charges pressed by the Investbank owner over the same publications. As of September, a lawsuit over a 2015 e-vestnik article reporting on a company’s nine million lev (five million dollar) claim against Investbank was underway in civil court.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the National Statistics Institute, approximately 59.1 percent of households had access to the internet in 2015.

The security services could access electronic data with judicial permission when investigating cyber and serious crimes and electronic data traffic in cases related to serious crime or national security (also see section 1.f.).

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Burkina Faso

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. In September 2015 the government adopted a law decriminalizing press offenses. The law replaces prison sentences with penalties ranging from one million to five million CFA francs ($1,718 to $8,591). Some editors complained that few newspapers or media outlets could afford such fines.

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

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law prohibits persons from insulting the head of state or using derogatory language with respect to the office. Individuals generally criticized the government without reprisal, but security forces arrested political leaders for their statements during the year (see sections 1.e. and 3).

Press and Media Freedoms: There were numerous independent newspapers, satirical weeklies, and radio and television stations, some of which strongly criticized the government. Foreign radio stations broadcast without government interference. Government media outlets–including newspapers, television, and radio–sometimes displayed a progovernment bias but allowed significant opposition participation in their newspaper and television programming. On June 17, the minister of communications stated that government-owned national television news broadcasts should begin with the activities of government officials and that journalists employed by government media should either support the government or resign. On July 21, the journalists’ union denounced the minister for his statement, and in September the journalists’ union launched strikes and demanded that the government end “intimidation and pressure.”

All media are under the administrative and technical supervision of the Ministry of Communications, which is responsible for developing and implementing government policy on information and communication. The Superior Council of Communication (CSC) monitored the content of radio and television programs, newspapers, and internet websites to enforce compliance with standards of professional ethics and government policy. The CSC may summon journalists and issue warnings for subsequent violations. Hearings may concern alleged libel, disturbing the peace, inciting violence, or violations of state security. On February 19, the CSC suspended private newspaper L’Evenement for one month following its February 10 publication of information the CSC categorized as military secrets. On February 22, L’Evenement published a statement denouncing the CSC decision describing it as an attack on press freedom. The newspaper took the case to the Administrative Court of Ouagadougou; the court reversed the suspension.

Violence and Harassment: According to the Association of Burkina Journalists, on June 9, gendarmes threatened and verbally assaulted William Somda of BF1 Television, a private broadcasting company, as he was filming a peaceful event. The head of the gendarmerie apologized for the incident, but no disciplinary or judicial actions were taken against the gendarmes.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In addition to prohibitions on insulting the head of state, the law also prohibits the publication of shocking images or material that demonstrates lack of respect for the deceased. Journalists practiced self-censorship. On February 26, police ordered the Burkina Information Agency to remove an article from the agency’s website that it considered offensive, entitled, “Fara: Bandits shut down police station before robbing it.” Police stated that the report was false and forced the agency to issue a denial of the story.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict access to the internet, although the CSC monitored internet websites and discussion forums to enforce compliance with regulations. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 11.4 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Burma

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides that “every citizen shall be at liberty in the exercise of expressing and publishing freely their convictions and opinions,” but it contains the broad and ambiguous caveat that exercise of these rights must “not be contrary to the laws enacted for national security, prevalence of law and order, community peace and tranquility, or public order and morality.” Threats against and arrests of journalists decreased.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Authorities arrested, detained, convicted, and imprisoned citizens for defaming religion and expressing political opinions critical of the government, generally under the charges of protesting without a permit or violating national security laws. Prior to the government amending the law in October, some charged for demonstrating without a permit faced hundreds of court hearings and significant delays in reaching a verdict. Many individuals in urban areas, however, reported far greater freedom of speech and expression than in previous years.

On November 3, the government arrested NLD official U Myo Yan Naung Thein and charged him with defamation under the Telecommunications Law for posting comments critical of the military’s response in northern Rakhine State on Facebook in October. They denied his bail in multiple hearings as he spoke out against the arbitrary nature of the Telecommunications Law. His trial was pending at the end of the year, and he remained in detention.

In April the government pardoned hundreds of political prisoners, including Htin Lin Oo, an NLD official sentenced in June 2015 to two years in prison for religious defamation. Also released were Htin Kyaw, a well-known democratic activist who spent more than a decade in prison, and five journalists from Unity Journal, each sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2014.

Although freedom of speech generally expanded, some persons remained wary of speaking openly about politically sensitive topics due to monitoring and harassment by security services. Police continued to monitor politicians, journalists, writers, and diplomats. Journalists complained of the widespread practice of government informants attending press conferences and other events, which they said intimidated reporters and the events’ hosts. Informants demanded lists of hosts and attendees.

In October and November, instances of media self-censorship and suppression rose in connection with violence in northern Rakhine State. Media access was restricted due to the continuing security operation. Reporters and media executives were reportedly fired for printing stories critical of the military’s actions in Rakhine.

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media were active and increasingly able to operate with fewer restrictions. The government permitted the publication of privately owned daily newspapers. As of September authorities approved 27 dailies, seven of which were available for purchase.

Local media could cover information about human rights and political issues, including the peace process and democratic reform. The government generally permitted the media to cover protests and civil conflict, topics not reported widely in state-run media. Self-censorship continued, however, particularly on issues related to Buddhist extremism, the military, and the situation in Rakhine State. The government continued to use visas to control foreign journalists, who reported visa validities ranged from 28 days to six months. The exception to this procedure was in northern Rakhine from October through December, where the military prevented media access under the auspice of security concerns.

The military continued to practice zero-tolerance regarding perceived misreporting by the media. Authorities charged Wai Phyo, chief editor of Daily Eleven newspaper for defamation in a Sagaing Region court in June. A soldier sued the newspaper because of an April 2015 article that included a photograph of the soldier while noting an excursion beyond enemy lines by the military. The newspaper issued a clarification on May 4, after the army filed a complaint through the Myanmar Press Council (MPC), and sent copies of the letter to the commander in chief and to the chairperson of the army’s information division. Daily Eleven said the army and the MPC did not respond, and the military subsequently sued the journalist a year later.

On October 31, the Myanmar Times newspaper fired journalist Fiona Macgregor allegedly for her reporting on allegations of human rights abuses in northern Rakhine State. Her dismissal followed criticism from President Office Spokesperson Zaw Htay on his Facebook page on October 28, following articles written by Macgregor and published in the Myanmar Times on October 27 and 28. Zaw Htay asserted MacGregor cited faulty sources and did not contact government officials to give them a chance to deny the allegations. In her reporting, however, MacGregor cited other outlets that quoted Zaw Htay denying the charges that abuse and rape had taken place in northern Rakhine State. Leadership at the Myanmar Times cited a rule in the employee handbook that staff could be fired for “denigrating the reputation of the paper” as reason for the dismissal but did not speak publicly about the firing.

Radio and television were the primary media of mass communication. Compared with previous years, circulation of independent news periodicals expanded outside of urban areas. Several print publications maintained online news websites that were popular among persons with access to the internet. The government and government-linked businesspersons controlled the content of the eight privately or quasi-governmentally owned FM radio stations.

The government continued to monopolize and control all domestic television broadcasting. It offered six public channels–five controlled by the Ministry of Information and one controlled by the armed forces. The government allowed the general population to register satellite television receivers for a fee, but the cost was prohibitive for most persons outside of urban areas. In August the ministry announced it would allow five media outlets to apply for television channel licenses as private broadcasters. Many media outlets, however, reported the costs of applying and maintaining a television channel were prohibitive.

Violence and Harassment: Violence and harassment of journalists dropped precipitously following the March transition to the new government. Nationalist groups, however, continued to target journalists who spoke out regarding intercommunal and Rakhine State issues. Officials continued to monitor journalists in various parts of the country.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Although generally not enforced, laws prohibit citizens from electronically passing information about the country to media located outside the country, exposing journalists who reported for or cooperated with international media to potential harassment, intimidation, and arrest. There were no reports of overt prepublication censorship of press publications, and the government allowed open discussion of sensitive political and economic topics, but incidents of legal action against publications continued to raise concern among local journalists and led to some self-censorship.

On June 14, the Pazundaung Township Court in Yangon Region sentenced four individuals to one year in prison for publishing information that could cause public fear or alarm after they printed a calendar that stated “Rohingya” are an ethnic minority in the country. A fifth man charged in the case remained in hiding. Police arrested the five individuals in November 2015 after fining them approximately 1.1 million kyats ($830) each for breaking the 2014 Printing and Publication Law, which bars individuals from publishing materials that could damage national security and law and order. The court dropped the charges against the owner of the printing house.

In May 2015 the Ministry of Information filed a lawsuit against five editorial staff members of the Daily Eleven newspaper for allegedly defaming the ministry in a 2014 story that criticized the ministry for paying a suspiciously high price for a printing press. Editors of the Daily Eleven disputed the allegation and suggested that the government took legal action to stifle criticism. In June the ministry filed a contempt of court complaint against the publisher and 16 editorial employees, claiming bias in the newspaper’s coverage of a court testimony given by a ministry official in the defamation case. The cases were underway as of December, and the government continued to litigate them through the end of the year.

On April 17, the government released and granted a presidential pardon to the five journalists of the Unity Journal newspaper whom the government had convicted in 2014 for breaching the 1923 State Secret Act.

Libel/Slander Laws: Elements of the military sued journalists on multiple occasions for what they perceived as defamation or inaccurate reporting. The government normally dropped the cases after a lengthy court process. For example, in June the military sued 7Day Daily newspaper, accusing the media outlet of trying actively to undermine the authority of the military with a story that quoted former parliamentary speaker and retired general Thura Shwe Mann urging his colleagues from the military to work with the new government. Only after mediation by the MPC and 7Day Daily’s published apology did the military drop the suit.

Individuals also used the Telecommunications Law to sue reporters for perceived defamation. For example, the chief minister of Rangoon, Phyo Min Thein, sued Eleven Media Group chief executive U Than Htut Aung and the editor in chief, U Wai Phyo, for defamation in November. The chief minister argued that an article insinuating he was corrupt due to an expensive wristwatch amounted to defamation.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. The government reportedly monitored internet communications under questionable legal authority, however, and used defamation charges to intimidate and detain some individuals using social media to criticize the military. There were also some instances of authorities intimidating online media outlets and internet users. Social media continued to be a popular forum to exchange ideas and opinions without direct government censorship. Independent research estimated internet penetration at 22 percent by fixed or mobile connection, with the number of active internet users growing by more than 350 percent between March 2015 and August. The current Freedom on the Net report issued by international NGO Freedom House rated internet freedom in Burma not free, but the rating increased slightly from previous years.

On February 10, the government charged Hla Hpone (accused of running the “Kyat Pha Kyi” Facebook page), under the Telecommunications Law for allegedly doctoring images of President Thein Sein and Commander in Chief Min Aung Hlaing.

Chaw Sandi Tun and Patrick Kum Ja Lee were both released after serving their six-month sentences for posting photographs on their personal Facebook accounts that authorities deemed as defaming the military.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were fewer government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. In its first month in office, the new government released more than 80 education activists who had been in custody for more than a year, following protests over limitations on academic freedom and association in the 2014 National Education Law. The Ministry of Education and universities demonstrated an increased willingness to collaborate with international institutions to host educational and cultural events, as well as to expand educational opportunities for undergraduate students. For example, the Yangon University of Education collaborated with the international community to hold film screenings and discussions on educational issues, while other universities worked with international institutions to allow foreign English-language instructors to teach their students full-time.

The government restricted political activity and freedom of association on university campuses by officially banning political activity on university campuses and student unions. As in previous years, the All Burma Student’s Union was unable to register but participated in some activities through informal networks.

There was one reported incident of the government restricting cultural events. In June the Motion Picture Classification Board banned the showing of a film entitled Twilight Over Burma, which was due to open at an international human rights festival in Rangoon. The board cited concerns that the film, which tells the story of an Austrian woman who married a Shan prince and who was later arrested during the 1962 coup d’etat, could have threatened the peace process underway with ethnic armed groups. Local and international human rights organizations criticized the censorship as a violation of freedom of speech.

Burundi

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press but ban “defamatory” speech about the president and other officials, material deemed to endanger national security, and racial or ethnic hate speech. Restrictions on freedom of speech and press increased significantly following dissent against the president’s 2015 announcement that he would seek a third term in office and government accusations of media complicity in the 2015 failed coup. Forces allied to the CNDD-FDD repressed media perceived as sympathetic to the opposition, including print and radio journalists, through harassment, intimidation, and violence.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law protects public servants and the president against “words, gestures, threats, or writing of any kind” that is “abusive or defamatory” or would “impair the dignity of or respect for their office.” The law also prohibits racially or ethnically motivated hate speech. The law mandates a penalty of six months to five years in prison and a fine of 10,000 to 50,000 francs ($6 to $30) for insulting the head of state. Some journalists, lawyers, NGO personnel, and leaders of political parties and civil society alleged the government used the law to intimidate and harass them (see section 3).

Press and Media Freedoms: Government-owned and operated Le Renouveau, the only daily newspaper, and Burundi National Television and Radio (RTNB), the sole television and radio station with national coverage, were among the few outlets that were allowed to operate without interruption during the year. The country’s last independent newspaper, the French-language Iwacu, whose editor in chief fled the country in 2015, saw one of its journalists disappear in July. Iwacu was allowed to stay open and continued to report information critical of the government. Three radio stations forcibly closed in the aftermath of the May 2015 failed coup remained closed. The law prohibits political parties, labor unions, and foreign NGOs from owning media outlets.

In 2013 the government passed a media law that required journalists to reveal sources in some circumstances and prohibited the publication of articles deemed to undermine national security. Penalties for failing to observe the law were severe. In 2014 parliament revised the law following journalists’ successful appeal to the East African Court of Justice. The court’s decision caused parliament to remove from media law some of its more draconian elements. Following the failed coup of May 2015, the government invoked the law to intimidate and detain journalists.

Reporters who were able to continue working complained that government agents harassed and threatened media that criticized the government and the CNDD-FDD. Journalists had difficulty corroborating stories, as local sources were intimidated.

Violence and Harassment: Several media outlets alleged they received explicit threats that they would be closed if they published or broadcast unflattering stories about the government. The government detained or summoned for questioning several local and international journalists investigating subjects such as human rights violations, corruption, or the movement opposing a third term for the incumbent president. Journalists experienced violence and harassment. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 100 journalists had fled the country since the April 2015 protests and the May 2015 failed coup attempt and remained abroad at year’s end.

In April 2015 the RTNB cut access to its broadcasting towers by radio stations it accused of supporting antigovernment protests, effectively preventing the interior of the country from receiving radio broadcasts overtly critical of the government’s actions. In May 2015 supporters of the failed coup attempt burned the offices and destroyed the equipment of the progovernment station, Radio REMA FM. The next day unidentified persons attacked the offices and destroyed the equipment of four radio stations–Radio Television Renaissance, Radio Isanganiro, Bonesha FM, and Radio Publique Africaine–accused by the government of broadcasting messages inciting persons to support the coup. Radio REMA FM reopened in October 2015. Radio Isanganiro was allowed to reopen in March following an agreement with the government. No prosecutions for the destruction of the stations had occurred by year’s end.

On January 4, the Ministry of Public Security issued a press release criticizing the reporting of a Radio France Internationale journalist. The release concluded, “The authorized government services will take the necessary measures to deal with this journalist’s disruptive activities,” a phrase that Reporters without Borders described as a “barely veiled threat.” As widely reported in media, on January 28, security forces detained two international journalists on assignment for Le Monde on suspicion of fraternizing with an armed opposition group. After 24 hours in custody, they were released without any formal charges being brought.

According to Reporters without Borders, Bonesha FM journalist Boaz Ntaconayigize fled to Uganda after receiving death threats and being attacked and badly injured by four men wielding knives on July 3. Ntaconayigize had reportedly investigated reports that SNR agents were infiltrating the Burundian refugee community in Uganda. He alleged he recognized two of his assailants as Burundians posing as refugees. According to Radio Bonesha, another of its journalists, Leon Ntakiyiruta, was attacked on August 8 in Kampala, Uganda, by two men wielding machetes; his attackers fled when a passerby intervened.

On July 22, Iwacu reporter Jean Bigirimana was abducted by unknown men. Police and the SNR denied that he was in their custody. Presidential spokesperson Willy Nyamitwe stated that the government was investigating the disappearance and tweeted that the opposition might be behind Bigirimana’s disappearance.

Reporters without Borders and local media outlets estimated that, by year’s end, 75 to 80 percent of the independent journalists who were working in early 2015 had fled the country due to growing threats from progovernment groups.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government censored media and penalized outlets that violated its standards of acceptable content. Broadly interpreted laws against libel, hate speech, endangering state security, and treason also fostered self-censorship, including by journalists working for the national broadcaster. Those who did not self-censor reportedly faced “reassignment” to jobs where they did not have access to the public or were fired.

The National Communications Council (CNC) regulates both print and broadcast media, controls the accreditation of journalists, and enforces compliance with media laws. The president appoints all 15 members, who were mainly government representatives and journalists from the state broadcaster. According to Freedom House, observers regarded the CNC as a tool of the executive branch, as it regularly issued politicized rulings and sanctions against journalists and outlets.

On October 25, the CNC suspended the radio program KARADIRIDIMBA on Radio Isanganiro for one month after the program aired a song about human rights abuses in Burundi. The CNC determined the airing of the song violated the agreement Radio Isanganiro signed which prohibited certain topics from being broadcast.

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

In 2014 opposition politician Leonce Ngendakumana sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General to alert him to concerns about violence during Burundi’s election cycle that year. Ngendakumana’s letter warned that the ruling party might be preparing a “political genocide.” Authorities charged Ngendakumana with “false accusations and inciting ethnic strife.” He was acquitted on appeal during the year.

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

Actions to Expand Press Freedom: In February the government announced it would allow two radio stations to resume broadcasting after their closure and destruction in 2015. As a condition to reopening, REMA FM (which supported the ruling party) and Radio Isanganiro (which was critical of the ruling party) were obliged to sign an agreement stating they would be “balanced and objective” and not threaten the country’s security.

INTERNET FREEDOM

According to the International Telecommunication Union, only 5 percent of individuals used the internet. In the absence of independent radio, some citizens relied heavily on the social media platforms WhatsApp, Twitter, and Facebook on both internet and mobile telephone networks to get information about current events. The government blocked the use of two or three social media applications on mobile networks for several days following the May 2015 failed coup. There were no verifiable reports the government monitored e-mail or internet chat rooms. Several radio stations that were closed after the failed coup continued to publish radio segments and articles online.

On August 20, police arrested 54 persons attending a private event in a downtown Bujumbura bar. Relatives of the detainees claimed they were arrested for exchanging messages critical of the government on the WhatsApp messaging platform. On August 21, most detainees were released, but eight remained in custody and were later prosecuted for defamation.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

On July 23, independent Radio Bonesha reported that Jerome Nzokirantevye, the head of the national radio and television company, the RTNB, had forbidden the playing of all Rwandan music including religious music. Nzokirantevye denied the report, stating he had only directed the station to “favor Burundian music.”

Cabo Verde

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to the Cabo Verdean National Communications Authority’s 2016 Second Quarter Report, 59 percent of the population used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Cambodia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

While the constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, the government did not always respect these rights.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The constitution grants free speech except where it adversely affects public security. The constitution also declares that the king is “inviolable,” and a Ministry of Interior directive conforming to the defamation law reiterates these limits and prohibits publishers and editors from disseminating stories that insult or defame not just the king, but also government leaders and institutions.

In March 2015 the National Assembly agreed to amendments to the laws governing the NEC and passed a new Law on the Election of Members of the National Assembly. Both the amendments and the new law contain provisions that require civil society organizations to remain “neutral” during political campaign periods and prohibit them from “insulting” political parties through the media. The Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO), promulgated in August 2015, further restricts freedom of speech by broadly requiring all associations and NGOs to be politically neutral.

The law prohibits prepublication censorship or imprisonment for expressing opinions; however, the government used the penal code to prosecute citizens on defamation, disinformation, and incitement charges. The penal code does not prescribe imprisonment for defamation but does for incitement or spreading disinformation, which carry a maximum imprisonment of three years. Judges also can order fines, which may lead to jail time if not paid. Courts broadly interpreted the crime of “incitement,” and senior government officials threatened to prosecute opposition figures on incitement charges for acts including calling for a “change in government” by electoral means.

Local human rights NGOs, media, and several independent analysts continued to express concern publicly about government actions targeting their work, including the cases against ADHOC officials. On May 9, a group of human rights activists launched the “Black Monday” campaign to protest the injustice of the judiciary and demand the release of the so-called prisoners of conscience. The campaign called upon members to wear black every Monday in solidarity with the prisoners. In a number of cases, authorities arrested the campaigners and granted release contingent on their signing an agreement promising not to rejoin the protests.

Press and Media Freedoms: All major political parties had reasonable and regular access to the print media. A majority of Khmer-language newspapers received financial support from individuals closely associated with the ruling CPP. According to the Ministry of Information, there were an estimated 13 Khmer-language newspapers, while 30 to 40 small circulation “papers” printed on an irregular schedule.

Although observers considered the five newspapers with the largest circulation pro-CPP, the newspapers occasionally criticized the government in some general areas, particularly with regard to corruption and land acquisition. As of August no pro-opposition newspapers published regularly; however, opposition voices relied on electronic publications and social media to express a wide range of opinions, including dissent. While the use of social media remained largely uncensored, some activists noted an increase in targeted crackdowns by government authorities, resulting in some social media users being subject to threats, arrest, detention, and unfair convictions.

The government, military forces, and the ruling political party continued to influence broadcast media. There were 16 domestic television stations and more than 175 radio stations. The CPP controlled or strongly influenced most television and radio stations, although a few were independent or aligned with other parties. According to a media monitoring NGO, the government routinely used state television to promote the activities of the government and the CPP and to criticize the opposition, while not granting the opposition parties equal access. In July civil society organizations criticized local media outlets for not covering the events surrounding the killing of Kem Ley. Some individuals attributed this to CPP and government pressure on media.

As part of the 2014 deal ending the political impasse between the ruling and opposition parties, the government granted the CNRP a license to operate a television station; however, the CNRP faced difficulties obtaining local land and building permits. In April, Kandal provincial authorities banned the CNRP from erecting its television antenna, citing concerns by local residents that the station would emit electromagnetic radiation and harm their health. CNRP officials accused the authorities of being biased, noting that the CPP-aligned Apsara TV had broadcasted from a densely populated area in Phnom Penh since 1996 without any problem or protest. The CNRP announced in June it would identify an alternative location for the station.

Violence and Harassment: Threats and violence against journalists and reporters remained common. On April 10, Pailin District police officer Khea Sokhorn pointed a rifle at Ouk Touch, a reporter for the Kampuchea Aphivat newspaper, claiming he was infuriated with the journalistic investigation into his violent shooting of villagers. In a separate case, military police in Mondulkiri Province detained Vann Tith, a TV9 broadcaster who reported that their commander took bribes from illegal loggers in the Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were reports government agents harassed and intimidated journalists, publishers, and media distributors. Because the government controls permits and licenses for journalists, most media outlets practiced self-censorship to some degree. Some reporters and editors continued to self-censor their reporting due to fear of government reprisal.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used libel, slander, defamation, and denunciation laws to restrict public discussion on issues it deemed sensitive or against its interests. The government issued an arrest warrant for opposition leader Sam Rainsy relying on a conviction from a defamation suit brought by then foreign minister Hor Namhong in 2008 (see section 3).

National Security: The government continued to cite national security concerns to justify restricting citizens’ rights to criticize government policies and officials. In particular the government routinely threatened to prosecute and arrest anyone who questioned the demarcation of the country’s border with Vietnam or suggested the government had ceded national territory to Vietnam.

INTERNET FREEDOM

While the government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, there were credible reports government entities monitored private online communications. According to the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, internet access was widely available, particularly in urban centers, and more than 31 percent of the population had internet access. More than 98 percent of users could access the internet through mobile devices as opposed to home connections.

In December 2015 the Law on Telecommunications came into effect, causing backlash from the country’s leading civil society and human rights activists, who claimed it provides the government broad authority to monitor secretly online public discussion and communications using private telecommunication devices. According to human rights NGO Licadho, the government has the legal authority to monitor every telephone conversation, text message, e-mail, social media activity, and correspondence between individuals without their knowledge or consent. Any expressed opinions deemed to violate the government’s definition of national security could result in a maximum imprisonment of 15 years. As of November there were no arrests based on the new legislation.

A local human rights NGO claimed there were at least 20 cases of persons arrested for content they posted online. In March the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced political science student Kong Raya to 18 months in prison for calling for a “color revolution” on Facebook. Civil society groups condemned the conviction and characterized it as a measure to restrict further freedom of expression online. Several activists said the government sought to use Raya’s case to threaten, intimidate, and obstruct civil society.

In 2015 the Ministry of Interior announced it would begin enforcing rules mandating all SIM cards be associated with an identifiable individual. This led to the disconnection of nearly one million SIM cards. As of September an estimated 19 million SIM cards were in use, compared with approximately 20 million in use in 2015. Police justified the new rule as a necessary step to curb crime, including trafficking in persons, and terrorism. Despite this new requirement, many mobile operators did not confirm the identities of SIM card owners. Civil society groups continued to express concern the government could use the collection of personal information from SIM card registration to stifle freedom of expression online.

A “Cyber War Team” in the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit is responsible for monitoring and countering “incorrect” information from news outlets and social media. A leak of the draft Cybercrime Law in July 2015 raised additional fears the government was developing new legal mechanisms to broaden its powers to arrest and convict those who challenge its position. In response the government stated the goal of the legislation was to “inform the public,” protect the government’s “prestige and honor,” and defend the government from “insults.”

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

In general there were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, although scholars tended to be careful when teaching political subjects due to fear of offending politicians. In May the Ministry of Education reminded public and private education institutions the education law strictly prohibits all political activities and discussions. Specifically the law states, “Political activities and/or propaganda for any political party in educational establishments and institutions shall be completely banned.” Many activists asserted the law aims to stifle youth support of the opposition, adding that a majority of school principals supported the CPP. On August 10, the ministry issued a directive banning all political activity at academic institutions. Government officials appeared to exempt several large campus-based organizations affiliated with the ruling party, however, stating these were “extracurricular” groups that promoted “humanitarian causes.”

Cameroon

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and press but also criminalizes media offenses, and the government restricted speech and press.

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

Antiterrorism legislation was also used to exercise government control over public and private expression. In November the military court of Yaounde sentenced three men to 10 years in prison for exchanging private text messages that joked about Boko Haram. The three individuals were not military personnel and were not accused of any terrorist involvement or support, but they were tried and convicted of “nondenunciation of terrorist acts.”

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, although there were restrictions, especially on editorial independence, in part due to terrorism concerns and the fight against Boko Haram. Journalists reported practicing self-censorship to avoid repercussions for criticizing the government, especially on security matters.

Violence and Harassment: Police, gendarmes, and other government agents subjected journalists to arrest, detention, physical attack, and intimidation due to their reporting.

On May 17, a Voice of America (VOA) correspondent and state media Cameroon Radio and Television reporter, Moki Edwin Kindzeka, reported he was detained for four hours over a story he published on VOA speaking about crackdowns on corruption and some politicians’ beliefs that President Biya was eliminating his political opponents. Unknown individuals forced Kindzeka into a car and interrogated, threatened, and offered him money for “favorable” reporting.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The National Communication Council (NCC) is empowered to ensure all printed media comply with the legal requirement that editors in chief deposit two signed copies of each newspaper edition with the Prosecutor’s Office for scrutiny within two hours after publication. Journalists and media outlets practiced self-censorship, especially if the NCC had suspended them. The NCC issued fewer warnings and suspensions than in 2015.

On July 14, the NCC issued sanctions ranging from warnings to temporary suspensions for up to six months. The weekly newspaper L’Epervier and its publisher received two suspensions of six and three months, respectively, for publishing unsubstantiated statements deemed likely to impair the reputation of persons, including Martin Belinga Eboutou, director of the civil cabinet of the presidency, and Eletana Ayinda Rene, another staff member of the presidency. Weekly newspapers Ades-info and Le Regard received three-month suspensions. Weekly newspaper La Tornade received a two-month suspension, while weekly newspaper Canard Libre received a one-month suspension. The daily newspaper The Guardian Post, weekly newspaper Essingan, and Roger Kiyek, Royal FM director each received a warning for unethical conduct, following complaints by some staff members of the presidency and the CPDM.

Libel/Slander Laws: Press freedom is constrained by strict libel laws. Any citizen may file a lawsuit against media organs for defamation of character. These laws authorize the government, at its discretion and the request of the plaintiff, to criminalize a civil libel suit or to initiate a criminal libel suit in cases of alleged libel against the president or other high government officials. Such crimes are punishable by prison terms and heavy fines. The libel law places the burden of proof on the defendant. The government contended libel laws are aimed at safeguarding citizens whose reputations can be permanently damaged by defamation. The government and public figures reportedly used laws against libel or slander to restrict public discussion. While government officials and individuals filed libel complaints against media outlets with the NCC, none of the complaints was sanctioned with prison terms.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 11 percent of the population used the internet in 2014. Other studies stated the usage rate remained the same during the year.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Although there were no legal restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, state security informants reportedly continued to operate on university campuses. There were no reports the government censored curricula; sanctioned academic personnel for their teachings, writing, or research; restricted academic travel or contacts; intimidated academics into self-censoring; or attempted to influence academic appointments based on political affiliation. There were a few reports, however, of security personnel disrupting student activities. Further, the penal code adopted in July bans “political processions in any public establishment, school, or university”; it was criticized by some observers as isolating youth from the political process.

Canada

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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

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

In November media reported that municipal and provincial police in Quebec had electronically monitored seven journalists in the province on multiple occasions between 2008 and 2016. In each case the police had a warrant from a Quebec court authorizing the surveillance. The most recent case started in 2016 as police investigated an internal leak suggesting police officers may have fabricated evidence. The electronic monitoring allowed police authorities to track the journalists’ movements and telephone logs. Federal, Quebec, and Montreal politicians condemned the electronic surveillance. The provincial government of Quebec committed to make it more difficult for police to obtain warrants to monitor journalists, and it launched a public commission to investigate the incidents. The commission’s investigation had not started as of November 8.

In July the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal ordered a comedian to pay C$42,000 ($32,400) to the family of a child whose appearance he mocked during a stand-up routine. The judge determined the comedian’s joke did not qualify as protected speech and violated the child’s right to protection against discriminatory comments. In October the Quebec Court of Appeals granted the comedian permission to file an appeal.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

Approximately 99 percent of households could access broadband services. According to the World Bank, 87 percent of the population used the internet in 2014.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Central African Republic

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Press and Media Freedoms: All print media in the country were privately owned. Radio was the most important medium of mass communication. There were a number of alternatives to the state-owned radio station, Radio Centrafrique. Independent radio stations operated freely and broadcast organized debates and call-in talk shows critical of the government, the election process, ex-Seleka, and anti-Balaka militias. International media broadcast within the country.

The government monopolized domestic television broadcasting (this was available only in the capital and for limited hours), and television news coverage generally supported government positions.

Violence and Harassment: There were no reports of journalists being targeted for violence by the government.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were no reports the government attempted to censor the media. Three journalists arrested in 2014 had not been tried by year’s end. Local and international journalists used a variety of social media platforms to broadcast updates and commentary during the elections, without restriction.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 4 percent of the population used the internet in 2014.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no reports the transitional or newly elected government restricted academic freedom or cultural events.

Many schools remained closed or without adequate resources. The country’s sole university was open.

Chad

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of opinion, expression, and press, but the government severely restricted these rights, according to Freedom House. Authorities used threats and legal prosecutions to curb critical reporting.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law prohibits “inciting racial, ethnic, or religious hatred,” which is punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine of one to three million CFA francs ($1,700 to $5,110). Despite a 2010 media law that abolished prison sentences for defamation or insult, authorities arrested and detained persons for defamation.

In August authorities banned two singers from performing on government-owned television and radio after they performed songs calling for the payment of back salaries for public-sector employees and denouncing the high cost of living.

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

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

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

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

For example, on June 24, police arrested Madjissembaye Ngardinon, a reporter for the Abba Garde newspaper, during an operation to evict persons in N’Djamena who had lost a legal battle with the owner of the land. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Ngardinon was detained after photographing police officers subduing a woman who was resisting their efforts to evict her. In a June 20 article, Ngardinon also had criticized irregularities in the judicial handling of property disputes. Authorities initially charged Ngardinon with contempt of court, punishable by one to six months in prison, but subsequently changed the charge to “rebellion,” punishable by three months to two years in prison and a fine of up to 500,000 CFA francs ($850). RSF called the charges “trumped up” and accused the government of manipulating the criminal code to serve private interests. Ngardinon remained in prison at year’s end.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized those who published items counter to government guidelines, sometimes by closing media outlets. Some journalists and publishers practiced self-censorship.

INTERNET FREEDOM

On April 10, the day of the presidential election, the government shut down all access to the internet and SMS/text messaging; they had been used to criticize how military voting was conducted and to organize antigovernment protests. Although internet access was restored two days later, social media–such as Facebook and SMS/text messaging–remained blocked. On April 21, the day provisional election results were announced, authorities restored SMS/text messaging, but access to social networks was not fully restored until December 3.

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

According to multiple sources, between 2.7 and 10.2 percent of citizens had access to the internet through a computer; as much as 99 percent of the population had access to limited internet via mobile phones.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Chile

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to Internet World Statistics, approximately 80 percent of the population had access to the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau)

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colombia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Violence and Harassment: According to the domestic NGO Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), during the year through August 29, there were 144 incidents of violence and harassment against journalists, although FLIP noted many other incidents might have gone unreported in the most dangerous areas of the country. FLIP reported 52 threats, some aimed simultaneously at more than one journalist. FLIP also reported that one journalist was detained, 33 journalists were physically attacked, and 17 were stigmatized due to their work; however, no journalists had been killed as of September. According to FLIP, the government did not bring a single case to trial for violence against journalists, although investigations continued.

As of July the Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office was investigating 37 active cases of crimes against journalists and had convicted 43 persons for such crimes.

On May 21, the ELN kidnapped RCN journalists Salud Hernandez, Diego D’Pablos, and Carlos Melo. They were released on May 27.

The investigation into the case of journalist Flor Alba Nunez Vargas, shot and killed in 2015, proceeded despite some delays. The accused material author of the crime, Juan Camilo Ortiz, arrested in September 2015, remained in detention, while Ortiz’s alleged accomplice, Jaumeth Albeiro Florez, known by the alias “Chori,” remained at large. After the preliminary hearing was suspended three times, the prosecution in a September 2 preliminary hearing presented evidence against Ortiz, including 93 elements of proof and legal evidence. The preliminary hearing was suspended again and resumed September 19, according to media reports. Oral proceedings in the case were scheduled for November.

On May 10, the Attorney General’s Office called three former DAS employees–former DAS director in Antioquia Emiro Rojas Granados, existing CTI telematics director William Alberto Merchan, and former DAS intelligence group detective Juan Carlos Sastoque–to testify in the case regarding threats and harassment against journalist Claudia Julieta Duque.

In September the Council of the State, the highest court for legal processes involving the state, ruled the state was responsible for the death of Jaime Garzon, a journalist and satirist shot and killed by motorcycle gunmen in Bogota in 1999. The court sentenced the state, represented by the Ministry of Defense, the army, and the National Police, noting the responsibility of DAS agents. According to the Council of the State, Jose Miguel Narvaez, the former deputy director of intelligence of the DAS, and the former chief of intelligence of Brigade 13 of the army, colonel Jorge Eliecer Plazas Acevedo, carried out illegal wiretaps on Garzon and shared the information with the former commander of the AUC, Carlos Castano, to whom they suggested the murder. The court ordered the state to pay more than COP 700 million ($235,000) to Garzon’s family for damages. Plazas Acevedo and Narvaez were being prosecuted for the crime of aggravated homicide. There was only one conviction to date in Garzon’s murder; in 2004 Carlos Castano was convicted in absentia of being the mastermind of the murder, and sentenced to 38 years in prison.

As of July the National Protection Unit (NPU) provided protection services to 132 journalists. On September 23, the NPU presented a new Protocol for Attention to Cases of Journalists and/or Social Communicators, established with the stated goal of meeting the particular needs of this group and providing more robust risk studies.

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

Libel/Slander Laws: By law slander and libel are crimes. There is no specific legislation for slander against public officials. The government did not use prosecution to prevent media from criticizing government policies or public officials. Political candidates, businesspersons, and others, however, sued journalists for expressing their opinions, alleging defamation or libel. FLIP reported three new cases against journalists for libel or slander were filed from January 1 to August 26. FLIP also noted as of August 26, four cases of journalists being prosecuted for libel or slander continued from previous years.

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

In March a judge sentenced Mario Jaime Mejia to 28 years and Alejandro Cardenas to 11 years in prison for their roles in the aggravated kidnapping, torture, and rape of journalist Jineth Bedoya in 2000. In August the Superior Court of Bogota ruled that neither man was eligible for the alternative benefits provided by the Justice and Peace law because they lied about their participation in and knowledge of the facts in the case.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet and has no onerous legislation or policies censoring online content.

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

The International Telecommunication Union estimated 53 percent of the population used the internet in 2015. In view of the general climate of violence and impunity, self-censorship occurred both online and offline, particularly within communities at risk in rural areas.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. There was evidence, however, that guerrillas maintained a presence on many university campuses to generate political support for their respective causes and undermine support for their enemies through both violent and nonviolent means.

Organized criminal gangs and guerrilla groups killed, threatened, and displaced educators and their families for political and financial reasons, often because teachers represented the only government presence in the remote areas where the killings occurred.

According to the Colombian Federation of Educators, three educators were killed during the year through August 29. Threats and harassment caused many educators and students to adopt lower profiles and avoid discussing controversial topics.

Comoros

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Press and Media Freedoms: Unlike in prior years, there were no reports of the newly elected and installed government hampering press freedom. Nevertheless, some journalists on all three islands continued to practice self-censorship.

On May 18, the director general of the government newspaper al-Watwan, Ahmed Ali Amir, was dismissed by former president Ikililou a week before he left office. Amir had published the results of the Anjouan presidential election’s third round of voting prior to official confirmation by the National Independent Commission for Elections, and in violation of a prohibition issued by the Ministry of Interior. On June 21, Amir was reappointed after President Azali Assoumani assumed office.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 7.5 percent of individuals used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Costa Rica

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Censorship or Content Restrictions: On July 11, a daily newspaper complained of pressures from a state-owned bank for publishing critical articles. The bank withdrew official advertising from the newspaper allegedly to influence the newspaper’s content.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private communications without appropriate legal authority. The International Telecommunication Union reported that in 2015, 60 percent of individuals used the internet and 60 percent of households had internet access.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Cote d’Ivoire

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law prohibits incitement to violence, ethnic hatred, rebellion, and insulting the head of state or other senior members of the government.

In May the CNP suspended for one month a journalist with LG Infos, a pro-Gbagbo daily newspaper, who wrote an article about an alleged shooting that resulted in the death of a young French-Lebanese man in front of the president’s residence. The CNP ruled that the information was false and led to xenophobic and hateful discourse.

Press and Media Freedoms: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Newspapers aligned politically with the opposition frequently published inflammatory editorials against the government or fabricated stories to defame political opponents.

The High Audiovisual Communications Authority oversees the regulation and operation of radio and television stations. There were numerous independent radio stations. The law prohibits transmission of political commentary by private radio stations. There were no private television stations.

In a continuing effort at media liberalization, on March 1, the High Audiovisual Communications Authority announced the results of the 2015 bidding by private cable and satellite television providers for operating licenses. Three multinational companies received licenses, and the Ministry of Communication stated the companies would have complete editorial freedom and the option of transmitting locally produced content, such as news and other informational programs. An additional bidding process for local providers opened in May.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government influenced news coverage and program content on television channels and public and private radio stations. In February the state-run Ivoirian Radio and Television suspended production of live television and radio programs by some religious groups, NGOs, and traditional healers; the suspension remained in effect at year’s end.

Libel/Slander Laws: Criminal libel is punishable by one to three years in prison.

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Authorities permitted suspended newspapers to publish their full content online. One website estimated 22 percent of the population had home-based access to the internet via computer or mobile device. With a mobile phone penetration rate of virtually 100 percent, however, internet access by mobile device was likely much higher.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. Violent clashes in July, however, between security forces and student unions protesting the government’s plan to house athletes in the Francophone Games in student housing at the University of Felix Houphouet-Boigny in Abidjan during the summer of 2017 resulted in injuries to students and security force members. Approximately 30 students were arrested. The government subsequently suspended all student union activities on university grounds and stationed security forces at the university.

Croatia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The criminal code sanctions individuals who act “with the goal of spreading racial, religious, sexual, national, ethnic hatred or hatred based on the color of skin or sexual orientation or other characteristics.” The law provides for six months to five years’ imprisonment for conviction of such “hate speech.” Conviction of internet hate speech is punishable by six months’ to three years’ imprisonment. In 2015, 29 individuals were investigated on such charges, and several of their cases remained open at year’s end.

On January 26, newly elected Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ivan Tepes led 5,000 to 7,000 persons on a march in Zagreb to protest a decision by the Electronic Media Council (EMC) to suspend broadcaster Z1 three days for airing hate speech directed at ethnic Serbs. During the march, some protesters gave Nazi salutes and shouted phrases from the World War II-era Nazi-aligned Ustasha regime.

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media were active and expressed without restraint a wide variety of views. Restrictions on material deemed hate speech applied to print and broadcast media. While many private newspapers and magazines were published without government interference, observers cited lack of transparency in media ownership as a challenge to media and government accountability. In several cases information regarding the actual ownership of local media outlets was not publicly available.

On March 10, the government proposed that the parliament reject the EMC’s annual report, terminate the agency’s mandate, and dismiss its director. Following parliament’s vote on the same day to reject the EMC’s annual report, EMC Director Marijana Rakic resigned, citing “unbearable pressure.”

In June a delegation including representatives from the International Press Institute, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the European Broadcast Union, the South East Europe Media Organization, the European Center for Press and Media Freedom, Reporters Without Borders. Austria and the Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media visited the country. Their report, Croatia: Media Freedom in Turbulent Times, addressed the January 26 EMC protest, commenting that “not a single top politician from the governing coalition condemned a clear attempt–based on crude ethnopolitics–to harass and intimidate an independent media regulatory body.” The report also noted police did not issue hate speech citations to any participants in the January 26 march.

Violence and Harassment: On March 31, journalist and writer Ante Tomic was physically attacked in Split. The Ministry of Culture released a statement saying it “condemns physical violence and attacks on all citizens. At the same time, this case reminds us about the importance of responsibility for words spoken and/or written in public.” The EFJ stated such a statement after a physical attack against a respected journalist was “not only rude and outrageous but dangerous.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In August the Union of Electronic Media urged the government to provide for Croatian Radio and Television’s (HRT) independence following the September parliamentary elections, saying it was “essential that the HRT be allowed to maintain its editorial independence to provide impartial and relevant news, especially in these important weeks leading up to the elections in Croatia. Freedom of the media is critical to a healthy democracy and we strongly encourage the Croatian government to respect that freedom.”

A number of journalists reported that publishers and media owners frequently practiced self-censorship to avoid reporting negatively on advertisers or those politically linked to key advertisers.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 70 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Cuba

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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

Several government workers reported being fired for expressing dissenting opinions or affiliating with independent organizations. For example, in August local radio station journalist Jose Ramirez Pandoja was fired for publishing a controversial speech by the deputy director of the CP’s official newspaper, Granma, on his personal blog. The speech cited young journalists leaving traditional media outlets due to censorship policies and low salaries.

Several university professors and researchers reported they were forced from their positions or demoted for expressing ideas or opinions outside of government-accepted norms.

During the year some religious groups reported greater latitude to express their opinions during sermons and at religious gatherings, although most members of the clergy continued to exercise self-censorship. Religious leaders in some cases criticized the government, its policies, and even the country’s leadership without reprisals. The Roman Catholic Church operated a cultural and educational center in Havana that hosted debates featuring participants expressing different opinions about the country’s future. On January 8, the government closed open-air churches in Camaguey and Las Tunas and detained three pastors associated with the Apostolic movement, an unregistered network of Protestant churches. The government claimed that the pastors erected the churches without permission, but the pastors denied that claim. One of the pastors was later charged and convicted of violating neighborhood noise ordinances related to his Sunday sermons.

Press and Media Freedoms: The government directly owned all print and broadcast media outlets and all widely available sources of information. News and information programming was generally uniform across all outlets, with the exception of broadcasts of Venezuelan government news programming. The government also controlled nearly all publications and printing presses, and the CP must give prior approval for printing of nearly all publications. The party censored public screenings and performances. The government also limited the importation of printed materials. Foreign correspondents in the country had limited access to and often were denied interviews with government officials. They also struggled to gather facts and reliable data for stories. Despite meeting government vetting requirements, official journalists who reported on sensitive subjects did so at personal risk, and the government restricted the ability of official journalists to work for unofficial media outlets in addition to their official duties. Granma correspondent Jose Antonio Torres remained in prison at the end of the year; he was sentenced in 2012 to 14 years’ imprisonment on charges of espionage for articles he wrote.

Violence and Harassment: The government does not recognize independent journalism, and independent journalists sometimes faced government harassment, including detention and physical abuse. Most detentions involved independent journalists who filmed arrests and harassment of #TodosMarchamos activists. Several journalists were detained, had their equipment confiscated, and were harassed for covering the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. Some independent journalists reported interrogations by state security agents for publishing articles critical of government institutions.

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

The government sometimes barred independent libraries from receiving materials from abroad and seized materials donated by foreign governments, religious organizations, and individuals. Government officials also confiscated or destroyed cameras and phones of individuals to prevent them from distributing photographs and videos deemed objectionable, such as those taken during arrests and detentions. Activists reported interrogations and confiscations at the airport when arriving from the United States. On August 1, human rights activist Ivan Hernandez Carillo reported being detained and beaten when he arrived at the airport in Havana after he refused to go to a small room to have his belongings searched. On August 12, independent lawyer Laritza Diversent was briefly questioned when she returned from testifying on freedom of expression before the UN special rapporteur. Security officials confiscated all materials related to this event. Independent think tank Convivencia reported nine police citations and interrogations in September and October during which state security questioned members about their participation in international conferences.

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted or disrupted access to the internet and censored some online content, and there were credible reports that the government monitored without appropriate legal authority the limited e-mail and internet chat rooms and browsing that were permitted. The government controlled all internet access, except for limited facilities provided by a few diplomatic missions and a small but increasing number of black market facilities.

While the International Telecommunication Union reported that 31 percent of citizens used the internet in 2015, access often was limited to a national intranet that offered only e-mail or highly restricted access to the World Wide Web. Other international groups reported lower internet penetration, with approximately 5 percent of the population having access to open internet.

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

During the year the government increased the number of Wi-Fi hot spots at computer centers to more than 200 countrywide. The government also expanded Wi-Fi hot spots in areas outside computer centers and proposed a pilot program to install internet in the homes of a limited number of persons in Old Havana. Authorities reviewed the browsing history of users, reviewed and censored e-mail, employed internet search filters, and blocked access to websites considered objectionable. Access cost approximately two convertible pesos (CUC) ($2) per hour, still beyond the means of many citizens, whose average official income was approximately 23 CUC ($23) per month.

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

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

Foreigners could buy internet access cards from the national telecommunications provider and use hotel business centers, where internet access could be purchased only in hard currency. Access usually cost between five and 10 CUC ($5 to $10) an hour, a rate well beyond the means of most citizens. Citizens usually could purchase internet access at the national telecommunications provider and use hotel business centers.

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

During the 54-day hunger strike of activist Guillermo “Coco” Farinas, the government reportedly disrupted Farinas’ telephone service and intercepted calls to provide false information.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Outspoken artists and academics faced some harassment and criticism orchestrated by the government. For example, in April academic Omar Everleny Perez Villanueva was expelled from the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy at the University of Havana for “indiscipline” and for having “unauthorized conversations with foreign institutions,” which included talking to foreign press and criticizing the government’s slow pace of economic reforms.

In June art historian Yanelys Nunez Leyva was fired from a cultural magazine for contributing to a developing online platform called the Cuban Museum of Dissent featuring leaders in Cuban history who had rebelled against political doctrines.

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

Cyprus

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law criminalizes incitement to hatred and violence against anyone based on race, color, religion, genealogical origin, national or ethnic origin, or sexual orientation. Such acts are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 10,000 euros ($11,000), or both. In 2015 police examined 11 complaints of verbal assault and/or hate speech based on ethnic origin, religion, sexual orientation, and color. Authorities opened criminal prosecutions in three cases. One case resulted in a conviction, and two were pending trial.

Press and Media Freedoms: The law penalizes the use of geographical names and toponyms in the country other than those included in the gazetteer the government presented at the 1987 Fifth UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names. According to the law, anyone who publishes, imports, distributes, or sells maps, books, or any other documents in print or digital form that contain geographical names and toponyms on the island of Cyprus other than those permitted, commits an offense punishable by up to three years in prison, a fine of up to 50,000 euros ($55,000), or both.

In February the mayor of Myrtou village and the leader of the Green party submitted to the Permanent Cypriot Committee for the Standardization of Geographical Names a complaint against the Bicommunal Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage (one of the bicommunal working groups set up as part of the UN-facilitated peace talks) for using in a January publication the name Turkish Cypriot authorities gave Myrtou post-1974. The complaint was before the attorney general for a legal opinion.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to statistics compiled by Eurostat, approximately 71 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

The law criminalizes the use of computer systems to incite and promote prejudice, hatred, or violence. Such acts are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 35,000 euros ($38,500), or both.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Czech Republic

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and press. The law provides for some limitations to this freedom, including in cases of hate speech, Holocaust denial, and denial of communist-era crimes.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law mandates prison sentences of six months to three years for persons who deny communist-era crimes or the Holocaust. The law prohibits speech that incites hatred based on race, religion, class, nationality, or other group affiliation and provides for prison sentences of up to three years for violations.

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without government restriction but there was a reported instance of a private media outlet restricting its reporters. Investigations by an NGO revealed that management of Prima TV, the third-most-watched television station in the country, instructed its reporters to present the migration crisis only as a threat and to focus on concern about Islamization and the danger posed by refugees. Management reportedly announced that anyone who did not follow this approach would not be able to work at Prima. Several legislators publicly criticized Prima TV.

The law providing limitations on denial of communist-era crimes and the Holocaust and on hate speech applies to the print and broadcast media as well as online newspapers and journals.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to current data from the Czech Statistical Office, over 73 percent of households used high-speed internet during the year.

Authorities were increasingly willing to prosecute hate speech on the internet, although extremists often stymied their efforts by placing their pages on foreign servers beyond the reach of authorities. One website, hosted abroad but run by Slovak white supremacists, listed the names and addresses of many Czech lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons as well as Romani activists and advocates. In some cases the supremacists hacked webpages, such as that of the Czech Helsinki Committee, and called for violence against individuals, such as the director of a major Romani NGO. In 2015 the courts fined several websites for publishing or allowing hate speech in internet discussions.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

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

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

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and press. The press frequently and openly criticized public officials and public policy decisions. Individuals generally could criticize the government, its officials, and other citizens in private without being subject to official reprisals. Public criticism, however, of government officials, the president, or government policies regarding elections, democracy, and corruption sometimes resulted in intimidation, threats, and arrest.

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

On April 22, Godefroy Mwanabwato was convicted and sentenced to 24 months in prison for offending the head of state, offending the government and parliament, and inciting racial and ethnic hatred. Mwanabwato was arrested in June 2015 for a social media post criticizing the government and calling for the release of detained activists Fred Bauma and Yves Makwambala. He was held incommunicado for 15 days in ANR detention and allegedly tortured, then conditionally released on August 31 as part of a government effort to reduce political tensions.

On December 27, reportedly acting on a request from the public prosecutor, the provincial assembly in Haut Katanga stripped opposition National Federalists Union of Congo party president Gabriel Kyungu Wa Kumwanza of parliamentary immunity for allegedly insulting the head of state during a speech in April.

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

The government required newspapers to pay a one-time license fee of 250,000 Congolese francs ($210) and complete several administrative requirements before publishing. Broadcast media were also subject to a Directorate for Administrative and Land Revenue advertisement tax. Many journalists lacked professional training, received little or no set salary, could not access government information, and exercised self-censorship due to concerns about harassment, intimidation, or arrest.

The local NGO Journalists in Danger reported seven independent media outlets, including Nyota Television, Mapendo Television, Jua Television, La Voix du Katanga, and Radio Liberte Butembo, were closed during the year for political reasons. In August the minister of justice and human rights announced Canal Congo Television (CCTV) and Canal Kin Television, both owned by opposition leaders and closed since 2011, could resume broadcasting as a measure to ease political tensions. Canal Futur Television, also closed in 2011, for allegedly owing back taxes, remained closed at year’s end. On December 19, the government closed CCTV and Radio Liberte Kinshasa, both owned by Jean-Pierre Bemba, leader of the opposition Congolese Liberation Movement party. The CSAC and the teledistribution company that manages media in Kinshasa denied involvement in closing the stations. Authorities maintained they were closed for failing to pay back taxes and licensing fees. The stations remained closed at year’s end.

Violence and Harassment: Local journalists were vulnerable to intimidation and violence by the SSF. According to Journalists in Danger, 12 journalists were mistreated, arrested, or harassed by SSF while covering the September 19-20 protest in Kinshasa. For example, on September 19, Kinshasa SSF arbitrarily arrested Canal Congo Television journalist Dosta Lutula while he was covering an opposition demonstration. Lutula said he was taken to a military camp, beaten, and stripped. He was released the next day, but authorities kept his equipment and recordings. On the same day, La Prosperite reporter Kevin Inana and Eliezer Thambwe, host of the popular television show Tokomi Wapi, were arbitrarily arrested in Kinshasa, subjected to abuse, and briefly detained in military camps.

In 2015 two journalists were killed, one by a civilian attacker and the other by unidentified assailants. According to local NGOs, no investigation into these killings had begun by year’s end. Journalists in Danger reported an increase in press freedom violations from 72 in 2015 to 87 during the year. The NGO reported authorities assaulted or tortured 16 journalists, arrested and held 11 for more than 48 hours, detained and interrogated 31 for less than 48 hours, and threatened or harassed 15 in the 12-month period ending November 30. Other incidents included efforts to subject them to administrative, judicial, or economic pressure or to obstruct the free circulation of information. At year’s end the government had not sanctioned or charged any perpetrator of press freedom violations.

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

Media representatives reported they were pressured by the government not to cover events organized by the opposition or news concerning opposition leaders. On November 4, the government blocked the signals of Radio France Internationale and UN-supported Radio Okapi. Radio Okapi’s signal was reestablished November 11, but RFI’s signal remained blocked at year’s end.

Libel/Slander Laws: The national and provincial governments used criminal defamation laws to intimidate and punish critics. For example, the Ministry of Justice revived a defamation case against Vital Kamerhe, leader of the opposition party Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC), for his statements concerning electoral fraud in the 2011 elections, despite the settlement made out of court in 2012. If convicted, Kamerhe could face up to one year in prison and a fine, and could be barred from running for certain public offices. As of September the case was pending an appeal to the Constitutional Court. In addition, Kamerhe’s Canal Futur Television was closed in 2011 for allegedly owing back taxes. The government authorized the station to resume broadcasting in August, days before the start of talks between the government and several opposition parties including Kamerhe’s UNC. The station did not resume broadcasts, however, because by then another company was illegally using its frequency. It remained closed at year’s end.

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

Some private entrepreneurs made moderately priced internet access available through internet cafes in large cities throughout the country. Data-enabled mobile telephones were an increasingly popular way to access the internet. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 3.9 percent of individuals in the country used the internet during the year.

Ahead of anticipated protests on December 19, the government ordered internet providers to prohibit the sharing of video, images, or sound over social media, on penalty of revocation of their operating licenses. Companies were responsible for either isolating and prohibiting this feature or shutting down all related data services. Companies re-opened full use of internet features by December 28.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Denmark

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law prohibits any public speech or the dissemination of statements or other pronouncements that threaten, deride, or degrade a group because of gender, race, skin color, national or ethnic background, religion, or sexual orientation. Authorities may fine or imprison offenders for up to two years. During the year there were two convictions for hate speech. One case involved the conviction of a council member from the Danish People’s Party for tweeting anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim remarks. He was fined 8,000 kroner ($1,200). A second person was fined 1,600 kroner ($240) for spreading anti-Muslim statements on Facebook.

The law also prohibits blasphemy and provides that a person who publicly mocks or insults a legally existing religious community’s tenets of faith or worship may be fined or imprisoned for up to four months. The government has not prosecuted a blasphemy case since 1938.

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

In June an appeals court affirmed that two former employees of Roj TV were guilty of channeling 33.5 million kroner ($5 million) to the PKK. In 2014 the Supreme Court revoked the broadcasting license of the Denmark-based Kurdish television channel Roj TV for promoting the activities of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and for receiving support from the PKK. The court fined the station 10 million kroner ($1.5 million), after which it went into bankruptcy.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Internet service providers continued to employ internet filters designed to block child pornography and websites hosting copyright-infringed material. There were no reports of the filter’s affecting legitimate websites.

According to 2015 statistics compiled by the International Telecommunication Union, 43 percent of the population in Denmark had a fixed broadband subscription, compared with 36 percent in the Faroe Islands and 17 percent in Greenland. According to the same source, 96 percent of the population in Denmark were internet users, compared with 94 percent in the Faroe Islands and 68 percent in Greenland.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Djibouti

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law allow for freedom of speech and press, provided the exercise of these freedoms complies with the law and respects “the honor of others.” The government did not respect these rights. The law provides prison sentences for media offenses.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately could face reprisals. Plainclothes security agents in mosques monitored the content of sermons during Friday prayers.

On January 14, authorities arrested Kadar Abdi Ibrahim, university professor and journalist and publisher of biweekly opposition magazine l’Aurore, after he published a picture of a child killed during the December 2015 incident. Ibrahim spent one night in custody and was then released. On January 19, a judge suspended Ibrahim’s magazine for two months and gave him a suspended two‑month jail sentence. In February 2015 Ibrahim was fired by presidential decree from his position at the university for expressing political beliefs in the workplace.

Another opposition member and two persons linked to the December 2015 incident were also fired by presidential decree from their government positions.

Press and Media Freedoms: There were no privately owned or independent newspapers in the country. Printing facilities for mass media were government owned, which created obstacles for those wishing to publish criticism of the government. The principal newspaper, La Nation, maintained a monopoly on domestic news.

On April 2, the government expelled BBC journalists, including BBC’s Africa security correspondent, from the country. According to government officials, the BBC journalists did not have proper media accreditation to report on the presidential election scheduled for April 8. The BBC asserted they did have official media accreditation and interviewed the foreign minister and an opposition candidate on April 1, after which authorities detained the journalists and deported them the next morning.

Opposition political groups and civil society activists circulated newsletters and other materials that criticized the government via e-mail and social media sites. President of the Djiboutian Human Rights League (LDDH) Omar Ali Ewado published a list of persons who allegedly died in the December 2015 incident; the number of names exceeded the government’s official death toll. Government officials stated Ewado fabricated the names and death toll. Authorities charged Ewado with defamation, and he spent 45 days in pretrial detention. On February 14, authorities granted Ewado probation. On April 30, the Supreme Court dropped all charges against him.

The government owned the only radio and television stations, operated by Radio Television Djibouti. The official media generally did not criticize government leaders or policy, and opposition access to radio and television time remained limited. Foreign media broadcast throughout the country, and cable news and other programming were available via satellite.

In 1992 the Ministry of Communication created a Communication Commission to distribute licenses to nongovernmental entities wishing to operate media outlets. In 2012 the ministry accepted its first application for licensing, but the application remained pending. In 2015 Maydaneh Abdallah Okieh–a journalist with radio station La Voix de Djibouti–submitted a request to the Ministry of Communication for approval to operate a radio station. He subsequently received a letter stating the ministry’s commission had not been fully established and could not grant rights to operate a radio station. After the April cabinet reshuffle, the ministry selected members for the Communication Commission, but had yet to issue an official press release with all the names of members to formalize the commission.

Violence and Harassment: The government arrested and harassed journalists.

For example, on January 11, gendarmes arrested and detained La Voix de Djibouti journalist Mohamed Ibrahim Waiss for allegedly reporting on court cases of opposition members. He was in Gabode Prison on pretrial detention until January 17. Authorities dismissed his case on January 24 for lack of evidence.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media laws and the government’s harassment and detention of journalists resulted in widespread self-censorship.

Circulation of a new newspaper requires authorization from the Communication Commission, which requires agreement from the National Security Service. The National Security Service reportedly investigated funding sources and the newspaper staff’s political affiliations.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used laws against slander to restrict public discussion.

In August, Youssouf Ahmed, editor of independent magazine Le Renard, was arrested and detained on charges of libel for criticizing high-level government officials. He was released after 48 hours. Authorities first sentenced Ahmed to one month in prison and a 9.96 million Djiboutian franc ($56,270) fine, but he settled his case out of court. According to opposition and human right groups, his case was dismissed contingent upon him no longer commenting on high-level government officials.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were few government restrictions on access to the internet, although the government monitored social networks to ensure there were no planned demonstrations or overly critical views of the government (see section 1.c.).

Djibouti Telecom, the state-owned internet provider, reportedly continued to block access to websites of the Association for Respect for Human Rights in Djibouti and La Voix de Djibouti, which often criticized the government. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 10.71 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were government restrictions on academic and cultural events. Following the December 2015 incident, there was a presidential decree issued for security reasons that forbade any cultural, political, or religious gatherings for two months. The Ministry of Religious and Cultural Affairs postponed a regional folkloric dance and a regional conference of Muslim religious leaders due to the decree until after the presidential election in April.

Unlike in the previous year, there were no government restrictions on academic freedom.

Dominica

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment or fines. While there were no active defamation suits against journalists, public and private threats of lawsuits from a variety of sources, including the Skerrit government, were used against media members, leading to some self-censorship.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 67 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Dominican Republic

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with some restriction.

Press and Media Freedoms: Individuals and groups were generally able to criticize the government publicly and privately without reprisal, although there were several incidents in which authorities intimidated journalists or other news professionals.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists and other persons who worked in media were occasionally harassed or physically attacked. The newspaper El Dia reported that journalists, specifically in rural areas, received threats for investigating or denouncing criminal groups or official corruption. The Inter American Press Association reported that journalists suffered violent attacks from military and police security details of government officials, particularly during public protests and riots.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The constitution provides for protection of the confidentiality of journalists’ sources and includes a “conscience clause” allowing journalists to refuse reporting assignments. Nonetheless, journalists practiced self-censorship, particularly when coverage could adversely affect the economic or political interests of media owners. Media outlets restricted the release of names of journalists covering stories connected to drug trafficking and other security matters in the interest of protecting them.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes defamation and insult with harsher punishment for offenses committed against public or state figures than for offenses against private individuals. The Dominican College of Journalists reported that journalists were sued by politicians, private-sector and government officials, and criminal groups to pressure them to stop reporting. In February the Constitutional Tribunal annulled several articles from the Law on Freedom of Expression that had criminalized statements denouncing events that were of public interest and that authorities considered damaging. The court also ruled that media outlets, executive staff, and publishers are not liable for libel suits against individual journalists, thus easing some past pressure that business interests, which controlled much of the mainstream media, put on journalists. The law still penalizes libel for statements concerning the private lives of certain public figures, including government officials and foreign heads of state.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were no government restrictions on access to the internet. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 52 percent of citizens used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Ecuador

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government restricted these rights. The government continued to use the communications law to limit the independence of the press.

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

Article 176 of the criminal code that went into effect in August 2015 establishes a prison sentence of up to three years for those who “disseminate, practice, or incite any distinction, restriction, or preference on grounds of nationality, ethnicity, place of birth, age, sex, gender identity or sexual orientation, cultural identity, marital status, language, religion, ideology, socioeconomic status, immigration status, disability, or health status with the aim of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise of equal rights.” According to some legal experts, the article could restrict freedom of speech.

Press and Media Freedoms: Freedom House continued to rate the country’s press status as “not free.” The domestic freedom of expression watchdog group Fundamedios reported 491 “attacks on freedom of expression” during the year, compared with 499 attacks in 2015. These included 168 sanctions of media outlets under the communications law; 94 cases of restrictions on digital rights, including censorship on the internet and cyber threats; and 88 cases of “abusive use of state power,” including the withdrawal of official publicity, forced correction, cancellation of frequencies and programs, and arbitrary dismissals of employees. President Correa continued to criticize private media outlets and accused them of spreading lies and showing bias against his administration. During his October 22 national weekly address, Correa referred to private television station Teleamazonas as the “corrupt press,” and he stated that he regretted his participation in a Teleamazonas news program on October 16. Regulatory bodies created under the 2013 communications law monitored and disciplined the media through a combination of legal and administrative sanctions.

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

Provisions in the law limit the ability of media to provide election coverage during the official campaign period. 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 it left in place restrictions on “direct or indirect” promotion of candidates or specific political views.

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

The government owned or operated an estimated 27 media outlets and used its extensive advertising budget to influence public debate. The law mandates the broadcast of messages and reports by the president and his cabinet free of charge. The government increasingly required media stations to broadcast statements by the president and other leaders, thereby reducing the stations’ private paid programming. Various media outlets also reported pressure from the government to broadcast “voluntary” advertisements or face the risk of losing their broadcast frequencies. According to Fundamedios, many local and indigenous community radio stations stated that their contracts required them to broadcast the president’s weekly address and send to Secom their daily programming list in advance.

The law calls for the redistribution of broadcast frequencies to divide media ownership between private media (33 percent), public media (33 percent), and community media (34 percent). Observers claimed this redistribution of frequencies would reduce the private media by almost 50 percent. The government asserted in public statements that information was a public service rather than a right and that the redistribution of frequencies guaranteed a more inclusive and diverse media environment. During the year the Agency for Regulation and Control of Telecommunications (Arcotel) and the Council of Regulation and Development of Information and Communication (Cordicom) initiated a process to adjudicate 1,472 radio and television frequencies. Media directors stated that the government had either directly or indirectly threatened revocation of their frequencies unless they limited critical coverage of the government. Fundamedios expressed concerns about a perceived lack of independence of Arcotel and Cordicom and a lack of citizen oversight. The NGO also noted that Arcotel planned to announce the results of the frequency competition in December, just a few months before the February 2017 elections, which Fundamedios argued would encourage self-censorship by media outlets. On July 11, Fundamedios called again for the suspension of the contest, noting that the number of applications for frequencies did not reach the number of available frequencies. On August 9, Fundamedios reported that Arcotel denied its request for information and the possibility of citizen oversight. On November 10, opposition legislator Lourdes Tiban called for the suspension of the frequency adjudication process due to allegations of corruption related to the adjudication of a frequency for a private media outlet in Manabi. During a December 2 hearing at the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, press freedom watchdog organizations stated that the frequency adjudication process suffered from a “lack of transparency” and other “irregularities.”

Violence and Harassment: During public appearances and his weekly television and radio address, President Correa regularly questioned journalists’ competence and professionalism and accused the private media of bias. He continued to cite individual journalists by name and encouraged both government officials and private individuals to raise complaints against the media. On September 15, Correa tweeted “cowards” in reference to journalists from the online news site 4Pelagatos, following its publication of a column about Correa’s daughter and an editorial she wrote for state-owned newspaper El Telegrafo. Other Twitter users published threats and the telephone numbers, addresses, and photographs of 4Pelagatos columnists Martin Pallares, Roberto Aguilar, Jose Hernandez, and Gabriel Gonzalez. NGOs, journalists, and international human rights organizations reported continued pressure from authorities against the media that resulted in threats against journalists and sanctions under the communications law. The Inter American Press Association reported that government-produced spots “discredit, harass, and persecute journalists, politicians, and media outlets.”

On June 30, the Inter-American Platform of Human Rights, Democracy, and Development (PIDHDD) reported that unknown officials charged with enforcing the law temporarily detained journalist and human rights activist Mayra Caiza as she was taking photographs near the Turi detention center in Cuenca, as part of her investigation into the alleged torture against prisoners during a police operation on May 31. During her brief detention, the officials interrogated Caiza and deleted her photographs, including those not related to the Turi case. The PIDHDD requested further information about Caiza’s detention from the interior and justice ministries and the Attorney General’s Office. As of August 31, no further information was publicly available on any actions taken by the government.

On October 20, police stopped Ramiro Cueva, director of Ecotel TV, in Loja while he was in his vehicle. Video footage showed transit agents and police pushing Cueva to the ground and then a police officer placing his knee in Cueva’s groin while Cueva lay on the ground. Transit agents stated that Cueva’s vehicle was stopped because the vehicle’s inspection was not up to date. According to Cueva, the deadline for the inspection was December 31, and his car’s registration ran through 2019. Following the police operation, individuals at the scene placed Cueva in an ambulance so he could receive medical treatment. In December 2015 police and telecommunications regulators raided Ecotel TV and seized transmission equipment. According to Ecotel administrators, the government’s actions were in response to Ecotel’s late payment of a $151 licensing fee in 2002. The raid on Ecotel occurred just three days after President Correa attacked Cueva during a public address. Correa accused Cueva of lies and “politics masked as journalism” for an Ecotel report claiming that authorities covertly transported desks and furniture from one school to a new school the government inaugurated.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists working at private media companies reported instances of indirect censorship and stated that President Correa’s attacks caused them to practice self-censorship.

The communications law requires the media to “cover and broadcast facts of public interest” and defines the failure to do so as a form of prior censorship. The superintendent of information and communications decides prior censorship cases and can impose fines. Many private media complained that the government could decide what is of “public interest” and thus unduly influence their independent reporting. After opposition politicians claimed that state-owned Ecuador TV’s coverage of ruling party Alianza PAIS’ political convention on October 1 violated election laws for an alleged use of public resources, Nadia Ruiz, acting director of RTV Ecuador Empresa Publica, stated that coverage of the convention was of “public interest.” She noted that Ecuador TV did not transmit the conventions for two opposition movements because they “only confirmed the precandidates for the presidency.” Oscar Bonilla, Alianza PAIS secretary of political action, claimed that covering the convention was “a responsible exercise of communication,” but private media “sought to diminish” the event.

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

The government remained the largest single advertiser in the country. Media watchdog organizations argued that the government used advertising contracts to reward or punish media companies.

Private media outlets reported that the government continued to use tax and labor inspections to harass outlets that published reports critical of the government. These investigations forced the outlets to undertake time-consuming and costly legal defenses.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used libel laws against media companies, journalists, and private individuals. Libel is a criminal offense under the law with penalties of up to three years in prison, plus fines. The law assigns responsibility to media owners, who are liable for opinion pieces or statements by reporters or others, including readers, using their media platforms.

On January 4, Judge Oswaldo Saritama Naula sentenced Loja municipal council member Jeannine del Cisne Cruz Vaca to 30 days in prison for discrediting the honor of Loja mayor Jose Bolivar Castillo. On September 21, Cruz had tweeted, “Mayor Jose Bolivar Castillo… all we ask…is that you stop lying and stealing.” On February 1, a criminal court in Loja ratified the 30-day prison sentence against Cruz.

On September 5, Quito vice mayor Eduardo del Pozo received a 15-day prison sentence for “discrediting the honor” of President Correa. According to Caupolican Ochoa, President Correa’s lawyer, during a June 10 radio interview, Del Pozo had accused Correa of manipulating legal cases to obtain money, not paying taxes, and moving money to tax havens, which damaged Correa’s honor and dignity. Del Pozo claimed the decision by Judge Maximo Ortega was “political persecution for thinking differently.”

The law includes a prohibition of “media lynching,” described as the “coordinated and repetitive dissemination of information, directly or by third parties through the media, intended to discredit a person or company or reduce its public credibility.” The exact terms of this provision remained vaguely defined but threatened to limit the media’s ability to conduct investigative reporting. The superintendent of information and communication has the authority to determine if a media outlet is guilty of media lynching and to apply administrative sanctions.

On August 8, the Superintendency of Information and Communications (Supercom) sanctioned television station Teleamazonas and journalist Janet Hinostroza on the basis of “media lynching” for distributing “damaging information to the prestige and credibility” of the National Public Procurement Service (SERCOP). The Supercom resolution indicated that two news programs released “concerted and repeated information on a reverse auction process of medicines, generating the perception that the process did not consider the quality of the pharmaceuticals” and did not allow for sufficient participation of SERCOP sources. Supercom ordered Teleamazonas to issue public apologies on the news programs, while Hinostroza received a written warning. The National Union of Journalists (UNP) criticized the Supercom decision as “another violation against freedom of expression.” The UNP noted that the Supercom action occurred two days after President Correa called Teleamazonas’ coverage “clear media lynching” during his August 6 national weekly address. In a subsequent interview with the Committee to Protect Journalists, Hinostroza stated that the ruling “demonstrates that in Ecuador it is not possible to do [investigative journalism],” adding that the communications law’s intent is “to silence journalists that make [the government] uncomfortable.”

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, but there were credible reports that the government censored online content and monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. A regulation requires that internet service providers comply with all information requests from the superintendent of telecommunications, allowing access to client addresses and information without a judicial order. Freedom House evaluated the internet as partly free. The International Telecommunication Union reported that 49 percent of the public used the internet in 2015.

While individuals and groups could generally engage in the expression of views via the internet, the government increasingly monitored Twitter and other social media accounts for perceived threats or alleged insults against the president and government officials. Some NGOs and media outlets reported cyberattacks by unknown perpetrators that appeared politically motivated, since they occurred during coverage of antigovernment protests and when content was perceived as critical of the government. On January 29, the Human Rights Foundation released a public statement condemning multiple distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks on Fundamedios, days after the NGO launched a website that compiled alleged government attacks on independent media during 2015. On October 15, the Inter American Press Association reported that online portals Focus EcuadorMil HojasPlan V, and 4Pelagatos suffered cyberattacks during the year.

Various local press outlets reported on the government’s relationship with a Spanish antipiracy firm named Ares Rights that targeted internet websites, YouTube, and Twitter accounts critical of President Correa or of his government and forced these sites to take down content based on the Digital Millennium Copyrights Act (DMCA). The National Secretariat of Communication and Ares Rights sent DMCA takedown notices on behalf of several government officials, targeting documentaries, tweets, and search results that included images of those officials, alleging copyright infringement. On August 8, Fundamedios reported 806 complaints against 292 Twitter accounts between April 18 and July 21. According to Fundamedios, multiple complaints against certain Twitter accounts were directed at users who were critical of the government and had a high number of followers.

The law holds a media outlet responsible for online comments from readers if the outlet has not established mechanisms for commenters to register their personal data (including national identification card) or created a system to delete offensive comments. The law also prohibits the media from using information obtained from social media unless they can verify the author of the information.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

While there were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, academics reported that concerns over the process of awarding government contracts intimidated academics into practicing self-censorship.

Egypt

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press but includes a clause stating, “it may be subject to limited censorship in times of war or public mobilization.”

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

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

On February 20, a Bulaq Abu el-Ela appellate misdemeanor court sentenced author Ahmed Naji to two years in prison on charges of violating public morals based on the publication of an excerpt of his novel, The Use of Life, which contained explicit descriptions of sexual acts and illegal drug use. Authorities had acquitted Naji of the same charges in January, but prosecutors appealed the decision. Numerous writers and intellectuals decried the verdict, describing it as part of a larger government campaign against free expression. On December 18, a court suspended the implementation of Naji’s sentence pending the appeal of his sentence. Naji’s next hearing was scheduled for January 1, 2017.

In May authorities arrested the five members of the satirical group Street Children after it released a video criticizing supporters of the president and the increasing number of arrests. Band members were reportedly under investigation on charges of attempting to topple the regime, publishing offensive videos, and inciting citizens against authorities. In May authorities released one band member on bail and released the remaining four members in September pending investigations.

Press and Media Freedoms: The constitution, penal code, and media and publications law govern media issues. The government regulated the licensing of newspapers and controlled the printing and distribution of a majority of newspapers, including private newspapers and those of opposition political parties. The law does not impose restrictions on newspaper ownership.

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

As of December the Committee to Protect Journalists reported there were 25 imprisoned journalists in the country. Authorities continued to keep journalist Ismail Alexandrani in detention without formal charges at year’s end. Authorities detained him in November 2015 on arrival at Hurgada airport. On November 20, a court ordered his release, but authorities successfully appealed the release order. According to local rights groups, Alexandrani was under investigation for “reporting false news” and “joining a banned group.” Alexandrani’s reporting and scholarly work focused on the Sinai.

On May 1, authorities raided the press syndicate headquarters and arrested two journalists, Mahmoud el-Sakka and Amr Badr, according to members of the syndicate. Both journalists worked for an opposition news site, Bawabet Yanayer. The Interior Ministry claimed it had not raided the headquarters, and the journalists had willingly surrendered to authorities. Authorities referred el-Sakka and Badr to trial on charges of spreading false news and possession of firearms and Molotov cocktails. On August 27, a court ordered Badr’s release on bail of LE 5,000 ($275) pending investigations. On September 29, a court ordered el-Sakka’s release on bail of LE 5,000 ($275) pending investigations. The journalists’ arrests followed arrests of dozens of others on April 25, in connection with protests against the government’s announcement of a maritime border demarcation agreement with Saudi Arabia in which the government determined that Tiran and Sanafir islands fell under Saudi sovereignty. According to a local rights group, authorities released most of those detained that day after a short incarceration.

On November 19, a court sentenced Yehia Kalash, president of the press syndicate, and Gamal Abdel Reheem and Khaled el-Balshy, two syndicate board members, to two years in prison for harboring fugitives (el-Sakka and Badr) inside the syndicate’s headquarters and spreading false news in connection with the May 1 raid on the syndicate headquarters. The three were sentenced in absentia; they appealed the verdict, and the hearing was scheduled for January 14, 2017.

On August 27, according to media reports, an administrative court referred Azza al-Henawy, an anchor for state-owned al-Qahera TV, to trial on charges including insulting the president. Al-Henawy had criticized the president and made allegations of corruption during a March television broadcast.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued statements condemning articles critical of the country in international publications, sometimes citing the authors by name.

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

On May 23, authorities denied French news correspondent Remy Pigaglio entry into the country when he arrived at Cairo International Airport after returning from vacation in France. Pigaglio claimed officials at first prevented him from contacting the French ambassador in Egypt and, and after detaining him for more than 24 hours, deported him.

In June security officers took British-Lebanese journalist Lilian Daoud from her Cairo home by security officers immediately following the end of her employment contract with ONTV. Authorities briefly detained and then deported her, according to media reports. On her television show, The Full Picture, Daoud had hosted protesters and youth leaders as well as government officials. The program had expressed views critical of the government.

In September 2015 the Cairo Criminal Court began a trial of 48 defendants accused of being Muslim Brotherhood members and charged with participating in the 2014 protest in Ain Shams during which journalist Mayada Ashraf was shot and killed while covering the clashes between protesters and police. The next hearing was scheduled for February 13, 2017.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Official censorship occurred. On February 3, art-house cinema Zawya stated that the country’s Censorship Authority refused to authorize the screening of three short films as part of Zawya’s Short Film Festival. Zawya’s director speculated to media that in the case of two of the three films, authorities objected to the content of the films, which included sexual content and discussions of atheism.

In August government officials confiscated copies of an issue of privately owned Sout Alomma newspaper, which included an article about the health of the president’s mother and articles critical of former president Hosni Mubarak.

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 overall anti-Muslim Brotherhood and progovernment media environment. Publishers were also wary of publishing books that criticized religious institutions, such as al-Azhar, or challenged Islamic doctrine.

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

On January 26, al-Khalifa Misdemeanor Court convicted writer Fatima Naoot in her absence and sentenced her to three years in prison and a fine of LE 20,000 ($1,100) for denigrating Islam by describing the Islamic ritual of sacrificing sheep during Eid al-Adha as a “massacre,” in a 2014 Facebook post. On March 31, the Sayeda Zeinab Appellate Misdemeanor Court confirmed the sentence. After Naoot appealed the decision, on October 20, the same court ordered her release pending investigations. On November 24, an appeals court reduced her sentence to a six months suspended.

On February 25, Bani Mazar Juvenile Misdemeanor Court sentenced four Christian high school students to five years’ imprisonment for denigrating Islam after the students appeared in video pretending to perform a Muslim prayer. The same court sentenced the students’ teacher, Gad Youssef Younan, who reportedly filmed the video, to three years in prison for denigrating Islam in December 2015.

Authorities released Mohamed Hegazy, also known as Bishoy Armia Boulous, from prison in July after spending more than two years in detention based on accusations that he had denigrated Islam in a symposium in 2009. A court ordered his release in June; however, over a period of several weeks, prison authorities claimed to have lost the court order and moved him to another prison without informing his attorney, according to media reports. During this time Hegazy recorded a video from prison in which he stated that he was reverting to Islam from Christianity; authorities released him shortly thereafter. Boulous unsuccessfully sued the Ministry of Interior in 2009 to recognize his conversion from Islam to Christianity, testing the constitutional right of freedom of religion.

National Security: The law allows government censors to block the publication of information related to intelligence and national security. Judges may issue and have issued restraint orders to prevent media from covering court cases considered sensitive on national security grounds. Rights groups stated authorities sometimes misused the orders to shield government, police, or military officials from public scrutiny. For example, on April 30, a court issued such an order in the case of protesters arrested during demonstrations against the government’s announcement of a maritime border demarcation agreement with Saudi Arabia in which the bilateral agreement determined that Tiran and Sanafir islands fall under Saudi sovereignty. Citing safety and security, the government and military restricted media access to many parts of North Sinai.

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

An amendment to the police authority law, approved by parliament on August 9, bars police from providing information related to their work to media without permission from the Interior Ministry. An international NGO argued the amendment illustrated the government’s continuing effort to undermine transparency.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not generally restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, albeit with some exceptions. The constitution protects the right to privacy, including on the internet. The constitution provides for the confidentiality and “inviolability” of postal, telegraphic, and electronic correspondence; telephone calls; and other means of communication. They may not be confiscated, revealed, or monitored except with a judicial order, only for a definite period, and only in cases defined by law. The constitution prohibits the government from “arbitrarily” interrupting, disconnecting, or depriving citizens seeking to use all forms of internet communications. Law enforcement agencies occasionally restricted or disrupted individuals’ access to the internet, and the government monitored social media accounts and internet usage, relying on a law that only allows targeted interception of communications under judicial oversight for a limited period of time and does not permit indiscriminate mass surveillance. The public prosecutor occasionally 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 between suspects in terrorism cases for a period of 30 days, renewable in 30-day increments. The law does not specify a maximum time period.

The government attempted to disrupt the communications of terrorist groups operating in northern Sinai by cutting telecommunication networks: mobile services, internet, and sometimes landlines. Cuts generally occurred from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Networks were again fully accessible at approximately 8 p.m. and sometimes later. This tactic disrupted operations of government facilities and banks. The law obliges internet service providers and mobile operators to allow government access to customer databases, which can allow security forces to obtain information about activities of specific customers, which could lead to lack of online anonymity. Individuals widely used social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, during demonstrations and included widespread criticism of the government and security forces.

In July, Internet Live Stats estimated internet penetration to be 33 percent. A local civil society organization estimated 57 percent of families had internet access at home and four million persons used Twitter. A digital consulting company stated 28 million persons used Facebook.

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

On January 13, police arrested three administrators of Facebook pages that allegedly promoted antigovernment protests scheduled for the fifth anniversary of the January 25 Revolution, according to media reports. Two of the three were Muslim Brotherhood members, according to state-owned media.

In April international media reported that in December 2015 Facebook terminated its Free Basics Service, which provided mobile phone users with free access to a limited suite of internet services, because the company would not allow the government to circumvent the service’s security to conduct surveillance. The government previously stated that it had only granted the mobile carrier Etisalat a temporary permit to offer the service for two months.

On December 19, Open Whisper Systems claimed that Egyptian authorities were blocking access to its encrypted messaging application Signal.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were reports of government restrictions on academic freedom. In October, Minister of Higher Education Ashraf al-Shihy published a statement requiring private universities to review all research papers and thesis dissertations to assure they do not include any “direct or indirect insult to societies or individuals belonging to any brotherly or friendly countries.” According to media and local rights groups, a degree of self-censorship, similar to that reported by nonacademic commentators, allegedly existed when academics publicly commented on sensitive political and socioeconomic issues. In February media reported that in December 2015, Cairo University revoked permission for one of its professors, Kholoud Saber, to pursue her doctoral degree abroad. Saber told media the decision came from an office connected to the Interior Ministry. Separately, Cairo University President Gaber Nassar told media that security forces did not intervene in the university’s academic affairs. Days after publication of the news reports, Cairo University reversed its decision to revoke Saber’s permission to study abroad.

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

On January 20, authorities cancelled a scheduled concert by the band Elawela Balady, according to an announcement by the group, which is widely associated with the January 25 Revolution. A local human rights group described the move as an attempt by authorities to silence voices connected to the revolution.

Independent film center, Cimatheque, associated with Khaled Abdalla from the prominent revolutionary documentary The Square and the sister production company Zero Productions, remained closed since October 2015 and received regular visits from authorities. In February authorities allowed Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art, which was closed by authorities in December 2015, to reopen under what its director told press were new legal restrictions; he alleged that some restrictions amounted to state control of its work. Townhouse’s affiliated Rawabet Theater, which was also raided in December 2015, also reopened. The Merit Publishing House, which authorities raided in December 2015, remained open. Authorities quickly released the Merit employee detained in December 2015.

El Salvador

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Speech: The constitution provides that all persons may freely express and disseminate their thoughts and that the exercise of this right is not subject to government censorship. Nevertheless, there were allegations that the government retaliated against individuals for criticizing government policy.

Credible sources indicated that the director of a transparency NGO, whose board of directors was composed of government officials, was removed from his position because he publicly criticized the government for what he viewed as “excessive and discretionary use” of classified information and because he demanded the government disclose “politically sensitive” information, such as financial data related to former president Funes’ trips.

Violence and Harassment: On February 16, police arrested four suspects, including the communications director for the San Salvador mayor’s office, in connection with a 2015 cyberattack against the website of the newspaper La Prensa Grafica.

On August 9, Minister of Defense Munguia Payes held a press conference, accompanied by other armed forces high commanders, to criticize “irresponsible” reporting by La Prensa Grafica following an article that cited irregularities in the Ministry of Defense’s account of lost firearms. On August 15, the vice president of the local chapter of the Inter-American Press Association alleged that the press conference was an attempt by Munguia Payes to intimidate the press and prevent media scrutiny of the Ministry of Defense. Munguia Payes was also accused of attempting to intimidate legislators when he attended a December 6 plenary session in the Legislative Assembly on lifting the immunity of a general accused of arms trafficking with three uniformed military officers; legislators ultimately lifted the immunity for General Jose Atilio Benitez.

ARENA Legislator Ricardo Velasquez forcefully grabbed a camera operator in an effort to move him from a Legislative Assembly entrance while verbally threatening the media on September 29, 2016. The legislator also filed a complaint against the camera operator’s company for obstructing freedom of transit, which the Salvadoran Journalist Association (ANEP) labeled an “abuse of power” by the legislator.

On November 29, La Prensa Grafica journalist Cristian Melendez denounced threats that he received via Twitter from an account named “Sociedad Civil,” suggesting that people “kill him” or “break his fingers if you see him on the street.” He believed he received the threats in retaliation for his article alleging corruption involving San Salvador Mayor Nayib Bukele La Prensa Grafica had also published reports linking Bukele to a trolling case and cyberattacks against the newspaper.

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

In May the government censored a commercial advertisement that depicted various ways of living–including gay relationships, religious options, and public breastfeeding–and contained the tagline, “good is bad.”

Journalist contacts reported experiencing threats from persons they believed to be government officials after reporting on the topic of violence in the country. They said these experiences diminished journalists’ willingness to report on the security situation.

In December 2015 the PNC chief of police investigations, Joaquin Hernandez, filed a complaint against El Diario de Hoy newspaper after it published maps depicting areas that were controlled by gangs, citing law classifying gangs as terrorist organizations and charging the editor with advocating terrorism and inciting crimes, violations punishable by up to four years in prison. While the charges were not prosecuted, free press advocates cited the incident as an attempt to compel self-censorship by journalists.

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Internet access was available in public places throughout the country. The International Telecommunication Union reported 27 percent of the population used the internet during the year.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

After the July 9 Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court decision declaring alternate legislators unconstitutional, Constitutional Chamber judges faced increased difficulty in conducting outreach programs due to FMLN-organized protests. On August 13, protesters blocked Justice Florentin Melendez from reaching a venue to speak about constitutional rights to rural communities. As a result, on August 19, Justice Melendez announced that the Constitutional Chamber had decided to suspend its academic outreach program, “Know Your Constitution.” On December 5, Melendez reported that constitutional justices had received death threats from protesters, whose signs included slogans such as, “death to the four constitutional judges.” On December 8, the Attorney General stated that he was investigating the death threats against constitutional justices.

Equatorial Guinea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, the law grants authorities extensive powers to restrict media activities, and the government limited these rights. The government restricted journalistic activity by exercising its right to official prepublication censorship. The media remained weak and under government influence or control. Persons close to the president owned the few private media outlets that existed. Most journalists practiced self-censorship. Those who did not were subject to government surveillance and threats.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals generally chose not to criticize the president, his family, other high-ranking officials, or security forces due to fear of reprisal. The government attempted to impede criticism by continuing to monitor the activities of opposition members, journalists, and others.

Press and Media Freedoms: The country had one marginally independent newspaper that published sporadically. Print media outlets were extremely limited. Starting a periodical or newspaper was a complicated process governed by an ambiguous law and impeded by government bureaucracy. Accreditation was cumbersome for both local and foreign journalists, who must register with the Ministry of Information, Press, and Radio. International newspapers or news magazines occasionally were available in grocery stores and hotels in major cities.

International news agencies did not have correspondents or regular stringers present in the country. Visiting journalists for foreign media outlets and some independent local journalists could not operate freely, and there were reports government agents followed and observed both groups. During the presidential election, for example, the government limited accreditation for journalists and restricted them from traveling throughout the country to visit polling stations.

The government owned the only national radio and television broadcast system, RTVGE. The president’s eldest son, Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, owned the only private broadcast media, Television Asonga and Asonga Radio. Journalists for these entities were not allowed to report freely.

For example, after the August flood in Luba, officials at RTVGE interrupted a live interview with a flood victim when he began to accuse the government of discrimination and lack of support.

Requests by political parties to establish private radio stations were denied or remained perpetually pending. Satellite broadcasts were widely available, including the French-language Africa24 television channel, which the government partially owned.

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.

In June authorities arrested Enrique Nsolo, a well-known local human rights activist, for photographing and recording the arrest of a fraudulent document seller in front of a foreign embassy. Nsolo was held incommunicado without charge in deplorable conditions before his release several days later.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law gives the government considerable authority to restrict publication through official prepublication censorship. The law also establishes criminal, civil, and administrative penalties for violation of its provisions, particularly of the 19 publishing principles in Article 2 of the Law on the Press, Publishing, and Audiovisual Media. The only marginally independent newspaper practiced self-censorship and did not openly criticize the government or the president.

The only publishing facility available to newspapers was located at the Ministry of Information, Press, and Radio, where officials censored printed materials.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used laws against defamation and libel, both of which are criminalized, to restrict public discussion.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet and censored online content. For example, in March 2015 the government blocked WhatsApp, Facebook, Diario Rombe, and Radio Macuto to prevent communication during student protests, and the websites remained blocked at year’s end.

The government also blocked access to websites maintained by domestic political opposition and exile groups. Users attempting to access these sites were redirected to the government’s official press website or received a message the website did not exist. The internet was the primary way opposition views were expressed and disseminated, and the most overt criticism of the government came from the country’s diaspora. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 16.4 percent of inhabitants used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Members of opposition political parties, faculty members, and students complained of government interference in the hiring of teachers, the employment of unqualified teachers, and official pressure on teachers to give passing grades to failing students with political connections. Teachers with political connections but no experience or accreditation were employed and reportedly seldom appeared at the classes they were assigned to teach. Most professors reportedly practiced self-censorship.

Cultural events required coordination with the Ministry of Information, Press, and Radio, the Department of Culture and Tourism, or both. The resulting bureaucratic delay was a disincentive for prospective organizers, who often did not know the criteria used for judging proposals or their chances for approval.

The Cultural Center of Rebola, which the government closed in August 2015 for promoting music and other productions critical of the ruling party, was reopened in October with a warning against holding anti-government events.

Eritrea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Although the law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of speech and press, the government severely restricted these rights.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The government severely restricted the ability of individuals to criticize the government in public or in private through intimidation by national security forces.

Press and Media Freedoms: The law bans private broadcast media and foreign ownership of the media and requires that documents, including books, be submitted to the government for approval prior to publication. The government controlled all domestic media, including a newspaper published in three languages, three radio stations, and all local television broadcasters.

The law requires journalists to be licensed. The law restricts printing and publication of materials. The printing of a publication by anyone lacking a permit and the printing or dissemination of prohibited foreign publications are both punishable by law. Government approval is required for distribution of publications from religious or international organizations.

The government permitted satellite dishes that provided access to international cable television networks and programs. The use of satellite dishes was common in Asmara, Massawa, and other cities and increasingly in the countryside. 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 in previous years and who were held incommunicado.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most independent journalists remained in detention or lived abroad, which limited domestic media criticism of the government. Authorities required journalists to obtain government permission to take photographs. Journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of government reprisal.

National Security: The government repeatedly asserted national security concerns were the basis of limitations on free speech and expression.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government monitored some internet communications, including e-mail, without obtaining warrants. Government informants frequented internet cafes. The government discouraged citizens from viewing some opposition websites by labeling the sites and their developers as saboteurs. Some citizens expressed fear of arrest if caught viewing such sites. Nonetheless, the sites were generally available.

Eritel, a government-owned corporation, has a monopoly on land-based internet service provision. The use of internet cafes with limited bandwidth in Asmara and other large communities was widespread, but the vast majority of persons did not have access to the internet. According to the most recent data released by the International Telecommunication Union, 1.1 percent of the population used the internet in 2015. Internet users who needed larger bandwidth paid prices beyond the reach of most individuals.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events.

Authorities monitored activities at private secondary schools and in some cases arbitrarily denied visas to foreign teachers or presented impediments to school administration, including restricting the import of teaching materials. Some parents of students in private schools charged that educational quality suffered because of disputes between government officials and school administrators.

With few exceptions, secondary school students must complete their final year of high school at the government’s Sawa National Training and Education Center. Students had to complete military training at Sawa before being allowed to take entrance exams for institutions of higher education (see section 6, Children).

The government sometimes denied passports or exit visas to students and faculty who wanted to study or do research abroad. The government discouraged students from seeking information on international study and exchange programs and frequently denied them passports or exit visas. Some persons claimed authorities scrutinized academic travel for consistency of intent with government policies.

The government censored film showings and other cultural activities. It monitored libraries and cultural centers maintained by foreign embassies and in some instances questioned employees and users. The government directly sponsored most major cultural events or collaborated with various embassies and foreign cultural institutions in sponsoring musical performances by international performers.

Estonia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and press. The constitution states that incitement to national, racial, religious, or political hatred, violence, or discrimination, as well as to conflict between social strata, is punishable by law. The criminal code limits application of this provision to incitement that results in danger to the life, health, or property of a person. There were no reports of prosecutions for such offenses during the year.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The internet was widely available, and the public used it regularly. During the first half of the year, 86 percent of households had access to the internet at home.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Ethiopia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, however the state of emergency regulations included restrictions on these rights. Authorities harassed, arrested, detained, charged, and prosecuted journalists and others perceived as critical of the government, creating an environment of self-censorship.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The state of emergency regulations contained several prohibitions that restricted freedom of speech and expression and resulted in detention or disappearance of numerous independent voices. The regulations prohibited any covert or overt agitation and communication that could incite violence and unrest (interpreted to include the popular Oromo protest sign of raising crossed arms over one’s head), any communication with designated terrorist groups or antipeace forces, storing and disseminating text, storing and promoting emblems of terrorist groups, incitement in sermons and teaching in religious institutions to induce fear or incite conflict, speech that could incite attacks based on identity or ethnicity, exchange of information by any individual with a foreign government in a manner that undermines national sovereignty and security, and any political parties from briefing journalists in a manner that is anticonstitutional and undermines sovereignty and security. Individuals self-censored as a result of these prohibitions.

Authorities arrested, detained, and harassed persons for criticizing the government. NGOs reported cases of torture of individuals critical of the government. The government attempted to impede criticism through intimidation, including continued detention of journalists and those who express critical opinions online and opposition activists, and monitoring of and interference in activities of political opposition groups. Some feared authorities would retaliate against them for discussing security force abuses. Authorities arrested and detained persons who made statements publicly or privately deemed critical of the government under a provision of the law pertaining to inciting the public through false rumors.

Press and Media Freedoms: The state of emergency prohibited listening to, watching, or reporting information from Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT) and Oromo Media Network.

Independent journalists reported problems using government printing presses. Access to private printing presses was scarce to nonexistent.

In Addis Ababa, nine independent newspapers and magazines had a combined weekly circulation of 70,711 copies. Four independent monthly and biweekly magazines published in Amharic and English had a combined circulation of 21,500 copies. State-run newspapers had a combined circulation of 85,500 copies. Most newspapers were printed on a weekly or biweekly basis, except state-owned Amharic and English dailies and the privately run Daily MonitorAddis Standard magazine temporarily suspended the print edition of its publication soon after the state of emergency was declared.

Government-controlled media closely reflected the views of the government and ruling EPRDF. The government controlled the only television station that broadcast nationally, which, along with radio, was the primary source of news for much of the population. Six private FM radio stations broadcast in the capital, one private radio station broadcast in the northern Tigray Region, and at least 19 community radio stations broadcast in the regions. State-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation had the largest broadcast range in the country, followed by Fana Radio, which was reportedly affiliated with the ruling party.

The government periodically jammed foreign broadcasts. The law prohibits political and religious organizations and foreigners from owning broadcast stations.

Violence and Harassment: The government continued to arrest, harass, and prosecute journalists. As of mid-December, at least 12 journalists remained in detention.

In December 2015 police detained Fikadu Mirkana, who worked as news anchor and senior reporter for Oromia State TV. He was released in April.

In December 2015 authorities detained journalist Getachew Shiferaw, editor in chief of a web-based opposition-affiliated newspaper. On May 19, authorities charged him with terrorism and his trial continued at year’s end.

The trial of two journalists affiliated with Radio Bilal whom authorities arrested in February 2015 and charged with terrorism continued at the Federal High Court.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government harassment caused journalists to avoid reporting on sensitive topics. Many private newspapers reported informal editorial control by the government through article placement requests and calls from government officials concerning articles perceived as critical of the government. Private sector and government journalists routinely practiced self-censorship. Several journalists, both local and foreign, reported an increase in self-censorship, especially after the October 8 implementation of the state of emergency. The government reportedly pressured advertisers not to advertise in publications that were critical of the government.

National Security: The government used the ATP to suppress criticism. Journalists feared covering five groups designated by parliament as terrorist organizations in 2011 (Ginbot 7, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), the OLF, al-Qaida, and al-Shabaab), citing ambiguity on whether reporting on these groups might be punishable under the law.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet. It periodically blocked social media sites and internet access in areas of Oromia and Amhara regions, especially during protests. At times the government blocked access throughout the country. There were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. State-owned Ethio Telecom was the only internet service provider in the country.

On June 7, parliament passed the Computer Crime Proclamation. There were concerns its provisions were overly broad and could restrict freedom of speech and expression. This included, for example, a provision that provides for imprisonment for disseminating through a computer system any written, video, audio or any other picture that incites violence, chaos, or conflict among people, and another provision that provides for a prison sentence for intimidation.

In July officials blocked social media sites for days across the country until the national school examination concluded. The government stated blocking these sites was necessary to provide for an “orderly exam process.” In May the national exams were reportedly leaked on social media, causing the government to postpone the exams.

On August 6 and 7, the government imposed a nationwide internet blackout.

The state of emergency regulations included prohibited agitation and communication to incite violence and unrest through the internet, text messaging, and social media.

Starting in early October, the government shut down mobile access to the internet in Addis Ababa, most parts of Oromia Region, and other areas. Wired access to several social media and communication sites were also denied. These included social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Skype, WhatsApp, and Viber, news websites such as the Washington Post and the New York Times, and many other sites, including foreign university homepages and online shopping sites such as Amazon.

The government periodically and increasingly restricted access to certain content on the internet and blocked numerous websites, including blogs, opposition websites, and websites of Ginbot 7, the OLF, and the ONLF, and news sites such as al-Jazeera, the BBC, and RealClearPolitics. Several news blogs and websites run by opposition diaspora groups were not accessible. These included Ethiopian Review, Nazret, CyberEthiopia, Quatero Amharic Magazine, and the Ethiopian Media Forum.

Authorities monitored telephone calls, text messages, and e-mails. Authorities took steps to block access to Virtual Private Network providers that let users circumvent government screening of internet browsing and e-mail. There were reports such surveillance resulted in arrests. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 11.6 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

In March 2015 Citizen Lab, a Canadian research center at the University of Toronto, reported on attempts in 2014 to infect the computers of U.S.-based employees of ESAT with spyware. ESAT is a diaspora-based television and radio station. According to Citizen Lab, its research suggested involvement of the government and that the attacker may have been the Ethiopian Information and Network Security Agency.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom, including student enrollment, teachers’ appointments, and curricula. Authorities frequently restricted speech, expression, and assembly on university and high school campuses. The state of emergency regulations prohibited strikes in educational institutions and closing them or damaging property, gives authorities the power to order educational institutions to take measures against any student or staff member who violates the prohibitions in the regulations, and provides law enforcement the authority to enter educational institutions and take measures to control strikes or protests.

The ruling party, via the Ministry of Education, continued to favor students loyal to the party in assignment to postgraduate programs. Some university staff members commented that students who joined the party received priority for employment in all fields after graduation.

Authorities limited teachers’ ability to deviate from official lesson plans. Numerous anecdotal reports suggested non-EPRDF members were more likely to be transferred to undesirable posts and bypassed for promotions. There were reports of teachers not affiliated with the EPRDF being summarily dismissed for failure to attend party meetings. There continued to be a lack of transparency in academic staffing decisions, with numerous complaints from academics alleging bias based on party membership, ethnicity, or religion.

A separate Ministry of Education directive prohibits private universities from offering degree programs in law and teacher education. The directive also requires public universities to align their curriculum with the ministry’s policy of a 70/30 ratio between science and social science academic programs. As a result the number of students studying social sciences and the humanities at public institutions continued to decrease; private universities focused heavily on the social sciences.

Reports indicated a pattern of surveillance and arbitrary arrests of Oromo university students based on suspicion of their holding dissenting opinions or participation in peaceful demonstrations. According to reports there was an intense buildup of security forces (uniformed and plainclothes) embedded on university campuses preceding student protests, especially in Oromia, and in response to student demonstrations.

Federated States of Micronesia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression but does not refer specifically to speech or the press; however, the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and press.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Internet access was available in all four states, but service was slow with frequent outages. According to the International Telecommunication Union, an estimated 32 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Fiji

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, speech, thought, opinion, and publication, but it grants the government authority to restrict these rights for a broad array of reasons. These include preventing hate speech and insurrection; maintaining national security, public order, public safety, public morality, public health, and the orderly conduct of elections; protecting the reputation, privacy, dignity, and rights of other persons; and enforcing media standards and regulating the conduct of media organizations. Additionally, the POAD gives the government power to detain persons on suspicion of “endangering public safety” and to “preserve the peace.” The Media Industry Development Decree prohibits “irresponsible reporting” and provides for government censorship of media.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The crimes decree includes criticism of the government in its definition of the crime of sedition. This includes statements made in other countries by any person, who authorities may prosecute on their return to the country. The courts set the trial for more than 60 defendants in an August 2015 sedition case for 2017. The government charged the defendants for seditious acts in 2015 following claims of military-style training and an attempt to establish a breakaway state on the main island of Viti Levu.

The POAD defines as terrorism any act designed to advance a political, religious, or ideological cause that could “reasonably be regarded” as intended to compel a government to do or refrain from doing any act or to intimidate the public or a section thereof. It also makes acts of religious vilification and attempts to sabotage or undermine the country’s economy offenses punishable by a maximum 10,000 Fijian dollars (F$) ($4,870) fine or five years in prison.

The 2015 Flag Protection Act makes any use of Fiji’s flag to “demean, disrespect, or insult the State, the Government or any member of Government, or the general public” an offense punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of F$20,000 ($9,750). According to the law, “the onus of proof shall be on the Defendant to prove his or her innocence.”

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, despite the media decree and monitoring by the Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA).

Public debate improved markedly as news media published a more diverse range of political commentary.

The government continued to publish fortnightly supplements and most of its advertisements in the Fiji Sun newspaper, which was generally progovernment.

Violence and Harassment: On August 17, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) charged three media agency staff and the author of a letter to the editor for allegedly breaching the crimes decree, which prohibits any communication that promotes “feelings of enmity or ill-will between different communities, religious groups or classes of the community.” The ODPP charged the four men for inciting communal antagonism against the Muslim community with an article published on April 27 in the Fiji Times indigenous-language newspaper, Nai Lalakai. The maximum penalty for the offense is 10 years’ imprisonment. The four defendants in the case were Fiji Times Editor in Chief Fred Wesley, Fiji Times General Manager Hank Arts, journalist Anare Ravula, and letter author Josaia Waqabaca.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The media decree contains a provision authorizing the Ministry of Information to censor all news stories before broadcast or publication. Although the government ceased formal media censorship under the decree in 2012, journalists and media organizations continued to practice varying degrees of self-censorship. Media published opinion articles by academics and commentators perceived as antigovernment.

Under the media decree, the directors and 90 percent of the shareholders of locally based media must be citizens of, and permanently resident in, the country. MIDA is responsible for enforcing these provisions and has the power to investigate journalists and media outlets for alleged violations of the decree, including powers of search and seizure of equipment. The decree established a media tribunal to decide complaints referred by the authority, with the power to impose fines of up to F$25,000 ($12,200) for publishers and editors, and F$100,000 ($48,700) for media organizations. In contrast to previous years, amendments to the media decree removed jail terms of up to two years and fines of up to F$1,000 ($487) for journalists. The tribunal, which consists of a single judge, is not bound by formal rules of evidence. The decree strips the judiciary of power to review the decree or any proceedings or findings of MIDA, the tribunal, or the information minister.

The code of ethics in the media decree requires that media publish balanced material. It obligates media to give any individual or organization an opportunity to reply to comments or materials for publication. Journalists reported that this requirement did not restrict reporting as much as in years past but said self-censorship continued to be a problem.

The television amendment decree requires television license holders to operate in conformance with the media decree’s code of ethics.

Libel/Slander Laws: The constitution includes the need to protect the reputation of persons as allowable limitations to freedom of expression. The threat of prosecution for contempt of court or under provisions of the media decree and the POAD was sufficient incentive for media to continue to practice self-censorship.

National Security: The constitution includes national security as an allowable limitation to freedom of expression. While the threat of prosecution for contempt of court or under provisions of the media decree and the POAD was sufficient incentive to media to practice self-censorship, some media outlets have begun to report on issues previously considered too sensitive for publication.

Actions to Expand Press Freedom: In October the government lifted all remaining bans on foreign journalists seeking to enter the country, including the bans on New Zealand journalists Michael Field and Barbara Dreaver, and Australian journalist Sean Dorney.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without legal authority. By decree all telephone and internet service users must register their personal details with telephone and internet providers, including name, birth date, home address, left thumbprint, and photographic identification. The decree imposes fines of up to F$100,000 ($48,700) on providers who continued to provide services to unregistered users and up to F$10,000 ($4,870) on users who did not update their registration information as required.

The internet was widely available and used in and around urban centers, but its availability and use were minimal or nonexistent outside urban areas.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The constitution provides for academic freedom, although contract regulations of the University of the South Pacific effectively restricted most university employees from running for or holding public office or holding an official position with any political party. Persons entering the country on tourist visas wishing to conduct research must notify and seek permission of the government.

Finland

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Public speech intended to incite discrimination against any national, racial, religious, or ethnic group is a crime. Hate speech is not a separate criminal offense, but may constitute grounds for an aggravated sentence for other offenses.

Press and Media Freedoms: The distribution of hate material intended to incite discrimination against any national, racial, religious, or ethnic group in print or broadcast media, books, or online newspapers or journals is a crime.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The law provides for everyone to have a “subjective right to a telephone subscription and an internet connection.” The Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority estimated that during the year 52 percent of households had access to a fast broadband connection of 100 Mbps. In 2015, according to Statistics Finland, 68 percent of Finns ages 16 to 89 used the internet several times a day.

Courts can fine persons found guilty of inciting racial hatred on the internet. During the year there were a few reports that individuals incurred fines for publishing and distributing such material via the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

France

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to provide freedom of speech and press.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: While individuals could criticize the government publicly or privately without reprisal, there were some limitations of freedom of speech. Strict antidefamation laws prohibit racially or religiously motivated verbal and physical abuse. Written or oral speech that incites racial or ethnic hatred and denies the Holocaust or crimes against humanity is illegal. Authorities may deport a noncitizen for publicly using “hate speech” or speech constituting a threat of terrorism.

On September 7, a Paris criminal court pronounced the founding member of the revolutionary group, Action directe, Jean-Marc Rouillan, guilty of condoning terrorism for calling the Bataclan terrorists “really brave.” The court sentenced him to eight months in prison.

Press and Media Freedoms: While independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, the print and broadcast media, books, and online newspapers and journals were subject to the same antidefamation and hate speech laws that limited freedom of speech.

The law provides protection to journalists, who may be compelled to reveal sources only in cases where serious crimes occurred and access to a journalist’s sources was required to complete an official investigation.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal oversight. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 84.7 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

The nationwide state of emergency in effect during the year allows blocking of websites and social networks linked to or advocating terrorism and authorizes the government to read emails and text messages of individuals suspected of having links to terrorist activities. As of November 7, authorities blocked 54 websites on these grounds.

In June 2015 the parliament adopted an intelligence bill that granted new powers to the intelligence services to monitor suspected threats to public order and detect future terrorists. The bill also provides an enhanced legal framework for the intelligence services’ activities. Civil liberties groups and digital freedom activists opposed the bill and asserted that the rules on intelligence gathering could lead to mass surveillance with inadequate oversight. In July 2015 following its review, the Constitutional Council announced that it approved the majority of the legislation, rejecting only three articles.

According to the law, during a state of emergency exceptional powers allow the interior minister to take “all the measures” necessary to block sites suspected of “condoning terrorism or encouraging acts of terrorism.”

On June 3, the country adopted legislation on organized crime and terrorism mandating a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment and a 30,000 euro ($33,000) fine for consulting terrorist websites. On August 8, a Chartres criminal court sentenced a 31-year-old man to two years in prison for repeatedly visiting and reading websites related to the commission of terrorist acts.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Gabon

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights, although the government suspended one newspaper for one month and issued warnings to two others for publishing “defamatory” articles.

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. The one major daily newspaper is affiliated with the government. Approximately 36 privately owned weekly or monthly newspapers represented independent views and those of political parties, but some appeared only irregularly due to financial constraints. All newspapers, including government-affiliated ones, criticized the government and political leaders of both opposition and progovernment parties. The country had both progovernment and opposition-affiliated broadcast media, although the main opposition-affiliated television station did not have the technical means to broadcast countrywide. According to the NGO Reporters without Borders, domestic law did not meet international standards on freedom of expression and media freedom.

Violence and Harassment: There were several reports of journalists being harassed and intimidated during the year.

For example, on July 23, gendarmes arrested and beat a journalist from French press agency Agence France-Presse. On September 10, authorities denied entry to the country to a journalist from the French publication Le Monde Diplomatique. Officials stated the journalist “lacked evidence on the length and the purpose of his stay.”

During the night of August 31, masked gunmen attacked media outlet Radio Television Nazareth, owned by Pastor Bruno Ngoussi, a member of civil society, and set the station on fire.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most newspaper owners had either a progovernment or a pro-opposition political bias. Journalists at these newspapers practiced occasional self-censorship to placate owners.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are treated as either a criminal offense or a civil matter. Editors and authors of articles ruled libelous in a court of law may be jailed for two to six months and fined 500,000 to five million CFA francs ($856 to $8,560). Penalties for libel, disrupting public order, and other offenses also include a one- to three-month publishing suspension for a first offense and a three- to six-month suspension for repeat offenses. The National Communication Council (CNC) advocated for the removal of criminal penalties for libel.

There was evidence that in several cases libel laws were applied to discourage or punish critical coverage of the government. For example, the CNC suspended two publications during the year. In June authorities fined newspaper La Une and suspended it for three months for criticizing the government. In September the CNC suspended opposition-leaning newspaper Le Mbanja for one month for printing an interview with an unnamed security official who alleged there were plans to kill anyone who disputed the president’s reelection.

INTERNET FREEDOM

On August 30, following the disputed presidential election, the government blocked access to the internet and social media. On September 5, authorities re-established access to the internet for 12 hours a day but continued to block access to all social media sites. On September 29, full access to both the internet and social media was restored. The president stated in an interview on al-Jazeera the shutdown was a result of citizens having too many cell phones and “saturating” the internet.

According to the International Telecommunication Union 23.5 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Georgia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, and citizens generally were free to exercise these rights, although there were allegations the government at times did not adequately protect them. Journalists, NGOs, and the international community raised concerns about the environment for media pluralism following developments affecting the independence of the country’s leading television broadcasters, including its leading station, Rustavi 2. Parliament’s failure to select all eight members of the reconfigured board of the Georgian Public Broadcaster for a third consecutive year amplified concerns about the politicization of the selection process and its negative impact on the ability of state-funded television and radio outlets to fulfill their programming responsibilities.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: While individuals were usually free to criticize the government without reprisal, democracy NGOs expressed concern that government and former government officials’ public criticism of civil society and the media, including calls for investigations of individual NGO leaders, led to self-censorship by journalists and civil society actors.

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media were very active and expressed a wide variety of views. At the same time, media remained politically polarized and provided the public only limited access to objective, neutral news.

Television was the most influential medium and the primary source of information on current events for approximately 87 percent of the population, according to a 2015 survey carried out by Caucasus Research Resource Centers Georgia. Major television stations expressed a political bias, albeit to a lesser degree than in previous years. Government officials periodically criticized certain media outlets, in most cases Rustavi 2, alleging a pro-opposition bias.

Following the 2011 amendments to the Law on Broadcasting, which obligate media outlets to disclose information about their owners, media ownership became fairly transparent. Transparency of media ownership allowed consumers to judge the objectivity of news, but media experts acknowledged transparency was not absolute. In 2014 a Transparency International report concluded that significant personnel changes at several major media companies affected the content of broadcasting. In a number of instances, owners were suspected of interference in the editorial policies of the broadcasters, undermining media freedom.

Some media outlets, watchdog groups, and NGOs expressed continued concern over a restrictive environment for media pluralism and political meddling in the media, to which government critics were particularly vulnerable. In particular, concerns persisted over government interference with the country’s most widely viewed television station, Rustavi 2, as well as over the independence of the judiciary in a case involving the station’s ownership. In that case Rustavi 2 alleged the government was involved in a June decision by the Tbilisi City Court of Appeals that upheld the Tbilisi City Court’s November 2015 decision to grant ownership of the company to former owner Kibar Khalvashi. Although the government maintained the case was a legal dispute between private parties, the appellate court’s actions were widely seen as an attempt to change the editorial policy of Rustavi 2, which often espoused views critical of the government.

In July attorneys for Rustavi 2 appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. Several NGOs, including Transparency International and GYLA, as well as members of the opposition, called on the Supreme Court to accept the case, which it did in September. In November the Supreme Court passed the case to its Grand Chamber, and, as of year’s end, the Grand Chamber had not started hearing the case. There were also claims concerning the constitutionality of the statutes cited in the Rustavi 2 ruling by the Tbilisi City Court pending before the Constitutional Court (see section 1.e.).

Violence and Harassment: Crimes against media professionals, citizen reporters, and media outlets were prosecuted vigorously, but such crimes were rare. There was one report of police physically and verbally assaulting a journalist. In August Davit Mchedlidze, editor in chief of the online media outlet media.ge, reportedly was attacked by police in the city of Rustavi. An investigation was underway.

Nongovernmental Impact: Media observers, NGO representatives, and opposition politicians alleged that a former prime minister continued to exert a powerful influence over the government and judiciary, including in the lower and appellate court decision against owners of the Rustavi 2 television station.

While there was a greater diversity of media in Abkhazia, media in the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia remained restricted by de facto authorities and Russian occupying forces.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The Georgian government rarely restricted access to content online, although two isolated blocking incidents involving WordPress and YouTube were documented during the year. Aside from these isolated incidents, government blocking and filtering was not a major hindrance to internet freedom.

In recent years legislative amendments and court decisions gradually began to increase checks on the ability of authorities to conduct surveillance of citizens online. During the year the Constitutional Court ruled against the government’s practice of accessing user metadata without oversight, further shoring up privacy online. Leaked recordings of private conversations between public officials, however, raised concerns of unauthorized surveillance (see section 1.f.).

According to International Telecommunication Union statistics, approximately two-thirds of the population used the internet. High prices for services and inadequate infrastructure limited access, particularly for individuals in rural areas or with low incomes.

Insufficient information was available about internet freedom in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Germany

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and press. The law bans Nazi propaganda, Holocaust denial, and fomenting racial hatred.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: While the government generally respected these rights, it imposed limits on groups it deemed extremist. The government arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned a number of individuals for speech that incited racial hatred, endorsed Nazism, or denied the Holocaust (see also section 6, Anti-Semitism).

In April a Cologne local court fined a 39-year-old man 2,250 euros ($2,480) for performing the Hitler salute and shouting repeatedly “Heil Hitler” and “Sieg Heil” in February 2015. The man stated that he regretted his actions, explaining that he was drunk and surrounded by right-wing extremists at the time. After the incident, the accused participated in an exit program for right-wing radicals and underwent treatment for alcoholism.

On November 7, a Brandenburg state court convicted and sentenced a member of the NPD to eight months in prison for displaying a Nazi-style tattoo that appeared to combine an image of the Auschwitz death camp with the slogan from the Buchenwald concentration camp’s gate, “Jedem das Seine”–”To each his own.”

Press and Media Freedoms: On October 21, the Bundestag approved amendments to the law regulating the country’s foreign intelligence service, the BND. Proponents argued that the amendments increased oversight, and enhanced the protection of the rights of German and EU citizens and institutions. The NGOs Reporters without Borders and Amnesty International expressed concern that the law would allow surveillance of foreign journalists abroad. A government spokesperson stated that the new law is consistent with freedom of the press. There were no known reports of either surveillance of journalists or any other allegations of actual abuses as a result of the amendments.

Violence and Harassment: In March the NGO Committee to Protect Journalists reported journalists’ access to camps for asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants, varied depending on the state. Activists of the extreme right-wing anti-Muslim campaign group Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA) booed and physically attacked journalists reporting on their rallies.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: On March 31, comedian Jan Boehmermann read on national state-funded ZDF-TV a deliberately offensive poem about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan containing profanity and allegations regarding President Erdogan’s sexual practices. In response the Turkish government requested that the German government prosecute Boehmermann for defamation of a head of state under Sections 103 and 104 of the country’s criminal code. The government referred the case to the state prosecutor in Mainz, who dropped the case in October after determining that there was insufficient evidence that a criminal act occurred. Also in October the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Koblenz rejected President Erdogan’s appeal to resume the trial. A decision is expected in February 2017 on a separate civil case filed by President Erdogan regarding the incident.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The law allows the government to take down websites that belong to banned organizations or include speech that incites racial hatred, endorses Nazism, or denies the Holocaust. Authorities worked directly with internet service providers and online media companies to monitor and in some cases remove such content.

On November 4, prosecutors in Munich confirmed that they were investigating Mark Zuckerberg and nine other Facebook executives, including Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. A Bavarian lawyer filed a complaint in September, alleging that the company broke national laws against hate speech and sedition by failing to remove racist postings. The lawyer has compiled a list of 438 postings that were flagged as inappropriate but not deleted, including racist hate speech, calls to violence, and references to Nazi-era genocide. Prosecutors are obliged by law to investigate complaints. A decision to prosecute or dismiss was not yet reached in the Munich investigation by year’s end. This filing followed a similar complaint by the same lawyer in Hamburg. The Public Prosecutor in Hamburg dismissed that case early in the year.

On April 4, Berlin police searched the apartments of 10 persons who had posted statements that supported shooting asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants at the borders and included anti-Semitic views. On July 13, the BKA coordinated a nationwide raid in 14 states.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2015, 88 percent of the country’s population used the internet, and 37 percent had a fixed broadband subscription.

As of July the taskforce of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) to combat cybercrime had begun 192 investigations into right-wing online harassment.

In June a Duesseldorf court sentenced a 14-year-old high school student from Duesseldorf to 20 hours of community service, after she secretly photographed her teacher in class and uploaded the picture with a defamatory caption to a website with a relatively large viewership.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were some government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events supporting extreme right-wing neo-Nazism.

Ghana

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Violence and Harassment: Government authorities and security officials sometimes assaulted and harassed journalists throughout the country. In one instance the Supreme Court fined and sentenced a radio presenter and two on-air panelists to four months’ imprisonment for what the court alleged were threats against judges in a pending case. The court order also fined the radio station and insisted the broadcaster take steps to prevent such comments’ being broadcast in the future. A presidential reprieve released the imprisoned radio presenter and panelists after one month.

Local media widely carried allegations police officers in Gomoa Ojobi in Central Region assaulted and detained a reporter from a local television and radio station. In another example, media carried stories alleging a journalist was arrested for taking photographs of a police officer soliciting a bribe from a bus driver.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The internet was accessible in Accra and other large cities. There was limited but growing internet access in other areas. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 23 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Greece

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech but specifically allow restrictions on speech and sanction individuals who intentionally incite others to actions that could provoke discrimination, hatred, or violence against persons or groups, based on their race, color, religion, descent, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability or who express ideas insulting to persons or groups on those grounds. Members of parliament (MPs) and political party leaders have immunity from criminal prosecution for activities related to the exercise of their duties while in office; however, the parliamentary majority may lift this immunity. On May 11, parliament lifted the immunity of two current and one former Golden Dawn MPs so that they could face trial for alleged violation of antiracism laws. The charge related to the distribution of leaflets inciting the public to rally against undocumented migrants in March 2015.

On August 3, parliament passed legislation ratifying the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime and its protocol criminalizing racist and xenophobic acts committed using computer systems.

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Legislation passed February 15 supplemented an October 2015 law authorizing the country’s first-ever national television broadcast licensing tender; previously, authorities awarded licenses on an ad hoc basis. The closed-door auction process began on August 30 and ended September 2, with four successful bidders announced, including two existing channels.

Media watchdog groups criticized the government’s decision to auction only four television licenses as well as the minister of state’s control over the tender. Media owners and other analysts criticized the legislation as a government attempt to reshape and control the country’s media landscape. On May 16, privately held television broadcasters, along with their union, filed a lawsuit with the Council of State seeking to abolish the February legislation. On October 26, the Council of State deemed unconstitutional the law granting the government authority to license television permits and decide on their number.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were subjected to physical attack, harassment, or intimidation due to their reporting in four reported instances. In three of these, perpetrators were allegedly Golden Dawn party supporters. No arrests were made in the four cases.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: While an investigation into polling and news coverage of a July 2015 referendum on the country’s bailout program was pending in the courts, the disciplinary committee of the Athens Journalists’ Union (ESIEA) on April 6 announced its decision to suspend the membership of seven journalists accused of biased coverage prior to the referendum. Opposition parties criticized this decision, claiming it exclusively affected journalists who had opposed the government’s position in support of a “No” vote. On October 6, ESIEA’s second instance disciplinary board ruled on an appeal filed by three of the affected journalists and decided not to uphold the sanctions.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law provides criminal penalties for defamation. On February 24, the Supreme Court president filed a lawsuit against a lawyer and professor of constitutional law for defamation of character, arguing that she felt insulted by the professor’s social media comments about her. The professor had criticized the court’s president for a 2015 letter to EU colleagues asking them to urge the country’s international lenders to complete its bailout review. In his blog post, the academic called on the Supreme Court president to resign because her judicial position required apolitical objectivity and neutrality, asserting that her involvement in this matter was inappropriate. On February 25, the Athens Bar Association voiced its concern and disapproval of the lawsuit, arguing that the free expression of ideas, including public criticism of public officials, is an “obvious and non-negotiable human right.” The lawsuit was pending prosecutor investigation.

On June 12, a three-member appeals court in Lesvos sentenced a journalist accused of insulting the principal of a local middle school in 2013 to a three-month suspended sentence. The journalist had called the principal a “neo-Nazi” for his publicly ultrarightist political stance and for urging his colleagues to vote for Golden Dawn. The appeals court found the use of the term “neo-Nazi” instead of “ethno-socialist” to describe the principal’s political beliefs insulting to him.

On September 20, a journalist was placed under arrest for libel following a defamation lawsuit filed by the minister for infrastructure, transportation, and networks.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the country’s national statistics agency, approximately 67 percent of the population used the internet as of March 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

In March 2015 media reported that a public prosecutor in Crete pressed charges against a university professor for allegedly claiming in his book that World War II Nazi war crimes were incited by rebels in Crete. The trial began in November 2015. On February 10, a judge in Rethymno, Crete, acquitted the professor accused of tying Cretan rebels to World War II Nazi war crimes.

Grenada

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government respected these rights. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Local internet service providers estimated that as of September 2015, more than 60 percent of the population had internet access.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Guatemala

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Press and Media Freedoms: There were no legal restrictions on the editorial independence of the media. Reporters covering organized crime, including its links to corrupt public officials, acknowledged practicing self-censorship, recognizing the danger investigative journalism posed to them and their families. The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, but freedom of expression advocates noted that difficulty obtaining licenses to operate community radio stations and obtaining some judicial information limited press freedom.

Violence and Harassment: Members of the press continued to report that violence and impunity impaired the practice of free and open journalism. Members of the press reported numerous threats by public officials, and criminal organizations increased journalists’ sense of vulnerability. Guatemala City mayor (and former Guatemalan president) Alvaro Arzu made the following comment in a high-profile public forum on July 27, “A former president of Mexico once said that the press is either bribed or beaten. I prefer the second option.”

On June 25 in Coatepeque, unidentified assailants shot and killed Alvaro Alfredo Aceytuno Lopez, a radio journalist who often reported on local governance issues. One month later, his daughter, Lindaura Aceytuno, was shot and killed in an attack that also left his 13-year-old granddaughter injured. No arrests were made, but the investigation continued at year’s end.

According to the Public Ministry, 87 complaints were filed for attacks or threats against journalists, and eight journalists were killed through the middle of November, compared with 133 complaints and four killings in all of 2015. Civil society analysts attributed the increase in killings chiefly to the general state of violence in the country. The decrease in attacks or threats against journalists was also partially attributed to 2015 being a general election year and a time of significant political instability. On November 22, a Mazatenango court convicted two men and sentenced each of them to 25 years in prison for the murder of journalist Guido Armando Geovani Villatoro Ramos in March 2015.

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

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

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

In September a videographer for the media outlet Nuevo Mundo was fired after he took pictures of President Morales apparently sleeping at a government event. The outlet claimed it fired him because he shared the pictures without editorial permission, but the videographer claimed to have evidence to the contrary. The PDH was investigating the motives for the videographer’s dismissal.

Libel/Slander Laws: In June reporter Pavel Vega from the daily newspaper El Periodico attempted to interview Viviana Quinonez Paiz, legal representative of TVQ–a public relations firm with close ties to the local Guatemala City government–regarding municipal contracts TVQ received as the lone bidder. She refused the interview and accused Vega of psychological harassment, citing the Law Against Femicide and Other Violence Against Women (Femicide Law). A judge subsequently issued a restraining order against the reporter for three months, prohibiting him from approaching Quinonez. The human rights ombudsman stated the harassment charges should never have been given credence in view of the lack of relationship between the two, as well as the fact that the reporter’s only action was to call Quinonez’ office to ask for an interview. On July 5, Quinonez filed charges against the reporter for slander and defamation for his articles related to municipal contracts awarded to TVQ. The case was pending at year’s end. Journalist associations stated that use of the Femicide Law to infringe upon press freedoms set a dangerous precedent but also noted that there were relatively few cases of the law being used in this manner.

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

Journalists expressed concern that government officials may have used twitter accounts to harass those critical of the administration and its policies. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 27 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Guinea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and of the press, but the government restricted press freedoms.

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent and opposition-owned media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views. Print media had limited reach due to the low literacy rate (41 percent) and the high cost of newspapers. Radio remained the most important source of information for the public, and numerous private stations broadcast throughout the country. FM radio call-in shows were popular and allowed citizens to express broad discontent with the government. An increase in online news websites reflected the growing demand for divergent views. Nevertheless, libels and allegations could result in government reprisals, including suspensions and fines. For example, after being accused of being an accessory to insult of the president of the republic, a journalist of private radio station Milo FM was sentenced on June 22 by the Court of First Instance of the prefecture of Kankan (Upper Guinea) to pay a fine of one million Guinean francs (GNF) ($112).

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of direct physical attacks, harassment, and intimidation of journalists by members of the Rally of the Guinean People (RPG) political party affiliated with the government and law enforcement agents.

In June presidential guards severely beat a journalist who had taken a picture of the president attending a political meeting of his party and confiscated his equipment.

Law enforcement officials also confiscated reporters’ equipment.

A journalist was killed while covering a February political meeting, allegedly by a stray bullet.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized stations and journalists who broadcast items criticizing government officials and their actions.

Some journalists accused government officials of attempting to influence the tone of their reporting with inappropriate pressure and bribes. Others hired bodyguards, and many practiced self-censorship.

The president publicly admonished the Radio France International correspondent for asking a question about his son’s involvement in a mining corruption scandal during a May press conference.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel against the head of state, slander, and false reporting are subject to heavy fines. Officials used these laws to harass opposition leaders.

For example, a journalist hosting a talk show in June, on which a caller insulted the president, was fined one million GNF ($112) for complicity and insult of the head of state.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 4.7 percent of individuals had access to the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Guinea-Bissau

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press; however, there were reports the government did not always respect these rights. For example, upon his appointment in June as prime minister, Baciro Dja fired the heads of state-owned television and radio. On June 9, the dismissed head of the state-owned radio stated his dismissal was politically motivated and filed a lawsuit seeking its annulment. The case was pending at year’s end. There were reports of journalists receiving threats and practicing self-censorship.

Press and Media Freedoms: There were several private newspapers in addition to the government-owned newspaper No Pintcha, but the state-owned printing house published all of them.

In May the country’s leading pro-opposition blog Ditadura do Consenso was hacked. Critics accused the government of responsibility as part of its efforts to impede criticism and stifle freedom of speech. On July 7, the state-owned radio station’s general manager fired his news director and editor-in-chief for having disregarded an order not to broadcast a press conference by PAIGC Chairman Domingos Simoes Pereira, one of the president’s main political opponents.

Violence and Harassment: The government took no steps to preserve the safety and independence of media or to prosecute individuals who threatened journalists. For example, following firings at the state-owned radio station, a private radio station called Capital FM broadcast a program in which callers discussed and debated the dismissals. Capital FM’s director subsequently received several anonymous, written death threats.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. There were allegations, however, that on May 21, a pro-Vaz hacker succeeded in breaking into the country’s leading pro-opposition blog Ditadura do Consenso.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 3.54 percent of the population used the internet in 2015. Lack of infrastructure, equipment, and education severely limited access to the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Guyana

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and at times expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: A 2015 directive determines that all headlines in the state-owned print media be first scrutinized and approved by the Ministry of Information before publication. In April a columnist at the state-owned newspaper reported that his columns, which criticized the government, were censored and in some cases were never published.

Libel/Slander Laws: In May the government threatened civil action against a privately owned newspaper if it did not retract an article that criticized a member of the government. The newspaper subsequently retracted the article.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 38 percent of citizens used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Haiti

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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

Violence and Harassment: Some journalists were subjected to threats, harassment, and physical assault, allegedly due to their reporting throughout the year. In some instances government authorities participated in these acts. In January then president Martelly released a lewd song harassing journalist and human rights advocate Liliane Pierre-Paul, an outspoken critic of the Martelly administration. There was no progress in the investigation into the 2000 killing of journalist Jean Dominique or of a witness to the killing who was shot to death in March 2015.

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authorization. Socioeconomic and infrastructure hurdles contributed to the dominance of radio and, to a lesser extent, television, over the internet. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 12 percent of citizens had access to the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Honduras

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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

CONADEH reported that the government closed 21 media outlets that failed to renew their operating licenses, including major opposition channel Globo TV. Some of these channels were already defunct, while others were attempting to renew their broadcast licenses. Many of the affected journalists continued their reporting at other media outlets. Civil society organizations expressed concerns about the allegedly arbitrary nature of the closures.

Violence and Harassment: There were continued reports of harassment and threats against journalists and social communicators (defined as persons not employed as journalists who served as bloggers or conducted public outreach for NGOs). Reports linked most of these instances of harassment and threats to organized criminal elements and gangs.

Government officials at all levels denounced violence and threats of violence against members of the media and social communicators. UNAH’s Violence Observatory reported no killings of journalists during the first six months of the year, unlike in the previous year, when nine journalists and social communicators were killed. CONADEH, which used a broader definition than UNAH, reported that 64 journalists, social commentators, and owners and employees of media outlets were killed between 2014 and August. Perpetrators were convicted in three of these cases, and 10 cases were being prosecuted. There were many reports of intimidation and threats against members of the media and their families, including from members of the security forces and from organized crime. It was usually unclear whether violence and threats against journalists were linked to their work or were simply products of generalized violence. For example, reporter Felix Molina was shot and wounded in the second of two apparent attempts to rob him on May 2.

Human rights defenders, including indigenous and environmental rights activists, political activists, labor activists, and representatives of civil society working to combat corruption, reported threats and acts of violence. The killing of Berta Caceres in March (see section 1.a.) was the most emblematic of these cases. Other organizations, including the Indigenous Lenca Movement of La Paz, as well as civil society members of the Special Commission reviewing the HNP, and the leadership of the National Anticorruption Council, reported threats linked to their activities. The AFL-CIO’s International Solidarity Center reported threats against several labor leaders, including public-sector labor union leaders (also see section 7.a.).

The Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization worked to implement the May 2015 Law for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, Social Communicators, and Justice Operators but was hampered by weaknesses in the new protection mechanism, including a lack of staff and other resources. On July 11, the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR) expressed concern that some of the new law’s provisions did not assure effective protection for human rights defenders, and that the resources allocated to the protection mechanism were insufficient to ensure the law’s effective implementation. NGOs generally criticized the measures as ineffective, based on the small number of persons protected, an overreliance on protective measures provided by police (who many protected persons did not trust), and the limited resources provided to protected persons. Civil society also criticized the government’s failure to investigate threats against activists adequately.

The HNP’s Human Rights Office continued to implement protective measures for journalists, social communicators, human rights defenders, labor leaders, and other activists receiving threats. On July 19, the government announced it would allocate an additional 10 million lempiras ($434,000) for protection services, essentially doubling the current budget. During the first six months of the year, the government worked with NGO Freedom House to develop and strengthen implementation of the law. As of July 29, the Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization had received 39 requests for protection since the law’s approval in April 2015 and accepted 30, which were being processed. The other nine requests were from persons who were already beneficiaries of IACHR-mandated protection measures that the Human Rights Office of the Ministry of Security continued to implement. The Ministry of Security planned to transfer these cases to the protection mechanism once the government established a formal protocol for doing so. The IACHR had 66 outstanding orders for protection in the country. According to NGO ACI Participa, 49 orders between 2006 and 2015 benefited 426 individuals, including 59 indigenous persons, 27 members of the LGBTI community, 28 environmentalists, and 72 journalists.

The HNP’s Violent Crimes Task Force (VCTF) investigated crimes against high-profile and particularly vulnerable victims, including judges, journalists, human rights activists, and members of the LGBTI community. In 2015-16, the VCTF investigated the killings of seven journalists and arrested three suspects in these cases. It also arrested a suspect for the death of a journalist in a prior year, helped bring two other cases to trial, and secured one conviction for the murder of a journalist.

Civil society organizations, including agricultural workers groups and indigenous rights groups, criticized the government and its officials for allegedly criminalizing and stigmatizing social protest. The government charged some members of these groups with trespassing after they occupied disputed land and required them to present themselves to judicial authorities periodically while legal proceedings against them were pending.

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

Libel/Slander Laws: Citizens, including public officials, can initiate criminal proceedings for libel and slander. As of November 3, journalists Julio Ernesto Alvarado and David Romero Ellner remained free and continued to practice their profession, despite being convicted of slander in 2015 and ordered to stop practicing journalism temporarily. Alvarado paid a fine to avoid jail time; in December 2015 to comply with a 2014 order from the IACHR, the government rescinded the order that he stop practicing journalism. Romero Ellner received a 10-year prison sentence in March, and the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court denied his final appeal on August 19.

National Security: Reporters without Borders and other civil society organizations continued to express concerns about potential abuse of the law for the Classification of Public Documents Related to Defense and National Security. Beginning in the third quarter of 2015, the government made available to the public some information about activities that the security tax and other trust funds support, and it incorporated trust fund numbers into the current budget. In August the Organization of American States’ Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) and the semiautonomous Institute for Access to Public Information (IAIP) called for the law’s revision.

Nongovernmental Impact: Some journalists and other members of civil society reported threats from members of organized crime. It was unclear how many of these threats were related to the victims’ professions or activism.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, but there were credible reports that the government monitored private online communications. According to estimates compiled by the International Telecommunication Union, in 2015 approximately 20 percent of the population used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Hungary

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of speech and press. The broad powers of the media regulatory authority, however, together with a high level of media concentration and an advertising market highly dependent on governmental contracts maintained a climate conducive to self-censorship and political influence. The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) continued to report bias in news reporting by the public media.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law prohibits the incitement of hatred against members of certain groups. Any person who publicly incites hatred against any national, ethnic, racial, or religious group or certain other designated groups of the population may be prosecuted and convicted of a felony punishable by imprisonment for up to three years. The constitution includes hate speech provisions to “protect the dignity of the Hungarian nation or of any national, ethnic, racial, or religious community.” The provisions provide for judicial remedies for damage to individuals and their communities that result from hate speech. In 2013 the Venice Commission raised concern that the “dignity of the Hungarian nation” provision could be applied to curtail criticism of the country’s institutions and office holders, which would be incompatible with the standards of free speech limitations in a democratic society.

On May 17, the Media Council issued a resolution in connection with an article by Zsolt Bayer published in both the print and online platforms of Magyar Hirlap in November 2015. The Media Council ruled that Magyar Hirlap Publishing Kft. violated the legal ban on inciting hatred against and promoting exclusion of peoples, nations, national, ethnic, linguistic and other minorities, or any majority or religious community. Consequently, the Media Council ordered the immediate removal of the contested op-ed from the website of Magyar Hirlap; imposed a fine of 250,000 forints ($895) on the publisher; and ordered the publication of a statement on the homepage of Magyar Hirlap for one week. The statement included the Media Council resolution and noted that the “author described the community of migrants as a homogenous group being in war with European societies, calling every member of this community above the age of 14 potential murderers.” On August 18, Zsolt Bayer received a state award (Knight’s Cross of the Hungarian Order of Merit) from the minister of the Prime Minister’s Office (see also section 6, Anti-Semitism).

The law prohibits public denial of, expression of, doubt about, or minimization of the Holocaust, genocide, and other crimes of the National Socialist (Nazi) and communist regimes, which are punishable by a maximum sentence of three years in prison.

Through the end of October, the Action and Protection Foundation (TEV) reported nine cases of Holocaust denial, of which four were pending, three were suspended, one was rejected by police, and one was closed.

On June 1, the Buda Central District Court ordered the temporary removal from the internet of nearly 20 websites for violating the legal ban of Holocaust denial. The prosecutor’s office argued that the websites were promoting and selling the Hungarian translation of a book by a Swedish author claiming that Nazi regimes did not commit genocide.

The law prohibits as a petty offense the wearing, exhibiting, or promoting of the swastika, the logo of the Nazi SS, the symbols of the arrow cross, the hammer and sickle, or the five-pointed red star in a way that harms human dignity or the memory of the victims of dictatorships.

On May 16, the ECHR ruled that freedom of expression of seven opposition members of parliament was violated in 2013, when parliamentary speaker Kover fined them for alleged “seriously disruptive conduct considered gravely offensive to parliamentary order.” The members had displayed a large placard and banners in the parliamentary chamber, and one used a megaphone to speak during the course of a vote. The ECHR found that the interference with the members’ right to freedom of expression was not “necessary in a democratic society.” The ECHR also found a lack of procedural safeguards because the members had no remedy under domestic law to contest the disciplinary decisions imposed on them. Nevertheless, the ECHR acknowledged that a 2014 amendment to the law introduced minimum procedural safeguards by providing the possibility for a member of parliament who had been fined to make representations before a parliamentary committee.

On January 21, the Buda Central District Court acquitted the man who kicked a polystyrene head of Prime Minister Viktor Orban at an antigovernment demonstration in 2013. The man was charged with committing a rowdy act, but he stated it was an expression of political opinion. The prosecutor appealed the verdict but the Budapest Metropolitan Court upheld it in a legally binding ruling on November 24.

Press and Media Freedoms: A massive reshuffling in the media market that started in 2015 continued during the year, resulting in further expansion of government-friendly enterprises and reduction in independent media voices in television, radio, print, and online media through the launching of new media outlets, acquisitions of existing outlets, efforts to further bolster state media, and the sudden closure of the country’s largest independent daily newspaper. The state media continued to be the frequent object of criticism that its coverage of news reflected the government’s views and that it concealed unfavorable facts and opinions.

Under the legal framework for the media sector, the National Media and Infocommunications Authority (NMHH), subordinate to parliament, is the central state administrative body for regulating the media. The authority of NMHH includes overseeing the operation of broadcast and media markets as well as “contributing to the execution of the government’s policy in the areas of frequency management and telecommunications.” The NMHH president also serves as the chair of the five-member Media Council, which is the decision making body of the NMHH and supervises broadcast, cable, online, and print media content and spectrum management. Human rights NGOs remained highly critical of the NMHH for being a politically homogeneous body consisting of members nominated exclusively by the governing parties and of the law governing the media for failing to secure media pluralism and the independence of public-service media.

A 2015 report of the Venice Commission on the media laws noted that media content restrictions were unclear and allowed for an excessively broad interpretation by the courts. It also found fault with restrictions on criticism of religious or political views and stipulations that media content cannot violate privacy rights. The report criticized the composition of the Media Council and procedures for selecting its head as failing to ensure independence and political neutrality and lacking diverse representation of relevant media stakeholders. The report also noted that the public media was overly centralized and that content was supplied nearly exclusively by the government-controlled National News Agency (MTI).

On April 26, parliamentary speaker Laszlo Kover banned journalists representing NepszabadsagHVG24.hu, and Index from parliament for an indefinite period, one day after he was filmed ignoring their questions about possible corruption related to the Hungarian National Bank. Kover asserted that the reporters had been working in areas of the building that were off limits to the media, based on a previous order of the speaker. As of September 12, Kover suspended the ban. On October 20, Kover banned all employees of the news website 444.hu indefinitely after reporters momentarily blocked the path of the Fidesz faction spokesperson while asking questions about a high-level government official’s use of a helicopter to attend a wedding (see also section 3, Elections and Political Participation, and section 4).

On October 8, the operations of the country’s largest independent daily newspaper, Nepszabadsag, were suddenly suspended by its parent company. Prior to the suspension, employees had been told to pack their effects to move to new office space, but when they arrived on October 8 they were informed of the newspaper’s closure and denied access to company offices. Both the print and online versions ceased operations, and Nepszabadsag’s website, including its archive of past news stories, was made unavailable. The newspaper’s management company, the Austrian-based Mediaworks, stated the suspension was an economic decision because the newspaper had been losing readership and money and would continue until the company found a new business model. Some employees and media watchers noted that Nepszabadsag had turned a profit in 2015, as had Mediaworks itself. Some employees and government critics linked the sudden closure to Nepszabadsag’s exposes of government corruption, including a cabinet minister’s use of a helicopter to attend a celebrity wedding and nepotism involving the girlfriend of the national bank president.

Several domestic and foreign media outlets expressed solidarity with Nepszabadsag journalists and several thousand persons demonstrated in front of parliament against shutting the daily on the evening of October 8. The European Commission spokesperson stated the EC was following the situation closely and was “very concerned” about the shutting of the newspaper. The European Journalists Federation expressed dismay at the closure of Nepszabadsag, calling the termination of the daily a serious blow to media pluralism. OSCE media representative Dunja Mijatovic also described the closure as a huge blow to freedom of the press and media diversity. The government echoed Mediaworks’ statement that the closure was an economic decision, adding that it would be a violation of the freedom of the press for it to intervene.

Violence and Harassment: On April 14, the European Center for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) sent a letter to the prime minister asking him to initiate an investigation into the assault by police on journalists and camera crews from Serbia, Slovakia, and Australia while they were covering the attempt by hundreds of asylum seekers to get through the border fence in September 2015 and the consequent response by border guards. The ECPMF called it “unacceptable” that, instead of investigating the assault on foreign journalists, the government declared the police action lawful and professional and blamed the victims for not leaving the country where the police had been using coercive measures. The ECPMF also found it “worrisome” that the state media covered the incident and the refugee crisis more generally in a biased, unbalanced way. On May 23, Minister of Interior Sandor Pinter responded to the ECPMF letter, rejecting reports that police beat and arrested foreign journalists. In November 2015, upon the report of the HHC, the Szeged department of the Central Investigative Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation against unknown perpetrators for mistreatment during official proceedings in connection with the incident. The investigation remained pending.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law provides content regulations and standards for journalistic rights, ethics, and norms that are applicable to all media, including news portals and online publications. It prohibits inciting hatred against nations; communities; ethnic, linguistic, or other minorities; majority groups; and churches or religious groups. It provides for maintaining the confidentiality of sources with respect to procedures conducted by courts or authorities.

The Media Council may impose fines for violations of content regulations, including on media services that violate prohibitions on inciting hatred or violating human dignity or regulations governing the protection of minors. The council may impose fines of up to 200 million forints ($717,000), depending on the nature of the infringement, type of media service, and audience size. It may also suspend the right to broadcast for up to one week. Defendants may appeal Media Council decisions but must appeal separately to prevent implementation of fines while the parties litigate the substantive appeal. As of August 1, the Media Council issued 106 resolutions imposing fines totaling 31.5 million forints ($113,000) on 61 media outlets. Twelve defendants challenged those resolutions in court.

On May 9, Mertek Standard Media Monitor released its annual report, The Methods are Old, the Cronies are New–Soft Censorship in the Hungarian Media in 2015. The report cited “the market expansion of the pro-Fidesz interests at every level of the value chain, be it through a politically biased distribution of radio frequencies or the manipulative allocation of state advertisements.” Concerning state media, the report highlighted the market-distorting impact of nontransparent and excessive funding as well as the documented practice of concealment of news or certain viewpoints and even the doctoring of some news items to serve the government’s needs. Based on interviews with media executives, the report concluded that statutory rules and the institutional framework governing the operations of media are not the main impediments to press freedom. It found instead that “the dearth of funding makes media vulnerable and potentially leads them to compromise their principles, while the lack of equipment and staff also constitute serious challenges to quality journalism and investigative reporting.”

On May 2, Janos Karpati, former MTI correspondent in Brussels, stated at a conference that those working at state-run radio, television, and the MTI were advised to consult their superiors about what questions they could ask members of the cabinet. Karpati, who had been working for MTI since 1981 until he was dismissed earlier in the year, further stated, “questions arrive from up above to the editor and the correspondent” with instructions such as “emphasize this; ask this; or do not ask that.”

Libel/Slander Laws: Individuals may be sued for libel for their published statements or for publicizing libelous statements made by others. Plaintiffs may litigate in both civil and criminal courts. Journalists reporting on an event may be judged criminally responsible for making or reporting false statements.

The HCLU reported that public officials, especially in small towns, continued to use libel and defamation laws to silence criticisms from citizens and journalists. According to the HCLU, there were several dozen cases per year in which public officials pursued both criminal and civil charges (often simultaneously) against individuals for expressing criticism of officials or their policies.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 72.8 percent of the population used the internet in 2015. Freedom House maintained the country’s internet and digital media rating as “free.”

On February 2, the ECHR found that domestic court rulings had violated the right to free expression of the Association of Hungarian Content Providers and Index.hu Zrt. In the rulings in question, domestic courts had found the two aggrieved parties liable for “disseminating” offensive and vulgar third-party comments that were posted on the two parties’ websites. Although the two parties had immediately removed the comments from their websites when they were notified of the civil proceedings, domestic courts held they were liable for having provided space for injurious and degrading comments. In its ruling, the ECHR found that comments in response to an online article could be regarded a matter of public interest and did not amount to hate speech or incitement to violence. The ECHR established that court findings of liability in such cases may have, directly or indirectly, a chilling effect on freedom of expression on the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Iceland

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law establishes fines and imprisonment for up to two years for “[a]nyone who publicly mocks, defames, denigrates or threatens a person or group of persons by comments or expressions of another nature, for example by means of pictures or symbols for their nationality, color, race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity, or disseminates such materials.” During the year the Metropolitan Police indicted eight individuals for hate speech against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons and two for hate speech against individuals on the basis of their religion. By year’s end the courts had not ruled on the cases.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to Statistics Iceland, 97 percent of households had internet access and 99 percent of citizens used the internet in 2014.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

India

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and expression, but it does not explicitly mention freedom of the press. The government generally respected these rights.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals routinely criticized the government publicly and privately. According to Human Rights Watch, however, sedition and criminal defamation laws were used to prosecute citizens who criticize government officials or oppose state policies. In certain cases local authorities arrested individuals under laws against hate speech for expressions of political views.

On February 12, Delhi police arrested Jawaharlal Nehru University students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar and seven other students, charging them with sedition for allegedly shouting “anti-India” slogans at a February 9 protest. The arrests and subsequent administrative disciplinary measures resulted in protests on other university campuses. According to the NHRC, Kumar was “abused and physically assaulted” at court when he appeared for a bail hearing on February 17. In March the Delhi High Court released Kumar and two other students on bail, which was extended to August 26. On September 6, the Delhi High Court extended bail and enjoined the university administration from taking administrative action against Kumar until the next hearing.

On September 5, the Supreme Court stated the government could not bring charges of sedition against a person for criticizing the government or its policies. This ruling was in response to a petition filed by NGO Common Cause to curb the use of sedition provisions under the Indian Penal Code to restrict speech.

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media generally expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The law prohibits content that could harm religious sentiments or provoke enmity among groups, and authorities invoked these laws to restrict print media, broadcast media, and publication or distribution of books.

On March 21, the Chhattisgarh police arrested journalist Prabhat Singh in Dantewada for allegedly sharing a message critical of the state police on a messaging application and charged him under the Information Technology Act. On March 26, Chhattisgarh police arrested journalist Deepak Jaiswal for inquiring about the Prabhat Singh case. A court granted Jaiswal bail on June 6, and the Chhattisgarh High Court granted Prabhat Singh bail on June 22.

The government maintained a monopoly on AM radio stations and restricted FM radio licenses for entertainment and educational content. Widely distributed private satellite television provided competition for Doordarshan, the government-owned television network. State governments banned the import or sale of some books due to material government censors deemed inflammatory or could provoke communal or religious tensions.

Violence and Harassment: Some journalists and media persons reportedly experienced violence and harassment in response to their reporting. In February Asianet News channel anchor Sindhu Sooryakumar reportedly received more than 2,000 abusive calls and death threats after moderating a debate on Hinduism. On February 28, police arrested five persons in connection with these threats.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In August 2015 the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) in Chennai refused to certify the film Muttrupulliya, which portrays Tamil life in post-war Sri Lanka, over concerns the film glorified the war. In September 2015 the filmmakers appealed the CBFC refusal before the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal. In March the filmmakers won the appeal, and the CBFC lifted the ban on the film.

Libel/Slander Laws: In July the Supreme Court reviewed an appeal from a Tamil Nadu trial court filed by politician Vijaykanth, challenging the constitutionality of a law permitting prosecutors to file defamation cases on behalf of public servants. The court also ordered the state government to provide a list of criminal defamation cases brought on behalf of then chief minister Jayalalithaa by Tamil Nadu prosecutors. According to media reports, the list submitted by the Tamil Nadu government on August 17 included 213 cases filed from May 2011 through July 2016.

National Security: In some cases government authorities cited laws protecting national interest to restrict media content.

On June 9, Sakshi TV was taken off the air in Andhra Pradesh until June 22, after it publicized the hunger strike of Kapu caste leader Mudragada Padmanabham. Deputy Chief Minister N. Chinarajappa stated the channel would remain off-air as long as the hunger strike continued, since covering the protest could potentially disturb law and order in the state.

In July the Jammu and Kashmir government reportedly raided local printing presses, stopped publication, and detained press staff while enforcing a news blackout during a period of unrest. In addition to restrictions on newspaper publication, internet and cellular communication was also heavily restricted.

Nongovernmental Impact: In a statement released on June 16, UN Special rapporteurs on human rights expressed the view that FCRA Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) “provisions were increasingly being used…to silence organizations involved in advocating civil, political, economic, social, environmental, or cultural priorities, which may differ from those backed by the Government.” The statement highlighted the suspension of foreign banking licenses for NGOs including Greenpeace India, Lawyers Collective, and the Sabrang Trust.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

In 2015 the Supreme Court struck down section 66A of the IT Act, which had resulted in a significant number of arrests between 2012 and 2015 for content published on social media. According to NCRB data, police made 3,137 arrests under 66A in 2015, compared with 2,423 arrests in 2014. As of January 1, 575 individuals remained incarcerated under all sections of the IT act. The Supreme Court upheld other provisions of the act authorizing the government to block certain online content. Under section 69A of the act, the government can still order content blocks without court approval.

The central monitoring system (CMS), which began pilot operations in 2013, continued to allow governmental agencies to monitor electronic communications in real time without informing the subject or a judge. The CMS is a mass electronic surveillance data-mining program installed by the Center for Development of Telematics, a government-owned telecommunications technology development center. The CMS gives security agencies and income tax officials centralized access to the telecommunication network and the ability to hear and record mobile, landline, and satellite telephone calls and Voice over Internet Protocol, to read private e-mails and mobile texts, and to track geographical locations of individuals in real time. Authorities can also use it to monitor posts shared on social media and track users’ search histories on Google, without oversight by courts or parliament. This monitoring facility was available to nine security agencies, including the Intelligence Bureau, the Research and Analysis Wing, and the Home Affairs Ministry. In May 2015 former communications minister Milind Deora expressed concern that without comprehensive privacy laws, the system was not sufficiently accountable and could impinge on freedom of speech.

Freedom House, a civil liberty organization, released a report in October 2015 rating the country “partly free” with respect to internet user rights, including accessibility, limits on content, and violations of individual’s rights. The NGO reported the government decreased the number of incidents concerning connectivity, restricted access, and documented incidents of physical attacks on internet users for content posted online. According to the report, key internet controls that existed between May 2014 and May 2015 included blocking of political, social, and religious content. The report cited the CMS as a potential internet freedom concern.

Government regulations on internet content prohibit many types of material including “harmful” and “insulting” content. Authorities may hold search engines liable for displaying prohibited content. Authorities require cyber cafes to install surveillance cameras and provide the government with records of user browsing activity.

On January 6, media reported 24-year-old Anwar Sadiq of Malappuram in Kerala was charged with sedition for social media comments he allegedly made about a military officer killed during a counterterror operation at Pathankot Air Force Base.

On March 25, two students from a town in Puttur, Karnataka, were arrested and later released for posting “Pakistan Ki Jai” (Hail Pakistan) on a phone messaging application during the India-Pakistan World T20 cricket match, according to media reports.

The government requested user data from internet companies. According to Facebook’s January 2016 transparency report for the second half of 2015, the government made 5,561 requests. Facebook complied with 51 percent of those requests. Google also highlighted in its most recent transparency report an increase in government requests to share user data.

According to industry experts, approximately 35 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

In rare cases the government applied restrictions to the travel and activities of visiting experts and scholars; however, in most cases the government supported and issued visas for international academic conferences and exchanges.

Indonesia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of speech and press. Some elements within the government, judiciary, and police, however, used laws against defamation and blasphemy to restrict speech and press freedoms. The government used laws against advocacy of separatism to restrict the ability of individuals to advocate peacefully for independence.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The Hate Speech Law criminalizes content that is deemed insulting to a religion or that advocates separatism. In practice the hate speech law could inhibit individual’s freedom of speech and expression.

Elements within the government, judiciary, and police selectively applied the Criminal Defamation Law in ways that restricted freedom of speech. For example, in October 2015 a circular letter on hate speech was released by then TNI chief Badrodin Haiti. The circular defines hate speech as insult, libel, defamation, unpleasant acts, provocation, incitement, and dissemination of false news through the media, internet, or person-to-person.

On May 10, two members of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara), Adlun Fikri and Yunus Al Fajri, were arrested by North Maluku local police after being accused of spreading communism through social media. Previously the two were reported for uploading photographs of themselves on Instagram wearing red jerseys with hammers and sickles. They were released on May 13 with the help of the Legal Aid Foundation.

On July 28, human rights activist Haris Azhar released via social media testimony from convicted drug trafficker Freddy Budiman approximately 24 hours before Budiman was executed by firing squad at Nusakambangan penitentiary. In the testimony, which Haris collected in interviews over the course of two years, Budiman implicated many security officials in complicity in drug trafficking operations, although the names had not been released as of November. Security agencies, including the police and TNI, initially filed defamation charges against Haris after he released the information, but significant public outcry led to the “postponement” of charges while authorities investigated Budiman’s allegations.

Press and Media Freedoms: The independent media was active and expressed a wide variety of views. Regional and national regulations, however, were sometimes used to restrict the media. In May 2015 President Jokowi lifted long-standing restrictions on foreign journalists traveling to Papua and West Papua provinces. This change was not evenly applied; some foreign journalists reportedly received visas, while others reported bureaucratic delays or denials, ostensibly for safety reasons. Advocates for press freedom alleged that an interministerial group, including the TNI and intelligence services, continued to review requests by foreign journalists to visit the region. The constitution protects journalists from such violations, and the law requires that anyone who deliberately prevents journalists from doing their job shall face a maximum prison sentence of two years or a fine of Indonesian Rupiah (IDR) 500 million ($37,260).

Violence and Harassment: The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) reported 12 cases of violence directed at journalists and media offices between January and August.

In April members of the Bandung police force intimidated a photojournalist who was covering unrest in Banceuy Prison and asked him to delete photographs he had taken of the unrest.

On August 15, two journalists in Sari Rejo subdistrict in North Sumatra were injured during a land dispute between residents and the Indonesian Air Force. Soldiers beat them with logs, sticks, spears, and a long barrel and confiscated their cell phones, wallets, and a handy-cam. AJI Medan demanded that the Air Force Military Police investigate the case and prosecute the perpetrators. The case was pending investigation as of November.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Attorney General’s Office has the authority to monitor written material and request a court order to ban written material. The Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) has the authority to act as a regulator in public, private, and community institutions broadcasting. In February the KPI issued a circular letter that prohibits broadcasters from showing programs with male characters acting in a feminine style. Human rights activists considered this to be discriminatory by limiting the scope of expression of gender identity in broadcasting.

In February LINE, a messaging application, withdrew its LGBTI emoticons on its messaging service following protest by internet users. The Ministry of Information and Technology agreed with the protesters that social media is obliged to follow the rules, norms, and culture of the country and that the LGBTI emoticons should be removed.

The ministry also banned in February the microblogging website and social network Tumblr due to the presence of some content considered to be pornographic. The move sparked widespread criticism, and the site was unblocked a few days later.

Under the Blasphemy Law, “spreading religious hatred, heresy, and blasphemy” is punishable by up to five years in prison. Protests by hardline groups or conservative clerical councils often prompted local authorities to take action under the law. On May 26, police arrested three leaders of a banned religious sect, Gafatar, for blasphemy in Jakarta. Authorities argued that the movement’s teachings combine Islam, Christianity, and Judaism in a way that is “incompatible with religious teachings.” The case continued as of November. In March the Ministry of Religious Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Attorney General’s Office released a joint decree banning Gafatar and all associated groups.

In October 2015 Bali police named a Four Seasons hotel employee as a blasphemy suspect for selling a vacation package to a gay couple who held a “marriage blessing” ceremony at the hotel. Police also opened an investigation into the expatriate general manager of the hotel. The employee went on trial for blasphemy and received a six-month probation starting December 2015 with no criminal record or prison time.

Although the Papua Special Autonomy Law permits flying a flag symbolizing Papua’s cultural identity, a government regulation prohibits the display of the Morning Star flag in Papua, the Republic of South Maluku flag in Maluku, and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) Crescent Moon flag in Aceh. The GAM flag remained a source of controversy since Aceh’s legislature passed a regulation making it the province’s official flag in 2013. The central government repeatedly declared that it does not accept the provincial flag and that raising the GAM flag is prohibited.

Libel/Slander Laws: In September 2015 police in Ternate, North Maluku, arrested a Ternate Khairun University student for posting online a video he had filmed of police accepting a bribe during a traffic stop, claiming he had defamed the police department. After a popular campaign to free the student spread online, the police chief ordered his release in October 2015.

Nongovernmental Impact: On June 2, members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), a notorious gang-like organization, humiliated and intimidated journalist Febriana Firdaus while she was covering an anticommunist symposium held in Jakarta.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government prosecuted individuals for free expression under the Information and Electronic Transaction Law (ITE Law). The law, which outlaws online crime, pornography, gambling, blackmail, lies, threats, and racism, prohibits citizens from distributing in electronic format any information that is defamatory and carries penalties of a maximum of six years in prison, a fine of IDR one billion ($74,500), or both. According to the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy, between January and September 2015, 21 individuals were arrested or indicted for violating provisions of the ITE Law.

According to the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, approximately 29 percent of the population had internet access in 2015, signifying an estimated 80 million internet users.

In May 2015, Rudy Lombok, a local tour guide in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, was arrested, and later released, for criticizing on Facebook a tourism promotional video released by the Regional Tourism Promotion Agency.

The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology continued to request that internet service providers (ISPs) block access to pornographic websites and other content deemed offensive. The ministry did not have the technology or capacity to block the websites in question itself. Enforcement of these restrictions depended upon individual ISPs, and a failure to enforce these restrictions could result in the revocation of an ISP’s license.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government generally did not place restrictions on cultural events or academic freedom, but it occasionally disrupted sensitive cultural events or activities or failed to prevent hardline groups from doing so. Universities and other academic institutions also sometimes succumbed to pressure from hardliners seeking to restrict sensitive events and activities.

In February 21, local police in Tasikmalaya, West Java, banned a seminar held by the Respect and Dialogue Community discussing multiculturalism and unity, claiming the participants were mostly from the minority Ahmadi and Shia sects.

On World Press Freedom Day (May 3), security forces forcibly dispersed a crowd gathered to watch the film Pulau Buru Tanah Air Betaat a screening coordinated by the secretariat of the AJI office in Yogyakarta. The film, considered controversial by many, tells the story of a former political prisoner of the 1965 communist purge who returned to Buru Island in Maluku, which was used as an internal exile location for persons allegedly involved in the 1965 attempted coup.

On May 18, the FPI halted a discussion entitled “Understanding Art through the Thought of Karl Marx,” which was organized by the Student Press Agency at the Daunjati Institute of Art and Culture in Bandung, accusing the event organizers of promoting communism and ideas that contradict the national ideology of Pancasila.

During the year the government-supervised Film Censorship Institute continued to censor domestic and imported movies for content deemed pornographic and religiously or otherwise offensive.

Iran

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression and of the press, except when words are deemed “detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam or the rights of the public.” According to the penal code, “anyone who engages in any type of propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran or in support of opposition groups and associations shall be sentenced to three months to one year of imprisonment.” The law also provides for prosecution of persons accused of instigating crimes against the state or national security or “insulting” Islam. The government severely restricted freedom of speech and of the press and used the law to intimidate or prosecute persons who directly criticized the government or raised human rights problems, as well as to bring ordinary citizens into adherence with the government’s moral code.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Although the government issued a Citizen’s Rights Charter with protections for free expression that states, “no one can be persecuted merely for his or her beliefs” on December 19, the law continues to limit freedom of speech, including by members of the press. Authorities did not permit individuals to criticize publicly the country’s system of government, supreme leader, or official religion. Security forces and the country’s judiciary punished those who violated these restrictions as well as those who publicly criticized the president, the cabinet, and the Islamic Consultative Assembly (parliament). The government monitored meetings, movements, and communications of its citizens and often charged persons with crimes against national security and insulting the regime based on letters, e‑mails, and other public and private communications. Authorities threatened arrest or punishment for the expression of ideas or images they viewed as violations of the legal moral code.

According to AI retired university professor Mohammad Hossein Rafiee Fanood, who was in prison on charges of “spreading propaganda against the state,” and “membership in an illegal group” was briefly hospitalized in August and returned to prison before full recovery. He was released on medical furlough in September, and has been banned from political and journalistic activities for two years.

Former President Mohamed Khatami remained barred from giving public remarks, and the media remained banned from publishing his name or image.

Press and Media Freedoms: The government’s Press Supervisory Board issues press licenses, which it sometimes revoked in response to articles critical of the government or the regime, or did not renew for individuals facing criminal charges or incarcerated for political reasons. During the year the government banned, blocked, closed, or censored publications deemed critical of officials. The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (“Ershad”) severely limited and controlled foreign media organizations’ ability to work in the country by requiring foreign correspondents to provide detailed travel plans and topics of proposed stories before granting visas, limiting their ability to travel within the country, and forcing them to work with a local “minder.”

Under the constitution private broadcasting is illegal. The government maintained a monopoly over all television and radio broadcasting facilities through the government agency, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). Radio and television programming, the principal source of news for many citizens (especially in rural areas with limited internet access), reflected the government’s political and socio-religious ideology. Independent print media companies existed, but the government severely limited their operations. There were reports of government “downlink” jamming of satellite broadcasts as signals entered the country. Satellite dishes remained illegal but ubiquitous. Those who distributed, used, or repaired satellite dishes faced fines up to 90 million rials ($2,800). Police launched campaigns to confiscate privately owned satellite dishes throughout the country under warrants provided by the judiciary. According to media reporting, Basij militia destroyed 100,000 confiscated satellite dishes on July 24.

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

Violence and Harassment: The government and its agents harassed, detained, abused, and prosecuted publishers, editors, and journalists, including those involved in internet-based media, for their reporting. The government also harassed many journalists’ families. Reporters without Borders estimated that 19 journalists and 15 netizens remained in prison at year’s end. International NGOs reported that authorities forced several citizen journalists into internal exile during the year.

Journalist Reyhaneh Tabatabaee began serving a one-year sentence on January 12 on charges of “propaganda against the regime” and was barred from using social media for two years. She was granted a four-day furlough on June 17.

There were updates in the cases of Issa Saharkhiz, Ehsan Mazandarani, Afarin Chitsaz, and Saman Safarzaie, arrested in 2015 on charges of membership in “an infiltration group connected to the United States and United Kingdom.” Saharkhiz was sentenced to three years in prison on August 8 for “insulting the supreme leader” and “propagating against the state,” and spent time in solitary confinement. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the Prison Medical Examiner’s Office ruled that Saharkhiz be released on medical grounds, but he remained in prison. According to reports on October 9, he has been on several hunger strikes. According to ICHRI Mazandarani was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, reduced to five years by the appeals court. He was temporarily released for medical treatment in October after suffering a heart attack while on hunger strike. Human Rights Watch reported that Chitsaz was sentenced to 10 years in prison on April 25 on charges of “assembly and collusion against national security,” and “contact with foreign governments.” The appeal court reduced her sentence to two years and a two-year ban from practicing journalism. She received a medical furlough for knee surgery in August. Safarzaie received a five-year imprisonment sentence in April for “assembly and collusion against national security.” Tehran’s appeals court reduced his sentence to two years in August, and according to ICHRI, as of November, he could be eligible for conditional release for lack of prior record and time already served in prison.

Cartoonist Atena Farghadani, imprisoned in 2014 for “spreading propaganda,” “insulting members of parliament,” and “insulting the supreme leader, was released on May 3 after an appeals court reduced her 12-year sentence to 18 months.

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

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

According to media reporting, the Press Supervisory Board temporarily revoked the publishing license of Yalasarat al-Hosein weekly paper in January for an article deemed insulting to the Vice President for Family and Women’s Affairs, Shahindokht Mowlaverdi, and again in July for “offensive” comments about the spouses of prominent artists at an annual Television and Cinema awards ceremony in Tehran.

The Tehran Public and Revolutionary Prosecutor’s office banned the daily Qanun newspaper on June 20 after the IRGC Intelligence Organization brought a case of “defamation” against Qanun for a June 11 article, “Damned 24 Hours,” detailing the treatment of detainees in an unspecified Tehran prison. According to media reporting, the paper resumed publication on October 22 and was acquitted of the charges of “insulting religious sanctities” but found guilty of “publishing falsehoods.”

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

Although Twitter is officially banned in the country, the government operated Twitter accounts under the names of Supreme Leader Khamenei, President Rouhani, Foreign Minister Zarif, and various other government-associated officials and entities.

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet, monitored private online communications, and censored online content. Individuals and groups practiced self-censorship online. The Ministries of Culture, Information, and Communications Technology are the main regulatory bodies for content and internet systems in the country. The office of the supreme leader also houses a Supreme Council on Cyberspace charged with regulating content and systems. The government collected personally identifiable information in connection with citizens’ peaceful expression of political, religious, or ideological opinion or beliefs.

According to the Ministry of Culture, 70 percent of Iranian youth between the ages of 15 and 29 used the internet. NGOs reported the government continued to filter content on the internet to ban access to particular sites and to filter traffic based on its content. The computer crimes law makes it illegal to distribute circumvention tools and virtual private networks, but the law is not clear whether the use of such tools is illegal, according to internet activists.

The ministry must approve all internet service providers. The government also requires all owners of websites and blogs in the country to register with the agencies that comprise the Committee in Charge of Determining Unauthorized Websites, the governmental organization that determines censoring criteria. These include the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, the MOIS, and the Tehran Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Local media reported on the launch of Iran’s “National Information Network,” on August 14 to provide a “faster, more secure” service. Internet activists reported many individuals were unable to access Facebook and several other social media outlets, even when using various circumvention tools, after the program was launched. RWB reported that this National Information Network is intended to act like an “intranet,” system, with full content control and user identification. Authorities can disconnect this network from World Wide Web content and reportedly will use it to provide government propaganda while blocking access to independently reported news or freely gathered information.

The same law that applies to traditional media applies to electronic media, and the Press Supervisory Board and judiciary invoked the law to close websites during the year. Six media outlets–BornaMawjBaharPuyeshPersian Khodro9 Sobh, and Memari–were blocked and/or reprimanded in September for reporting on corruption scandals in several Tehran property developments. They received official reprimands for violating the cybercrimes law, according to local media reports.

Authorities continue to block online messaging tools such as Facebook and Twitter. The IRGC Center for Combating Organized Crime website reported on August 23 that IRGC forces had summoned, detained, and warned some 450 administrators of social media groups over “immoral” content.

An estimated 20 million Iranians use the online messaging application Telegram, which has security features that make the content of users’ communications more difficult to be read by a third party. CPJ nevertheless reported in June that users were at risk of being monitored, as had happened with other similar applications in the past. Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace announced on May 29 that Telegram had one year to move all of its data to servers inside Iran or risk being closed entirely. Telegram users in Iran continued to be harassed for content posted through its servers. According to local media reports, the Iranian Cyber Police arrested three Telegram channels administrators on August 9 for publishing material “insulting religious sanctities.”

Government organizations, including the Basij “Cyber Council,” the Cyber Police, and the Cyber Army, which observers presumed to be controlled by the IRGC, monitored, identified, and countered alleged cyber threats to national security. These organizations especially targeted citizens’ activities on social networking websites officially banned by the Committee in Charge of Determining Offensive Content, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr, and reportedly harassed persons who criticized the government or raised sensitive social problems. Radio Zamaneh reported on April 21 that hackers who may have been associated with governmental security offices hacked Vice President Shahindokht Mowlaverdi’s private e‑mail account and sent spearfishing e‑mails to her contacts.

International media reported that Iranian national soccer team player, Sosha Makani, was suspended from the league in June for “inappropriate conduct” after photos emerged online of him wearing yellow “SpongeBob” pants.

Eight online models were arrested, and an unannounced number of online Instagram, Telegram, and Facebook pages were closed in May for “immoral content” after images were posted that did not adhere to government-sanctioned dress requirements. The Tehran Prosecutor General announced the arrests were part of operations “Spider I” and “Spider II,” which sought to identify illicit modeling activity online.

Ministry of Information and Communications Technology regulations prohibit households and cybercafes from having high-speed internet access. The government periodically reduced internet speed to discourage downloading material; however, in general there were slight improvements to speed as the government expanded access to 3G services for mobile devices.

According to the UN special rapporteur’s reports, serious difficulties persisted, including severe content restrictions, intimidation and prosecution of users, and limitations on access through the intentional slowing of service and filtering. The most heavily blocked websites were in the arts, society, politics, and news categories. RWB reported there were more than 800 cases of censorship since the start of the year.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Authorities barred Baha’i students from higher education and harassed those who pursued education through the unrecognized online university of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) (see International Religious Freedom Report).

The government maintained controls on cinema, music, theater, and art exhibits, and censored those deemed to transgress Islamic values. The government censored or banned films deemed to promote secularism, non-Islamic ideas about women’s rights, unethical behavior, drug abuse, violence, or alcoholism. According to the IHRDC, the nine-member film review council of the Ministry of Culture made up of clerics, former directors, former parliamentarians, and academics, must approve the content of every film before production and again before screening. Films can also be arbitrarily barred from the screen even if all the appropriate permits were received in advance.

According to the IHRDC, Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Ali Jannati pulled the film Fifty Kilos of Sour Cherries from theaters after its initial screening in Tehran, for promoting the “disintegration and demise of the family and providing an inappropriate example through the actress’s makeup.”

The ministry’s Film Evaluation and Supervision Department banned five filmmakers–Mostafa Kiyai, Alireza Sartipi, Abdollah Alikhani, Sayyed Amir Parvin-Hoseini, and Reza Mirkarmi–and three film companies–Filmiran, Nur-e Taban, and Puya Film–in August from receiving permits or services in response to allegations they had advertised on foreign-based Persian-language satellite TV channels and “hostile networks run by the enemies of the Islamic Republic.”

Filmmaker Kayvan Karimi, initially sentenced in 2015 to six years in prison for “insulting the sanctities” in his documentary film on political graffiti, had his sentence reduced to one year by an appeals court in February. He was also sentenced to 223 lashes for “having illegitimate relations” with a woman who is not a relative.” Authorities originally arrested Karimi on these charges in 2013. He began serving his sentence on November 23.

According to international media reports, authorities released filmmaker Mostafa Azizi in April; he had been sentenced in June 2015 to eight years in prison for “propaganda against the state,” “acting against national security in cyberspace,” and “insulting the supreme leader.”

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

Mehdi Rajabian, Hossein Rajabian, and Yousef Emadi, originally arrested in 2013, were found guilty of “insulting Islamic sanctities,” “spreading propaganda against the system,” and “illegal audio-visual activities” in May for the distribution of unlicensed music. They were sentenced to three years’ detention and fined 200 million rials ($6,178). Authorities shut down their website, and AI reported the three were allegedly beaten and given electric shocks while in detention. According to ICHRI the two Rajabian brothers started hunger strikes on September 8 to protest their separation in different wards and lack of access to medical care for Mehdi Rajabian for symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

Rapper Amir “Tataloo” Hossein Maghsoodloo, was detained by police on August 23 in Tehran for “spreading depravity among youth.”

Authorities in several provinces cancelled concerts they deemed “inappropriate” throughout the year. Local authorities cancelled the concerts of singer Salar Aghili and musicians Shahram Nazeri and Kayvan Kalhor, despite having received the necessary prior permits from the Ministry of Culture. Prosecutor Gholamali Sadeghi of Khorasan Razavi Province announced in August that no more music concerts would be allowed to take place in the province.

Iraq

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Despite the constitutional protection for freedom of expression, government and KRG oversight and censorship interfered with media operations, at times resulting in closures of media outlets, restrictions on reporting, and interference with internet service. Individuals were able to criticize the government publicly or privately, but not without fear of reprisal. On April 27, the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission closed the Baghdad offices of al-Jazeera. The station’s Baghdad bureau chief reported the government closed the office because it did not approve of al- Jazeera’s editorial policies. The bureau chief also said unidentified armed men repeatedly threatened the bureau and its employees.

In April the media provided live coverage of Baghdad demonstrations, including protesters’ first breach of the International Zone. When a second breach occurred, local media were quiet, with no live coverage or commentary. According to directors of two satellite channels, they received calls from “officials” telling them that covering the protests exacerbated the situation and asked them to “tone it down.”

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

On July 13, the parliament introduced legislation on freedom of expression and peaceful demonstrations. NGOs, such as the Iraqi Union for Freedom of Expression, voiced concern about the legislation, specifically, that the law called for a one-year minimum prison sentence for insulting a religious symbol or figure, and required 10 days’ notice to the government to obtain a permit for a protest.

International and local organizations reported arrests and harassment of journalists as well as closure of media outlets covering politically sensitive topics, including poor security, corruption, and weak governmental capacity. The deterioration in the security situation exacerbated harassment of journalists. Government and KRG security authorities sometimes prevented journalists from reporting citing security pretexts.

Local and national media extensively covered recurring protests in the South; however, security forces did not always allow coverage. For example, on February 12, security forces prevented a reporter for al-Baghdadiya TV from passing the security cordon to cover a demonstration. They told the reporter their security procedures prevented it.

On April 9, security forces wearing civilian uniforms reportedly attacked a Kurdistan News Network (KNN) cameraman in an Erbil mosque while the KNN crew was covering a protest there. As the cameraman attempted to film the protest, one of the uniformed security force members placed a weapon against the cameraman’s head to force him to stop.

In the IKR, government authorities continued to try, convict, and take legal action against journalists, despite a 2008 law that decriminalizes publication-related offenses. According to Kurdistan Journalist Syndicate officials, the 2008 law is the sole basis for prosecution of journalists for publication offense under the regional counterterrorism law, for public morality violations and other crimes.

While in December 2015 the KRG reopened Nalia Radio and Television (NRT) offices that it originally closed in October 2015, Gorran-affiliated KNN offices in Erbil and Dahuk Governorates remained closed because of KRG pressure.

Violence and Harassment: According to a report of the Committee to Protect Journalists, 10 journalists and media workers were killed during the year. Five Iraqi journalists were killed covering the war with Da’esh, four by unknown gunmen, and one in a bombing in Baghdad.

Reporting from Da’esh-controlled areas was increasingly difficult. Journalists covering armed clashes involving government, militia, and Da’esh forces faced serious threats to their safety, with several instances of journalists being killed or injured. Military officials, citing safety considerations, sometimes restricted access of journalists particularly to areas with active fighting, but primarily to outlets not affiliated with the ruling party.

Media workers often reported they were under pressure from persons and institutions, including politicians, government officials, security services, tribal elements, and business leaders, not to publish articles critical of them. Media workers reported accounts of government or partisan violence, intimidation, death threats, and harassment. Mohammed al-Jabari, a correspondent for al-Made Satellite TV in Basrah, said he received a threatening phone call from someone at the Basrah Intelligence Directorate. He said this person was upset because al-Jabari reportedly recorded him talking about the deteriorating security situation with other intelligence officers at the governorate building. Al-Jabari left Basrah because of the threat.

During his coverage of a local teachers’ demonstration, one of the security officers guarding the Basrah governor’s office verbally harassed and beat al-Sharqiya News Channel correspondent Mazin al-Tayyar when he asked why the demonstration coordinator and another protester were arrested.

In April according to the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, Sarmad al-Qasim, the editorial manager of the Lex News agency, received death threats for his work reporting government corruption in Diyala Governorate.

Throughout the IKR there were numerous beatings, detentions, and death threats against media workers. In some cases the aggressors wore military or police uniforms. Many attacks targeted independent and former opposition media, mainly the independent NRT; Payama Television, affiliated with the Kurdistan Islamic Group; and the KNN Television, affiliated with the Gorran Party. According to HRW, Wedat Hussein Ali, a Kurdish journalist who security services had previously interrogated, was abducted and later found dead on August 13 (see section 1.a.).

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

In 2013 the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament passed the Access to Information Law, to provide for access to information for journalists, media outlets, and ordinary citizens. As of September, however, the KRG had not made efforts to implement the law. Moreover, local government, political parties, and officials, regularly discriminated against some media outlets regarding access to information based on party affiliation. For example, in KDP stronghold areas Dahok and Erbil, KDP-affiliated outlets Rudaw and KTV had access to all KRG departments, while in the PUK and Gorran stronghold of Sulaimaniyah, PUK-affiliated outlets such as GK TV and Kurdsat TV received more access to government and party information than other outlets.

All books published in the country as well as imported books required the Ministry of Culture’s approval and were therefore subject to censorship.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law prohibits defamation and provides penalties of up to one month in prison or a fine of 50,000 to 250,000 dinars ($45 to $225). Many in the media complained this provision prevented them from freely practicing their profession by creating a strong fear of prosecution, although widespread self-censorship impeded journalistic performance as well. Public officials occasionally resorted to libel charges under criminal and civil law, which in some cases resulted in punitive fines on individual media outlets and editors, often for publishing articles containing allegations of corruption. When cases went to court, the courts usually sided with the journalist, according to local media-freedom organizations.

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

Nongovernmental Impact: Journalists and family members were targets of terrorists, religious groups that rejected media independence, criminals, corrupt officials, and unknown persons or groups wishing to limit the flow of news. Journalists were harassed, kidnapped for ransom, or killed in deliberate attacks for reporting information critical of Da’esh.

In April an armed group threatened two civil activists in Amara after they criticized Ammar al-Hakim, Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq president and Iraqi National Alliance chairman, on their Facebook pages. Hasaneen al-Manshad and Ali al-Dilfi wrote on Facebook that the Islamic parties were not fulfilling the needs of Iraqis and had failed to manage the country, in addition to criticizing Hakim’s speech. The two activists were at a friend’s wedding on April 7 when armed men from the Jihad and Construction Movement forcibly entered and threatened to kill them. The armed men held them at gunpoint until guests negotiated their release in return for the activists’ public apology to Hakim and deleting the offending Facebook posts.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were overt government restrictions on access to the internet, and there were credible reports, but no official acknowledgement, that the government monitored e-mail and internet communications without appropriate legal authority. Despite restrictions, political figures and activists used the internet to criticize corrupt and ineffective politicians, mobilize protesters for demonstrations, and campaign for candidates through social media channels. According to the World Bank, approximately 17 percent of the population used the internet in 2015, compared with 5 percent in 2011.

The government acknowledged that it interfered with internet access in some areas of the country due to the deterioration in the security situation and Da’esh’s disruptive use of social media platforms. Representatives from the State Company for Internet Services reported they had pursued internet gateway projects that would give them greater control over incoming internet feeds as well as the ability to restrict internet content, but these projects had stalled. During the year there were reports that government officials attempted to have pages critical of the government removed from Facebook and Twitter for communications that the government considered “hate speech,” although they did not succeed in doing so.

There were no reports the Ministry of Communications imposed social media blackouts. Sporadically throughout the year, the government shut down the internet during school exams, reportedly so students could not cheat. Additionally, at times the government shut down the internet during protests for a few hours.

Da’esh also restricted access to the internet and telephone service in areas under its control.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Academic freedoms remained restricted in areas of active conflict and in Da’esh-controlled territory. Following Da’esh’s 2014 seizure of Mosul, the group began reshaping education at the elementary, high school, and university levels, including printing textbooks for elementary school children that glorify violence and Da’esh history. For example, local and international media reported that at Mosul University, Da’esh altered the programs of study to comply with Da’esh ideology in the colleges of law, fine arts, physical education, languages, social sciences, and archeology. Da’esh extremists also targeted libraries, museums, and academic institutions in violent attacks and abducted students and faculty.

Extremists and armed groups limited cultural expression by targeting artists, poets, writers, and musicians. For example, Iraqi media continued to report that Da’esh had issued a directive banning all stores in Mosul from selling movies or music CDs, and had instructed businesses to stock only CDs containing Quranic verses or religious programs. On February 16, Da’esh publicly beheaded 15-year-old Ayham Hussein of Mosul for listening to western music, according to an HRW report.

In the IKR, according to local NGOs, senior professorships continued to be easier to obtain for those with links to the traditional KDP and PUK ruling parties.

Ireland

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law prohibits words or behaviors likely to generate hatred against persons, in the country or elsewhere, because of their race, nationality, religion, national origins, or sexual orientation. The law prohibits blasphemy, defined as publishing or uttering “matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion.” The law permits defendants to argue “genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value” as a defense. There was only one prosecution for blasphemy since 1955 and none under the most recent (2009) law.

Press and Media Freedoms: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. The same prohibitions against language likely to generate hatred and blasphemy that affected freedom of speech also applied to the press. The government can prohibit the state-owned radio and television network from broadcasting any material “likely to promote or incite to crime or which would tend to undermine the authority of the state.” Authorities did not invoke these prohibitions during the year.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Censorship of Publications Board has the authority to censor books and magazines deemed indecent or obscene. The board did not exercise this authority during the year. The Irish Film Classification Office must classify films and videos before they can be shown or distributed. It must cut or prohibit any film considered “indecent, obscene, or blasphemous” or which tends to “inculcate principles contrary to public morality or subversive of public morality.” During the year the classification office did not prohibit any films or videos.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Consistent with an EU directive, the government requires telecommunication companies to retain information on all telephone and internet contacts (not content) for two years. According to statistics of the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 81 percent of the population used the internet during the year.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Israel and The Occupied Territories

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

The law, however, criminalizes calling persons “Nazis” or “fascists.” The law imposes tort liability on any person who knowingly issues a public call for an economic, cultural, or academic boycott of the State of Israel and the Israeli-controlled occupied territories. Plaintiffs must prove direct economic harm to claim damages under the “antiboycott” legislation. In 2015 the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of this law. The law also permits the minister of finance to institute regulations imposing administrative sanctions on those calling for such a boycott, including restrictions on participating in tenders for contracts with the government and denial of government benefits.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law prohibits hate speech and content liable to incite to violence or discrimination on grounds of race, origin, religion, nationality, and gender. The Counterterrorism Law, which passed in June and took effect in November, criminalizes as “terrorist acts” speech supportive of terrorism, including public praise of a terrorist organization, display of symbols, expression of slogans, and “incitement.” There were no convictions under the law as of the end of the year.

On July 18, the Knesset passed a law increasing the penalty for desecrating the Israeli flag from one year to three years in prison and increased the fine from the equivalent of eight dollars to 58,400 shekels ($15,500).

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

Press and Media Freedoms: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. In December, however, ACRI published a report detailing a variety of legislative and rhetorical attacks on media throughout the year by elected officials, especially Prime Minister Netanyahu, and expressed concern about the chilling effect of these attacks on press freedom. In September 2015 the Knesset amended the public broadcasting law to prohibit journalists on public broadcasting from transmitting their own views. Subsequently, the Israel Press Council urged the government to cancel the law, saying it violated free speech. The Knesset repealed the amendment in November 2015.

In April the press freedom organization Freedom House lowered Israel’s ranking from free to partly free due to “the growing impact of Israel Hayom, whose owner-subsidized business model endangered the stability of other media outlets, and the unchecked expansion of paid content–some of it government funded–whose nature was not clearly identified to the public.”

On June 23, the Ministry of Public Security barred Nazareth-based television channel Musawa for six months claiming that the Palestinian Authority funded it. Authorities previously banned the station for six months in July 2015 when it was known as Palestine 48.

The government shut media outlets associated with the Northern Islamic Movement, following that group’s ban in November 2015.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: All media organizations must submit to military censors any material relating to specific military issues or strategic infrastructure issues, such as oil and water supplies. Organizations may appeal the censor’s decisions to the Supreme Court, and the censor may not appeal a court judgment. Whereas in the past the military censor requested prepublication review of sensitive information only from major media outlets, Ha’aretz reported in February that the military censor expanded the request to 30 bloggers and administrators of public Facebook pages as well.

News printed or broadcast abroad is subject to security censorship. The government did not fine newspapers or other mass media for violating censorship regulations during the year. The government regularly enacted restrictive orders on sensitive security information and required foreign correspondents, as well as local media, to abide by these orders. According to data provided by the military at the request of +972 Magazine, Mekomit, and the Movement for Freedom of Information, from 2011 through August, the military censor banned the publication of 1,936 articles and redacted information from 14,196 articles.

In January the State Attorney’s Office sought a court order to compel the NGO Breaking the Silence to reveal the identity of an individual who served in Operation Protective Edge and who testified to the organization about alleged war crimes during the operation. Breaking the Silence claimed the investigation was politically motivated and that providing this information would effectively force the organization to ends its operations. As of the end of the year, the case remained pending at the Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court.

National Security: In November 2015 the government used emergency law to outlaw the Northern Islamic Movement, stating that it incited violence and alleging that it closely collaborated with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. MK Ahmed Tibi and other Arab Israeli politicians stated, however, that politics appeared to have motivated the decision much more than a threat to national security. The government issued cease and desist orders to 17 related organizations.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were no government restrictions on access to the internet. The government monitored e-mail, internet chat rooms, and the popular texting application WhatsApp for security purposes. Internet access was widely available, and approximately 73 percent of the country’s inhabitants used it regularly.

In October 2015 authorities arrested Dareen Tatour, an Arab citizen of Israel, on charges of incitement to violence, terrorism, and support for a terrorist organization as a result of the poems, pictures, and other media she posted online. Authorities imprisoned her for three months and then released her to home detention, pending the completion of legal proceedings, which were remained underway at the end of the year. Tatour claimed that translations of her Arabic postings by police were poor and distorted.

In December 2015 authorities arrested attorney Tareq Barghout, part of the legal team for an alleged teenage Palestinian terrorist, on charges of publishing material on Facebook praising terrorists and encouraging further attacks. The court released Barghout, noting that the material he posted was poorly translated from Arabic to Hebrew and that he has freedom of expression as reflected in Facebook postings.

During an outbreak of fires in November, police detained Arab citizen of Israel Anas Abudaabes for three days on suspicion of incitement after he posted a sarcastic Facebook message. The publication +972 Magazine reported that police had attempted to translate the message using Google Translate.

Following a reported agreement between government officials and Facebook in September to remove content that the government reported as incitement, the NGO Adalah expressed grave concern the targeted content would disproportionately affect Arab citizens. They cited research showing that 70 percent of 175,000 inciting posts in Israel in the 12 months ending May were actually made by right-wing Israeli Jews against Arabs and left-wing Jews, yet only 18 percent of those arrested for incitement-related offenses during the year were Jews. A study by the Berl Katznelson Foundation published in November reported more than six million racist expressions online in Israel in one year.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The law prohibits institutions that receive government funding from engaging in commemoration of the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” referring to the displacement of 80 percent of the Palestinian Arab population during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.

In June the president of Ben-Gurion University overturned a decision to award the Berelson Prize for Jewish-Arab Understanding to the NGO Breaking the Silence on the grounds that it “isn’t in the national consensus.” Despite the university president’s decision, university lecturers awarded the NGO an alternative prize at a ceremony in November. Breaking the Silence, a group of military veterans whose goal is to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, was the target of intensely negative rhetoric in the national discourse during the year.

The NGO Mossawa claimed that there were no Arab employees among five cinema foundations that control the 60 million shekels ($16 million) allocated by the government for Israeli cinema, and that the government selected almost no Arabic films for funding.

Italy

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to provide for freedom of speech and press.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Speech inciting violence based on racial, ethnic, national, or religious discrimination is a crime punishable by up to 18 months in prison. On July 13, legislation making Holocaust denial an aggravating circumstance in judicial proceedings against such speech entered into force. No convictions were reported during the year.

The law considers insults against any divinity to be blasphemy, a crime punishable by a fine ranging from 51 to 309 euros ($56 to $340). There were no reports regarding enforcement of these laws during the year.

Press and Media Freedoms: Laws that restrict freedom of speech apply to the print media as well. The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. There was frequent political debate over the threat posed by bias and partisanship on the part of some of the country’s leading media outlets. Through his family holding company, Fininvest, former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi held a controlling share in the country’s largest private television company, Mediaset; its largest magazine publisher, Mondadori; and its largest advertising company, Publitalia. Berlusconi’s brother owned one of the country’s nationwide daily newspapers, Il Giornale. Media organizations tended to reflect the point of view of their proprietors or backers, whether a business entity or a political group.

Libel/Slander Laws: Journalists face prison sentences of up to six years if convicted of libel. Public officials continued to bring cases against journalists under libel laws. On July 16, a judge in Milan convicted a journalist, Antonio Rossitto, and the editor of the magazine Panorama, Giorgio Mule, and ordered them to pay 800 euros ($880) as a fine and 45,000 euros ($49,500) as compensation to Sicilian Governor Crocetta, who sued them for defamation. In 2012 the magazine published an article alleging links between Crocetta and organized crime gangs.

Nongovernmental Impact: The National Federation of the Italian Press reported some instances of threats against journalists made by members of criminal organizations. On February 12, police arrested Gionbattista Ventura, boss of an organized crime clan, for repeatedly threatening Paolo Borrometi, a reporter who had written articles on the Ventura clan’s activities in the province of Ragusa.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The National Center for the Fight against Child Pornography, a special unit of the postal and communications division of the National Police, monitored websites for crimes involving child pornography. According to International Telecommunication Union statistics, 66 percent of the population used the internet in 2015, and 24 percent had a fixed broadband subscription.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Jamaica

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, generally effective judicial protection, and a functioning democratic political system combine to promote freedom of speech and press. Independent media are active and express a wide variety of views without restriction.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. There were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 43 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom.

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

Japan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Overall, an independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and press. The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these freedoms.

During the year, however, several incidents gave rise to concerns about increasing government pressure against critical and independent media. In February, for example, Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi reiterated, while denying any plan or intention to take such a step, the government’s right to shut down broadcasters that it determined were politically biased. The UN special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression said, after a visit in April, “The independence of the press is facing serious threats.” He noted “weak legal protection, the … [new] … Specially Designated Secrets Act, and persistent government pressure” as well as the press club system as factors driving his analysis.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media expressed a wide variety of views without overt restriction. Nonetheless, members of the press, including major newspapers and broadcasters, privately voiced concerns that the government indirectly encouraged self-censorship practices within major media outlets. A Reporters Without Borders survey concluded that media self-censorship has risen in response to legal changes and government criticism. Some journalists, media analysts, and NGOs continued to criticize press (kisha) clubs as encouraging self-censorship and co-opting journalists. These clubs are formed in individual organizations, including ministries, and may block nonmembers from covering the organization.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The Ministry of Education’s approval process for history textbooks, particularly its treatment of the country’s 20th century colonial and military history, was a subject of controversy.

The national anthem and flag continued to attract some controversy. Press reports noted occasional cases of disciplinary action against public school teachers for refusing to stand and sing the national anthem in front of the flag.

Jordan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government did not respect these rights. Authorities applied articles of the Counterterrorism Law, the Cybercrimes Law, and the penal code to arrest local journalists.

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

On August 13, authorities arrested writer Nahed Hattar for posting an editorial cartoon on his Facebook page that included a personification of God. The prosecutor charged him with inciting sectarian strife and racism and insulting religion under the penal code. On September 8, authorities released him on bail. On September 25, a lone gunman shot and killed Hattar as he was entering the courthouse. Authorities detained the shooter. Hattar’s family stated that Hattar and his lawyer had requested additional protection, which the government did not provide. The same day authorities reportedly identified 10 social media users that they intended to refer to the prosecutor general for spreading hate speech related to the cartoon and the shooting.

On September 22, authorities detained social media personality Zain Karazon on charges of slander and libel. Karazon has a following of more than one million on social media platform Snapchat. Reasons for her arrest were unclear at year’s end. Some media sources speculated that a doctor or hospital sued her for criticizing a botched surgery, while other media sources suspected that someone had filed a suit related to a controversy involving a gay Lebanese online personality. On September 29, authorities released Karazon on bail. Charges were pending at year’s end.

In January the State Security Court found Ali al-Malkawi guilty of insulting the king and sentenced him to six months’ imprisonment. Since authorities had already detained al-Malkawi for six months, authorities sentenced him to time served and released him immediately after sentencing. Authorities had arrested al-Malkawi in July 2015 for a posting on his Facebook page criticizing Arab and Islamic inaction in protecting Burmese Muslims.

All public-opinion polls and survey research require authorization from the Bureau of Statistics, although the law was not enforced. NGOs stated that the measure could be enforced, even retroactively, and called for the government to rescind it.

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent print media existed, including several major daily newspapers, although such publications must obtain licenses from the state to operate. The independent print and broadcast media largely operated with limited restriction, and media observers reported government pressure, including the threat of large fines and prison sentences, to refrain from criticizing the royal family, discussing the Intelligence Directorate, using language deemed offensive to religion, or slandering government officials. The government influenced news reporting and commentary through political pressure on editors and control over important editorial positions in government-affiliated media. Journalists of government-affiliated and independent media reported that security officials attempted to influence reporting and place articles favorable to the government through bribes, threats, and political pressure.

The Audiovisual Law grants the head of the Media Commission the authority to close any unlicensed theater, satellite channel, or radio channel. The Media Commission cannot grant a new broadcasting license to a company unless all shares are Jordanian-owned. Additionally, those with licenses should not broadcast anything that would harm public order, social security, the economy, national security, or Jordan’s relations with a foreign country; incite hatred, terrorism, violent sedition; or mislead or deceive the public. There is a fine for broadcasting without a license. The cabinet, however, must justify the reasons for rejecting a license and allow the applicant to appeal the decision to the judiciary.

Authorities arrested or temporarily detained some journalists, and government officials or private individuals threatened some journalists.

On February 14, authorities arrested al-Ra’i journalist Zaid Murafai for publishing an article on a protest by judges and court employees regarding losses in their pension fund. The court charged Murafai with slander and defamation under the Cybercrimes Law, as well as reporting on a pending case. Authorities released Murafai on bail four days later; charges remained pending at year’s end.

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

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

By law any book can be published and distributed freely. If, however, the Press and Publications Directorate deems passages religiously offensive or “insulting” to the king, it can request a court order to prohibit the distribution of the book.

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

In its 2015 semiannual report Media Freedom in the Arab World, the Center for Defending the Freedom of Journalists documented 15 incidents of serious violations against journalists in the country in 2015: 10 detentions, two cases of physical assault, two cases of humiliating treatment, and one injury.

The center documented 50 violations against 28 journalists covering the September 20 parliamentary elections. Violations included cases of poll workers obstructing journalists’ work, withholding information, and preventing photography. There was once case of deleting photographs from a camera.

On February 22, private television station Ro’ya News wrote that security officials beat and arrested one of their journalists who had been covering a protest in front of parliament.

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

During the year the Media Commission issued several gag orders restricting discussion of certain topics in all forms of media, including social media. For example, the government issued gag orders restricting discussion of the court cases against Amjad Qourshah and Nahed Hattar, as well as the shooting of Nahed Hattar.

The annual report of the Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists noted that 93 percent of journalists surveyed in 2015 said they practiced self-censorship.

The government continued to enforce bans on the distribution of selected books for religious, moral, and political reasons. The Media Commission banned 41 books during the year for violating public norms and values (such as by including sexual content), disrespecting religion, or insulting the king.

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

On January 5, authorities charged comedian Omar Zorba with slander and defamation under the Cybercrimes Law for criticizing a song that aired on the official television station promoting the national census. The presenter who hosted the segment filed the suit. Charges remained pending at year’s end.

On May 17, authorities arrested and detained ad-Dustour journalist Anas Sweileh for publishing an article on an abandoned building used by unemployed youth for repeated threats of suicide. The owner of the building filed a complaint. The court charged Sweileh with slander, defamation, and libel. Authorities released Sweileh on bail the same day; charges remained pending at year’s end.

National Security: The government used laws protecting national security to restrict criticism of government policies and officials. The government also issued gag orders restricting discussion on all forms of media after a fatal shooting by a lone gunman at an Intelligence Directorate office in Balqa on June 6 and a suicide bombing against a northeast border installation on June 21.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were government restrictions on access to the internet. The law requires the licensing and registration of online news websites, holds editors responsible for readers’ comments on their websites, requires that website owners provide the government with the personal data of its users, and mandates that editors in chief be members of the Jordan Press Association. The law gives authorities explicit power to block and censor websites. Authorities blocked a news website for one week in August for a licensing issue. The website published a statement saying that the block was under a false legal pretext, and that some governmental and regulatory bodies were critical of the website’s having published articles attacking the mufti and the media commission.

The registration fee for a news website is 1,400 JD ($1,960). The owner and editor in chief can be fined between 3,000 JD ($4,200) and 5,000 JD ($7,000), in addition to criminal penalties, for website content that “includes humiliation, defamation, or disparaging individuals in a manner that violates their personal freedoms or spreads false rumors about them.”

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

According to UNESCO’s Media Development Indicators published in September 2015, internet penetration was 76 percent during the year, up from 38 percent in 2010.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

On April 26, the government withdrew authorization for a planned concert by Mashrou’ Leila, a Lebanese alternative rock band. The Ministry of Tourism stated that the performance would have been at odds with the “authenticity” of the venue, a historic amphitheater. The band wrote that authorities unofficially told them that their political and religious beliefs were at odds with the country’s customs and traditions.

Kazakhstan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The government limited individual ability to criticize the country’s leadership, and regional leaders attempted to limit criticism of their actions in local media. The law prohibits insulting the president or the president’s family.

The 2015 criminal code penalizes “intentionally spreading false information” with fines of up to 12.96 million tenge ($40,000) and imprisonment for up to 10 years. For example, Kazkommertsbank, one of the largest banks in the country, sued the web portal nakanune.kz for publishing a reader’s letter. The bank claimed the website published false information implicating the bank in corruption. On May 23, Baydalinova was sentenced to 18 months’ incarceration. On July 12, the court suspended her sentence.

The criminal code penalizes “inciting social, national, tribal, racial, or religious discord” with imprisonment of up to 20 years. Civil society activist Zhanat Yesentayev was arrested in Uralsk on May 17, amid land reform protests. He was charged with incitement of interethnic discord in social media. In July he agreed to a plea bargain and was sentenced to two years and six months of restriction of freedom and a ban on participation in public protests, public performances, and posting any messages in social media on public, political, social, or environmental issues.

On January 21, a court in Astana sentenced civil society activist Bolatbek Blyalov to three years of restriction of freedom, meaning he was restricted to his city of residence and required legal supervision in the manner of parole, for instigation of ethnic and social discord. Blyalov had posted videos against the use of heptyl fuel, a highly toxic Russian Proton rocket fuel, at Baikonur cosmodrome.

On January 23, a court in Almaty convicted Serikzhan Mambetalin and Yermek Narymbayev, finding that their October 2015 social media postings incited social discord and insulted the honor and dignity of the country. The court sentenced Narymbayev to three years in jail and Mambetalin to two years in jail. On January 29, Mambetalin was released from prison after he publicly repented his actions. His prison term was replaced with a one-year restriction of freedom and a three-year ban on public activity. On March 30, a court replaced Narymbayev’s prison term with three years’ restriction of freedom and prohibited him from participating in public activities for five years. On July 14, he reportedly fled the country.

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

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

Violence and Harassment: According to the NGO Adil Soz, through August authorities prevented reporters from carrying out their duties in 86 instances; 57 of them occurred during the May 21 land protests. Adil Soz found that authorities denied or significantly restricted journalists’ access to public information 114 times.

Journalists working in opposition media and covering stories related to corruption reported harassment and intimidation by government officials and private actors.

The president of the Kazakhstan Union of Journalists and former spokesman for President Nazarbayev, Seitkazy Matayev, was arrested in Almaty on February 22 on charges of tax evasion and embezzlement of state funds related to his news agency KazTAG’s government contracts. (Like many other media outlets in the country, KazTAG maintained contracts with the government for media coverage.) On October 3, a judge in Astana sentenced Matayev to six years in prison and his son, Aset, the director of the news agency, to five years and confiscation of business-related real estate property and assets.

On April 19, Tamara Kaleyeva from the NGO Adil Soz was elected to replace Matayev as the new head of the Union of Journalists. Since her appointment, however, she and the organization have been subjected to three on-site tax audits.

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

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

By law internet resources, including social media, are classified as forms of mass media and governed by the same rules and regulations. Several bloggers and social media users were charged with inciting social discord through their posts and sentenced to imprisonment. Civic activists and bloggers Serikzhan Mambetalin and Yermek Narymbayev were sentenced to two and three years in jail respectively on January 22 on charges of “inciting interethnic hatred discord” by posting excerpts of an unpublished book about Kazakhstan’s dependence on Russia. Their sentences were later reduced to house arrest.

Pavlodar resident Ruslan Ginatullin was detained July 5 after posting social media page links to two YouTube videos, one discussing “Russian Nazis” and the other on the conflict in Ukraine. Ministry of Justice “experts” determined content in the two videos incited interethnic discord. Ginatullin’s lawyer said the charges were baseless, and his client was a staunch pacifist who posted the videos to warn individuals against war and extremism. A blogger in Aktobe, Sanat Dosov, went on trial November 29, also charged with inciting social discord for allegedly posting articles critical of Russian President Putin.

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

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

NGOs reported that libel cases against journalists and media outlets remained a problem. Media freedom NGO Adil Soz reported 47 criminal libel charges, with four ending in conviction, and 55 civil libel lawsuits filed against journalists and media. Only 17 cases were ruled in favor of journalists. Adil Soz indicated the numbers represented a nearly fourfold increase in criminal cases against media outlets and individual journalists over the last two years. On July 12, an Almaty court ruled an article in the independent Tribunanewspaper harmed the dignity and honor of Sultanbek Syzdykov, the former director for organizing the Asian Winter Games “Asiada-2011,” and imposed an administrative fine of five million tenge ($15,000) on the author of the publication and the newspaper. The newspaper filed an appeal that the courts rejected in October.

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

The government implemented regulations on internet access that mandated surveillance cameras in all internet cafes, required visitors to present identification to use the internet, demanded internet cafes keep a log of visited websites, and authorized law enforcement officials to access the names and internet histories of users. In 2014 the president signed a law further restricting freedoms of communication (see section 2.a.).

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

In several cases the government denied it was behind the blocking of websites. Bloggers reported anecdotally their sites were periodically blocked, as did the publishers of independent news sites ratel.kzzonakz.net, and uralskweek.kz, as well as the website of the banned newspaper Respublika. Radio Azattyk reported that some of its news reports were not accessible in the country. During the May 21 protest rallies, there were multiple reports that access to social media, including YouTube, was partially or fully blocked.

Government surveillance was also prevalent. According to the 2016 Freedom on the Net report, Facebook users who planned to take part in protests reported several times they received police visits to their residences to “discuss their Facebook posts” and warn them against going to an unsanctioned gathering. The report noted internet users reported difficulties in accessing social media and communication apps during the land reform protests. In January activists utilizing social media announced and coordinated an unauthorized peaceful rally in support of the ADAMbol magazine, but authorities detained key participants–including journalists and human rights activists–near their residences as they were heading to the gathering. Civil society activists who discussed on social media their plans to take part in the May 21 land protests reported police visits to their residences to warn them against going to an unsanctioned gathering. On December 9, the Almaty specialized administrative court convicted civil society activist Almat Zhumagulov for re-posting another activist’s Facebook statement calling people to rally on the Independence Day and sentenced him to a 15-day administrative arrest.

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Kenya

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The constitution and National Cohesion and Integration Act prohibit hate speech and incitement to violence. Following inflammatory public comments in June, eight politicians–from both the ruling and opposition parties–were detained for several days. Four were charged with incitement to violence under Section 96 of the penal code: Member of Parliament (MP) Florence Mutua, MP Moses Kuria, MP Ferdinard Waititu, and Senator Johnson Muthama. Kimani Ngunjiri was charged with ethnic contempt under Section 62 of the National Cohesion and Integration Act. Three were charged with hate speech under Section 13 of the National Cohesion and Integration Act: MP Aisha Juma, Junet Nuh, and Timothy Bosire. The detention of senior politicians attracted considerable national attention to the problem of hate speech. The case against Muthama was dismissed on July 28. The cases against the other politicians continued as of October 25.

Press and Media Freedoms: The government occasionally interpreted laws to restrict press freedom, and officials occasionally accused the international media of publishing stories and engaging in activities that could incite violence. Two 2013 laws–the Media Council Act and the Kenya Information and Communications (Amendment) Act–greatly increased government oversight of media by creating a complaints tribunal with expansive authority, including the power to revoke journalists’ credentials and levy debilitating fines. Following the January 15 al-Shabaab terrorist attack on the Kenyan-commanded African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forward operating base in el Adde, Somalia, numerous journalists who published comments about the attack were arrested. Most were charged under Kenya Information and Communications Act (KICA) Section 29, a section of law ruled unconstitutional in April–(see Internet Freedom below).

Of the 16 other laws in place that restrict media operations, the Defamation Act, Official Secrets Act, and Preservation of Public Security Act place the most severe restrictions on freedom of the press. On August 31, the president signed into law the Access to Information bill, which media freedom advocates lauded as progress in government transparency (see section 4).

Violence and Harassment: Journalists alleged security forces or supporters of politicians at the national and county levels sometimes harassed and physically intimidated them. The government at times failed to investigate allegations of harassment, threats, and physical attacks on members of the media.

Kenyan journalists held protests in multiple cities on September 8 against police harassment of journalists. For example, three men reportedly shot and killed freelance journalist Dennis Otieno on September 7 in his home in Kitale and allegedly stole his camera and photographs covering a student demonstration over a land dispute. The protesting journalists petitioned parliament, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the inspector general of police to brief them on the status of investigations on attacks against journalists and to assure journalists that the government was taking action. The government’s response was pending as of November 7.

Most news media continued to cover a wide variety of political and social issues, and most newspapers published opinion pieces criticizing the government.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The mainstream media were generally independent, but there were reports by journalists that government officials pressured them to avoid certain topics and stories and intimidated them if officials judged they had already published or broadcast stories too critical of the government. There were also reports journalists avoided covering issues or writing stories they believed their editors would reject due to direct or indirect government pressure. On January 6, Denis Galava, special projects editor at National Media Group, was suspended for a January 2 editorial deemed critical of the government. In March Godfrey Mwampembwa (“Gado”), a revered political cartoonist, had his contract with the Nation terminated, allegedly because of pressure from the government over Gado’s oftentimes politically sensitive cartoons. He was subsequently hired by the Standard, another leading daily newspaper.

Libel/Slander Laws: Government officials and politicians threatened and brought defamation cases against the media. Libel and slander remain criminal offenses, although authorities did not charge any journalists during the year. There were, however, several cases of High Court rulings against media houses on libel charges resulting in large awards for damages. In June the High Court awarded Justice Samuel Mukunya 20 million shillings ($200,000) in a libel suit against the Nation, and in August the High Court awarded Justice Alnasir Visram 26 million shillings ($260,000) in a libel suit against the Standard.

National Security: The government cited national or public security as grounds to suppress views that it considered politically embarrassing.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Authorities, however, monitored websites for violations of hate speech laws.

By law mobile telephone service providers may block mass messages they judge would incite violence. The National Cohesion and Integration Commission tracked bloggers and social media users accused of spreading hate speech.

On April 19, the High Court declared unconstitutional Section 29 (b) of the KICA (Section 29). During the year at least 16 online activists–who were highlighting cases of corruption and abuse of public office–were prosecuted under this provision with charges of “misuse of electronic equipment.” As a result of the High Court ruling on KICA Section 29, on April 29 a lower court dismissed a case against Samburu blogger John Lenkulate, who had posted online that the Samburu County government was misusing public resources.

Following the January 15 al-Shabaab terrorist attack on the Kenyan-commanded AMISOM forward operating base in el Adde, Somalia, the government arrested at least one blogger and one journalist for posting photographs and commentary about the number of Kenyan soldiers killed. Most were charged under KICA Section 29, which was overturned in April. Charges were subsequently dropped.

According to the Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK), as of September there were 37 million internet users–84 percent of the population–representing a 10 percent increase from the previous year. The total included 24.8 million mobile data subscriptions. The CAK attributed the increase to the expansion of 3G network coverage by the various mobile operators, as well as to a consistent increase in the usage of social networking sites. Mobile data expanded internet access to many less-developed parts of the country.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. On August 21, the president signed into law the Protection of Traditional Knowledge and Cultural Expressions Bill, which promotes traditional cultural knowledge and expressions.

Kiribati

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Press and Media Freedoms: Although there were no government restrictions, there were some concerns about the lack of local independent media and lack of transparency of the registration process for media organizations. Either the government’s Broadcasting and Publications Authority or a media company owned by a member of parliament operated most locally based news media. The regional SKY Pacific paid-television channel provided news coverage in the capital, South Tarawa.

The law requires registration of newspapers, and permits the government to cancel registrations or fine newspapers for certain offenses.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. While generally available on South Tarawa, public access to the internet elsewhere in the country was limited by lack of infrastructure. According to the World Bank, approximately 12 percent of the population used the internet in 2014.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Kosovo

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press. While the government generally respected these rights, credible reports persisted that some public officials, politicians, businesses, and radical religious groups sought to intimidate media representatives. Media also encountered difficulties in obtaining information from the government and public institutions as provided by law.

The constitution provides for an Independent Media Commission, a body whose primary responsibilities are to regulate broadcast frequencies, issue licenses to public and private broadcasters, and establish and implement broadcasting policies.

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, generally without restriction, although reports persisted that government officials, some political parties, businesses connected to the government, religious groups, and disgruntled individuals exerted verbal pressure on media owners, individual editors, and reporters not to publish certain stories or materials.

Growing financial difficulties of media outlets put the editorial independence of all media at risk. While some self-sufficient media outlets adopted editorial and broadcast policies independent of political and business interests, those with fewer resources sometimes accepted financial support from various sources in exchange for positive coverage or for refraining from publishing negative stories harmful to funders’ interests.

Broadcast media, particularly television channels, had more access to substantial sources of revenue than print media. The legislative assembly controlled the budget of public broadcasting station RTK and its affiliates. The public perceived private broadcasters as more independent, but smaller stations reportedly faced an increasing risk of closure and became more reliant on scarce outside funding sources. Unregulated internet media exerted further pressure on broadcast outlets by republishing articles from print or other internet sources, mostly without attribution.

Violence and Harassment: As of November 10, the Association of Journalists of Kosovo (AJK) and media outlets reported 17 instances in which government officials, business interests, or radical religious groups abused press freedom, including by physical assaults and verbal threats directed at journalists and pressure on outlets not to publish certain materials.

On January 26, two individuals wielding iron bars attacked Gazmend Morina, a journalist with the veriu.info web portal. Police submitted evidence to prosecutors that former Mitrovice/Mitrovica South Municipal Assemblyman Nexhat Dedia and Labinot Krasniqi attacked Morina due to his critical coverage of the Trepca mining complex, the largest mining employer in the country, and its director. As of November 10, the prosecution did not file charges or dismiss the case.

Investigative journalist Vehbi Kajtazi reported receiving a threatening text message on March 20 from Prime Minister Isa Mustafa. Kajtazi had published an article mentioning that Mustafa’s brother had sought asylum in order to receive medical care. Kajtazi reported to the police that Mustafa told him “you’ll pay dearly for this.” Police forwarded the case to the prosecution, but as of December no charges were filed.

On July 26, media reported the Turkish Embassy filed a protest with the Foreign Ministry on July 20 demanding that authorities arrest journalist Berat Buzhala for his satirical Twitter post in response to the attempted coup d’etat in Turkey on July 15. The Association of Journalists condemned the request as scandalous and demanded an apology and the ambassador’s removal. The government took no action against Buzhala.

On August 22 and August 28, hand grenades were thrown on the lawn of the public broadcaster RTK in Pristina and onto the property of RTK General Director Mentor Shala’s home. The explosions caused minor damage, but no injuries; no arrests were made. An unknown group calling itself The Rugovans claimed responsibility for the attack via an e-mail sent to the media, accusing RTK of supporting the government’s border demarcation agreement with Montenegro.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were no reports of direct censorship of print or broadcast media; however, journalists claimed that pressure from politicians and organized criminal groups frequently resulted in self-censorship. Some journalists refrained from critical investigative reporting due to fear for their physical or job security. Journalists occasionally received offers of financial benefits in exchange for positive reporting or for abandoning an investigation. According to the AJK, government officials, as well as suspected criminals, verbally threatened journalists for perceived negative reporting. According to some editors, government agencies and corporations withdrew advertising from newspapers that published material critical of them.

Journalists complained that media owners and managers prevented them from publishing or broadcasting stories critical of the government, political parties, or particular officials due to the owners’ preferences for, or connections with, the individuals concerned. In some cases owners reportedly threatened to dismiss journalists if they produced stories critical of the government and certain interest groups connected to the political establishment. Journalists complained that owners prevented them from producing stories on high-level government corruption.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

As of November the Regulatory Authority of Electronic and Postal Communications reported that approximately 76 percent of all households had internet connections.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Kuwait

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, although these rights were violated. The courts convicted approximately two dozen individuals for expressing their opinions, particularly on social media. The law also imposes penalties on persons who create or send “immoral” messages and gives unspecified authorities the power to suspend communication services to individuals on national security grounds. On September 22, the public prosecutor ordered the arrest and detention for 21 days, under state security charges, of the activist Sara al-Drees for postings she made on social media protesting government actions that suppressed freedom of expression. She turned herself in on September 25, and on October 6, the Criminal Court released her on bail of 500 dinars ($1,650) pending trial.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The 2006 Press and Publications Law establishes topics that are off limits for publication and discussion, and builds on the precedent set by the Penalty Law 16/1960. Topics banned for publication include religion, in particular Islam; criticizing the emir; insulting members of the judiciary or displaying disdain for the constitution; compromising classified information; insulting an individual or his/her religion; and publishing information that could lead to devaluing of the currency or creating false worries about the economy. The law mandates jail terms for anyone who “defames religion,” and any Muslim citizen or resident may file criminal charges against a person the complainant believes has defamed Islam. The government generally restricted freedom of speech in instances purportedly related to national security, which included criticism of the emir. Any citizen may file charges against anyone the citizen believes defamed the ruling family or harmed public morals.

In November, Human Rights Watch published a report highlighting laws that Gulf governments, including Kuwait, use to limit freedom of expression. The accompanying interactive website profiled 140 prominent Gulf-based social and political rights activists, including 44 from Kuwait, who have struggled against government attempts to silence them.

The courts convicted approximately two dozen individuals for insulting the emir, the judiciary, neighboring states, or religion on their social media sites. In April a criminal court found activist Sara al-Drees innocent of contempt of religion charges after she was sued by a group of private citizens when she posted messages about her religious opinions on social media.

In January 2015 charges were filed against MP Abdul Hamid Dashti after he criticized Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the conflict in Yemen. Prosecutors released him on bail of 1,000 dinars ($3,300). In July, Dashti was sentenced in absentia to 14 years in prison by the criminal court.

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views generally without restriction. All print media were privately owned, although their independence was limited. The government did not permit non-Islamic religious publishing companies, although several churches published religious materials solely for their congregations’ use. The law allows for large fines and up to 10 years in prison for persons who use any means (including media) to subvert the emiri system of government. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry may ban any media organization at the request of the Ministry of Information. Media organizations can challenge media bans in the administrative courts. Newspaper publishers must obtain an operating license from the Ministry of Information. In October the government banned media coverage of tribal caucuses in order to enforce the law from 1996 banning them.

Broadcast media are a mix of government and privately owned stations, subject to the same laws as print media.

Before the annual international book fair held in November, the Ministry of Information requires publishers to submit a list of books they might offer at the event. Censor officers at the Ministry of Information review books to determine if content is appropriate. If an officer determines that a book should be censored, the book is referred to a censor committee consisting of 9 to 10 members who determine the appropriateness of the book. The author can appeal the censor committee findings to an appeals committee comprising four to five members. If the appeals committee upholds the censoring, the author has final recourse to appeal the finding in the courts. Members of both committees are selected by the under secretary and assistant under secretaries on an annual basis and also includes members of the academic community and members of the writers guild. In November the government added more than 100 books to a list of banned books, including the book Smile due to its depiction of gender integration. Most of the books on the banned list revolved around religion, politics, and public morality.

Throughout the year publishers reportedly received pressure from the Ministry of Information, resulting in the publishers often restricting which books are made available in the country. According to the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs reviewed books religious in nature. The government did not impose additional restrictions on online newspapers or journals.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Ministry of Information censored all imported books, commercial films, periodicals, videotapes, CDs, DVDs, and other materials deemed illegal per the guidelines enumerated for speech and media. Media outlets exhibited a range of opinions on topics relating to social problems, but most self-censored, avoiding critical discussion on topics like the emir, foreign policy, and religion, to avoid criminal charges or fines or to keep their licenses. Discussions of certain social topics, such as the role of women in society and sex were also self-censored. Authorities censored most English-language educational materials that mentioned the Holocaust and required education material either to refer to Israel as “Occupied Palestine” or to remove such references, although authorities did not censor these topics in news media. Widely available satellite dishes and virtual private networks allowed unfiltered media access.

National Security: The law forbids publication or transmission of any information deemed subversive to the constitutional system on national security grounds. The government prosecuted online bloggers and social media outlets under the new cybercrime law, the Printing and Publishing Law, and the National Security Law.

INTERNET FREEDOM

In July 2015 the government passed a cybercrime law that criminalizes online activity to include illegal access to IT systems; unauthorized access to confidential information; blackmail; use of the internet for terrorist activity; money laundering; and utilizing the internet for human trafficking. The law was implemented in January with the publishing of the law in the National Gazette. Fines ranged from 3,000 dinars ($9,900) and a three-year prison term for online blackmail to 50,000 dinars ($165,000) and a 10-year prison sentence for money laundering.

The government monitored internet communications, such as blogs and discussion groups, for defamation and generalized security reasons. The Ministry of Communications continued to block websites considered to “incite terrorism and instability” and required internet service providers to block websites that “violate [the country’s] customs and traditions.” The government prosecuted and punished individuals for the expression of political or religious views via the internet, including by e‑mail and social media, based on existing laws related to libel, national unity, and national security. The government prosecuted some online bloggers under the 2006 Printing and Publishing Law and the National Security Law.

In July the government imp