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Brazil

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

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

There were numerous reports that state police committed unlawful killings. In some cases police employed indiscriminate force. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Brazilian Public Security Forum reported police killed 5,804 civilians in 2019, compared with 6,160 civilians in 2018. Rio de Janeiro State was responsible for 30 percent of the national total, despite representing just 8 percent of the population. Those killed included criminal suspects, civilians, and narcotics traffickers who engaged in violence against police. Accordingly, the extent of unlawful police killings was difficult to determine. The Federal Public Ministry and Federal Prosecutor’s Office investigate whether security force killings are justifiable and pursue prosecutions.

In the city of Rio de Janeiro, most deaths occurred while police were conducting operations against narcotics trafficking gangs in the more than 1,000 informal housing settlements (favelas), where an estimated 1.3 million persons lived. NGOs in Rio de Janeiro questioned whether all of the victims actually resisted arrest, as police had reported, and alleged that police often employed unnecessary force.

On May 18, 14-year-old Joao Pedro Matos Pinto sought shelter in his home in Rio de Janeiro State’s municipality of Sao Goncalo as a police helicopter circled above his neighborhood of Salgueiro, searching for a suspect. According to the autopsy report and witness testimonies, police raided Joao Pedro’s home and shot him in the back dozens of times. During the joint operation of the Federal Police and Civil Police Coordination of Special Resources Unit, authorities said they mistook the teenager for the suspect. The Federal Public Ministry initiated a public civil inquiry to investigate the participation of federal agents in the case. In addition to the Civil Police’s Homicide Division and Internal Affairs Unit, the state and federal public prosecutor’s offices were also investigating the case. As of August no one had been indicted or arrested.

The number of deaths resulting from military and civil police operations in the state of Sao Paulo from January to April grew 31 percent, compared with the same period in 2019. The figures for the four-month period included a spike in deaths in April, with military and civil police reporting 119 officer-involved deaths in the state, a 53-percent increase from April 2019. According to the Sao Paulo state government, military police reported 218 deaths resulting from street operations from January to April.

In Santa Catarina, in the first six months of the year, police killed one person every three days. After pandemic-induced social distancing measures began on March 16, the lethality of military police interventions increased by 85 percent, according to data from the Public Security Secretariat of Santa Catarina. Victims’ families contested police accounts of self-defense, reporting extrajudicial executions and police alteration of crime scenes to match their story.

In the state of Rio Grande do Sul in June, Angolan citizen Gilberto Almeida traveled to his friend Dorildes Laurindo’s house in Cachoeirinha, a suburb of Porto Alegre. Almeida and Laurindo requested a ride through a ride-sharing app. Unbeknownst to them, the driver was a fugitive with a history of drug trafficking. Police gave chase while Almeida and Laurindo were passengers. The driver stopped the car, fled, and was arrested. Officers from the Rio Grande do Sul 17th Military Police Battalion in Gravatai fired 35 times, hitting both Almeida and Laurindo multiple times when they got out of the car. Both were taken to the hospital, where Laurindo died of her wounds. Upon discharge from the hospital, Almeida was taken to the Gravatai police station and then to Canoas State Penitentiary for 12 days before being released by court order.

As of August, Rio de Janeiro’s Public Prosecutor’s Office continued investigating the case of a 2019 operation by two military police units–BOPE and the Battalion to Repress Conflicts (CHOQUE)–in the Santa Teresa neighborhood of the city of Rio de Janeiro. The operation resulted in the deaths of 15 persons. Military police reported all of the victims were criminals; however, human rights organizations claimed the victims offered no resistance and that many were shot in the back. An investigation by Rio de Janeiro’s military police concluded that evidence was insufficient to prove that any crimes were committed. In November 2019 the Civil Police Homicide Division recommended that the case be closed and that none of the investigated police officers be held accountable for the killings.

According to some civil society organizations, victims of police violence throughout the country were overwhelmingly young Afro-Brazilian men. The Brazilian Public Security Forum reported that almost 75 percent of the persons killed by police in 2019 were black. As of August a trial date had not been set for the army soldiers from Deodoro’s (a neighborhood located in western Rio de Janeiro City) 1st Infantry Motorized Battalion, who killed black musician Evaldo Rosa dos Santos and injured two others in April 2019. Nine of the accused were released on bail in May 2019. According to a survey of cases between 2015 and 2017 at the Superior Military Court involving military personnel, 70 percent were either dismissed or resulted in no punishment.

Verbal and physical attacks on politicians and candidates were common. A survey from NGOs Terra de Direitos and Justica Global found 327 cases of political violence, including murder, threats, physical violence, and arrests of politicians or candidates between 2016 and September 2020. A majority of the violence–92 percent–targeted politicians and candidates at the municipal level. As of September 1, at least two candidate or incumbent city councilors, elected mayors or vice mayors, were killed each month of the year. In 63 percent of the cases, authorities had not identified any suspects. In September, Federal Deputy Taliria Petrone appealed to the United Nations for protection from multiple death threats she had received, saying Rio de Janeiro State and the federal government were failing to offer appropriate protections.

According to the aforementioned survey, as of September 1, a total of 27 politicians and candidates had been killed or attacked, and a record 32 killings of politicians and candidates in 2019. In Rio de Janeiro State alone, nine sitting and former politicians were killed in 2019. In March police arrested two former police officers, Ronnie Lessa and Elcio Vieira de Queiroz, in connection with the 2018 killing of a gay, black, Rio de Janeiro city council member and human rights activist, Marielle Franco, and her driver. A preliminary trial began in June 2019 at the Fourth Criminal Court in Rio de Janeiro. As of August police had not identified who ordered the crime, and no trial date had been set for the two accused.

The NGO Global Witness reported 23 social, human rights, and environmental activists were killed in 2019, leading it to classify the country as “extremely lethal” for activists. In March media reported that police officers from the Ninth Military Police Battalion of Uberlandia, Minas Gerais, killed human rights and land rights activist Daniquel Oliveira with a shot to the back of his head. Oliveira was a leader of the Landless Workers Movement. According to police, Oliveira shot at the officers, and they returned fire to defend themselves. According to other Landless Workers Movement activists, Oliveira was unarmed. Police initiated an internal investigation, and the Public Ministry of Minas Gerais interviewed witnesses regarding the killing.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, but there were reports government officials sometimes employed such practices. The law mandates that special police courts exercise jurisdiction over state military police except those charged with “willful crimes against life,” primarily homicide. Impunity for security forces was a problem. Police personnel often were responsible for investigating charges of torture and excessive force carried out by fellow officers. Delays in the special military police courts allowed many cases to expire due to statutes of limitations.

According to the National Council of the Public Ministry, in 2019 there were 2,676 cases of guards and other personnel inflicting bodily harm on prisoners, compared with 3,261 cases in 2018.

In May residents of the Favela do Acari in the city of Rio de Janeiro reported that Iago Cesar dos Reis Gonzaga was tortured and killed during an operation in the community led by CHOQUE and BOPE. The victim’s family corroborated the residents’ report, saying that unidentified police officers tortured, abducted, and killed Iago. The 39th Police Precinct in Pavuna was investigating the case.

On July 12, a television channel broadcasted mobile phone video recordings of a police officer from the 50th Sao Paulo Metropolitan Military Police Battalion holding a black woman on the ground by stepping on her neck. The video was filmed in May in Sao Paulo during a public disturbance call. The woman sustained a fractured leg injury during the incident, and the two officers involved were suspended from duty and were under investigation for misconduct. The police officer who held the woman on the ground was indicted for abuse of authority.

There were reports of sexual assault committed by police. According to Globo news outlet, in August security cameras showed a Rio de Janeiro State military police officer inside the building of the victim who accused him of rape. The victim reported that the officer had been in the building a week before the incident responding to a domestic disturbance call. The officer returned to her building, identifying himself to the doorman as the one who had responded to the earlier call and saying that he needed to talk with the victim. The doormen allowed him to enter the building, and according to the victim, the officer entered her apartment and raped her. The state military police were investigating the case. The officer was suspended from field duties.

In January a military court provisionally released the two military police officers from the 37th and 40th Sao Paulo Metropolitan Military Police Battalions suspected of raping a woman in Praia Grande, Sao Paulo, in June 2019. As of August 10, no verdict had been issued. The two officers were not allowed to resume duties in the field.

In March the Military Prosecutor’s Office opened an investigation into the torture accusations against federal military officers from Vila Military’s First Army Division, but as of August no officer had been charged. In 2018 the press reported claims that the officers tortured 10 male residents of Rio de Janeiro. As of March all 10 men had been released after one year and four months in detention.

In July, four military police officers from the Itajai Military Police Battalion were convicted of torture and received sentences ranging from three to 10 years, in an operation that took place in 2011 in Itajai, Santa Catarina. The agents entered a house to investigate a drug trafficking complaint and attacked three suspects–two men and a woman–with punches, kicks, and electrical stun gun shots. The final report indicated officers fired 33 shots at the three suspects and three other persons, including two children.

Impunity for security forces was a problem. Police personnel often were responsible for investigating charges of torture and excessive force carried out by fellow officers, although independent investigations increased. Delays in the special military police courts allowed many cases to expire due to statutes of limitation. Local NGOs, however, argued that corruption within the judiciary, especially at the local and state levels, was a concern and alleged that impunity for crimes committed by security forces was common. According to a survey of cases involving military personnel between 2015 and 2017 at the Superior Military Court, 70 percent were either dismissed or resulted in no punishment. There was a 26-percent increase, however, in arrests of military police officers in the state of Sao Paulo between January and May, compared with the same period in 2019. Most of the 86 arrests during the year were for homicide, corruption, drug trafficking, and assault.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in many prisons were poor and sometimes life threatening, mainly due to overcrowding. Abuse by prison guards continued, and poor working conditions and low pay for prison guards encouraged corruption.

Physical Conditions: According to the National Penitentiary Department, as of December 2019, the average overall occupation rate in prisons was 170 percent of the designed capacity. The northern region of the country experienced the worst overcrowding, with three times more prisoners than the intended capacity. The southern state of Parana reported a shortage of 12,500 spaces for inmates in correctional facilities and provisional centers within the metropolitan area of Curitiba as a result of a 334-percent increase in the number of arrests in the first four months of the year. Much of the overcrowding was due to the imprisonment of pretrial detainees. A February survey by the news portal G1 showed that 31 percent of detainees were being held without a conviction, a drop from 36 percent in 2019.

A June report by the NGO Mechanism to Prevent Torture highlighted that prisons in all 26 states and the Federal District faced overcrowding and shortages in water (some facilities had water available for only two hours per day), personal hygiene products, and proper medical care. Prison populations endured frequent outbreaks of diseases such as tuberculosis and suffered from high rates of sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis and HIV. Letters from detainees to the Pastoral Carceraria, a prison-monitoring NGO connected to the Catholic Church, reported a lack of guarantee of rights such as education, recreation, and contact with family and lawyers due to COVID-19 restrictions imposed by prison authorities.

Reports of abuse by prison guards continued. In March 2019 the national daily newspaper Folha de S. Paulo reported that the Sao Paulo Penitentiary Administration Secretary’s Ombudsman’s Office received 73 reports of torture in correctional facilities in the state of Sao Paulo in the first two months of 2019, of which 66 were related to the Provisional Detention Center of Osasco, in the metropolitan area of Sao Paulo. Reports mentioned long punishment in isolated cells, lack of access to health care, and psychological torture. The center was operating at 50 percent beyond designed capacity.

Police arrested one person in Fortaleza, Ceara State, who was allegedly responsible for the January 2019 prison riots that resulted in the Ministry of Justice authorizing a federal intervention taskforce to enter the state’s prisons. The National Mechanism for the Prevention and Combat of Torture investigated reports of abuse and reported in October 2019 that prison guards systematically broke prisoners’ fingers as a way to immobilize them. The National Penitentiary Department denied the findings of torture, stating prisoners were injured in the violent riots and received medical treatment.

General prison conditions were poor. There was a lack of potable water, inadequate nutrition, food contamination, rat and cockroach infestations, damp and dark cells, a lack of clothing and hygiene items, and poor sanitation. According to a March report from the Ministry of Health, prisoners were 35 times more likely to contract tuberculosis, compared with the general public. One NGO, the Rio de Janeiro Mechanism for Torture Prevention, asserted that injured inmates were denied medication and proper medical treatment.

Prisoners convicted of petty crimes frequently were held with murderers and other violent criminals. Authorities attempted to hold pretrial detainees separately from convicted prisoners, but lack of space often required placing convicted criminals in pretrial detention facilities. In many prisons, including those in the Federal District, officials attempted to separate violent offenders from other inmates and keep convicted drug traffickers in a wing apart from the rest of the prison population. Multiple sources reported adolescents were held with adults in poor and crowded conditions.

Prisons suffered from insufficient staffing and lack of control over inmates. Violence was rampant in prison facilities. According to the National Penitentiary Department, 188 prisoners were killed while in custody in 2019. In addition to poor administration of the prison system, overcrowding, the presence of gangs, and corruption contributed to violence. Media reports indicated incarcerated leaders of major criminal gangs continued to control their expanding transnational criminal enterprises from inside prisons.

Prison riots were common occurrences. In April approximately 100 minors rioted in the juvenile detention center Dom Bosco in Ilha do Governador, Rio de Janeiro City, after authorities suspended family visits due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Inmates set fire to mattresses, broke doors, and injured two guards.

Administration: State-level ombudsman offices; the National Council of Justice; the National Mechanism for the Prevention and Combat of Torture in the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights; and the National Penitentiary Department in the Ministry of Justice monitored prison and detention center conditions and conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.

Due to COVID-19, Sao Paulo State penitentiaries implemented restrictive visitation policies. Beginning in March visits to inmates in the states of Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul were suspended. In April, Santa Catarina implemented virtual visits. In Rio Grande do Sul, almost 3,000 inmates belonging to high-risk groups for COVID-19 were released from prison to house arrest and electronic monitoring.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. Prisoners and detainees had access to visitors; however, human rights observers reported some visitors complained of screening procedures that at times included invasive and unsanitary physical exams.

Improvements: Ceara State prison officials took steps to reduce overcrowding by building new prisons, including a maximum-security prison inaugurated in February, reforming existing prisons to accommodate 5,000 more prisoners, and maximizing the use of parole programs. The state banned cell phones and televisions in prisons, increased the use of videoconferences so that prisoners had access to lawyers, and provided expanded access to educational courses.

In October a new law established Santa Catarina State’s policy for the rehabilitation of formerly incarcerated persons. The law guarantees support and promotes social inclusion for formerly incarcerated persons, assists them in entering the labor market, develops educational and professional qualification programs, and provides incentives to companies that provide jobs to this vulnerable population.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and limits arrests to those caught in the act of committing a crime or called for by order of a judicial authority; however, police at times did not respect this prohibition. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed this provision.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Officials must advise persons of their rights at the time of arrest or before taking them into custody for interrogation. The law prohibits use of force during an arrest unless the suspect attempts to escape or resists arrest. According to human rights observers, some detainees complained of physical abuse while being taken into police custody.

Authorities generally respected the constitutional right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention. The law permits provisional detention for up to five days under specified conditions during an investigation, but a judge may extend this period. A judge may also order temporary detention for an additional five days for processing. Preventive detention for an initial period of 15 days is permitted if police suspect a detainee may flee the area. Defendants arrested in the act of committing a crime must be charged within 30 days of arrest. Other defendants must be charged within 45 days, although this period may be extended. In cases involving heinous crimes, torture, drug trafficking, and terrorism, pretrial detention could last 30 days with the option to extend for an additional 30 days. Often the period for charging defendants had to be extended because of court backlogs. The law does not provide for a maximum period of pretrial detention, which is decided on a case-by-case basis. Bail was available for most crimes, and defendants facing charges for all but the most serious crimes have the right to a bail hearing. Prison authorities generally allowed detainees prompt access to a lawyer. Indigent detainees have the right to a lawyer provided by the state. Detainees had prompt access to family members. If detainees are convicted, time in detention before trial is subtracted from their sentences.

Arbitrary Arrest: On September 2, civil police officers from the Rio de Janeiro 76th Police Station arrested Luiz Carlos da Costa Justino for a 2017 car theft. According to police, the robbery victim identified Justino from a photograph lineup in the police station. According to media outlets, Justino, who was an adolescent at the time of the robbery, did not have a criminal record and therefore police should not have had access to any photographs of him. Video evidence showed that at the time of the crime, Justino, an Afro-Brazilian musician with the Grota String Orchestra in Niteroi, was performing in an event at a bakery located four miles from the crime scene. Justino was released after five days. As of October the public prosecutor’s office of Rio de Janeiro was reviewing Justino’s petition for revocation of the arrest.

Pretrial Detention: According to the Ministry of Justice’s National Penitentiary Department, 30 percent of prisoners nationwide were in pretrial detention. A study conducted by the National Penitentiary Department in 2018 found more than half of pretrial detainees in 17 states had been held in pretrial detention for more than 90 days. The study found that 100 percent of pretrial detainees in Sergipe State, 91 percent in Alagoas State, 84 percent in Parana State, and 74 percent in Amazonas State had been held for more than 90 days.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Local NGOs, however, argued that corruption within the judiciary, especially at the local and state levels, was a concern and alleged that impunity for crimes committed by security forces was common.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, although NGOs reported that in some rural regions–especially in cases involving land-rights activists–police, prosecutors, and the judiciary were perceived to be more susceptible to external influences, including fear of reprisals. Investigations, prosecutions, and trials in these cases often were delayed.

After an arrest a judge reviews the case, determines whether it should proceed, and assigns the case to a state prosecutor, who decides whether to issue an indictment. Juries hear cases involving capital crimes; judges try those accused of lesser crimes. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to be present at their trial, to be promptly informed of charges, not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, to confront and question adverse witnesses, to present their own witnesses and evidence, and to appeal verdicts. Defendants generally had adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense but do not have the right to free assistance of an interpreter.

Although the law requires trials be held within a set time, there were millions of backlogged cases at state, federal, and appellate courts, and cases often took many years to be concluded. To reduce the backlog, state and federal courts frequently dismissed old cases without a hearing. While the law provides for the right to counsel, the Ministry of Public Security stated many prisoners could not afford an attorney. The court must furnish a public defender or private attorney at public expense in such cases, but staffing deficits persisted in all states.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Citizens may submit lawsuits before the courts for human rights violations. While the justice system provides for an independent civil judiciary, courts were burdened with backlogs and sometimes subject to corruption, political influence, and indirect intimidation. Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions by individuals or organizations to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Property Restitution

The government has no laws or mechanisms in place for, and NGOs and advocacy groups reported that the government had not made progress on, resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens. Brazil endorsed the Terezin Declaration in 2009 and the Guidelines and Best Practices in 2010. Persons in the federal government, the Israeli diplomatic mission to Brazil, civil society organizations, and synagogues were unaware of any laws codifying the return of Holocaust-era property to victims. Representatives of the Uniao Brasileiro-Israelita do Bem Estar Social (UNIBES), a nonprofit organization operating in Sao Paulo for more than 95 years, worked with survivors based in the country pursuing claims, but usually those claims were done privately without advocacy or assistance from the government. UNIBES representatives said governmental assistance was primarily of a consular nature, provided to survivors pursuing claims while in Europe.

For additional information, the Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, can be found at https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government did not always respect this right.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were sometimes killed or subjected to harassment, physical attacks, and threats as a result of their reporting. In May journalist Leonardo Pinheiro was killed while conducting an interview in Araruama in Rio de Janeiro State. As of October authorities had not identified any suspects or motives.

As in previous years, the most serious physical attacks were reported in relation to local reporting, such as the case of television news presenter Alex Mendes Braga, who in July was forced off the road in Manaus, Amazonas State, physically attacked, and threatened in apparent retaliation for his recent coverage of suspected fraud at a local hospital.

Multiple journalists were subjected to verbal assault, including when unmasked private individuals yelled in their faces following the onset of COVID-19. The most high-profile incident took place outside the presidential palace in Brasilia, leading a coalition of civil society organizations to file a civil suit against the government for failing to protect journalists there. As of August multiple major outlets had stopped sending journalists to cover events outside the palace, and the palace had taken additional measures to keep journalists separated from civilians gathered outside.

According to Reporters without Borders, President Jair Bolsonaro criticized the press 53 times, verbally or via social media, during the first half of the year. Multiple news outlets reported that on August 23, President Bolsonaro verbally lashed out at an O Globo reporter, who questioned him about deposits made by former aide Fabricio Queiroz to his wife, Michelle Bolsonaro.

In instances of violence perpetrated by protesters or provocateurs during mass demonstrations, at times security forces injured journalists during crowd-control operations.

In June, two journalists from the local newspaper Em Questao in Alegrete, Rio Grande do Sul, were beaten by two military police officers after one of the reporters attempted to photograph an army truck outside the city police station. The officers forbade the reporter from taking photographs, seized his cell phone, and kicked and handcuffed him. After an investigation, in August civil police referred the two officers for prosecution for aggression and abuse of authority.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: National laws prohibit politically motivated judicial censorship, but there were reports of judicial censorship. On July 30, a Federal Supreme Court justice ordered Facebook and Twitter to block multiple accounts for having disseminated “fake news.”

Nongovernmental Impact: Nongovernmental criminal elements at times subjected journalists to violence due to their professional activities.

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. Nonetheless, the online environment remained constrained by threats of violence against independent bloggers and websites, as well as criminal defamation laws and restrictive limits on content related to elections.

The law protects net neutrality and freedom of expression online and provides for the inviolability and secrecy of user communications online, permitting exceptions only by court order. Anonymous speech is explicitly excluded from constitutional protection.

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.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no significant reports of government restrictions on educational or cultural events.

Cuba

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

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

On June 24, police killed Hansel Hernandez Galiano, an unarmed Afro-Cuban man, in Havana. State media initially refused to acknowledge the case, but news circulated quickly across social media. On June 25, the supposedly independent but in fact state-controlled blog Guerrero Cubano issued a detailed story about how Hansel was killed. Other official media outlets followed suit the morning of June 27 when the Ministry of Interior issued a press release with the same account of events related by Guerrero Cubano that was reprinted across official state media.

The official version of Hernandez Galiano’s death was that in the course of a regular patrol, two members of the National Revolutionary Police discovered and chased a suspected thief. Official media stated the suspect ran from police but then confronted them and threw large rocks, some of which hit the officers. The government stated that as the suspect was throwing rocks, one officer fired two warning shots and then a final killing shot. The press release concluded by lamenting Hansel’s death but denigrated his character, claiming Hansel had been found guilty of threatening persons, “lascivious abuse,” and robbery with violence, for which he served a prison term and was on probation.

Outside observers identified a number of reasons to doubt the accuracy of the government’s account. Photographs of the body circulated on social media by Hernandez Galiano’s family members showed a single bullet wound, entering via Hansel’s back and emerging from his chest, indicating he was running from the officers, not actively confronting them. The photographs also showed bruising to his face and sutures closing a cut to the head (possibly post mortem). Members of his family said his body was reportedly quickly cremated, after pressure from the government. Activists criticized the press release’s emphasis on Hansel’s alleged criminal record, with one lawyer saying it “demonstrates their desire to treat him as a defendant and not as a victim.” Authorities stated they would investigate the death but as of December had not publicly released results of an investigation.

At least eight prisoners died in custody in a variety of suspicious circumstances. Roberto Jimenez del Sol, a manager in an army-owned shoe store, died in military custody after spending one month in solitary confinement as part of an investigation into missing funds. Although authorities told his family he died of natural causes, his body displayed signs of abuse. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Cuba Archive documented at least six other prisoners who died in suspicious circumstances. None of these deaths was reported by official media.

b. Disappearance

There were confirmed reports of long-term disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. There were multiple reports of detained activists whose whereabouts were unknown for days or weeks because the government did not register these detentions, many of which occurred at unregistered sites.

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

There were recurring reports that members of the security forces and their agents harassed, intimidated, and physically assaulted human rights and prodemocracy advocates, political dissidents, and peaceful demonstrators, and that they did so with impunity. Some detainees and prisoners endured physical abuse by prison officials or other inmates at the instigation of guards. Although the law prohibits coercion during investigative interrogations, police and security forces at times used aggressive and physically abusive tactics, threats, and harassment during questioning. Detainees reported officers intimidated them with threats of long-term detention, loss of child-custody rights, denial of permission to depart the country, and other punishments.

State security officials frequently deployed to countries such as Venezuela and Nicaragua, where they trained and supported other organizations in their use of repressive tactics and human rights abuses and sometimes participated in the abuses directly. For instance, Cuban security force members were embedded in the Maduro regime’s security and intelligence services in Venezuela and were instrumental in transforming Venezuela’s Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM) from a small organization focused on external threats to a much larger organization focused on surveilling Venezuelans and suppressing dissent. UN reports accused the DGCIM of torture, and many former Venezuelan prisoners said that Cubans, identified by their distinctive accents, supervised while DGCIM personnel tortured prisoners.

A December 2019 report from the Casla Institute, a Czech Republic-based NGO focused on governance in Latin America, stated the Cuban ambassador in Venezuela was personally involved in organizing this training. The Casla Institute report also stated, “Cubans constantly instruct members of the FANB [Venezuelan armed forces] and intelligence in techniques of repression, intimidation, and monitoring, so that they carry out investigation work and spy on their own colleagues and their families and political and social leaders, and directly intervene in social unrest.”

Impunity was pervasive. There were no known cases of prosecution of government officials for any human rights abuses, including torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening. There were reports that prison officials assaulted prisoners. Prisons were overcrowded, and facilities, sanitation, and medical care were deficient.

The government did not publish official statistics on its prisons. In January, citing information from two senior Ministry of Interior officials, the Spain-based NGO Cuban Prisoners Defenders claimed more than 90,000 persons were in prison, with another 37,000 in other forms of custody such as labor camps, house arrest, or conditional parole.

Physical Conditions: The government provided no information regarding the number, location, or capacity of detention centers, including prisons, work camps, and other kinds of detention facilities. Cuban Prisoners Defenders claimed the government had more than 200 such facilities.

Prison and detention cells reportedly lacked adequate water, sanitation, light, ventilation, and temperature control. Although the government provided some food and medical care, many prisoners relied on their families to provide food and other basic supplies. Potable water was often unavailable. Prison cells were overcrowded. Women reported lack of access to feminine hygiene products and inadequate prenatal care.

In June political prisoner Walfrido Rodriguez Piloto told independent outlet CubaNet he was denied medical care in El Arco del Chico prison camp in Havana’s La Lisa municipality, where he said prisoners were fed less than two ounces of food per day. He said, “This is a concentration camp; I have been here for six days with nephritic colic and without any medical attention. Between the mosquitoes [which carry dengue], the bed bugs, and hunger, I’m going to die here.” He also complained that he was mistreated by fellow prisoners who did “the dirty work” of authorities in exchange for benefits.

Prisoners, family members, and NGOs reported inadequate health care in prisons, which led to or aggravated multiple maladies. Prisoners reported outbreaks of COVID-19, dengue fever, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and cholera. There were reports of prisoner deaths following official indifference to treatable medical conditions such as asthma, HIV, AIDS, and other chronic medical conditions as well as from suicide. Authorities rarely if ever supplied medicine. In May a member of the opposition group Eastern Democratic Alliance posted on Facebook that one of their members, Sandi Fernandez Ortiz, died in Mar Verde Prison in Santiago de Cuba of sepsis due to poor medical care.

Political prisoners were held jointly with the general prison population. Political prisoners who refused to wear standard prison uniforms were denied certain privileges, such as access to prison libraries, reductions in the severity of their sentence, or transfer from a maximum-security to a medium-security prison.

There were credible reports that prison officials assaulted inmates. Political prisoners also reported that fellow inmates, acting on orders from or with the permission of prison authorities, threatened, beat, intimidated, and harassed them.

In July the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a resolution granting precautionary protection measures to Silverio Portal Contreras, who was arrested and beaten in March 2018 following a protest against unsafe housing in Havana. The IACHR resolution detailed complaints made on behalf of Contreras, including reports that following his July 2018 sentencing, prison authorities severely beat Portal on multiple occasions and placed him in an isolation cell, that he was losing his eyesight because of the beatings, that he was denied medical attention for his multiple chronic medical conditions, and that he was prohibited from contacting his family. In determining the gravity of risk to Portal, the IACHR cited the context faced by human rights defenders in Cuba, which it described as “generally characterized by a climate of hostility, abuse, and harassment, particularly with respect to those who have manifested opposition to the government.” On December 1, Portal was released in poor health.

Prisoners reported solitary confinement was a common punishment for failure to comply with prison regulations, and some prisoners were isolated for months at a time. Some prisoners were held incommunicado, without being able to contact friends or family until they were released.

The government subjected prisoners who criticized the government or engaged in hunger strikes and other forms of protest to extended solitary confinement, assaults, restrictions on family visits, and denial of medical care.

Administration: There were reports that prison officials assaulted prisoners, but authorities did not investigate credible allegations of mistreatment. Prisoners reported government officials refused to accept or respond to complaints.

Prisoners and pretrial detainees had access to visitors, although several political prisoners’ relatives reported prison officials arbitrarily canceled scheduled visits or denied visits altogether.

Authorities allowed prisoners to practice their religion, but there were isolated reports authorities did not inform inmates of their right to religious services, delayed months before responding to such requests, and limited visits by clergy to a maximum of two or three times per year.

Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit independent international or domestic human rights groups to monitor prison conditions, and it denied access to detainees by international humanitarian organizations. Although the government pledged in previous years to allow a visit by the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment, no visit occurred during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. Although the 2019 constitution adds explicit protections of freedom and human rights, including habeas corpus, authorities did not observe them, nor did the courts enforce them. The government denied a habeas corpus motion on behalf of political prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees), the only time it was known to have been filed.

Arbitrary arrests and short-term detentions increased and became a routine government method for controlling independent public expression and political activity. The government frequently detained activists arbitrarily without informing them of any charges against them and often denied them the ability to communicate with their relatives.

The government broadened arbitrary arrest powers under the pretext of controlling the COVID-19 pandemic. In December the NGO Human Rights Watch released a report documenting 34 cases in which authorities invoked rules concerning the COVID-19 pandemic to target government critics and others. Documented cases included Keilylli de la Mora Valle, a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) political group, who was arrested on April 12 for lowering her mask to smoke a cigarette on the street. She was sentenced to 18 months in prison after protesting her treatment by police. In another incident, on November 26, authorities claiming to be medical personnel entered San Isidro Movement headquarters on the pretext of requiring a COVID-19 test of journalist Carlos Manuel Alvarez who had arrived earlier in the year. They were followed by police wearing medical gowns, who proceeded to arrest the protesters, several of whom later stated they were beaten during the arrests. Officers told the dissidents that a criminal complaint had been filed against them for “spreading an epidemic.”

The law requires that police furnish suspects a signed “report of detention,” noting the basis, date, and location of any detention in a police facility and a registry of personal items seized during a police search. Authorities routinely ignored this requirement. Police routinely stopped and questioned citizens, requested identification, and carried out search-and-seizure operations directed at known activists. Police used legal provisions against public disorder, contempt, lack of respect, aggression, and failure to pay minimal or arbitrary fines as ways to detain, threaten, and arrest civil society activists. Police routinely conducted short-term detentions in order to interfere with individuals’ rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, and at times assaulted detainees.

Police and security officials used short-term and sometimes violent detentions to prevent independent political activity and free assembly. Such detentions generally lasted from several hours to several days.

The law allows for “preventive detention” for up to four years of individuals not charged with an actual crime, based on a subjective determination of “precriminal dangerousness,” which is defined as the “special proclivity of a person to commit crimes, demonstrated by conduct in manifest contradiction of socialist norms.” Mostly used as a tool to control “antisocial” behaviors such as substance abuse or prostitution, authorities also used such detentions to silence peaceful political opponents. Several of the more than 100 individuals considered to be political prisoners by domestic and international human rights organizations were imprisoned under the “precriminal dangerousness” provision of the law.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Under criminal procedures, police have 24 hours after an arrest to present a criminal complaint to an investigative police official. Investigative police have 72 hours to investigate and prepare a report for the prosecutor, who in turn has 72 hours to recommend to the appropriate court whether to open a criminal investigation.

Within the initial 168-hour detention period, by law detainees must be informed of the basis for the arrest and criminal investigation and have access to legal representation. Those charged may be released on bail, placed in home detention, or held in continued investigative detention. Once the accused has an attorney, the defense has five days to respond to the prosecution’s charges, after which a court date usually is set. Prosecutors may demand summary trials “in extraordinary circumstances” and in cases involving crimes against state security. After the COVID-19 pandemic started to spread in February, the Ministry of Justice regularly invoked “extraordinary circumstances” in order to conduct summary trials.

There were reports that defendants met with their attorneys for the first time only minutes before their trials and were not informed of the basis for their arrest within the required 168-hour period. In the case of summary trials for persons accused of “propagating an epidemic” for allegedly violating COVID-19 restrictions, accused persons were tried and sentenced without representation from legal counsel or the opportunity to present any defense.

Reports suggested bail was available, although bail was typically not granted to persons arrested for political activities. Time in detention before trial counted toward time served if convicted.

Detainees may be interrogated at any time during detention and have no right to request the presence of counsel during interrogation. Detainees have the right to remain silent, but officials do not have a legal obligation to inform them of that right.

By law investigators must complete criminal investigations within 60 days. Prosecutors may grant investigators two 60-day extensions upon request, for a total of 180 days of investigative time. The supervising court may waive this deadline in “extraordinary circumstances” and upon special request by the prosecutor. In the case of the “extraordinary circumstances” waiver, no additional legal requirement exists to complete an investigation and file criminal charges, and therefore authorities may detain a person without charge indefinitely.

Arbitrary Arrest: Officials often disregarded legal procedures governing arrest. They detained suspects longer than the legally mandated period without informing them of the nature of the arrest, without allowing them to contact family members, and without making legal counsel available to them. Police and security officials continued to use short-term and sometimes violent detentions to prevent independent political activity and free assembly. Such detentions generally lasted from several hours to several days. After being taken into custody, these suspects were typically fined and released. The record of the fines frequently lacked information about the law that was broken or the name of the official responsible for the fine, making the fines difficult to contest in court. Sometimes fines formed the basis for preventing persons from leaving the country.

In connection with a planned yearly march on September 8, several activists from UNPACU were arbitrarily detained on September 7. On September 8, immediately after leaving his house with several supporters, UNPACU leader Jose Daniel Ferrer and other supporters were arrested (see also section 2.b., Freedom of Peaceful Assembly). Human rights NGOs reported at least 70 arrests and arbitrary detentions linked to the September 8 “Sunflower Revolution,” a call for nonviolent protests against the regime.

Pretrial Detention: The government held some detainees for months or years in investigative detention, in both political and nonpolitical cases. In nonpolitical cases, delays were often due to bureaucratic inefficiencies and a lack of checks on police. The percentage of prisoners and detainees in pretrial detention was unknown.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution recognizes the independence of the judiciary, the judiciary is directly subordinate to the National Assembly and the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), which may remove or appoint judges at any time. Political considerations thoroughly dominated the judiciary, and there was no separation of powers between the judicial system, the PCC, and the Council of State.

Civilian courts exist at the municipal, provincial, and national levels. Special tribunals convene behind closed doors for political (“counterrevolutionary”) cases and other cases deemed “sensitive to state security.” Military tribunals may have jurisdiction over civilians if any of the defendants are active or former members of the military, police, or another law enforcement agency. The government denied admission to trials for observers on an arbitrary basis.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a public trial, but politically motivated trials were at times held in secret, with authorities citing exceptions for crimes involving “state security” or “extraordinary circumstances.” Many trials concluded quickly and were closed to the press. In April, on the basis of the COVID-19 pandemic public health emergency, most trials were converted to summary trials, with many defendants accused of poorly defined claims of “propagating an epidemic” or a range of crimes referred to as “illicit economic activity,” such as hoarding scarce goods. According to state media, in summary trials neither prosecutors nor defense counsel need to be present, only a judge. This protocol, however, imposes a limit on the length of the sentence. If the potential sentence exceeds one year, defendants are to be assigned a lawyer. If persons hire a lawyer, they may bring one; however, few persons received legal representation.

Due process rights apply equally to citizens and foreigners, but courts regularly failed to protect or observe these rights. The law provides criminal defendants the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The law presumes defendants to be innocent until proven guilty, but authorities often ignored this, placing the burden on defendants to prove innocence.

The law requires that defendants be represented by an attorney, at public expense if necessary. Defendants’ attorneys may cross-examine government witnesses and present witnesses and evidence. Private attorneys are not licensed to practice in criminal courts, forcing defendants to rely on lawyers who work for the very government that is prosecuting them. These attorneys reportedly were often reluctant to defend individuals charged with political crimes or associated with human rights cases and in many cases did not appear to provide adequate counsel.

Criteria for admitting evidence were arbitrary and discriminatory. According to reports, prosecutors routinely introduced irrelevant or unreliable evidence to prove intent or they offered testimony about the defendant’s “revolutionary credentials,” which are demonstrations of loyalty to the PCC or lack thereof.

Defense attorneys have the right to review the investigation files of a defendant unless the charges involve “crimes against the security of the state.” In “state security” cases, defense attorneys were not allowed access to investigation files until charges were filed. Many detainees, especially political detainees, reported their attorneys had difficulties accessing case files due to administrative obstacles. Interpretation was sometimes provided during trials for non-Spanish speakers, but the government claimed limited resources prevented interpreters from always being available.

In trials where defendants are charged with “precriminal dangerousness,” the state must show only that the defendant has a “proclivity” for crime, so an actual criminal act need not have occurred. Penalties may be up to four years in prison. Authorities normally applied this provision to prostitutes, alcoholics, young persons who refused to report to work centers, repeat offenders of laws restricting change of domicile, and political activists who participated in public protests.

The law recognizes the right of appeal in municipal courts but limits the right of appeal in provincial courts to cases involving lengthy prison terms or the death penalty.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

The government held political prisoners and detainees but denied it did so. It refused access to its prisons and detention centers by international humanitarian organizations and the United Nations.

The NGO Cuban Prisoners Defenders estimated there were 134 convicted political prisoners serving sentences as of December 1. Other groups reported different numbers, although figures consistently ranged near 100 or higher. The lack of governmental transparency, along with systemic abuse of due process rights, obscured the true nature of criminal charges, investigations, and prosecutions. This allowed government authorities to prosecute and sentence peaceful human rights activists for criminal violations or “precriminal dangerousness.” The government used the designation of “counterrevolutionary” for inmates deemed to be political opposition, but it did not publicize the number of these inmates. The government closely monitored organizations tracking political prisoner populations, and the organizations often faced harassment from state authorities.

Political prisoners reported the government held them in isolation for extended periods. They did not receive the same protections as other prisoners or detainees. The government frequently denied political prisoners access to home visits, prison classes, telephone calls, and, on occasion, family visits.

The justice system systematically subjected Jose Daniel Ferrer, head of UNPACU, to a wide range of abuses after he was arrested in October 2019 with several colleagues. While he was incarcerated, Ferrer was subjected to routine abuse from fellow prisoners who told him they were being rewarded with special privileges by prison authorities for beating him. During Ferrer’s detention, prison officials at times withheld food and medicine and gave Ferrer only unclean water to drink. Ferrer and his compatriots were convicted of spurious charges of lesiones (inflicting grievous bodily harm) and false imprisonment after a 13-hour trial on February 26 with numerous irregularities.

On the day of Ferrer’s trial, the Ministry of Justice tweeted that Ferrer would get a fair trial but in the same tweet called him “a common criminal” in violation of his right to the presumption of innocence. State media conducted a propaganda campaign against him before his trial that alleged Ferrer was a habitual domestic abuser (which was contradicted by past partners of his). Authorities tightly cordoned off the courthouse and did not allow international observers; most members of the audience were in fact members of the security services. Authorities allegedly attempted to intimidate several defense witnesses. The court ignored evidence (a recorded telephone conversation) from the alleged victim’s wife that suggested the injuries to the alleged victim were the result of a motorcycle accident rather than a beating. The court also ignored evidence that the victim was coerced to testify on behalf of the prosecution.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

It is possible to seek judicial remedies through civil courts for violations of administrative decisions, but independent legal experts noted general procedural and bureaucratic inefficiencies often delayed or undermined the enforcement of administrative decisions and civil court orders. Civil courts, like all other courts in the country, lacked independence, impartiality, and effective procedural guarantees. No courts allowed claimants to bring lawsuits seeking remedies for human rights violations. On December 20, the National Assembly postponed approval of the Law for the Claim of Constitutional Rights before the Courts, which would have allowed for lawsuits related to rights protected in the constitution.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, on the condition that the expression “conforms to the aims of socialist society.” The law bans criticism of government leaders and distribution of antigovernment propaganda, with penalties ranging from three months to 15 years in prison.

Freedom of Speech: The government did not tolerate public criticism of government officials or programs, and it limited public debate of topics considered politically sensitive. Several laws criminalize aspects of freedom of expression.

Rather than enforce these laws, police typically used other pretexts to harass and arrest persons exercising freedom of expression. Among the individuals who protested these restrictive laws was Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, an artist and a leader of the San Isidro Movement (MSI), an organization promoting cultural independence. Several MSI members, such as rapper Maykel Osorbo and Otero Alcantara’s partner Claudia Genlui, were arrested, beaten while in custody, blackmailed by state security, and fined during the year. While some of these arrests were in conjunction with political events or Otero Alcantara’s art, many arrests were arbitrary.

Otero Alcantara, arrested dozens of times in conjunction with his performance art, was charged once, for “defiling national symbols,” a case that was dropped after he spent 13 days incarcerated. He was arrested, among other times: on February 7, for walking around Havana wearing a hard hat in protest of several individuals killed when their state-owned house collapsed; on February 11, for protesting a state television decision to censor a kiss between two men; on September 8, moments after stepping outside his home holding a sign with a black and white sunflower, referencing the country’s patron saint; and on October 10, after gathering individuals to celebrate the anniversary of the Grito de Yara (Cry of Yara, the 1868 start of the country’s independence struggle).

Otero Alcantara was also arrested several times while demonstrating for the freedom of fellow MSI member Denis Solis, including on November 12 when Otero Alcantara and another activist attempted to present a writ of habeas corpus for Solis. Otero Alcantara was arrested on November 26 when authorities raided his house to break up a hunger strike of MSI members. At year’s end he remained on house arrest, despite the government’s not levying charges against him.

State security regularly harassed the organizers of independent debates on cultural and social topics to force them to stop discussing matters deemed controversial. The 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.

Government workers reported being fired, demoted, or censured for expressing dissenting opinions or for affiliating with independent organizations.

Alexander Raul Pupo Casas told independent media outlet CiberCuba that he was forced out of his residency program in neurosurgery at the Ernesto Che Guevara Hospital. His supervisor, Ponce de Leon Noriega, viewed Facebook posts from Pupo Casas that were critical of the government, including its low salaries for medical professionals. Noriega then publicly denounced Pupo Casas as “counterrevolutionary” and started proceedings to expel him from the hospital.

Religious groups reported increased restrictions on expressing their opinions during sermons and at religious gatherings, with authorities sometimes using COVID-19 restrictions to prevent persons from worshipping. Most members of the clergy exercised self-censorship. Religious leaders in some cases criticized the government, its policies, and the country’s leadership without reprisals. Other religious groups, particularly those not officially state-sanctioned, reported harassment and destruction of houses of worship.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The government or the PCC directly owned all print and broadcast media outlets and all widely available sources of information. News and information programming were generally uniform across all government-controlled outlets. The government controlled all printing presses and nearly all publications. The party censored public screenings and performances. The government limited the importation of printed materials.

Foreign correspondents had limited access to and often were denied interviews with government officials. Foreign correspondents struggled to gather facts and reliable data for stories. The government harassed and denied access to correspondents who reported stories deemed critical of the government. As a result of self-censorship and lack of access, foreign journalists rarely published stories on human rights violations while inside the country. Despite meeting government vetting requirements, journalists belonging to state media institutions who reported on sensitive subjects did so at personal risk, and the government barred them from working for unofficial media outlets in addition to their official duties. The government harassed and threatened any independent citizen journalists who reported on human rights violations.

After Camila Acosta started working as an independent journalist in August 2019, she endured nearly constant state harassment and other abuses for her work. Since February she was forced to move at least six times (including several times during the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak) due to police harassment of her landlords for “hosting a dissident.” She was arbitrarily arrested, detained, abused, fined, threatened, and interrogated at length on many occasions. For example, on July 31, she was waiting for friends in a park in Havana when two officers approached her, asked for her identity document, arrested her, and took her to a police station. Inside her bag they found several facemasks reading, “No to Decree 370,” a reference to legalized surveillance of electronic communication without a court order. The officers forced Acosta to strip and searched her further. Police fined her and threatened further prosecution for protesting the decree. On March 9, police arrested Acosta while she covered a demonstration for the freedom of artist and activist Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara (see section 2.a., Freedom of Speech). Police gave her a large fine and threatened her with “deportation” to her home province, Isla de la Juventud.

Violence and Harassment: The government did not recognize independent journalism, and independent journalists frequently faced government harassment, including detention and physical abuse. Most detentions were of independent journalists who filmed arrests and harassment of activists or otherwise attempted to cover politically sensitive topics. Community members and journalists for the Cuban Institute for Freedom of Expression and of the Press reported increased repression after President Diaz-Canel took office. Independent reporters experienced harassment, violence, intimidation, aggression, and censorship, and several were confined to their homes or prevented from traveling abroad. On November 22, security forces allowed a progovernment mob to block registered foreign media teams from reporting on protests for the freedom of Denis Solis in Havana’s central park. Foreign media reported the mob “pushing, shoving, and punching one cameraman four or five times in the body.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits distribution of printed materials considered “counterrevolutionary” or critical of the government. Foreign newspapers and 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 possession of these materials sometimes resulted in harassment and detention. Government officials also confiscated or destroyed cameras and cell phones of individuals to prevent them from distributing photographs and videos deemed objectionable.

The government sometimes barred independent libraries from receiving materials from abroad and seized materials donated by foreign governments, religious organizations, and individuals.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used defamation of character law to arrest or detain individuals critical of the country’s leadership. Authorities frequently arrested and charged persons with the vague crime of “contempt of authority.”

Internet Freedom

The government restricted access to the internet, and the country had a low internet connectivity rate. All internet access was provided through state monopoly companies, and the government has unrestricted and unregulated legal authority to monitor citizens’ and foreigners’ use of email, social media, internet chat rooms, and browsing. The government controlled all internet access, except for limited facilities provided by a few diplomatic missions and a small number of underground networks. The government used a combination of website blocking, pressure on website operators, arrests, intimidation, imprisonment, and unrestricted surveillance to censor information critical of the regime and to silence its critics. Despite heavy restrictions, citizens circumvented government censorship through grassroots innovations. Access to blocked outlets was generally possible only through a virtual private network.

For most internet users, the cost of accessing non-Cuban sites remained higher than the cost of accessing domestic ones, most of which were controlled by the government. Some individuals could connect at low or no cost via state institutions where they worked or studied. The government closely monitored web access points, such as Wi-Fi hotspots, cybercafes, and access centers, as well as the backbone internet infrastructure, which was directly controlled by the government.

The government selectively granted censored in-home internet access to certain areas of Havana and sectors of the population, consisting mostly of government officials, established professionals, some professors, and students, journalists, and artists. Others could access email 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 to access the internet.

During the year the government increased the number of Wi-Fi hot spots and increased mobile service that allowed persons greater access to the internet on their cell phones through the state telecommunications monopoly ETECSA without needing to connect to public Wi-Fi. The cost of this improved service was far beyond the means of most citizens; the cost of basic internet packages exceeded the average monthly wage.

In addition to public Wi-Fi hot spots, citizens and foreigners could buy internet access cards and use hotel business centers. Authorities reviewed the browsing history of users, reviewed and censored email, and blocked access to websites the government considered objectionable. The number of blocked websites fluctuated. The government blocked approximately 20 websites on a regular basis, including independent media outlets such as CiberCuba, 14yMedio, CubaNet, ADNCuba, Tremenda Nota, Marti Noticias, and other websites critical of the government’s human rights record. The government blocked access to Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net report. The government blocked internet tools and websites that the government considered contrary to its interests.

Public reports revealed that the government monitored citizens’ internet use and retaliated against them for their speech. The government selectively blocked the communications of government critics to prevent them from communicating with one another, sharing content, or reporting on government harassment. This occurred, for example, when activists attempted to gather in protest of the killing of Hansel Hernandez on June 30 (see section b., Freedom of Peaceful Assembly). At least 20 activists and journalists had their connectivity to the internet severed by the state that day.

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. ETECSA frequently disconnected the telecommunication service of human rights organizers, often just before their detention by state security or to disrupt planned activities. For example, artist and activist Tania Bruguera reported that her internet access was blocked for at least 45 days after she participated in protests on November 27 and was subsequently illegally confined to house arrest.

Human rights activists reported government employees (“trolls”) tracked the social media accounts of activists. Activists also reported on the government’s practice of sending mass text messages warning neighbors to avoid association with dissidents.

The government frequently targeted users of SNet (abbreviated from Street Network), a grassroots system of user-owned and user-operated wireless networks that allowed persons to exchange information outside of state control. While the law does not set specific penalties for unauthorized internet use, it is illegal to own a satellite dish that provides uncensored internet access, and authorities restricted the use of networking equipment that was key to SNet. The government restricted the importation of wireless routers, actively targeted private wireless access points, and confiscated equipment. After tolerating the growth of SNet for years, the government completed its expropriation of the system in 2019, and networks outside of government control essentially ceased to exist.

The use of encryption software and the transfer of encrypted files are also technically illegal, but information on enforcement of this restriction was not available. Despite poor access, harassment, and infrastructure problems, a growing number of citizens maintained news sites and blogs in which they posted opinions critical of the government with help from persons living outside the country, often expatriate Cubans. The government blocked local access to many of these blogs. In addition a small but growing number of citizens used Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, YouTube, and other social networks to report independently, including observations critical of the government. Like other government critics, bloggers faced government harassment, including detention, physical abuse, and often the destruction or confiscation of their internet equipment and devices.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government restricted academic freedom and controlled the curricula at all schools and universities, emphasizing the importance of reinforcing PCC rule through “revolutionary ideology” and “discipline.” Most academics refrained from meeting with foreigners, including diplomats, journalists, and visiting scholars, without prior government approval. Government monitors were sometimes present at these meetings. Those persons permitted to travel abroad were aware that their actions, if deemed politically unfavorable, could negatively affect them and their relatives in Cuba. Several university professors, researchers, and students reported they were forced out of their positions, demoted, or expelled for expressing ideas or opinions outside of government-accepted norms.

Outspoken artists and academics faced harassment and criticism orchestrated by the government. According to the digital magazine Tremenda Nota, academics and their students faced increased discrimination based on ideology and politics during the year.

On October 8, the NGO Observatory of Academic Freedom, founded in July by Cuban exiles, published the first of two reports on ideological discrimination in Cuban universities. In remarks accompanying the presentation, “Political Discrimination in Cuban Higher Education as a Violation of Academic Freedom,” several former Cuban academics described the censorship and punitive actions that led to their dismissals from university positions.

During the year universities adopted new admissions criteria to give greater weight to prospective students’ ideological beliefs.

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. Some religious institutions organized small libraries. Independent libraries were illegal but continued to exist, and owners faced harassment and intimidation.

Ecuador

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

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

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

Human rights organizations reported excessive force by security forces who were likely responsible for several of the 11 deaths reported by the comptroller during the October 2019 violent protests against the government’s economic reforms. Ministry of Government officials indicated that only eight deaths were linked to demonstrations, and they argued that the causes of death were either due to force majeure actions of police attempting to control violent crowds or accidents that did not result from direct police action. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Regional Human Rights Advisory Foundation and other NGOs reported that as of August 17, the Attorney General’s Office had not significantly advanced investigations concerning deaths during the protests. Criminal investigations concerning the entire range of crimes committed during the several weeks of organized violence–including lootings, arson, attacks on public employees and institutions–that accompanied the political protests did not significantly advance before year’s end.

In December 2019 the Provincial Court of Imbabura overturned police officer David Velastegui’s June 2019 sentence for “overreaching in the execution of an act of service.” In 2018 Velastegui shot and killed Andres Padilla, an Afro-Ecuadorian man, during a scuffle. The court, in reversing its ruling, determined Velastegui’s life was in imminent danger, justifying use of his service weapon in self-defense. The court further found “no advance planning or intentionality in Padilla’s death,” and no “criminal responsibility in the accused, since the death did not occur as a consequence of an act of excess of duties.” Padilla’s family appealed the ruling, and a decision on the appeal was pending as of October 19.

b. Disappearance

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

On August 14, after the National Court of Justice sentenced former intelligence officers Raul Chicaiza and Jessica Falcon to one year in prison for the 2012 kidnapping in Bogota, Colombia, of opposition legislator Fernando Balda, the court ruled that government officials used public funds to orchestrate Balda’s kidnapping. The court found former intelligence director Pablo Romero guilty of planning the abduction under the orders of former president Rafael Correa, who was also indicted but remained in Belgium despite extradition requests. The extradition request remained in process as of October 27.

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

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

In two cases stemming from arrests relating to the violent October 2019 protests, victims reported to NGOs and international organizations alleged police kidnappings and torture or other forms of degrading treatment during police interrogations. Human rights activists asserted that as of August 17, officials had not investigated these claims. On January 14, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) released a preliminary report from its state-sponsored October 2019 visit on reported abuses relating to the 2019 protests. Numerous detainees claimed authorities abused them through verbal threats, beatings with fists and metal truncheons, and forced physical exercises. The IACHR noted that judicial authorities in some cases did not record evidence presented by victims. Local human rights organizations reported that torture continued to occur in prisons, especially at Turi Prison in Azuay Province. On February 27, Azuay Public Prosecutor Leonardo Amoroso stated that contrary to official accounts claiming six prisoners died on February 20 in the prison by suicide, a forensic report (indicating one prisoner whose liver had burst) suggested the prisoners might have died as the result of torture, but he did not speculate who may have been responsible for the deaths. As of October 27, an inquiry request from human rights organizations to the Ombudsman’s Office on the case was pending.

On October 13, media reported a female police officer in Duran, Guayas Province, assaulted a female street vendor with a disability, who was tied to a pole, by placing her hands on the vendor’s buttocks while observers ridiculed the vendor and poured water over her head. The offending officer was dismissed from her duties the same day. On October 14, the public prosecutor launched an investigation and arrested two additional suspects involved in the incident.

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: Prisons continued to be overcrowded despite efforts to alleviate the problem. Officials reported a reduction in total prison overpopulation from 36 percent at the end of 2019 to 28 percent through June 1 by releasing 1,525 inmates between April 1 and June 1 in response to COVID-19 contagion concerns. A human rights NGO reported prison conditions were often better for female inmates due to their lower population density.

By law juveniles cannot be tried as adults, and individuals convicted as juveniles serve their full sentence in juvenile prisons. In May 2019 the daily newspaper El Comercio reported 40 percent of the population in the 11 centers for juvenile offenders were juveniles due to reach adulthood during their sentence. Human rights organizations reported no juveniles resided in adult prisons.

Media reports documented 22 violent deaths in prisons nationwide through August 20. Prison officials and human rights organizations agreed most violent deaths in prisons were linked to tension among criminal gangs with links to drug cartels. An August 3 confrontation between armed prison gangs left 11 inmates dead (including two who died from incineration) and 20 injured at Litoral Prison in Guayaquil. An August 11 gang confrontation in the Latacunga Rehabilitation Center in Cotopaxi Province maximum-security block left two inmates dead and five injured. An NGO reported criminal organizations operating within and outside of prisons intimidated prison staff while on and off duty.

On August 8, Israeli citizen Shy Dahan (incarcerated for alleged ties to corruption in acquiring medical equipment and fraudulent COVID-19 testing kits in a scheme allegedly involving former president Abdala Bucaram) was found dead in his cell in Litoral Prison. On October 1, media reported Litoral Prison director Hector Vivar was arrested for alleged involvement in a bribery scheme in which he demanded $30,000 in exchange for Dahan’s protection and safety.

On September 2, seven prisoners were sentenced to 46 total additional years in prison for the June 11 kidnapping and murder–by decapitation and incineration–of a fellow prisoner in the Eighth Rehabilitation Regional Prison in Guayas Province.

On August 11, President Moreno declared a state of emergency for the nationwide penitentiary system to address the escalation of prison violence, similar to a May 2019 declaration. The government also ordered the presence of police inside prison centers and military personnel at security perimeters and entry checkpoints of prisons. The state of emergency remained in effect as of October 27. During the state of emergency, the government reclassified and segregated inmates at facilities according to assessed threat levels.

Access to and quality of food, potable and hot water, heating, sanitation, and medical care were inadequate. Officials verified that inmates did not have safe and permanent access to healthful food. In 2018 government officials detected a deterioration of the water systems at prison facilities with noticeable difficulties in access to drinking water, especially at the Latacunga Rehabilitation Center, and these problems persisted. In some facilities health measures were sufficient only for emergency care. On June 20, national prison officials reported 699 inmate infections and 10 deaths due to COVID-19 in the national detention centers. Prisoners noted inconsistent and generally insufficient protection and isolation measures from COVID-19 infection in prisons.

An NGO reported that prison officials, including medical staff, often failed to screen adequately and segregate prisoners with mental and physical disabilities from the rest of the prison population. On June 26, President Moreno signed a decree pardoning persons with disabilities and commuting their prison sentences. Pardoned inmates were required to comply with alternative measures, including community service and appearing personally before a judge twice a month.

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

On March 15, President Moreno ordered the suspension of visits to inmates and curtailed recreational activities at all prison centers as a measure to prevent COVID-19 contagion. Human rights organizations continued to report that the few visitors allowed before the pandemic faced degrading treatment during check-in at prison facilities, including the removal of clothing and illumination of genitalia by flashlights while forced to jump naked. Such treatment dissuaded relatives and religious officials from visiting prisons. An NGO reported that access to inmates had been limited during the May-August 2019 emergency declaration, as inmates continued living in almost complete isolation from their relatives.

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

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but there were reports that provincial and local authorities did not always observe these provisions. According to NGOs, illegal detentions continued to occur.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires authorities to issue specific written arrest orders prior to detention, and a judge must charge a suspect with a specific criminal offense within 24 hours of arrest. Authorities generally observed this time limit, although in some provinces initial detention was often considerably longer. Detainees have the right to be informed of the charges against them. By law, if the initial investigation report is incriminating, the judge, upon the prosecutor’s request, may order pretrial detention. Judges at times ordered a detainee’s release pending trial with the use of ankle-monitoring bracelets.

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

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

Arbitrary Arrest: Several NGOs and international organizations reported that security forces arbitrarily detained protesters during the October 2019 violent antigovernment demonstrations. In its January 14 report, the IACHR highlighted information received indicating that “a large number of arrests were allegedly carried out arbitrarily or illegally,” underlining the comptroller’s October 2019 claim that up to 76 percent of the government’s reported 1,192 detentions during the demonstrations were arbitrary or illegal.

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, outside pressure and corruption impaired the judicial process. Legal experts, bar associations, and NGOs reported on the susceptibility of the judiciary to bribes for favorable decisions and faster resolution of legal cases. No updates were available through September 18 on the selection of permanent replacement of Judicial Council members after 23 of 36 evaluated judges were deemed not to have met the minimum qualification threshold in November 2019 and were replaced by temporary judges from lower courts appointed by the council.

On January 29, six former police officials convicted for “paralyzing a public service” during a 2010 police protest known as 30-S were released from prison on appeal. All of the officers declared they would seek to reintegrate into the police force. On June 29, four other former police officials sentenced to 12 years in prison in the same incident presented a revision appeal to the National Court of Justice. The appellants, after serving nearly six years in prison, were released as they awaited the court’s ruling, which was pending as of October 27.

Trial Procedures

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

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

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

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

The court system slowed considerably due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with all courts initially moving to remote working conditions. Defendants’ counsels complained this format inhibited their ability to represent their clients adequately, and several noted that new procedural rules were inconsistently and sometimes arbitrarily applied. By June some courts had returned to in-person appearances, but judges in at-risk health or demographic categories continued to telework.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

On July 30, the National Assembly approved a resolution granting amnesty to 20 indigenous leaders charged and convicted in 2015 for kidnapping and extortion after participating in mobilizations against the former Correa administration. Aside from ordering the immediate release of four leaders still in detention, the resolution expunged all criminal records related to the charges, revoked any outstanding arrest warrants against any individuals, and removed any precautionary measures or prison alternatives that had been previously issued. Human rights organizations reported that 150 abused and detained demonstrators continued to face legal processes for the same alleged 2015 acts.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but other laws restrict this right. Experts cautioned that restrictive provisions to journalistic work found in a 2013 communication law, reformed in February 2019, remained in effect, including Article 5, which characterizes media and communications as a public service, not a right, and a provision requiring all journalists to hold university degrees. Restrictive provisions found in other laws, such as punishing opinions as slander, which carries a prison term of six months to two years, also remained in force.

Human rights activists noted that national curfews and movement restrictions enacted during the October 2019 protests, and in place to varying degrees since March 17 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, meant for security and public health reasons, in effect set a series of de facto restrictions on freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association, and freedom of movement (see section 2.b.).

Freedom of Speech: Individuals could usually discuss matters of general interest publicly or privately without reprisal. The law prohibits citizens from using “discrediting expressions,” treated as a misdemeanor with a 15- to 30-day prison term. There were no reports the government invoked this law to restrict freedom of speech during the year.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, including those critical of the government.

The domestic freedom of expression monitoring group Fundamedios reported that due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, public and private media companies in July reduced staff, including journalists, press support, and administrative staff, among others. According to Fundamedios, the staffing cuts adversely affected press freedom because critical views of the government decreased as a result of the reductions.

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

The law includes the offense of inciting “financial panic” with a penalty of imprisonment from 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 put the institution’s stability at risk.

The law mandates television and radio broadcast of messages and reports by the president and his cabinet are to be free of charge. After taking office in 2017, President Moreno reduced the amount of time required for presidential broadcasts to one 15-minute weekly program, compared with the three- to four-hour weekly program by his predecessor.

Reforms to the 2013 communications law enacted in 2019 on spectrum allocations addressed past concerns about the potential excessive allocation of spectrum to state media. The reforms call for the redistribution of broadcast frequencies to divide media ownership between community media (up to 34 percent) and private and public media (up to 66 percent combined). Maximum figures under the reform are subject to demand and availability. The reforms limit the allocation of radio frequencies to the public sector to no more than 10 percent of the spectrum.

On May 15, the Agency for the Regulation and Control of Telecommunications (ARCOTEL) began a competitive public tender to allocate 3,196 radio frequencies. Fundamedios and other civil society groups criticized the bidding process as lacking transparency and allowing a small number of bidders to accumulate a disproportionate number of frequencies. These groups noted the potential agglomeration of radio frequencies under one domain threatened freedom of expression by reinstalling self-censorship among media outlets. On September 18, the National Assembly initiated an audit of the bidding process. On October 5, ARCOTEL director Xavier Aguirre announced postponement of the bidding process for 25 days to review bidders’ qualifications and review government and civil society inquiries about the process. On November 13, ARCOTEL stated on its website 70 percent of participants (of a total of 621) for the radio frequencies tender complied with all the requisites to obtain their qualifying title, which are valid for 15 years. The remaining 30 percent may ask for a second review of their application.

Violence and Harassment: Human Rights Watch reported police in Guayaquil used apparent excessive force to break up a May 14 peaceful protest against the government’s COVID-19 response and education budget cuts. According to Fundamedios, police attacked two journalists from the daily newspaper Diario Expreso and a photographer for the CDH.

In a December 2019 report, Fundamedios stated the October 2019 violent antigovernment protests led to a resurgence in stigmatization and hateful speech against journalists and media last experienced during former president Correa’s administration. This speech was broadly attributed to the protesters and their supporters, rather than to the Moreno government. Phrases such as “corrupt press” and “sold-out press” were frequently replicated across broad sectors and on social media during the October 2019 protests and carried forward throughout the year. Verbal attacks instilled “a mistrust by the citizenry towards reporters, especially those who belong to some traditional media outlets.” Some journalists said they avoided covering politically charged protests due to fear of suffering physical attacks, as seen during the October 2019 protests.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were reports government officials tried to penalize those who published items critical of the government. Fundamedios reported five potential censorship cases involving government officials through August 11. While four cases did not involve legal action or penalties, in one instance a Chimborazo provincial council official filed a criminal complaint against two journalists for publishing a report on corrupt acts in Riobamba, capital of Chimborazo Province.

On September 2, the Constitutional Court overturned a 2012 decision issued by the Contentious Electoral Tribunal (TCE) that fined Vistazo news magazine $80,000 for publishing an editorial rejecting the 2011 government-led referendum on proposed reforms to the judiciary branch three days before the vote was held. After initially ruling in the magazine’s favor, stating an opinion editorial cannot be considered “political propaganda,” the TCE reversed its decision after the then president Correa replaced the TCE’s judges. In its September ruling, the Constitutional Court found the TCE responsible for violating the rights of due process and freedom of expression. The ruling also exhorted government officials to emphasize freedom of expression around the electoral process. A Vistazo legal representative told local media, “This decision sets a precedent that media outlets must express their opinions without self-censorship.”

The law imposes local content quotas on 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 by a judge to be sexist, racist, or discriminatory in nature. Furthermore, the Ministry of Public Health must approve all advertising for food or health products.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a criminal offense under the law, with penalties of up to three years in prison, plus fines. The law assigns responsibility to media owners, who are liable for opinion pieces or statements by reporters or others, including readers, using their media platforms. The February 2019 reforms to the 2013 communications law repealed a prohibition of “media lynching,” described as the “coordinated and repetitive dissemination of information, directly or by third parties through media, intended to discredit a person or company or reduce its public credibility.” Monitoring organizations reported that as of August 17, the government had not used libel laws against journalists.

On July 13, an attorney representing the Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht sued the investigative journalist and director of Investigative Journalism online portal, Fernando Villavicencio, for defamation after Villavicencio published an August 2019 report on the private company’s return to the country in 2010 after its 2008 expulsion. The report alleged the company paid $20 million to the Correa government in exchange for generous debt forgiveness terms and cessation of investigations. The Moreno government barred Odebrecht from further operations in the country in January 2019, weeks after Odebrecht officials confessed to U.S. authorities of orchestrating an international corruption network for many years.

In 2019 the Constitutional Court overturned a 2012 ruling against the newspaper Diario La Hora. The National Secretary of Public Administration successfully argued in 2012 that the outlet published information about the then government’s propaganda expenses that damaged the secretariat’s reputation. The court’s decision highlighted that only humans, not institutions, have rights. Legal experts argued the decision set a precedent in favor of free speech.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, including for Media: The National Committee for the Protection of Journalists, a joint government-civil society committee formed in 2019, reconvened on August 11 to discuss ways to protect journalists from threats for reporting on corruption and other sensitive issues. The committee agreed to integrate representatives from the Attorney General’s Office and Judicial Council and, if applicable, activate police intervention to provide protection and support for affected journalists.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, but human rights organizations and media outlets reported cases of online content censorship.

On February 4, a presidency employee denounced the digital media outlet 4 Pelagatos for alleged intellectual property violations for using a photograph of President Moreno, which was taken by the government, in an online article. According to the complaint, 4 Pelagatos violated the government’s intellectual property for using a government image without authorization. On the same day, the Communications Secretariat stated the presidency employee had been dismissed for “taking unauthorized decisions.” The press release reiterated the government’s respect for the freedom of expression but justified restrictions on imagery use based on copyright standards, saying, “in (our) fight against disinformation, (the national government) has copyright over images and information it generates.”

A government 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. 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 number) or created a system to delete offensive comments. The law also prohibits media from using information obtained from social media unless they can verify the author of the information.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

Venezuela

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

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

There were numerous reports that the illegitimate Maduro regime committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Although the regime did not release statistics on extrajudicial killings, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that national, state, and municipal police entities, as well as the armed forces and regime-supported colectivos, carried out thousands of such killings during the year.

The Public Ministry is responsible for initiating judicial investigations of security force abuses. The Office for Protection of Human Rights in the Public Ministry is responsible for investigating cases involving crimes committed by public officials, particularly security officials. There was also no official information available on the number of public officials prosecuted, convicted, or sentenced to prison for involvement in extrajudicial killings, which, in the case of killings committed by police, were often classified as “resistance to authority.”

On August 20, FAES officers shot and killed journalists Andres Nieves Zacarias and Victor Torres during a raid at the headquarters of Guacamaya TV in Zulia State. Torres’ father, the director of the television station, stated FAES officers then seized all of the station’s audiovisual equipment and planted weapons on the victims’ bodies to simulate an alleged confrontation. Illegitimate regime attorney general Tarek William Saab called the homicides extrajudicial killings, and four FAES officers were arrested in connection with the killings.

The illegitimate regime attorney general reported that from 2017 to July, one officer was convicted of homicide for killings in the context of security operations. The regime did not release details on the officer’s conviction or other investigations of security officers involved in killings. The OHCHR found that investigations of human rights violations committed by regime security forces were hampered by its refusal to cooperate, tampering with evidence, judicial delays, and harassment of relatives of victims. According to NGOs, prosecutors occasionally brought cases against perpetrators of extrajudicial killings, but prosecutions often resulted in light sentences, and convictions were often overturned on appeal. In many cases the regime appeared to be scapegoating low-level functionaries while allowing high-level officials who issued the illegal orders to continue in their positions.

A UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Venezuela report released in September stated that extrajudicial killings were committed by officers belonging to the military, police, and intelligence services, including in more recent years by FAES and the National Scientific Criminal and Investigative Corps (CICPC) officers. The FFM asserted that some high-level authorities had knowledge of and contributed to the crimes, while others who knew or should have known of the crimes did not take measures to prevent or stop them. Victims were typically young men, targeted due to alleged criminal activity, revenge, or mistaken identity, who were shot and killed in their homes or neighborhoods. Media and NGOs reported security forces attempted to cover up extrajudicial killings by planting evidence or altering crime scenes to suggest an altercation or attempted escape by the victim. The FFM concluded there were reasonable grounds to believe that authorities and security forces planned and executed serious human rights violations, including killings, some of which amounted to crimes against humanity, since 2014. The FFM report also stated there were reasonable grounds to believe that Maduro and other regime officials either ordered, contributed to, or were involved in the commission of the crimes and human rights abuses documented in the FFM report.

b. Disappearance

The NGOs Foro Penal and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights documented 753 enforced disappearances of political detainees between 2018 and June 2020. An OHCHR investigation found that almost all individuals detained by the Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM) were subjected to enforced disappearances for periods of seven to 40 days after their arrest, raising their risk of also becoming victims of torture and abuse. The illegitimate Maduro regime continued to deny requests by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances to visit the country to conduct an investigation.

On March 10, FAES officers detained National Assembly (AN) deputy Renzo Prieto and two assistants, without a warrant for their arrest, after the three participated in a protest in support of interim president Guaido. The illegitimate Maduro regime authorities did not disclose Prieto’s location, nor did they allow any form of communication between Prieto and his family or lawyers during his detention. Prieto’s family expressed significant concern for his state of health, due to an injury that required urgent surgical care and risk of contracting COVID-19. While in regime custody, Prieto stated he was forced to sleep on the floor in a frigid, windowless, four-by-eight-foot cell with five other detainees. On August 31, Prieto was released. Prieto previously had been in regime detention from 2014 to 2018, also after participating in a protest, in what the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded was an arbitrary arrest.

The illegitimate Maduro regime arrested AN deputy Gilber Caro in December 2019, his third detention since 2017, and did not reveal his location or permit contact with his lawyer until January 21. On August 31, he was released.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were credible reports that Maduro-aligned security forces tortured and abused detainees. According to the illegitimate Maduro regime, as of May, 26 individuals had been convicted of torturing or abusing detainees.

The regime-aligned Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman did not publish statistics regarding allegations of torture by police during the year. Several NGOs detailed cases of widespread torture and “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” Human rights groups reported the regime continued to influence the attorney general and public defenders to conduct investigations selectively and subjectively. No official data were available on investigations, prosecutions, or convictions in cases of alleged torture. The NGO Foro Penal maintained that hundreds of cases were not reported to government institutions because victims feared reprisal. The OHCHR found that in some cases doctors issued false or inaccurate medical reports not disclosing signs of torture.

Press and NGOs reported that beatings and humiliating treatment of suspects during arrests were common and involved various law enforcement agencies and the military controlled by the illegitimate Maduro regime. Torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of prisoners were also reported during the year. Regime-aligned authorities reportedly subjected detainees to asphyxiation, electric shock, broken bones, being hung by their limbs, and being forced to spend hours on their knees. Detainees were also subjected to cold temperatures, sensory deprivation, and sleep deprivation; remained handcuffed for extended periods of time; and received death threats to themselves and their relatives. Detainees reported regime-aligned security forces moved them from detention centers to houses and other clandestine locations where abuse took place. Cruel treatment frequently involved illegitimate regime authorities denying prisoners medical care and holding them for long periods in solitary confinement. The latter practice was most prevalent with political prisoners. NGOs detailed reports from detainees who were victims of sexual and gender-based violence by regime-aligned authorities. The FFM found that regime-aligned security forces, specifically the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) and DGCIM, subjected detainees to torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, and that high-level regime officials committed, ordered, or contributed to the abuses or were aware of their activities and failed to prevent or stop them.

Foro Penal reported multiple instances of political prisoners denied adequate medical treatment while in regime custody. Foro Penal noted instances in which regime authorities transferred detainees to a medical facility, where instead of receiving treatment, they were interrogated by security officials. PROVEA identified 574 cases of torture by regime-aligned security forces in 2019, resulting in the deaths of at least 23 individuals. NGOs reported that members of the military represented a growing number of victims of torture, such as retired naval captain Rafael Acosta Arevalo, who died of injuries sustained from torture while in regime custody in June 2019.

Political activist Vasco Da Costa, who had been detained in the Ramo Verde military prison despite being a civilian, was released in August 2019 after more than two years in regime custody. Da Costa described extended periods of torture at the hands of the DGCIM, including use of electric shocks, simulated drownings, and beatings to the feet and stomach to the point that he lost control of his bowels. According to Da Costa, prison guards systematically beat and mutilated detainees according to the detainees’ occupations, targeting the legs of soldiers, the hands of a surgeon who was arrested because he was the spouse of a soldier wanted by the regime, and in the case of Da Costa, his eyes due to his role as an academic.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. Despite continued reports of police abuse and involvement in crime, particularly in the activities of illegally armed groups, including illegal and arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, and the excessive use of force, the illegitimate Maduro regime took no effective action to investigate officials who committed human rights abuses. Corruption, inadequate police training and equipment, and insufficient central government funding, particularly for police forces in states and municipalities governed by opposition officials, reduced the effectiveness of the security forces. NGOs noted that many victims did not report violent crimes to police or other regime authorities due to fear of retribution or lack of confidence in police. The regime, backed by Cuban security force members embedded in Maduro’s security and intelligence services, refused to cede power, preventing the interim government from taking action.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Most prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to gross overcrowding, food shortages, inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care, systemic violence, and poor infrastructure.

Physical Conditions: According to the NGO A Window to Liberty (UVL), prison capacity was approximately 19,000 inmates for penitentiaries and 5,000 for police station jails. Conditions were most acute in pretrial detention facilities such as police station jails. Overcrowding was 172 percent for penitentiaries and 415 percent for police station jails on average, although the NGO Venezuelan Observatory for Prisons (OVP) noted that in some jails the overcrowding ranged from 800 to 1,200 percent. Overcrowding and generally unsanitary conditions placed prisoners at increased risk of contracting respiratory diseases such as tuberculosis and COVID-19.

There were two women’s prisons, one each in the states of Miranda and Zulia. The law stipulates women in mixed prisons must be held in annexes or separate women’s blocks. A local NGO reported that male and female prisoners intermingled. Illegitimate Maduro regime security forces and law enforcement authorities often held minors together with adults, although separate facilities existed. Because institutions were filled beyond capacity, hundreds of children accused of infractions were confined in juvenile detention centers, where they were reportedly crowded into small, unsanitary cells.

The CICPC detention facility, police station jails, and detention centers also were overcrowded, causing many police station offices to be converted into makeshift prison cells. Long delays in court proceedings and prison transfers created a parallel system that held prisoners in police station jails, in some cases for years, although these facilities were designed to hold individuals only for 48 hours. Prisoners reportedly took turns sleeping on floors and in office chairs, and sanitation facilities were inadequate or nonexistent. A UVL study of 248 facilities holding pretrial detainees revealed 315 percent overcrowding. The UVL also found that 5 percent of facilities provided medical services, more than 90 percent did not have potable water, 50 percent did not have regular trash collection or proper restrooms, and 35 percent lacked electricity.

The National Guard (GNB) and the Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace have responsibility for prisons’ exterior and interior security, respectively. The illegitimate Maduro regime failed to provide adequate prison security. The OVP estimated a staffing gap of 90 percent for prison security personnel, with one guard for every 100 inmates, instead of one for every 10 as recommended by international standards. Armed gangs, known as pranes, exercised de facto control within some prisons.

According to the UVL and OVP, between March and August, 287 prisoners died in prisons and jails, more than double the number compared with the same period in 2018. Some deaths resulted from prison and detention center riots. For example, on May 1, GNB officers opened fire on prisoners during a riot at the Los Llanos penitentiary in Portuguesa State, leaving 47 prisoners killed and 67 injured. Illegitimate regime Minister of Prisons Iris Varela claimed the riot began as an attempted prison escape, an account disputed by inmates and their family members, who stated the prisoners were protesting malnutrition. Media reported the prison, which was designed for 750 prisoners, held at least 2,500 inmates. AN members called the violence a massacre, and human rights NGOs and the OHCHR called for an investigation. The illegitimate Maduro regime charged 10 persons for their involvement in the violence.

The OVP reported inmate deaths due to generally unsanitary and unsafe conditions prevalent in prisons, with 73 percent the result of tuberculosis and malnutrition. The OVP reported that due to inadequate nutrition and lack of potable water, stomach illnesses were common among inmates. The UVL reported that in more than 90 percent of detention facilities, prisoners depended upon family visits to supply them with food, water, and medicine. Media reported prison guards regularly stole food families purchased for inmates. Prisoners were unable to meet their basic needs when illegitimate Maduro regime authorities suspended family visits to prisons and detention centers on April 2 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A study by the NGO Solidarity Action found prison rules resulted in the isolation of those with HIV/AIDS in “inadequate spaces without food and medical attention.” The OVP reported a generalized lack of medical care, drugs, equipment, and physicians for prisoners. Inmates often received the same pills regardless of their symptoms, and pregnant women lacked adequate facilities for medical attention.

Administration: The illegitimate regime’s Ministry of Penitentiary Services did not respond to requests from the OVP, UVL, other human rights organizations, inmates, or families regarding inmates or investigations of the harsh conditions that led to hunger strikes, violent uprisings, and massacres.

Prisoners and detainees generally had access to visitors, including some with overnight privileges, until authorities suspended family visits in April due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In some cases prison officials harassed or abused visitors. For political prisoners, prison officials imposed significant restrictions on visits by family and legal representation. When allowed access, visitors were at times subjected to strip searches.

Independent Monitoring: Human rights observers experienced lengthy delays and restrictions in gaining access to prisons and detention centers. More than 300 lay members from the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference of the Roman Catholic Church volunteered in 40 prisons. Although prohibited from formally entering prisons, Catholic laity visited prisoners on family visitation days. As of September the OHCHR had conducted 15 visits of 13 detention centers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits the arrest or detention of an individual without a judicial order and provides for the accused to remain free while being tried, but judges and prosecutors often disregarded these provisions. The law provides for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, but the illegitimate Maduro regime generally did not observe this requirement. While NGOs such as Foro Penal, the Committee for the Families of Victims of February-March 1989, the Institute for Press and Society, Espacio Publico, and PROVEA noted at least 2,000 open cases of arbitrary detentions, illegitimate Maduro regime authorities rarely granted them formal means to present their petitions. Regime authorities arbitrarily detained individuals, including foreign citizens, for extended periods without criminal charges.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

While a warrant is required for an arrest, detention is permitted without an arrest warrant when an individual is apprehended in the act of committing a crime or to secure a suspect or witness during an investigation. Police often detained individuals and raided their homes without a warrant. The OHCHR found that in several cases the illegitimate Maduro regime issued warrants retroactively or forged the warrant’s date of issuance. The law mandates that detainees be brought before a prosecutor within 12 hours and before a judge within 48 hours to determine the legality of the detention; the law also requires that detainees be informed promptly of the charges against them. The regime routinely ignored these requirements.

Although the law provides for bail, release on bail is not afforded to persons charged with certain crimes. Bail also may be denied if a person is apprehended in the act of committing a crime or if a judge determines the accused may flee or impede the investigation. The law allows detainees access to counsel and family members, but that requirement was often not met, particularly for political prisoners. The constitution also provides any detained individual the right to immediate communication with family members and lawyers who, in turn, have the right to know a detainee’s whereabouts. A person accused of a crime may not be detained for longer than the possible minimum sentence for that crime or for longer than two years, whichever is shorter, except in certain circumstances, such as when the defendant is responsible for the delay in the proceedings. The regime routinely ignored these requirements.

Arbitrary Arrest: Foro Penal reported 281 cases of arbitrary detention between January 1 and July 31.

On May 9, illegitimate regime security forces arrested Junior Pantoja, a former city councilman and soup-kitchen manager, during a violent police confrontation with armed gangs in a Caracas neighborhood. Pantoja’s relatives and neighbors, as well as AN, called the arrest arbitrary and politically motivated due to his role as a community leader. Pantoja’s lawyer claimed security forces planted five bullets on Pantoja in order to arrest him for gang-related activity and arms trafficking. On June 24, he was released and on August 23, he died of a respiratory infection after his health deteriorated while in regime custody.

On October 4, the illegitimate Maduro regime, without providing explanation, prevented interim president Juan Guaido’s chief of staff, Roberto Marrero, from boarding a flight to Spain. Marrero had been released from regime custody on August 31, following his March 2019 arrest and months of arbitrary judicial delays. Media reported contradictory and conflicting evidence submitted by prosecutors–including allegations that rifles and a grenade were planted at Marrero’s residence on the day of his arrest. Marrero was charged with conspiracy, treason, and weapons smuggling. Many international entities, including the Lima Group and the EU, condemned Marrero’s 2019 arrest as politically motivated.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention remained an egregious problem. According to the UVL, approximately 70 percent of the prison population was in pretrial detention. The NGO Citizen Observatory of the Penal Justice System attributed trial delays to the shortage of prosecutors and penal judges.

Despite constitutional protections that provide for timely trials, judges reportedly scheduled initial hearings months after the events that led to the detention. Proceedings were often deferred or suspended when an officer of the court, such as the prosecutor, public defender, or judge, failed to attend. Prisoners reported to NGOs that a lack of transportation and disorganization in the prison system reduced their access to the courts and contributed to trial delays.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary lacked independence and generally judged in favor of the illegitimate regime at all levels. There were credible allegations of corruption and political influence throughout the judiciary. According to reports from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), more than 75 percent of all judges had provisional appointments and were subject to removal at will by the Supreme Court (TSJ) Judicial Committee. Provisional and temporary judges, who legally have the same rights and authorities as permanent judges, allegedly were subjected to political influence to make proregime determinations. The OHCHR reported that lower courts received instructions from the TSJ on cases, especially those of a political nature, and observed that TSJ decisions related to the AN were inconsistent and raised concerns regarding politicization. Low salaries for judges at all levels increased the risk of corruption.

There was a general lack of transparency and stability in the assignments of district attorneys to cases and a lack of technical criteria for assigning district attorneys to criminal investigations. These deficiencies hindered the possibility of bringing offenders to justice and resulted in a 90 percent rate of impunity for common crimes and a higher percentage of impunity for cases of alleged human rights abuses.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial with oral proceedings for all individuals. By law defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty. The law requires that detainees be informed promptly of the charges against them, but the requirement was often ignored and, even when respected, involved dubious allegations, according to human rights organizations. Defendants have the right to consult with an attorney. According to the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, there were approximately 1,300 public defenders, but indigent defendants’ right to free counsel was often not respected because of attorney shortages. Free interpretation was often not available to defendants. Some NGOs provided pro bono counsel to defendants.

Defendants may request no fewer than 30 days and no more than 45 days to prepare their defense. Defendants have the right to question adverse witnesses and present their own witnesses. By law defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants and plaintiffs have the right of appeal. The OHCHR documented cases in which the illegitimate Maduro regime prevented lawyers from meeting with defendants and denied them confidentiality or access to case files.

Trial delays were common. Trials in absentia are permitted in certain circumstances, although opponents of the procedure claimed the constitution prohibits such trials. The law also states that, in the absence of the defense attorney, a trial may proceed with a public defender whom the court designates. The law gives judges the discretion to hold trials behind closed doors if a public trial could “disturb the normal development of the trial.”

On November 8, the TSJ convicted judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni of “spiritual corruption,” an offense that does not exist under criminal law, and sentenced her to five years’ imprisonment. Human rights NGOs and lawyers called the charges fabricated and an attempt to coerce other judges to take action against opposition politicians. In 2009 authorities arrested Afiuni on charges of corruption and abuse of authority for her decision to release a businessman who had been held in pretrial detention beyond the maximum time prescribed by law. Following her release to house arrest in 2011, regime-aligned authorities limited her movements and ability to speak to the press before granting her an unconditional release in July 2019.

The law mandates that municipal courts handle “less serious” crimes, i.e., those carrying maximum penalties of imprisonment of fewer than eight years. Municipal courts may levy penalties that include three to eight months of community service. Besides diverting some “less serious” crimes to the municipal courts, this diversion also permits individuals accused of “lesser crimes” to ask the courts to suspend their trials conditionally in exchange for their admission of responsibility, commitment to provide restitution “in a material or symbolic form,” community service, or any other condition imposed by the court.

The law provides that trials for military personnel charged with human rights abuses after 1999 be held in civilian rather than military courts. In addition, under the Organic Code of Military Justice, an individual may be tried in the military justice system for “insulting, offending, or disparaging the national armed forces or any related entities.” NGOs and the IACHR expressed concern with the regime’s practice of trying civilians under the military justice system for protests and other actions not under military jurisdiction. According to Foro Penal, since 2014 military courts had processed 870 civilians.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

The illegitimate Maduro regime used the judiciary to intimidate and prosecute individuals critical of regime policies or actions. Foro Penal reported 351 political prisoners in regime custody as of December 28, compared with 388 political prisoners at the end of 2019. The regime routinely held political prisoners in SEBIN installations or the Ramo Verde military prison without an explanation of why they were not being held in civilian detention facilities.

On August 31, the illegitimate Maduro regime announced the “pardon” of 110 political prisoners. These pardons were conditional, with regime officials threatening to rescind the benefit if any individuals “return to any act of terrorism, violence, or coup mongering,” as arbitrarily determined by the regime. According to Foro Penal, however, only 50 of those named were in regime custody at the time. Of the prisoners, 23 had already been released, and the remaining 37 were AN deputies either in exile, in foreign embassy asylum in Caracas, or facing prosecution. Media and NGOs noted that since most on the list were not duly convicted or even charged with any crime, the move was a dismissal rather than a pardon. The list did not include any members of the military, although they represented 20 percent of political prisoners, according to Foro Penal. On September 7, regime attorney general Tarek William Saab encouraged the released detainees to participate in the December 6 parliamentary elections, but he warned they would be rearrested if found to have committed additional “crimes.”

On March 15, SEBIN officers arrested AN deputy Tony Geara. Geara was charged with financing terrorism and weapons trafficking after he posted comments on social media noting that a local hospital did not have running water. Media reported in August that Geara tested positive for COVID-19 while in SEBIN custody in Bolivar State. On August 31, Geara was released.

On August 28, AN deputy Juan Requesens was released to house arrest after being detained for more than two years for his alleged involvement in an attempted assassination of Maduro. International observers criticized irregularities in Requesens’ trial, which was marred by lengthy judicial delays as well as a lack of transparency and legal due process.

On October 14, opposition party leader Leopoldo Lopez fled to Spain after more than one year inside the Spanish embassy in Caracas. He previously escaped house arrest during mass demonstrations in April 2019, and in May 2019 the illegitimate Maduro regime issued a warrant for his arrest. Lopez was notably not included in the August 31 “pardon” of political prisoners.

In 2017 the head of state-owned oil company PDVSA summoned six executives of U.S.-based subsidiary CITGO to Venezuela for an emergency budget meeting: U.S. citizens Tomeu Vadell, Gustavo Cardenas, Jorge Toledo, Alirio Jose Zambrano, and Jose Luis Zambrano and U.S. Legal Permanent Resident Jose Angel Pereira (collectively known as the CITGO-6). Upon their arrival in Caracas, they were detained by masked security agents; charged with embezzlement, money laundering, and criminal association for an alleged deal they signed to restructure CITGO bonds; and confined in one of the country’s most dangerous prisons. After their initial appearance before a judge was cancelled dozens of times during three years, the trial of the six began in August. On November 21, they were convicted and sentenced as soon as closing arguments concluded to terms of eight to 13 years in prison. Their cases were marred by a lack of legal due process and based on politically motivated charges. The illegitimate regime denied media and human rights groups access to the trial.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

There were credible reports that the illegitimate Maduro regime attempted to misuse international law enforcement tools for politically motivated purposes as a reprisal against specific individuals located outside the country. On October 22, the TSJ issued an extradition request for Ivan Simonovis, former political prisoner and sitting interim government commissioner for security. The regime charged Simonovis with the attempted murder of Maduro, treason, terrorism, and weapons trafficking. Simonovis escaped from house arrest in May 2019 and fled the country.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

While there are separate civil courts that permit citizens to file lawsuits seeking damages, there are no procedures for individuals or organizations to seek civil remedies for human rights abuses.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the combination of laws and regulations governing libel, slander, and media content as well as legal harassment, physical intimidation of individuals and media, and executive influence on the judiciary resulted in significant repression of these freedoms. National and international groups, such as the IACHR, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Inter American Press Association, Reporters without Borders, and Committee to Protect Journalists, condemned illegitimate Maduro regime efforts throughout the year to restrict press freedom and create a climate of fear and self-censorship.

Freedom of Speech: The law makes conviction of insulting the president punishable by six to 30 months in prison without bail, with lesser penalties for insulting lower-ranking officials. In 2017 the illegitimate Constituent National Assembly (ANC) gave final approval to the Constitutional Law against Hate, for Political Coexistence and Tolerance, which stipulates prison sentences of up to 20 years. While the regime stated the purpose of the law was to “promote peace and tolerance,” NGOs observed the vaguely written law could be used to silence political parties, activists, and civil society leaders as well as media outlets and journalists. Conviction of exposing another person to public contempt or hatred is punishable by prison sentences of one to three years and fines. Espacio Publico reported 795 violations of freedom of expression, including 135 arrests, between January and August.

The illegitimate Maduro regime threatened, harassed, and arrested journalists, opposition politicians, and health-care workers for speaking out regarding COVID-19 and the response to the pandemic. Espacio Publico documented at least 59 arrests by September for COVID-19 coverage.

On March 17, the DGCIM detained medical doctor Ruben Duarte for publishing a video deploring the lack of supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) at the San Cristobal Central Hospital. In August the NGO United Doctors for Venezuela reported at least 12 health-care workers were arrested for demanding PPE. Doctors, nurses, and other health-care professionals, who feared for their own and others’ safety by working without PPE, reported they also faced regime repression for failing to appear for work.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The law provides that conviction of inaccurate reporting that disturbs the public peace is punishable by prison terms of two to five years. The requirement that media disseminate only “true” information was undefined and open to politically motivated interpretation.

The law prohibits all media from disseminating messages that incite or promote hate or intolerance for religious, political, gender-related, racial, or xenophobic reasons; incite, promote, or condone criminal acts; constitute war propaganda; foment anxiety in the population or affect public order; do not recognize legitimate government authorities; incite homicide; or incite or promote disobedience of the established legal order. Penalties range from fines to the revocation of licenses. The threat of nonrenewal of operating licenses systematically led to self-censorship on the part of several media outlets.

Despite such laws, Maduro and the regime-aligned United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) used the nearly 600 regime-owned or -controlled media outlets to insult and intimidate the political opposition throughout the year. ANC president Diosdado Cabello continued to use his weekly television program to denounce individual journalists and media outlets.

The law declares telecommunications a “public interest service,” thereby giving the government authority to regulate the content and structure of radio, television, and audiovisual production sectors. The law provides that the government may suspend or revoke licenses when it judges such actions necessary in the interests of the nation, public order, or security. The law empowers the government to impose heavy fines and cancel broadcasts for violations of its norms; CONATEL oversees the law’s application.

The illegitimate Maduro regime continued legal actions against high-profile independent media outlets Tal Cual, El Nacional, El Nuevo Pais, La Patilla, El Pitazo, and Globovision. Following the shuttering of DirecTV’s operations on May 19, the TSJ ordered the seizure of all property and equipment of DirecTV and banned DirecTV’s executives from leaving the country. On August 14, DirecTV resumed operations, although multiple regime-independent outlets reported challenges–including veiled threats, outright blocks, and fines–preventing them from broadcasting freely over DirecTV when service was re-established.

The illegitimate Maduro regime-owned and -influenced media provided almost continuous proregime programming. In addition private and public radio and television stations were required to transmit mandatory nationwide broadcasts throughout the year, including a daily 15-minute news broadcast that provided reports and summaries of regime activities. Media reported the GNB regularly barred journalists from covering AN debates and activities. The country’s online independent newspapers were frequently blocked by CANTV. NGOs noted that regime-owned internet service provider CANTV also routinely blocked commercial streaming and web searches during interim president Guaido’s speeches and during weekly AN sessions. On January 5, CANTV restricted access to social media on the same day as a leadership vote in the AN, while security forces blocked lawmakers and media from accessing the premises.

The illegitimate regime arbitrarily detained 28 journalists from January to July, according to the national journalists’ union.

Media and NGOs reported increased repression and intimidation of journalists following the emergence of COVID-19. Despite a specific exception permitting travel for members of the press during quarantine, the illegitimate Maduro regime limited the freedom of movement of journalists.

On March 21, FAES officers arrested freelance journalist Darvinson Rojas and his family for inciting hatred. Rojas’ reporting questioned figures published by the illegitimate Maduro regime regarding COVID-19 cases. On August 2, the illegitimate regime granted Rojas a conditional release. DGCIM officers arrested Nicmer Evans on July 13, also for inciting hatred. NGOs and journalists called the arrest a retaliation against Evans due to his role as the founder and director of news site Punto de Corte, which frequently published articles critical of the regime. On August 31, Evans was released.

The law requires practicing journalists to have journalism degrees and be members of the National College of Journalists, and it prescribes jail terms of three to six months for those practicing the profession illegally. These requirements are waived for foreigners and opinion columnists.

Violence and Harassment: Senior national and state leaders of the illegitimate Maduro regime continued to harass and intimidate privately owned and opposition-oriented television stations, media outlets, and journalists by using threats, property seizures, administrative and criminal investigations, and prosecutions. The national journalists’ union reported 260 attacks on journalists from January to August. On February 11, regime supporters and colectivos attacked at least 12 journalists covering the return of interim president Guaido from an international tour. Maduro and illegitimate regime-aligned officials used regime-controlled media outlets to accuse private media owners, directors, and reporters of fomenting antiregime destabilization campaigns and coup attempts. Regime officials also harassed foreign journalists working in the country.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: NGOs noted the illegitimate Maduro regime’s preference for using legal proceedings, financial sanctions, and administrative actions against unfavorable news outlets instead of shutting them down outright. Members of the independent media stated they regularly engaged in self-censorship due to fear of regime reprisals. This resulted in many journalists posting articles to their personal blogs and websites instead of publishing them in traditional media.

The regime also exercised control over content through licensing and broadcasting requirements. CONATEL acted selectively on applications from private radio and television broadcasters for renewal of their broadcast frequencies. According to Nelson Belfort, former president of the Venezuelan Radio Chamber, and NGO reports, approximately 80 percent of radio stations were in “illegal” status throughout the country due to CONATEL’s not having renewed licenses for most radio stations since 2007.

According to the local journalists’ union, print news outlets closed due to the illegitimate Maduro regime’s economic policies, which made it difficult for independent newspapers to access foreign currency, preventing many from purchasing critical supplies and equipment necessary for day-to-day business operations. In January, 16 print outlets suspended circulation, generally for lack of supplies, and at least 200 media outlets had been blocked, censored, or closed by May.

The illegitimate Maduro regime controlled a large portion of the country’s businesses and paid for advertising only with regime-owned or regime-friendly media.

A study by the NGO Institute for Press and Society (IPYS) found that more than five million citizens lived in “media deserts,” areas that had no access to print, television, radio, or digital media due to censorship, forced closures of television and radio stations, and reprisals against journalists. Access to information was most heavily restricted in border territories and indigenous communities.

Libel/Slander Laws: Regime-aligned officials engaged in reprisals against individuals who publicly expressed criticism of Maduro or regime policy. Maduro did not act on his 2017 announcement that he would use libel and slander laws to “defend his honor” in court against opposition leaders’ allegations that he was responsible for protest-related deaths. In October investigative journalist Clavel Rangel was forced to leave the country promptly after publishing an expose on corruption in Bolivar State. The subject of the report, a businessman with links to the regime, filed a defamation suit against Rangel, which would have prohibited her from discussing the case in media or leaving the country.

National Security: The law allows the government to suspend or revoke licenses when it determines such actions necessary in the interests of public order or security. The illegitimate Maduro regime exercised control over the press through a public entity, the Strategic Center for Security and Protection of the Homeland (CESPPA), established in 2013, which is similar to the governmental entity Center for National Situational Studies (CESNA) established in 2010. CESNA and CESPPA have similar mandates and are responsible for “compiling, processing, analyzing, and classifying” both regime-released and other public information with the objective of “protecting the interests and objectives of the state.”

During the year Maduro renewed three times the “state of alarm” issued on March 13, citing the COVID-19 pandemic, and granted himself the power to restrict rights otherwise provided for in the constitution. The 60-day emergency decree, which by law is renewable only once and requires AN endorsement to be effective, allows the president to block any action he deems could “undermine national security” or could “obstruct the continuity of the implementation of economic measures for the urgent reactivation of the national economy.” The regime also threatened, harassed, and arrested journalists, opposition politicians, and health-care workers for speaking out on COVID-19 and the response to the pandemic.

Nongovernmental Impact: Widespread violence in the country, often encouraged or left undeterred by the Maduro regime, made it difficult to determine whether attacks on journalists resulted from common criminal activity or whether criminals or others targeted media members.

Internet Freedom

The illegitimate Maduro regime restricted or disrupted access to the internet and censored online content. The illegitimate regime exercised broad control over the internet through the state-run CONATEL. The China National Electronics Import-Export Company provided the regime with cyber support, technical experts, and a suite of software and hardware that was a commercialized version of China’s “Great Firewall” to maintain online censorship, control information, and prevent the internal dissemination of content deemed undesirable by political leadership. Free Access, an NGO focused on freedom of expression and social justice, reported that CONATEL supported monitoring of private communications and repression of internet users who expressed dissenting opinions online. According to media reports, users of social networks accused CONATEL of monitoring their online activity and passing identifying information to regime intelligence agencies, such as SEBIN. According to Free Access, CONATEL provided information to SEBIN, including internet protocol addresses, which assisted illegitimate Maduro regime authorities in locating users.

The law puts the burden of filtering prohibited electronic messages on service providers, and it allows CONATEL to order service providers to block access to websites that violate these norms and sanctions service providers with fines for distributing prohibited messages. As of September the illegitimate Maduro regime blocked 40 websites and online platforms that contained information regarding COVID-19.

CONATEL’s director, Jorge Elieser Marquez Monsalve, reiterated the claims of his predecessors that CONATEL’s role is to enforce the law and prevent dissemination of illegal information or material unsuitable for children and adolescents. Nevertheless, the illegitimate Maduro regime continued to block internet sites that posted dollar- and euro-to-bolivar currency exchange rates differing from the illegitimate regime’s official rate, as well as cryptocurrency exchanges. The regime-controlled internet service provider CANTV facilitated blockages. According to IPYS and the VE Sin Filtro (VE without Filter) internet monitoring project sponsored by internet freedom watchdog Venezuela Inteligente, the regime blocked websites during events of public interest. Social media and video streaming sites such as Facebook, YouTube, and Periscope were blocked during the AN’s January 5 session and also during live speeches made by interim president Guaido throughout the year. In a September 15 televised address, Maduro denounced the news site Monitoreamos.com as an “enemy” and its journalists as “manipulators and bandits.” On September 16, internet service providers blocked access to the site.

Regime-aligned intelligence agencies, which lacked independent oversight, conducted surveillance for political purposes. Courts relied on evidence obtained from anonymous patriotas cooperantes (cooperating patriots) to harass perceived opponents of the illegitimate Maduro regime, and senior regime-aligned officials used personal information gathered by patriotas cooperantes to intimidate regime critics and human rights defenders. Users were arrested and criminally accused of actions such as tweeting information publicly available on webpages.

On August 28, internet providers blocked access to anticensorship tools to prevent health-care workers from accessing the Health Heroes financial assistance program announced by interim president Guaido, according to VE Sin Filtro. The group also found the financial platform used to distribute payments to health workers had been blocked and the illegitimate Maduro regime launched a phishing campaign that redirected users to a malicious site in order to capture their data.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no substantiated reports of illegitimate Maduro regime restrictions on cultural events, but the regime imposed restrictions on academic freedom. Aula Abierta (Open Classroom), a local human rights NGO focused on academic freedom, reported the regime retaliated against opposition-oriented autonomous universities by providing insufficient funding and failing to adjust budgetary allocations to inflation. According to media reports, universities ran deep deficits, receiving less than 10 percent of the funds they budgeted to cover operating costs. In 2017 the National University Council, the government’s regulating body for university education, relinquished its functions to the ANC, disregarding the law requiring university autonomy. According to Aula Abierta, there were 151 security incidents, including fires, thefts, threats, and violence directed towards university students, professors, and school property.

The illegitimate Maduro regime continued to increase its control over local universities, including the admissions process.

In August 2019 the TSJ ordered the Central University of Venezuela to hold university elections in six months. The ruling, which applied to eight other public and private universities as well, stipulated the elected candidate must win in at least three of the five electoral sectors (teachers, students, graduates, administrative staff, and laborers) and must receive an absolute majority of votes. Students and university leaders called the ruling an attack on university autonomy, in violation of the constitution, and stated it would lead to the installation of regime-aligned sympathizers heading universities. On February 27, the TSJ announced a suspension of the ruling. University professors clarified that the suspension only removed the deadline imposed by the TSJ but left in place the changes to electoral process and granted the Ministry of University Education the power to oversee the elections.

On May 8, the Academy of Physical, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences issued a report that accused the illegitimate Maduro regime of underreporting COVID-19 infections. On May 13, PSUV vice president Diosdado Cabello announced an investigation into the academy and invited regime-aligned security forces to summon the report’s authors. Domestic research institutions and international organizations condemned Cabello’s actions as unacceptable intimidation, and interim president Guaido denounced the attack on the independence and academic freedom of researchers.

The illegitimate regime continued its practice, announced in 2018, of educational financial incentives for holders of the carnet de la patria, a regime-issued identity and social benefits card provided primarily to regime supporters (see section 3, Political Parties and Political Participation). NGOs and university students denounced the use of the card as a discriminatory policy that politicized the issuance of scholarships and restricted academic freedom.

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