Freedom in the World
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Citizens of Nauru generally enjoy political rights and civil liberties, though the government has taken steps to sideline its political opponents, and intense political rivalries and the use of parliamentary no-confidence votes have been a source of instability. Corruption is a serious problem. The government is heavily reliant on funding it receives from Australia for housing a processing center for asylum seekers. Authorities restrict foreign journalists’ and activists’ access to the facility, which has attracted international criticism for abuses committed against the asylum seekers who were forcibly transferred there.
- In August, Amnesty International reported that conditions in the Australian-run processing center for asylum seekers remained dire, citing among other issues grossly inadequate housing and frequent self-harm and suicide attempts by residents.
- The government headed by President Baron Waqa was returned to office in July elections with an increased majority.
- Foreign journalists reported being denied visas ahead of the elections. After the polls, the justice minister berated foreign outlets over critical coverage of the processing center for asylum seekers.
- Days after the election, the government approved a bill creating the new post of assistant minister, and subsequently installed seven assistant ministers. The move was seen as an attempt by Waqa to consolidate power.
Elections in July 2016 to Nauru’s 19-member unicameral parliament saw the Waqa-led government return with an increased majority. After his reelection by the parliament, Waqa moved to consolidate power by appointing seven people to the post of assistant minister, a new position created with the approval of the 2016 Assistant Ministers Bill a few days after the elections.
Corruption is a serious problem. Allegations of improper payments to senior government officials, including Waqa, by an Australian phosphate company continued to emerge in 2016, with the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) in September reporting on the existence of bank records supporting claims that the company had given money to the family of Justice Minister David Adeang. In April, a major Australian bank announced it would cancel all operations involving the Nauru government and public bodies, with media reports suggesting that the decision came in response to concerns about financial mismanagement.
Media in Nauru is government owned, with the exception of opposition newsletters. Foreign news sources are available. The social networking website Facebook remained inaccessible in Nauru in 2016.
The government appears determined to silence international criticism of extremely poor conditions faced by asylum seekers at the Australian-run facility by restricting or interfering with the activities of foreign media and nongovernmental organization (NGO) workers. In what was widely characterized as a means of deterring reporting on the asylum facility, the visa application fee for foreign journalists was raised to $8,000 in 2014, up from $400. There were reports of foreign journalists being denied visas to cover the 2016 elections. In a statement shortly after the polls, Adeang said the reelection of Waqa’s government “humiliated” journalists from Australia and New Zealand, suggesting that they had sought to discredit the administration through critical reporting on the asylum center; he added that they should “show more respect” to the country. Additionally, government officials including Adeang have pressured members of the judiciary who issued rulings or voiced opinions contrary to government policies, including on refugees and antigovernment protests.
An August report by Amnesty International documented “appalling abuse” of the asylum seekers who had been forcibly transferred to the Nauru processing center. The report noted among other things grossly inadequate housing; the denial of health care for life-threatening conditions; and a high rate of self-harm and suicide attempts among residents who suffer “overwhelming despair” as they wait, at times for years, for their asylum applications to be processed. Australia pays Nauru about $35 million per year to house the facility, which is operated by private contractors paid for by Australia.
This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Nauru, see Freedom in the World 2016.