Repression gains ground across Asia

Repression gains ground across Asia

The charges brought against Sirikan Charoensiri, of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), one of the lawyers representing 14 student activists charged with sedition, are indicative of not only the deteriorating human rights situation in Thailand, but also an alarming regional trend of reprisals against human rights defenders and activists in the region.

Ms Sirikan has been summoned by the police under two charges: filing false accusations against police officers and failure to comply with official order (articles 172 and 368 of the Criminal Code) due to her refusal to allow police to search her car without a search warrant on the night of June 27, 2015 after her clients, 14 student activists from the New Democracy Movement, were arrested and taken to the military court. Ms Sirikan filed a complaint against the police for malfeasance under Article 157 of the Criminal Code concerning unlawful confiscation of her car.

Meanwhile in Malaysia, a student activist, Adam Adli Halim, is awaiting a decision by the Appeal Court on Feb 18. Mr Adam was charged on May 23, 2013 over remarks he made 10 days earlier at a rally for allegedly inciting people to overthrow the government.

On Sept 19, 2014, the Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court imposed a 12-month jail sentence for exercising his freedom of speech as guaranteed by article 10 of the Malaysian Constitution. Mr Adam is among at least two hundred people who have been either investigated or arrested under the draconian Sedition Act.

Even South Korea, which is regarded as a leading democracy in Asia and a country that has gone through a successful process of human rights change, has a low level of respect for human rights under the administration of Park Guen-Hye, particularly with regard to the respect for fundamental freedoms of the people.

At the moment, around 1,500 individuals are being investigated for participating in the Nov 14, 2015 protest. Han Sang-gyun, president of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), has been charged with multiple counts, including inciting violence (or sedition, not used since 1986) during the Sewol Ferry protests under article 115 of the Criminal Code.

Reprisals against human rights defenders and activists represent only the tip of the iceberg. There are many more frontliners who are facing either physical or judicial harassment or both in their everyday work. This phenomenon also portrays a more serious concern at a larger level; the shrinking civic space in the region.

Apart from direct attacks on individuals, a number of regressive legislative bills were passed last year to restrict freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and association. For example, the Law on Association and Non-Governmental Organisations in Cambodia, Prevention of Terrorism Act and National Security Council Bill in Malaysia and Peaceful Assembly Act in Thailand. Many more are waiting, including the proposal to amend the Anti-Terrorism Law in Indonesia following the bombing attack last month in Jakarta.

The main question here is how Asian human rights defenders, activists, and citizens deal with this worrying trend. While international pressure is important and could be considered as a forceful means, mobilisation of people power on the ground and regional solidarity are inevitably significant in this battle.

It is a momentous time for all of us to support each other, and hand-in-hand protect our space and to hold different views from the authorities, to express our thoughts, and to be able to go out on the street voicing our concerns without fear.

The struggle for human rights and democracy is a marathon, but we can do it as a team to achieve our common goal together.

Pimsiri Petchnamrob is East Asia programme officer, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia).

Pimsiri Petchnamrob

Forum-Asia East Asia programme officer

Pimsiri Petchnamrob is East Asia programme officer, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia).

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