Across South Asia, rage and defiance against the Thai monarchy, Indonesia’s new labor law, and rape

October has been marked by expressions of rage and defiance. Thai youth protesters continue to clamor for democracy, Indonesian workers are up in arms against a repressive law, Myanmar ethnic communities are challenging a flawed election system, and a wave of anti-rape protests has swept Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India.

Thai protesters defiant amid crackdown, media shutdown, and emergency decree

The youth-led protest movement in Thailand demanding democracy and monarchy reforms continued to gather support despite the restrictions imposed by the military-backed government. A “severe state of emergency” was declared on 16 October which prohibited mass gatherings and led to the shutdown of independent media outlets such as Voice TV, Prachatai, The Reporters, The Standard, as well as the Facebook page of the Free Youth movement. Human rights groups said at least 21 people were detained after the emergency decree was announced, bringing the total number of individuals arrested or charged to 173 since the protests started early this year.

The crackdown didn’t stop the protests as thousands defied the ban on rallies while indignation protests were organized in various provinces. A court order lifted the media restrictions on 21 October. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha was also forced to lift the state of emergency on 22 October.

Rung (Panusaya) Sithijirawattanakul, a student leader who was arrested on 15 October, wrote a letter addressed to fellow protesters which alluded to the monarchy system:

“Our struggle has already come so far and victory is not far off. May everyone unite to struggle for democracy, to struggle to make our nation better, to struggle for our human dignity. No one is born with blue blood. No one is above anyone else. All of us are human, all of us are equal.

Sexual violence cases trigger widespread outrage and protests in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India

Hundreds of protesters clashed with the police in Bangladesh during a rally calling for the resignation of Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal over the government’s failure to prevent the surge of sexual violence cases against women and girls. The protest was triggered when a video of men attacking and sexually assaulting a woman from a disadvantaged community went viral on social media.

According to human rights group Ain o Salish Kendra, 907 women or girls in Bangladesh were raped in 2020 based on media reports. Over 200 of these cases were gang rape.

Protests also erupted in India over the rape, torture, and murder of a 19-year-old Dalit woman in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh state. Police were accused of cremating the victim without the family’s consent and covering up the crime. Authorities downplayed the incident, barred the media from meeting the family, and filed sedition charges against those who organized protests against the rape.

The outrage in Bangladesh and India followed earlier indignation in Pakistan where rallies dubbed Mera Jism Meri Marzi” (“my body, my choice”) were held on 12 September across the country in response to a widely reported rape incident in the Lahore region. The theme of the protest was also a reaction to the statement of a police officer who blamed the victim for traveling at night. According to the Punjab police, 2,043 rape cases were registered in the first six months of 2020.

Sri Lanka: Attacks on journalists and a dangerous Constitutional amendment

Free Media Movement (FMM) called on Sri Lanka authorities to investigate the attack against Derana TV journalist Indunil Wijenayake who was covering an illegal sand mining operation in Monaragala on 3 October. Another case involved journalists Kanapathipillai Kumanan and Shanmugam Thavaseelan who were attacked while investigating a timber trafficking operation in the Murippu jungle area on 12 October. FMM said “it is a tragedy that instead of strict legal action taken against these perpetrators, journalists who come forward to report are being subjected to severe attacks.”

FMM also actively campaigned against the passage of the 20th amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution bill for containing provisions that would give more powers to the president while undermining the independence of several institutions in the government.

In a letter addressed to Sri Lanka’s president, IFEX also expressed concern about the bill:

“The IFEX network is deeply concerned about the impending threat the bill poses to constitutionally guaranteed freedoms, including media freedom, and the checks and balances placed on the President and government to ensure good governance.”

Despite the opposition mounted by civil society groups and various political forces, the bill was approved by the parliament on 22 October. Some opposition lawmakers warned that the amendment would “take the country on the path of authoritarianism.”

Pakistan’s TikTok ban and new social media rules

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) banned the popular video-sharing app TikTok on 9 October for “immoral/indecent content”.

Bytes for All said the ban is “brutal censorship that is unacceptable in any democratic society”. It added that it is “detrimental to the fundamental rights of the citizens, including the right to freedom of expression, access to information, and the economic and cultural rights of Pakistani citizens.”

Digital Rights Foundation pointed out that the ban is a “tool to exert more control over online spaces by bullying social media companies into complying with user data requests and compliance for data removal requests for political content.”

Indeed, the ban was lifted after ten days when the Chinese company that owns TikTok assured authorities it will moderate content in compliance with Pakistan’s laws.

The ban reflected the intensified policing of social media in the country. Related to this, civil society groups urged transparency and a credible consultative process in the drafting of social media rules after it was reported that the Cabinet has approved a document titled “Rules for removal and blocking of unlawful online content (procedure, oversight, and safeguards)”. The document has yet to be released to the public.

Myanmar election: Disenfranchisement, discrimination, violence

An estimated 1.2 million voters will be unable to vote in the 8 November national elections in Myanmar after the Union Election Commission (UEC) canceled polling in 56 townships citing security risks. The majority of the affected areas are in ethnic communities. In addition to this, Myanmar continues to deny voting registration to an estimated 600,000 Rohingya, a persecuted ethnic group.

Another concern is the UEC’s arbitrary censoring of speeches of political parties that want to broadcast campaign materials on state-run TV and radio networks.

Observers noted that election-related cases of violence are higher this year compared to 2015 when the military-backed party was still in charge of the government.

Myanmar was governed by a military dictatorship for several decades, then transitioned into civilian rule in 2010. The 2008 Constitution, however, ensured that the military would continue to exercise political influence, including on the Parliament. The opposition National League for Democracy defeated the military-backed party in the historic 2015 general election.

Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, sums up the major issues hounding Myanmar’s general election:

“The election can’t be free and fair so long as a quarter of the seats are reserved for the military, access to state media isn’t equal, government critics face censorship or arrest, and Rohingya are denied participation in the vote.”

Indonesia’s new law threatens labor rights and environmental protection

The passage of the omnibus bill on job creation sparked massive protests across Indonesia. The government insisted it is meant to attract investments and enhance the country’s business competitiveness but various groups said the 1,000-page law contains provisions that reduce protection for workers, weaken mechanisms meant to promote the rights of indigenous peoples, and dismantle legal measures aimed at preventing environmental degradation.

The Alliance of Independent Journalists said the law “will put the workers in an unequal position with the businesses.”

It also criticized the police for attacking around 28 journalists covering the protests on 8 October in Bandung, Jakarta, Palu, Samarinda, Semarang, Surabaya, and Tanjung Pinang.

In brief has sent its recommendations to India’s Criminal Reforms Committee covering criminal sanctions against free speech offenses.

“We believe that our laws on sedition and criminal defamation in their current form are resulting in a chilling effect on free speech. The essence of democracy lies in dissent and it is important that our legal jurisprudence doesn’t penalize citizens for practicing free speech.”

Cartoonists Rights Network International presented its annual Robert Russell Courage in Cartooning Award to Ahmed Kabir Kishore from Bangladesh. Ahmed was arrested under the Digital Security Act after he posted on Facebook a series of cartoons he entitled “Life in the Time of Corona”, satirizing and criticizing the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finally, a documentary titled ‘A Thousand Cuts’ features the work of Filipino-American journalist Maria Ressa who continues to speak truth to power despite facing government persecution and weaponized social media.

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The post Across South Asia, rage and defiance against the Thai monarchy, Indonesia’s new labor law, and rape appeared first on IFEX.



Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) is a network of human rights journalists in Uganda working towards enhancing the promotion, protection and respect of human rights through defending and building the capacities of journalists, to effectively exercise their constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms for collective campaigning through the media.

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