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New cybersecurity & terrorism laws erode rights; women fight back; & more media killings: Asia-Pacific

In June: Vietnam's new Cybersecurity Law, Indonesia's new Counterterrorism Law and Cambodia's recent media directive threaten human rights, attacks against media continue, a massive all-women protest takes place in South Korea against 'spy cam' porn, and more.

A post office employee explains to a customer how to subscribe to a new high-speed internet service in Hanoi, Vietnam, 1 July 2003
A post office employee explains to a customer how to subscribe to a new high-speed internet service in Hanoi, Vietnam, 1 July 2003


Vietnam's new Cybersecurity Law

Vietnam's new Cybersecurity Law was passed on 12 June despite a rare public opposition by lawyers, by netizens, and a massive protest in the streets. Critics warned that it could worsen attacks on freedom of expression and negatively affect the business prospects of many tech companies.

Authorities argued that the law will create tech jobs and enhance the digital economy, aside from preventing "disruptive behavior aimed at overthrowing the government."

But human rights groups have warned that some of the broad provisions in the law could be used by authorities to arrest and detain activists. These include prohibiting: "the use of cyberspace" to "prepare, post, and spread information" that "has the content of propaganda opposing the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam," or "offends the nation," or urges people "to distort history, deny revolutionary achievements, and undermine national solidarity"; propaganda including "psychological warfare, defamatory propaganda against the people's administration"; and "information that propagandizes, urges, campaigns, incites, threatens, causes division, [or] entices people to gather and cause disruption."

Similar to China's Cybersecurity Law passed in 2017, Vietnam's new law requires internet companies to store data locally and establish headquarters or representative offices in Vietnam. Some believe the government could use this to pressure companies to administer stricter censorship and erode user anonymity, which could pose a threat to critics of the state. This is possible since the law obliges foreign tech companies to verify the identity of users and to give out user data needed by the Ministry of Public Security, and to take down 'illegal' content within 24 hours of receiving a request from the government.

Vietnam is already notorious for using repressive laws to persecute bloggers, lawyers, and activists accused of conducting 'anti-state propaganda'. The new law, once it takes effect next year, could lead to an intensified crackdown on groups and individuals who have been using cyberspace to promote peaceful reforms.

Indonesia's amended Counterterrorism Law

After a spate of attacks carried out by supporters of the Islamic State, Indonesia approved amendments to its Counterterrorism Law. While this measure is intended to enhance the country's security, many expressed alarm over provisions that could undermine human rights mechanisms.

In a letter sent to Indonesia's president, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the amended law adopted an "overbroad and ambiguous definition of terrorism." It warned that the law allows for prolonged pre-charge and pre-trial detention that "increases the likelihood of torture and other ill-treatment in custody." The law now allows police to detain terrorism suspects without charge to a maximum of 21 days. The law also expanded the surveillance power of authorities, who can now "open, examine, and confiscate mail and packages by post or other means of delivery … and intercept any conversation by telephone or other means of communication" suspected of being used for terrorist acts.

The military will also be given a bigger role in the anti-terror campaign of the state. But HRW said the "extended military deployment in a civilian policing context is undesirable and carries serious risks." Also, there is concern about the difficulty of making the military accountable for the abuses committed by its forces since only military courts have jurisdiction over this.

HRW reminded the Indonesian government that "violating human rights in the name of counterterrorism merely benefits armed extremists over the long term."

Cambodia's new media guidelines

In Cambodia, 116 civil society groups signed a statement criticizing the prakas (regulation) signed by the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Information and Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications that would tighten website and social media control in the country.

The new directive mandates several government agencies to block websites with content considered to be "incitement, breaking solidarity, discrimination and willfully creating turmoil leading to undermining national security, public interest and social order."

All Internet Service Providers are also required to install programs that would boost surveillance and filter content deemed illegal by authorities.

The signed statement said the prakas "threatens the privacy rights and freedom of expression of every single internet and social media user in Cambodia and further diminishes the limited space left for public debate following months of attacks on media freedoms."

This new regulation could be part of the government's plan to control information ahead of the general election which is scheduled for 29 July.

Aside from the prakas related to the internet, the government also released a code of conduct for election observers which media groups said would restrict the work of journalists. The code of conduct prohibits journalists from expressing 'personal opinion or prejudice' or conducting unauthorized interviews at polling booths. It also criminalizes the broadcasting of news that could cause "confusion and loss of confidence" in the election.

Focus on gender: South Korea's largest ever all-women protest

On 9 June, about 22,000 South Korean women joined a street protest against the widespread use of 'spy cams' by men to invade their privacy. The cameras are used to secretly film women in toilets, buses, and schools/offices. Afterward, the images are posted online and even on porn websites. Protesters urged the government to ban the sale of 'spy cams' and implement stronger punishments for hidden camera crimes. The rally was reportedly the largest all-women protest in South Korea.

Meanwhile, Australia's Sex Discrimination Commissioner has announced that her office will conduct a 12-month national inquiry into sexual harassment in workplaces. The national inquiry is believed to be the first of its kind in the world. Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance acknowledged the campaign of unions and activist groups which worked hard to expose the prevalence of sexual abuse in workplaces.

In brief: Attacks against journalists continue

Two Pakistani journalists were assaulted on the same day in Lahore. Asad Kharal, an investigative journalist, was attacked on 5 June and received multiple injuries. On the same day, Gul Bukhari, a contributing writer of the daily The Nation, was intercepted by unidentified persons on her way to a TV show for an interview. Attacks against the media have become more frequent leading up to the country's 25 July general election.

Dennis Denora, publisher of a weekly local newspaper in Davao, located in the southern part of the Philippines, was shot dead on 7 June. According to the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Denora is the 10th journalist to be killed since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power in 2016.

Indonesian journalist Muhammad Yusuf died on 10 June while under police custody. Yusuf, who writes for several new websites, was detained for a defamation case filed by a palm oil plantation firm in Borneo. Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (AJI) questioned the filing of a criminal charge against Yusuf when the dispute could be settled through other means, as stipulated in the country's Press Law. The National Commission on Human Rights is now investigating the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of Yusuf.

Another writer known for his freethinking views on religion was killed in Bangladesh. Blogger, poet, and publisher Shahjahan Bachchu was shot dead on June 11. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), nearly a dozen secular bloggers in Bangladesh have been killed by Jihadi and fundamentalists groups in the past decade.

Shujaat Bukhari, the editor of the Kashmiri English daily Rising Kashmir, was shot dead on 14 June outside his office by three unidentified men riding a motorbike in Indian-administered Kashmir. Bukhari was a proponent of dialogue in the conflict-ridden region. According to the International Press Institute (IPI), four journalists have been killed in India this year.

Threats against Nepali journalists

Freedom Forum's monitoring of the media situation in Nepal showed an increase in the number of threats and attacks made against journalists in the previous month. There were several cases of local officials manhandling reporters, the brief detention of journalists documenting a smuggling operation at Tribhuvan International Airport, journalists attacked after reporting an illegal business and taking a photo of a bribery incident, and a TV host whose contract was terminated by state-owned Nepal Television after he asked a minister about his property declaration. Freedom Forum has also expressed alarm over the 'cyber patrolling' operations of the police on members of the media.

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