Sign up for weekly updates

Asia-Pacific in January: Cambodia's third UPR, Thailand's 'Twitter storm', and Pakistan's transgender pride march

A cyclist rides past an electoral advertisement for Prime Minister Hun Sen, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 26 July 2018
A cyclist rides past an electoral advertisement for Prime Minister Hun Sen, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 26 July 2018


Cambodia's third UPR

Cambodia's human rights record was discussed during the 32nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group on 30 January. This was Cambodia's third UPR, and it took place six months after the holding of an opposition-less general election and the closure of several independent media outlets.

IFEX joined the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and other civil society groups in submitting recommendations focused on promoting civil and political rights, expanding access to justice, and the protection of media freedom.

73 member states gave around 170 recommendations during the UPR session. Some of the reform proposals included recommendations submitted by IFEX and CCHR such as the unconditional reinstatement of the rights of members of the political opposition, the amendment or repeal of repressive laws and regulations such as the Law on Telecommunications, the Inter-Ministerial Prakas (regulation) on Publication Controls of Website and Social Media Processing via Internet, Insulting the King, Defamation, Insult, Incitement, Unlawful Coercion of Judicial Authorities and Discrediting Judicial Decisions.

For the first time, there were recommendations urging the Cambodian government to introduce new legislation that guarantees equality and explicitly prohibits discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons and the amendment of the Constitution to allow the marriage of same-sex couples.

Read this IFEX article to learn more about the human rights situation in Cambodia and this explainer on the UPR process.

Thailand's 'Twitter storm'

There were several human rights campaigns in Thailand that maximized Twitter to get public support.

A 'Twitter storm' played a crucial role in Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun's bid to seek asylum. She was stopped at Bangkok airport en route to Australia after escaping from her family in Saudi Arabia. Fearing for her safety, she locked herself in a hotel room and asked for assistance through Twitter. Her tweets, which alleged abuse and the threat of forced marriage, generated massive international support Her situation alerted the media and human rights groups, which quickly sought the assistance of government officials, diplomats, and UN agencies based in Bangkok. Within 24 hours, #SaveRahaf had been used half a million times and Rahaf had gained more than 45,000 followers and many supporters. The campaign succeeded in pressuring Thai authorities to allow her to leave the country, and Canada agreed to accept her.

Another hashtag popularized by Thai students last January was #เลื่อนแม่มึงดิ (Luen Mae Mueng Di: Delayed Again, You Mother***). It refers to the angry reaction of students after the deputy prime minister announced the postponement of the 24 February election. Thailand's military-backed government, which has been in power since 2014, has vowed to restore civilian rule by holding an election this year. The country's prime minister acknowledged the sentiment of students and appealed for patience. Later, the government announced that elections will go ahead in March.

Meanwhile, various groups are working hard for the release of Bahraini refugee Hakeem al-Araibi who was arrested in Thailand two months ago on an Interpol red notice. Hakeem was a Bahrain national team footballer who fled the country in 2014 after being convicted for vandalizing a police station. Hakeem said he was persecuted for criticizing a football official who happened to be a member of the royal family. He sought asylum in Australia and was given a permanent protection visa. He was arrested in Thailand during his honeymoon vacation. Through the Twitter hashtag #SaveHakeem, his supporters across the world are urging the Thai government not to extradite him to Bahrain and instead send him safely to Australia.

Focus on gender: Pakistan's first transgender pride march

Around 250 transgender people from all provinces of Pakistan participated in the country's first transgender pride march on 29 December 2018 in Lahore. Participants asked the government to implement the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act of 2018 to address continuing discrimination and violence directed against the transgender population. Organizers said that at least 500 transgender people have been killed in Pakistan since 2015. More than 60 were killed in 2018 alone. The march was documented on social media but no mainstream media company covered the historic activity.

In southern India, women are still being attacked and prevented from entering the Sabarimala temple, a Hindu shrine where women of menstruating age had been barred from entering for centuries. A Supreme Court verdict in 2018 has reversed this ban, but it didn't stop some hardliners from attacking women activists, journalists, scholars, and ordinary worshippers who dared to enter the temple in order to pray.

Controversial new laws take effect

Fiji's Online Safety Act, which was passed by parliament in May 2018, took effect this year amid concerns that it will be used to censor the internet. During the parliament deliberations, 14 members of the opposition voted against the measure, which they claim will undermine democracy. Critics say the particular provision - which considers "the posting of an electronic communication with the intention to cause harm to an individual" as an offence and is punishable by five to seven years in prison – is so broad that any dissenting opinion can be interpreted as illegal content.

Vietnam's new Cybersecurity Law also took effect this year, and the government was quick to invoke the law in accusing Facebook of allowing illegal content to be published on its platform. The government was referring to the proliferation of 'anti-government' comments and accounts. When it was passed in June 2018, critics said the law could be used to pressure companies to administer stricter censorship, erode user anonymity, verify the identity of users, and take down 'illegal' content within 24 hours of receiving a request from the government - even without a court order.

In brief: Legal updates on media cases

First, some good news to share….

An Afghan anti-terrorism court has convicted three men for the murder of BBC journalist Ahmad Shah. The 29-year old journalist, who worked for the BBC's Pashto language service, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in the Southern Khost city on 30 April 2018. Afghanistan Journalists Center (AJC) executive director Ahmad Quraishi welcomed the court decision: "With 16 journalists killed over the last year, Afghanistan was the world's deadliest place for journalists in 2018, and unfortunately, in all cases except one, the perpetrators go unpunished. We want the action over the Ahmashah's case to continue for other unsolved ones."

In India, the Central Bureau of Investigation succeeded in getting convictions in the 2002 murder of journalist Ram Chandler Chaterpatti, editor of the Hindi-language newspaper Poora Sach. Chaterpatti was killed after his paper published an anonymous sexual complaint against the leader of a religious group.

But unfortunately, there were other, more frustrating updates in the past month….

In Burma, the court denied the appeal of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo to overturn their conviction handed down in September 2018 for violating the Official Secrets Act. The two were investigating a massacre in a Rohingya community when they were arrested by the police.

In Singapore, activist Jolovan Wham was convicted for violating the 2009 Public Order Act after organizing an indoor forum which featured a Skype interview with Hong Kong democracy activists. The sentencing has been moved to next month.

In Indonesia, the decision of President Joko Widodo to grant remission to I Nyoman Susrama, the convicted mastermind behind the murder of Radar Bali journalist Anak Agung Gde Bagus Narendra Prabangsa, was criticized by the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AIJ). The group warned that "letting murderers of journalists go unpunished, or reducing their sentences, will only encourage further impunity practices."

And finally, in China, Liu Feiyue was sentenced to five years in prison for "inciting subversion of state power." He is the founder of a Chinese human rights information website Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch (also known as Minsheng Guancha).

If you enjoyed this, check out all the January regional roundups!

Europe & Central Asia
Middle East & North Africa

Latest Tweet:

Indonesia: @IndexCensorship says that a draft Music Bill would limit musicians' freedom of expression. The bill see…

Get more stories like this

Sign up for our newsletters and get the most important free expression news delivered to your inbox.