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Women's Day marchers attacked, Thai media restricted, and report on media killings in Afghanistan

International Women's day was celebrated across the Asia-Pacific region but women's groups were harassed in Malaysia, Pakistan, and Cambodia. Thai media faced tremendous challenges ahead of the elections, and a new report revealed unabated media killings in Afghanistan.

Pakistani civil society activists take part in a rally for women's rights on International Women's Day in Lahore, 8 March 2019
Pakistani civil society activists take part in a rally for women's rights on International Women's Day in Lahore, 8 March 2019

ARIF ALI/AFP/Getty Images

Women's Day marchers harassed

An online backlash against the Women's Day marchers in Malaysia was organized by conservative groups opposed to the promotion of LGBTQI+ rights. At least seven organizers of the march were informed by police that they could face sanctions for possible violations of the Sedition Act and Peaceful Assembly Act.

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ- Malaysia) criticized two Malay-language newspapers for sensationalizing the presence of LGBTQI+ individuals in the march which led to the spread of inaccurate information about the event and incited "hatred towards an already marginalised and at-risk community". Civil society groups like ARTICLE 19 urged authorities to "immediately and unconditionally drop all investigations against the organisers of the march for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly."

Hundreds of women who were set to deliver a petition addressed to Cambodia's Council of Ministers were blocked from leaving a stadium in Phnom Penh. The petition contained seven demands which included the provision of safe shelters for victims of domestic violence, striving to end sexual harassment and sexual violence against women at the workplace, reforms of the transport system to better protect workers, and better working conditions for domestic helpers. Despite the police blockade, women leaders were able to persuade some high-ranking officials to meet the protesters and listen to the demands of the group.

Meanwhile, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM) joined other groups in calling the attention of the government to address the "limited gender-responsive funding in local and national budgets, restrictions of the rights of women human rights defenders, and limited access to justice, especially in domestic violence cases." As in 2018, an Aurat March (Women's March) was organized this year across Pakistan. Even more women participated this year, in at least seven cities, demanding equal access, quality services, and greater protection of rights. But the success of Aurat March was immediately followed by a conservative backlash which targeted participants and supporters of the campaign. Many reported incidents of online violence perpetrated by men and even women who opposed the aims of Aurat March. One of those threatened was Nighat Dad, executive director of IFEX member Digital Rights Foundation (DRF). Sadaf Khan from Media Matters for Democracy explained why there was a systematic effort to undermine the Aurat March: "The march has touched such a raw nerve, that people are actually investing in spreading misinformation to discredit the movement".

Women in front!

The International Federation of Journalists highlighted the importance of increasing the role of women leaders in the media. It published a series of stories showcasing women's successes in the media and the efforts to overcome discrimination and other obstacles that women journalists face at work.

Shirley Yam, the vice president of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, emphasized that "gender equality should be made both a human resource policy as well as editorial guidelines."

Indonesian journalist Ratna Ariyanti, who is also a board member of the Alliance of Independent Journalists, reiterated how "newsrooms should give the same treatment for male and female journalists, including the right to attend trainings, get promoted, and equal wages or allowances."

Thai media faced restrictions ahead of polls

Thais voted on 24 March amid continuing dominance by the military in many aspects of governance. International observers noted that there was "limited public access to critical information, widespread media self-censorship, and restricted space for independent political views which undermined Thailand's supposed transition to democratic civilian rule.

A TV station was suspended for several days and a critical TV host was removed from her program. Media laws promulgated by the Junta remain in effect, while some activists and opposition leaders were threatened with arrest. A cybersecurity law was recently passed which added to the social media regulations enforced by the government.

"The restrictive and highly regulated environment that confronted the Thai media ahead of the polls was a huge disservice to the cause of democracy in Thailand, and to a people who had been longing for a democratic transition," said Tess Bacalla, executive director of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA).

Media killings in Afghanistan

The Afghanistan Journalists Center has published its annual report confirming Afghanistan's notorious tag as a deadly country for journalists. AFJC recorded a total of 92 cases of violence against journalists, including 20 media killings from 21 March 2018 to 20 March of this year. Most cases are attributed to the Taliban and Daesh (Islamic State) groups. AFJC said that 13 out of the 20 fatalities have been claimed by Daesh (IS). But government security forces were also included in the list of groups which perpetrated attacks against the media. The report also showed that in more than 95% of cases, the perpetrators are still free. AFJC urged the government to end the culture of impunity by punishing those responsible for violence against the media. It proposed the creation of a special court to ensure that justice is upheld in all cases. It also called for an amendment of the Afghan Media Law and the Access to Information Act.

In brief

The family of prominent Vietnamese blogger Truong Duy Nhat, who disappeared on 26 January in Bangkok where he had requested refugee status, has confirmed that he is being held in Hanoi's T16 prison in Vietnam. So far, authorities have not disclosed the reason for his arrest, but many believe it is related to his critical commentaries against the government.

Around 100 journalists in Australia received a letter from a government prosecutor threatening them with contempt of court charges that could lead to jail terms for covering Cardinal George Pell's child sex abuse conviction while it was still covered by a gag order. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said the letters represent a serious press freedom violation. The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) added that the "suppression orders are 19th century tools that were created to respond to the age of the printing press" and that they are "incapable of meeting the complexities of 21st century borderless digital publishing platforms".

An Indonesian court sentenced Saidah Saleh Syamlan to 10 months in jail for allegedly sending four defamatory WhatsApp messages to two banks regarding a company's performance. The conviction was cited by human rights groups as more proof that the defamation law is "open to manipulation by people with political or financial power who can influence the behavior of investigators."

In Burma, Myitkyina News Journal reporters Ma Mun Mun Pan and Ko Ahje were detained and assaulted by officials of Tha Khin Sit Mining and Import and Export Company over their critical coverage of the latter's banana plantation operations. Media groups have asked authorities to probe the incident.

A new RSF report titled China's Pursuit of a New World Media Order investigated Beijing's systematic efforts to control information outside its borders. These strategies include "modernizing its international TV broadcasting, buying extensive amounts of advertising in international media, infiltrating foreign media... but also employing blackmail, intimidation and harassment on a massive scale".

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

Europe & Central Asia
Middle East & North Africa

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Malaysia: "I will not bow down to these acts to harass or intimidate me as a human rights defender in Malaysia."…

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