ASEAN Parliamentarians Cannot Avoid “Lawfare” or Human Rights Violations

Date:

ASEAN Parliamentarians Cannot Avoid "Lawfare" or Human Rights Violations

  • News by AUN News correspondent
  • Monday, January 30, 2023
  • AUN News – ISSN: 2949-8090

Summary:

  • With more incidents reported by the IPU each year, it is the second-most risky region for MPs.

  • While physical assaults are still uncommon in Southeast Asia, governments frequently use politically motivated accusations against lawmakers and opposition figures in a practice that has come to be known as “lawfare.

  • As a result, the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) urge all Southeast Asian governments to refrain from utilising the legal system to stifle dissent and ask ASEAN to convict any members who do so.

  • Cambodia and MyanmarFor instance, treason and terrorist laws have been applied to suppress opposition in Myanmar and Cambodia.

  • According to a recent UN Human Rights Office study, violence, pressure, and intimidation against journalists are on the rise (OHCHR).ThailandWhile in Thailand, where, unlike many other nations, libel can be deemed a criminal infraction rather than just a civil crime, libel laws are among the most frequently applied rules there.

Parliamentarians risk human rights breaches and retaliation by simply carrying out their duties or expressing their ideas and beliefs.

According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Asia is experiencing a similar trend (IPU). With more incidents reported by the IPU each year, it is the second-most risky region for MPs.

While physical assaults are still uncommon in Southeast Asia, governments frequently use politically motivated accusations against lawmakers and opposition figures in a practice that has come to be known as “lawfare.”

Myanmar

56 MPs elected in the November 2020 election have been the subject of specific reports of human rights violations against them to the IPU since the military took control and suspended parliament in February 2021.

Wai Lin Aung and Pyae Phyo, two freshmen MPs, were taken into custody in December 2021. The total number of MPs being held now stands at 30. According to reports, many detainees are incommunicado in overcrowded jails where they are mistreated, possibly tortured, and have limited access to medical care or legal counsel.

Amnesty International claims that Myanmar institutionalises torture and other forms of abuse. In detention, women have experienced torture, sexual harassment, and rape threats.

Lawfare must end!

Stop Lawfare! was the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) rallying cry at a press conference held in Manila on January 27. The group demanded that ASEAN member states cease using judicial harassment and politically motivated charges against critics and political opponents. Say “no” to the legalisation of weapons and organised violence.

The news conference explained the ongoing use of lawfare and how it affects the right to free speech. It expressed support for lawmakers and other people experiencing this type of tyranny.

Philippines

The Committee to Protect Journalists puts the Philippines eighth in its 2021 Impunity Index, which tracks the deaths of media workers whose assassins go unpunished. The Philippines is placed 147th out of 180 nations in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index.

Both the present administration of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and the preceding administration of President Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines have employed “lawfare” regularly to silence critics. Walden Bello, a former Philippine legislator and board member of APHR, is one example.

Walden Bello was detained on August 8, 2022, for allegedly engaging in cyber-slander. A former Davao City information officer, Sara Duterte’s media and public relations chief, has accused Bello of engaging in politically driven statements.

The indictment of Walden Bello is a blatant instance of political intimidation and retaliation intended to frighten rivals of the present Philippine administration. It infringes on the right to free speech, which is crucial to a democracy.

Numerous other political figures and activists, such as Senators Leila De Lima, Risa Hontiveros, and Antonio Trillanes, have also suffered the consequences of questionable justice and Walden Bello. After launching a Senate inquiry into extrajudicial executions committed by the Duterte administration, Senator Leila de Lima was detained in February 2017 on false drug accusations. Even though several crucial witnesses have recanted their statements, she has been in custody since and is awaiting trial.

Following dubious arrests in the wake of government “red-tagging” efforts targeting local activists and journalists, including human rights and environmental defenders, many local and regional leaders are also being held arbitrarily.

Maria Ressa, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021 with a Russian journalist in her capacity as editor-in-chief of Rappler, has frequently fallen prey to lawlessness. They were recently found not guilty of tax fraud. Ressa claimed that it was one of several cases the previous president Duterte used to stifle dissenting media coverage.

Ressa and Rappler are facing three additional lawsuits: a second tax case brought by prosecutors in a different court, her appeal against a finding of online libel before the Supreme Court, and Rappler’s appeal against the closure of the Securities and Exchange Commission. If Ressa’s libel conviction appeal is unsuccessful, she could still spend up to six years in prison.

As a result, the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) urge all Southeast Asian governments to refrain from utilising the legal system to stifle dissent and ask ASEAN to convict any members who do so.

Senator Leila De Lima and all those wrongfully incarcerated on politically motivated allegations can be promptly released by the Philippine government if all charges against Walden Bello are dropped, “said Mercy Barends, the president of APHR and a representative from Indonesia.

ASEAN

“Lawfare occurs throughout Southeast Asia and beyond. Governments in the area pursue political opponents, critics of the government, and activists using vague laws. The weaponization of the legal system is alarming and seriously detrimental to the right to free speech.

It fosters a climate of fear that not only keeps individuals who are the targets of such lawfare silent but also makes anyone who wishes to criticise those in authority pause, “APHR co-chair and former Malaysian MP Charles Santiago remarked.

Cambodia and Myanmar

For instance, treason and terrorist laws have been applied to suppress opposition in Myanmar and Cambodia. The death of four famous Myanmar campaigners on spurious terrorism accusations by the Myanmar government last July was the saddest instance. These executions, the first by a court in many years, illustrate how authoritarian governments can twist the law to further their power.

Opposition figures in Cambodia frequently receive lengthy prison sentences on fabricated accusations just for expressing their First Amendment rights. According to a recent UN Human Rights Office study, violence, pressure, and intimidation against journalists are on the rise (OHCHR).

Thailand

While in Thailand, where, unlike many other nations, libel can be deemed a criminal infraction rather than just a civil crime, libel laws are among the most frequently applied rules there. The Penal Code of Thailand, Sections 326-328, establishes several defamation charges that are punishable by up to two years in prison and fines of up to 200,000 Thai Baht (approximately USD 6,400).

“I believe that as members of parliament in our various nations, we should make every effort to repeal or at the very least modify this kind of laws. On it, our democracies rely. But I also believe that we need help. Because ultimately, we are all in this together, Rangsiman Rome, a Thai politician and member of APHR stated, “We need to work together across borders, share experiences with parliamentarians from other countries, and stand in solidarity with people who fall prey to it.”

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