Archive for the 'Southeast Asia' Category

Burma: Liberalisation to conceal repression?

Burma, also known as Myanmar, held its first elections in 20 years in November 2010, and the new ‘civilian’ government took office in March 2011. However, as many international observers have reported, the elections were fraudulent and undemocratic. A quarter of the seats on Parliament are reserved for the military, and a military-backed party controls 80% of the rest. According to reports, the government continues to imprison political opponents,  use convicts as human shields for the military, violently repress ethnic minorities, silence critics through censorship of the press, and limit access to information through surveillance of the internet, among other claims. The result is absolute military rule wearing the mask of democracy; a mask that the government thinks it can continue to wear as long as it controls the press and the internet. Continue reading ‘Burma: Liberalisation to conceal repression?’

China’s crackdown on human rights lawyers

In a press release dated 14 April 2011, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) called for ‘an end to intimidation and abuse of human rights lawyers in China’. The IBAHRI’s press release names 9 human rights lawyers who had ‘disappeared’ since February 2011. Some have since been released, others are still missing. Indeed, according to Amnesty International, it appears that the Chinese government has embarked over the past few months on a fresh wave of repression in its ongoing  ‘campaign of harassment and intimidation’ of human rights lawyers.  Continue reading ‘China’s crackdown on human rights lawyers’

“Asian Values”: a credible alternative to a universal conception of human rights,or a justification for restricting freedom of expression?

A recent High Court ruling has reignited fierce debate on Freedom of Expression in Singapore. Dr Chee Soon Juan, the leader of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party, has just lost his appeal to overturn a conviction for speaking in a public place without a licence. Sentenced to a fine of $20,000 or imprisonment of 20 weeks in default, the SDP leader is facing the very real risk that, incarcerated, he will be unable to lead his party in the forthcoming general elections.

Dr Chee’s case is symptomatic of a wider problem in Singapore: the systematic repression of the right to freedom of expression. On the issue of freedom of the press, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew remarked:

“We cannot allow [the press] to assume a role in Singapore that the American media play to America, that of invigilator, adversary and inquisitor of the administration.”

Continue reading ‘“Asian Values”: a credible alternative to a universal conception of human rights,or a justification for restricting freedom of expression?’

Spotlight on Tibet: Tibetan writer Gedun Tsering speaks out on his home-land

Gedun Tsering, writer of  books and blogs on Tibet, today  lives in Dharamsala, India, where the Tibetan government in exile is based. He recently fled there, after  living in hiding for  twelve months, but continues to write and peak of his home-land.

According to the Chinese authorities his writing is politically motivated and like other Tibetan writers, he has been accused of ‘inciting separatism’. Whereas, Tsering, in an recent interview with ‘Reporters without borders’ (that has also been diffused by the “Tibetan Post”)states that he just wants to talk about his homeland and his articles are more descriptive than politically charged. Continue reading ‘Spotlight on Tibet: Tibetan writer Gedun Tsering speaks out on his home-land’

Free speech campaigner awarded Nobel Peace Prize

Incarcerated Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo has been named the winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in promoting democracy and human rights in China. Mr Liu first became known during the events in Tiananmen Square, and since then has continued to be outspoken on various human rights issues, including the freedom of expression. Currently Mr Liu is serving an 11 year prison sentence for his co-authorship of Charter 08, a document published in December 2008 which calls for the implementation of universal values and democracy in China.

Mr Liu was awarded the prize despite warnings from China, which has since registered its disagreement with the decision . The Chinese foreign ministry cited the historical purposes of the Peace Prize and claimed that awarding it to Mr Liu runs contrary to the award’s stated purpose: ‘The Nobel Peace Prize should be awarded to people who “promote national harmony and international friendship, who promote disarmament and peace”…It’s a complete violation of the principles of the prize and an insult to the Peace Prize itself for the Nobel committee to award the prize to [Mr Liu].’

Continue reading ‘Free speech campaigner awarded Nobel Peace Prize’

British author Alan Shadrake still awaits trial in Singapore

The 75 year old British author Alan Shadrake, who was visiting Singapore to launch his new book, ‘Once a Jolly Hangman – Singapore Justice in the Dock’, was arrested on arrival to the country on 20 July 2010. The Singapore Attorney General asserted that passages of the book scandalise the Singapore judiciary and undermine the authority of the courts.

Mr Shadrake has been charged with contempt of court and, if found guilty, could receive a sentence of up to two years in prison. His trial was originally due to start on 30 July but has been adjourned, and Mr Shadrake still awaits trial, having been released on bail.

As the title suggests, Mr Shadrake’s book criticises the death penalty in Singapore and was intended to highlight the double standards and lack of impartiality in its application. However, the reception of his book in Singapore is now also exposing broader concerns relating to constraints on freedom of speech. Singapore is a country where dissent is rare, and it has a reputation for using the courts to silence those who express what it perceives to be unfair criticism of the state. It has been found to lawfully allow ‘censorship of content and distribution of print material and films, severe limits on public processions and assemblies, and prolonged detention of suspects without trial’, in the interests of security, public order, morality, national harmony, or friendly foreign relations.

The deteriorating freedom of expression situation in Fiji

Three months after the Media Industry Development Decree was issued by Fijian Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama, the objects of the Decree are beginning to feel its effect. Australian-owned News Limited are having to sell their newspaper, Fiji Times, targeted by a clause in the Decree which requires all media outlet directors and 90 percent of shareholders to be citizens and permanent residents of Fiji. The Decree also prohibits news broadcasts ‘against the national interest or public order.’

The Decree follows the deportation in 2008 of two staff of the Times, with government officials citing work permit problems. In 2009 a court ruled that Bainimarama’s 2006 coup was illegal, leading him to step down in an apparent prelude to restoring democracy. However, he returned, re-appointed as Prime Minister until 2014, and suspended the Constitution. The Public Emergency Regulations 2009 was decreed on 10 April 2009 and remains in effect.

First the prolonged state of ‘emergency’ enabled government restrictions on media freedom, such as sending ‘information officers’ into newsrooms to prevent ‘negative’ stories being reported. Now with the issuing of the Media Industry Development Decree, the rules of property ownership have also been enlisted potentially to squeeze out critical commentary. Both can be utilised as indirect attacks on media freedom, making public space an inhospitable landscape where free expression may ultimately be inoperable.


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