Posts Tagged ‘Frederick Rawski’

ICJ calls on Malaysia to finally abolish laws restricting freedom of expression and assembly

March 5, 2020

Malaysiakini wrote on the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) on the authorities to stop their investigations against activists engaging in peaceful protests. The call came after police today probed Ambiga Sreenevasan, Marina Mahathir, and numerous others over peaceful assemblies in Dataran Merdeka and outside the Sogo shopping centre over the weekend. The protests were held over the political turmoil which saw the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan government. “These investigations have the effect of harassing and intimidating human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists, and look worryingly like a new crackdown on dissent,” said ICJ Asia Pacific director Frederick Rawski. Read the rest of this entry »

ICJ Report on freedom of information in South East Asia especially on-line

December 23, 2019

Malaysian cartoonist Zunar helps launch a report by the International Commission of Jurists at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand.  (Photo by Osama Motiwala/ICJ))
Malaysian cartoonist Zunar helps launch a report by the International Commission of Jurists at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand.  (Photo by Osama Motiwala/ICJ))

On 16 December 2019 Dave Kendall wrote in the Bankok Post about the International Commission of Jurists(ICJ), having released a report called Dictating the internet: Curtailing free expression, opinion and information online in Southeast Asia. The report was presetned at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand, where some of the human rights defenders featured in the case studies participated in a panel discussion. The Malaysian cartoonist Zunar, [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/18/fight-through-cartoons-zunar/] drew a cartoon live on stage; it showed a government figure placing handcuffs around the two ‘O’s in the word Google.

The ICJ has a slightly different take from other non-governmental organisations that seek to protect freedom of speech. For the ICJ, the law is both the problem and the solution: Southeast Asian governments use existing laws and draft new ones to stifle dissent, violating international statutes upholding freedom of expression that they themselves have signed onto. The report calls for governments in Southeast Asia to “repeal, amend or otherwise rectify existing legal and regulatory frameworks to bring them in line with their international obligations” — and argues that “legislation framed in human rights terms is also the best and most effective way to protect against the very real threats posed by the spread of hate speech, disinformation online, cyber-attacks and other cybercrimes.

From left: ICJ director of Asia and the Pacific Frederick Rawski, Myanmar surgeon Ma Thida, human rights defender Sutharee Wannasiri, Singaporean activist Jolovan Wham and Malaysian cartoonist Zunar (Photo by Dave Kendall)

“It’s not a pretty picture,Frederick Rawski, ICJ director of Asia and the Pacific told the forum. “Laws are used to harass and threaten human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists and others…New legal frameworks are being seen as an opportunity to consolidate and protect political power.” Corporations, too, have joined the party. “Businesses are using strategic lawsuits to avoid criticism, claiming they are protecting their businesses interests,Sutharee Wannasiri told the audience. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/04/international-civil-society-week-3-human-rights-defenders-engaging-business/]. The human rights activist is out on bail.

Governments have often cited vague concepts of “national security” and “public order” to justify using disproportionate means to shut down opposing views, sometimes even when privately expressed. “I was sentenced to 23 years in prison in 1993,” said Dr Ma Thida, a Myanmar surgeon, writer, and human rights activist. “The first charge was ‘endangering national serenity’.” She said the use of speech-suppressing colonial-era laws such as the National Secrets Act has actually increased since Aung San Suu Kyi joined the Myanmar government.

Governments across Southeast Asia vary in the subtlety — or otherwise — they employ in using the law to stifle dissent. “The police were very nice to me,” recalled Jolovan Wham, a Singaporean civil and labour rights activist [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/24/human-rights-defender-jolovan-wham-in-singapore-sentenced-ngos-dismayed/]. “They asked me, ‘Is the room too cold? Would you like some biscuits?’ Singapore introduced its Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act this year. “Singapore has a very good PR machine… they use democratic processes for authoritarian ends,” said Mr Wham. “They made a show of democratic consultation to justify this repressive law.

The ICJ report was welcomed by Sutawan Chanprasert, the founder of DigitalReach, a new organisation campaigning to protect digital rights in Southeast Asia. “The report shows that while technology gives more opportunities for people to express themselves on social media, the state is moving to control the online space too,” she told the Bangkok Post. “Under repressive ‘fake news’ laws, any content can be interpreted as ‘fake’, ‘false’ and ‘misleading’. And tech has provided a new kind of threat to freedom of expression– digital surveillance of political dissidents.

ICJ says human rights defenders alarmed over election results in Sri Lanka

November 19, 2019

Sri Lanka’s newly elected president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his Government must demonstrate that they will uphold human rights and rule of law, and ensure that Sri Lanka sustains its international obligations and commitments to justice and accountability, said the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) on 19 November 2019. “The election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, after a highly polarizing campaign, has alarmed human rights defenders in Sri Lanka and abroad, who have little reason to believe that someone facing such serious allegations of perpetrating human rights violations can be relied upon to meet the country’s obligations under international law,” said Frederick Rawski, ICJ Asia Pacific Director.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who won the presidency with 52.25% of votes, served as Sri Lanka’s Secretary of the Ministry of Defence from 2005 to 2015 during the tenure of his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, at the height of the armed conflict against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Gotabaya Rajapaksa faces credible allegations of involvement in war crimes and crimes against humanity that took place during the country’s armed conflict.

International condemnation of atrocities committed during the conflict led to the UN Human Rights Council demanding that the Sri Lankan government commit to a process of transitional justice, in view of the systematic failures of accountability mechanisms in Sri Lanka in the past, as documented by the ICJ in its submission to the Human Rights Council, and others. Despite commitments from the Sri Lankan government, the transitional justice process has effectively stalled and impunity has prevailed.

The ICJ is deeply concerned that even the limited strides made over the past five years in Sri Lanka on transitional justice, positive constitutional amendments and institutional reform will be reversed,” said Rawski. The ICJ urged the Government to deliver on its commitment to the transitional justice process, including by holding those responsible for human rights violations and abuses accountable, and complying with the obligations set out in United Nations Human Rights Council Resolutions 30/1, 34/1 and 40/1.