Posts Tagged ‘Sutharee Wannasiri’

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.

International Civil Society Week: 3 human rights defenders engaging business

May 4, 2019

Sutharee Wannasiri (Thailand)

Sutharee Wannasiri

Sutharee has been supporting the 14 Myanmar workers that have denounced labour rights abuses at the Thammakaset Farm in Thailand. She has actively engaged in public advocacy to demand business accountability on labour rights abuses, and an end to the judicial harassment workers are facing in retaliation for reporting these. To date, Thammakaset Farm has filed more than 13 criminal and civil complaints against the workers and the local CSO staff from Migrant Worker Rights Network and the journalists supporting them, including her – many of them are ongoing. The majority of the cases have been dropped by the courts.

Sutharee said:

“It is also the responsibility of international brands that buy from Thailand to make sure the companies they are sourcing from are not engaged in judicial harassment that creates a chilling effect on whistleblowers and other defenders. They should establish mechanisms that allow workers and defenders to communicate with the brands directly and ensure that they are protected from any retaliation from suppliers during the investigation. The results should be made public and bring accountability for the abuses.”

 

Amanda Segnini (Brazil)

Amanda Segnini

The organization engajamundo focuses on youth empowerment in Brazil, with a particular focus on climate change. Its main goal is to make young people ware of their power to transform their communities. The organization is concerned about how civic freedoms will be negatively affected under the new government of President Jair Bolsonaro. Engajamundo is open to dialogue and ongoing engagement with companies if there is an alignment in values. Amanda believes that companies and civil society could engage more with one another if they find a shared purpose.

Amanda said:

It might be right for companies to say something in support of activists that are under attack – but only if they have been working with the community long-term and have an ongoing relationship with them: for example, if they work with local producers and source responsibly from them. If such a community is under attack, a brand should say or do something in their support. But if they only say something without having that relationship, it’s like they are just ‘riding on the wave’, taking advantage of the buzz. Companies also should not censor civil society they engage with. For example, once we were invited to take part in a corporate event, but they tried to censor what we wanted to say. We decided not to participate in the end.”

 

Sasa Uzelac (from Serbia)

Sasa Uzelac

Sasa is the Solidarity Center‘s Regional Coordinator for South East Europe. Solidarity Center was established by AFL-CIO, and is the biggest international organization supporting trade unions and associations working to protect labour rights in South East Europe. He says trade unions and workers’ associations are increasingly under attack from governments, companies, and far-right political organizations and movements. Sasa says the tide of far-right populism is creating additional problems for organizations and people advocating for labour rights. Workers’ rights are being endangered on a daily basis by “ruthless” employers and “mindless” government officials. Freedom of association, decent working conditions, and human rights in the field of work are at risk due to governments’ failure to sanction unlawful activities by employers.

Sasa said:

“The best thing brands can do is to introduce union practices from their country of origin, rather than exploiting the weaknesses of the local system and local practices in their operations. But sadly they are not doing that to a high enough standard in this region. When big international companies enter the market, they should also make sure that the health and safety standards are brought to the levels of their countries of origin.”

https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/human-rights-defenders-discuss-engaging-with-business-at-international-civil-society-week-in-serbia