Southeast Asia: misuse of laws to restrict freedom of expression

At the UN the ICJ today addressed abuse of laws in Southeast Asia to restrict freedom of expression.The statement was made in an interactive dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. It read as follows:

“The ICJ welcomes the report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression (A/HRC/38/35), on online expression. Such concerns are reflected in the continued weaponization of laws to criminalize and unduly restrict freedom of expression in Southeast Asia. Increasingly, laws are misused to harass and intimidate civil society, journalists, politicians and ordinary individuals.

For example, in Cambodia, three persons were arrested – two charged and detained in May, and one reportedly arrested this past weekend – for sharing content on Facebook in alleged violation of a recent lèse majesté law. Another man was similarly detained, and a woman extradited from Thailand to Cambodia and imprisoned, for Facebook posts deemed critical of the government. An inter-ministerial order signed last month now allows government agencies to monitor and censor information on websites and social media.

Another example is Vietnam, where as well-known bloggers remain in jail, last week lawmakers adopted a cybersecurity law that will compel companies to store users’ data in-country, pass personal data to government authorities, and censor information online when directed to do so by the government.

A further example is Thailand, where this year alone at least 132 people were charged for “illegal assembly” after protesting for elections to be held – 27 were also charged with a sedition-like offence carrying a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment. Last week, arrest warrants were reportedly issued alleging dissemination of false information on Facebook, which may lead to charges under the Computer Crimes Act carrying a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment, despite international standards precluding imprisonment as an appropriate penalty.

The ICJ urges all States to implement the recommendations in the report of the Special Rapporteur, and to ensure the right to freedom of expression by revoking or amending all laws, orders, policies or other actions which unjustifiably restrict this fundamental freedom.”

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