Journalists and media workers face an increasingly repressive legal landscape amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, as outlined by the ICJ in a submission to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
“Laws in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam that do not comply with human rights law and standards have served to shrink the civic space in which the media operate,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Secretary General. “This stands to undermine the media’s crucial work in performing their investigative functions and their capacity to impart information to the public.”
The ICJ highlighted in particular how new laws have been enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that aim at or can be used by State authorities to control information about the pandemic. These laws contain provisions incompatible with human rights law and standards as their vague language makes them prone to abuses. In addition, some prescribe excessive sanctions, including severe criminal penalties, which are incompatible with the principles of necessity and proportionality.
The ICJ also underscored how the authorities in the three States continued abusing existing non-human rights compliant laws to arbitrarily restrict information and expression during the pandemic, by targeting journalists and social media users.
Although the ICJ recognizes the necessity to combat the spread of false information online to protect public health during the uncertainty of a pandemic, this objective can and must be carried out using the least intrusive means, rather than unnecessary and disproportionate measures like arrests, detentions, criminal prosecutions and onerous fines.
The submission called for the OHCHR to continue engaging with the relevant authorities in these three countries to better safeguard in law and practice the safety and work of journalists and media workers, and the right to health and right to freedom of expression and information.
This submission is aimed at providing the OHCHR information for a report it is preparing for the UN Human Rights Council pursuant to its Resolution 45/18 on the safety of journalists.
The full submission is available in English here. (PDF)
Osama Motiwala, ICJ Asia-Pacific Communications Officer, e: osama.motiwala(a)icj.org
ICJ, ‘Southeast Asia: ICJ launches report on increasing restrictions on online speech’, 11 December 2019
ICJ, ‘New ICJ global report shows that the right to health must be central to State responses to COVID-19’, 1 September 2020NewsWeb stories