SEAJU expresses concerns on SE Asia press freedom

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the South East Asia Journalists’ Union (SEAJU) this week expressed strong concern over numerous attempts to control freedom of expression across the region.

SEAJU  issued its condemnation of significant violations in Myanmar, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia  when it released a  list of incidents over the past month that have caused rising concern among the region’s journalist community. In highlighting the timeline of violations, SEAJU is calling for a stronger regional effort and voice to defend press freedom in South East Asia.

§  In Myanmar on January 28 a number of journalists were threatened with legal action by the Myanmar military (Tatmadaw) in reporting allegations that the military were responsible for the killing of two ethnic-Kachin women on January 20. A statement released by the military said: “The Tatmadaw will take action based on the rule of law against those who accuse [soliders] and write about it after the official report is released by the investigation team.” The office of the Myanmar President Thein Sein later came out in support of the military statement, saying media outlets could face legal actions if they alleged the military was responsible for the murders. An official investigation has now been launched into the murders.

§  In Thailand, the country’s military junta is looking to increase its surveillance in the country, with 10 internet-related bills proposed, including a new ‘Cyber-Security Bill’. On January 30, the junta also issued a directive cancelling the Asia Media Barometer: Thailand 2014 forum organized by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) and the Thai Journalists Association (TJA) alleging FES had not followed procedure to gain permission to host the event. Two days earlier it is understood the country’s installed National Council Peace and Order (NCPO) flagged its concerns that the event could touch on controversial content affecting  the military junta’s ongoing effort to restore ‘peace and order’.On February 10, the online-editor of a pro-royalist online news site ‘ASTV Manager’, Niran Yaowapa was accused of disseminating a false Royal Household Bureau statement regarding King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s health. He was charged with lèse majesté under Article 112 of the Criminal Code and with violating the Computer Crimes Act. Another suspect was also accused, Krit B, a red-shirt (anti-government) supporter after he also diseeminated the statement online. The Military Count granted Nrian bail because he removed the content after discovering it was fake and surrended to police. Krit B was granted bail after seven days in prison, and Niran has been demoted from editor by ASTV management.

§  In Malaysia, the country’s Sedition Act 1948 has increasingly been used as a tool to suppress freedom of expression. In recent months, a number of journalists, cartoonists and political opposition have been targeted for seditious comments. On January 28, cartoonist Zunar’s offices were raided, and then on February 10 he was arrested and detained for four days following a cartoon he published after the conviction of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. In addition to the increasing use of the Sedition Act, Malaysia’s freedom of expression is continuing to come under attack with the Catholic Church now banned from using the word ‘Allah’ in their Malay publications.

§  In the Philippines this week, another journalist was brutally killed highlighting the ongoing crisis for media in the country that has seen 35 journalists and media workers killed during the term of President Aquino. Radio journalist Maurito Lim was killed on February 14 when he was shot in the face by an lone gunman on a motorcycle. It was the second killing in 2015 in the Philippines, after the shooting of Nerlita Ledesma on January 8 as she waited for a ride to work. On January 20, radio journalist Alberto Martinez lost his long-running battle for justice when he died 10 years after a failed assassination attempt left him paralysed. Meanwhile, the Philippines’ House of Representatives continues to drag its feet on passing the country’s much-needed Freedom of Information bill as senators argue for a right of reply measure yet continue to ignore calls to decriminalize libel. 

§  In Indonesia, freedom of expression and freedom of the press continues to be strongly suppressed in the eastern province of Papua. IFJ affiliate, Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (AJI) has reported ongoing human rights violations without due justice as well as continuing impositions of harsh conditions for foreign journalists trying to report in the province. Journalists must face a ‘clearing house’ procedure that involves military and intelligence agencies. Meanwhile, local journalists also face harsh conditions with numerous reports of violence and intimidation against them and a high level of impunity for these crimes. 

There are also issues of violence and criminalisation of the press. In 2014 there were 40 such cases across Indonesia, including the case against the editor of the Jakarta Post for publishing an 'anti-Islamic' cartoon. In 2012 the enactment of the Law of Information and Electronic Transactions (UU ITE), 74 criminal cases have been brought before the courts threatening freedom of expression. Murder is also a threat to press freedom across Indonesia with eight journalist killings since 1996 and no suspects have been named. 

SEAJU said: “They systematic suppression of freedom of expression across the region is a grave cause of concern. SEAJU is determined to stand together to fight continued attacks on press freedom and call governments to account.”

SEAJU also drew attention to the report of the IFJ-NUJP International Solidarity Mission, Ampatuan Massacre: Five Years Onand called on the government of the Philippines to open dialogue with the IFJ Philippines affiliate, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) to respond to the mission’s recommendations. The report was released on January 23.

The Ampatuan Massacre, which took place on November 23 2009, is the single deadliest attack on journalists in history. In all, 58 people were killed in the massacre including 32 journalists. Five years on, not a single conviction has been recorded and a further 33 journalists have been murdered as a result of the country’s ongoing culture of impunity.

“Freedom of expression is a fundamental right, yet South East Asian governments seem bent on controlling the flow of information in the public’s interest. It is a great concern that journalists are continuing to be threatened, censored, intimidated and killed for reporting the truth.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0946

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries

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