Refugee cri­sis and free­dom of ex­pres­sion must be tack­led at ASEAN Sum­mit - Amnesty

Mizzima Business Weekly - - NEWS -

South­east Asian lead­ers meet­ing in Malaysia must ur­gently pri­or­i­tize a co­or­di­nated plan to help the thou­sands of asy­lum seek­ers and mi­grants from Myan­mar and Bangladesh who are forced to risk abuse and death at sea, Amnesty In­ter­na­tional (AI) said in a state­ment on 16 Novem­ber.

Gov­ern­ments meet­ing at the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions (ASEAN) Sum­mit in Kuala Lumpur from 18-22 Novem­ber can­not solely fo­cus on eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment while there is a loom­ing refugee cri­sis and an on­go­ing clam­p­down on free­dom of ex­pres­sion in the re­gion.

“The global refugee cri­sis erupted in South­east Asia in May this year, when thou­sands of peo­ple from Myan­mar and Bangladesh were stranded in rick­ety boats, pushed back from safety on shore, traf­ficked into forced labour, or killed at sea. ASEAN na­tions have an im­por­tant chance at this week’s Sum­mit to agree on ur­gent ac­tion to pre­vent this tragedy from hap­pen­ing again,” said Champa Pa­tel, Amnesty In­ter­na­tional’s In­terim Di­rec­tor for South East Asia and Pa­cific re­gional of­fice.

The global refugee cri­sis erupted in South­east Asia in May this year, when thou­sands of peo­ple from Myan­mar and Bangladesh were stranded in rick­ety boats, pushed back from safety on shore, traf­ficked into forced labour, or killed at sea. ASEAN na­tions have an im­por­tant chance at this week’s Sum­mit to agree on ur­gent ac­tion to pre­vent this tragedy from hap­pen­ing again.

Champa Pa­tel, Amnesty In­ter­na­tional’s In­terim Di­rec­tor for South East Asia and Pa­cific re­gional of­fice

“Gov­ern­ments in the re­gion – in par­tic­u­lar In­done­sia, Malaysia and Thai­land – must put in place strong do­mes­tic asy­lum sys­tems, in line with their obli­ga­tions. Cus­tom­ary in­ter­na­tional law is clear – peo­ple have the right to seek asy­lum, to have their re­quests fairly con­sid­ered and not to be re­turned to a risk of tor­ture or per­se­cu­tion.

“Those ASEAN mem­ber states who have yet not done so should also be­gin the process of rat­i­fy­ing the 1951 Refugee Con­ven­tion.”

All gov­ern­ments in the re­gion, but es­pe­cially Malaysia, Thai­land, Myan­mar, Viet Nam and In­done­sia, must re­spect and pro­tect the right to free­dom of ex­pres­sion and re­peal or amend laws that vi­o­late this right.

In Malaysia, the colo­nial-era Sedi­tion Act has been used to in­ves­ti­gate, charge or im­prison hun­dreds of in­di­vid­u­als who have crit­i­cized the gov­ern­ment or the monar­chy. They in­clude op­po­si­tion politi­cians, po­lit­i­cal activists, hu­man rights de­fend­ers, aca­demics, jour­nal­ists, lawyers and oth­ers. Po­lit­i­cal car­toon­ist Zulk­i­flee An­war Ul­haque, also known as “Zu­nar,” is fac­ing nine charges un­der the Sedi­tion Act for tweets crit­i­ciz­ing the ju­di­ciary.

In Thai­land, of­fi­cial re­pres­sion of free speech has dra­mat­i­cally in­ten­si­fied. Pris­on­ers of con­science have been ar­bi­trar­ily im­pris­oned, rou­tinely de­nied bail and tried in of­ten un­fair tri­als in mil­i­tary courts, some with­out the right to ap­peal. Au­thor­i­ties are us­ing laws on lèse-ma­jesté (in­sult­ing the monar­chy) and trea­son to im­prison scores of peo­ple for peace­ful acts of self-ex­pres­sion. Hu­man rights de­fend­ers con­tinue to face cen­sor­ship, en­forced dis­ap­pear­ances and vi­o­lent at­tacks. For ex­am­ple, ac­tivist Som­bath Boonga­manong is among those fac­ing mil­i­tary trial, for his crit­i­cism of the May 2014 coup.

While his­toric elec­tions re­cently took place in Myan­mar, there has been an in­crease in the num­bers ar­rested and im­pris­oned solely for peace­ful dis­sent dur­ing the past year. Weeks be­fore the elec­tions, at least 19 new pris­on­ers of con­science were locked up adding to the scores of peo­ple al­ready de­tained solely for peace­fully ex­er­cise their rights. One of them is Phyo Phyo Aung, Sec­re­tary Gen- eral of the All Burma Fed­er­a­tion of Stu­dent Unions (ABFSU) who has been in prison along with scores of other stu­dents and pro­test­ers since 10 March 2015 af­ter be­ing vi­o­lently ar­rested dur­ing a stu­dent protest against the newly adopted Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion Law.

The sup­pres­sion of peace­ful, so­cial and re­li­gious ac­tivism con­tin­ues in Viet Nam. Mem­bers of ac­tivist groups face reg­u­lar ha­rass­ment, in­clud­ing sur­veil­lance, re­stric­tions on their move­ment, ar­bi­trary de­ten­tion, pros­e­cu­tion and im­pris­on­ment and phys­i­cal at­tacks. Blog­ger Nguyen Huu Vinh and his col­league Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy re­main in pre-trial de­ten­tion since their ar­rest in May 2014, in con­nec­tion with their blogs crit­i­cal of gov­ern­ment poli­cies and of­fi­cials.

In In­done­sia, se­cu­rity forces ar­bi­trar­ily ar­rested at least 264 Pa­puan po­lit­i­cal activists in May for peace­ful protests dur­ing Pres­i­dent Joko Wi­dodo’s visit to the prov­ince. Scores of peace­ful pro-in­de­pen­dence activists from the Pa­pua and Maluku re­gions re­main im­pris­oned, some sim­ply for wav­ing a pro-in­de­pen­dence flag. Blas­phemy laws also con­tinue to be used to re­press mi­nor­ity be­liefs.

ASEAN lead­ers must not leave the Kuala Lumpur Sum­mit be­fore there is a com­mit­ment to end the on­go­ing as­sault on hu­man rights de­fend­ers in their coun­tries. Th­ese de­fend­ers must be al­lowed to carry out their work with­out fear of per­se­cu­tion.

“We con­tinue to call for the im­me­di­ate and un­con­di­tional release of all pris­on­ers of con­science across the re­gion,” said Champa Pa­tel.

“ASEAN lead­ers must not leave the Kuala Lumpur Sum­mit be­fore there is a com­mit­ment to end the on­go­ing as­sault on hu­man rights de­fend­ers in their coun­tries. Th­ese de­fend­ers must be al­lowed to carry out their work with­out fear of per­se­cu­tion.”

(Mizzima)

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