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HRC32 Side-event – Into Thin Air: vanishing space for freedom of assembly and association online and offline in Asia

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Date: 16 June 2016

Time: 1500-1600 hrs

Venue: Room IX, Palais des Nations, Geneva

Organised by Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and Association for Progressive Communications (APC)

Space for the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association has been consistently shrinking in several Asian countries. Many Asian governments have enacted laws and policies imposing excessive restrictions on freedoms of association and assembly. The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in his latest report to the UN Human Rights Council (A/HRC/32/36) highlights many of these countries.

For example In Cambodia, the government has intensified attacks on independent civil society and those opposed to the ruling party. At least four senior staff of the Cambodian Development and Human Rights Association (ADHOC) – a prominent human rights organisation in Cambodia – are held in detention since late April on allegations of bribing a witness after responding to a request for legal assistance.[1] This latest spate of attacks on civil society comes on the heels of the promulgation of the restrictive Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations (LANGO) that imposes severe restrictions on the work of domestic and international associations and NGOs as well as community based movements in Cambodia.

In Malaysia, as the Special Rapporteur observes, human rights defenders, political activists and civil society organisations critical of the government or the ruling party face serious impediments to the exercise of their rights to assembly and association. The draconian sedition law is often deployed against dissidents, human rights defenders and civil society actors for organising or participating in peaceful activism calling for clean elections or for criticising corruption within the government. The government has given authorities unbridled powers to arbitrarily restrict movements of senior civil society figures and human rights defenders for their criticism of the government.

Similar restrictions on peaceful assemblies and attacks on civil society are also common in other countries in the region. For instance, in Pakistan, despite constitutional guarantees of the freedom of assembly and association, strict limitations are imposed on the exercise of these rights. Frequent use of excessive force to curtail protests often result in deaths and injuries to protesters. Criminal provisions and other regulatory legislation are increasingly used to block opposition political groups from holding rallies. Stringent laws regulating registration and funding are likewise used to impose inordinate limitations on civil society organisations. Civil society actors opposing or criticising government policies run the risk of being labeled threats to national security, and can face criminal charges, arrests and imprisonment in both Pakistan.

Restrictions on freedom of assembly and association are more acutely felt often by minorities and marginalised communities in the region. Attacks against liberal or secular thinkers and human rights activists have intensified significantly of late.

While these more traditional forms of restrictions remain rampant, there has been an increasing trend of using the Internet, and information and communication technology as tools for repression of these basic rights.[2] Growing use of Internet and online communications tools by civil society for social and political causes, and by like minded citizens to rally for causes or mobilise for action has meant increasing crackdown on these tools as a means to stifle exercise of the rights to freedom of association and assembly.[3]

This panel discussion seeks to provide a platform for human rights defenders from Cambodia, Malaysia and Pakistan to engage in a conversation with the Special Rapporteur as well as the international community on the ongoing repression of rights to freedom of assembly and association in the region. This event will also see the launch of APC’s research publication titled “Freedom of Assembly and Association Online in India, Malaysia and Pakistan: Trends, challenges and recommendations.


  1. To provide a platform to for human rights defenders from Cambodia, Malaysia and Pakistan to discuss restrictions on freedom of assembly and association in their respective countries; and
  2. To share the findings and recommendations of APC’s research paper on the freedom of assembly and association online in India, Malaysia and Pakistan.


  • Maina Kiai, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
  • Sokunthea Chhan, Cambodian Development and Human Rights Association (ADHOC), Cambodia
  • Shashi Devan, Human rights lawyer, Malaysia
  • Haroon Baloch, Bytes For All, Pakistan
  • Gayathri Venkiteswaran, Author of Freedom of Assembly and Association Online in India, Malaysia and Pakistan: Trends, challenges and recommendations
  • Moderator: Adam Ahmed, FORUM-ASIA

To download the PDF version of this announcement click here.