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World Press Freedom Day 2011: Fight Impunity and Censorhip in Asia

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(BANGKOK, 3 MAY 2011) – The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) today joins the international community in commemorating World Press Freedom Day. Our solidarity on this important date comes in the context of the situations of the countries in Asia where members of the press continue to be under attack.  These attacks on press freedom further undermine the enjoyment of freedom of expression and access to information by the people and hinder the process of democratization in Asia.

FORUM-ASIA recognizes the vital work of journalists, who are key allies in the promotion and protection of human rights. Human rights defenders and journalists share the similar task of exposing information and the truth about human rights abuses, and in educating the public about their situation and human rights. In this way, many journalists are also considered as human rights defenders, to whom international legal protection is provided under the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders of 1998.

However, journalists continue to be targets of violence and intimidation because of their work as human rights defenders. FORUM-ASIA is especially alarmed with three regional trends that are deeply entrenched:

1.    Impunity for acts of violence against journalists and press freedom is rampant in many countries, even among those seen to have freedom of expression. Two countries in Asia particularly stand in infamy in recent press freedom statistics: Pakistan has one of the highest rates of killings of journalists with 14 being killed between January 2010 and January 2011; the Philippines was the scene of the most horrific act of violence against journalists when 32 media persons were killed in a single incident in 2009.Yet until now, none of the perpetrators of the Maguindanao massacre has been brought to justice. Journalists covering conflicts in West Papua in Indonesia, Northeast India and Sri Lanka have been targets of violence for their work. In Nepal, journalists have often been victims of attacks from non-state actors (including supporters of political parties) and criminal groups.

Addressing the appallingly low level of redress and effective official action against both state and non-state perpetrators of acts of violence remains a priority concern. Asian States must take concrete measures to stop and prevent such acts from continuing.

2.    Censorship and repressive regulations are still a major concern in many countries, especially in East Asia. National laws and policies that aim to or effectively censor the press remain in place, such as Burma (Myanmar) and Singapore’s laws that regulate newspapers, printing presses and other media. Most of the press in Bhutan, China, Laos and Vietnam are state-owned; and the contents are rigorously monitored and subsequently censored. China, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam actively monitor human rights defenders, the media and independent bloggers for “threats to state” and detain them by using vaguely worded security laws that criminalizes a broad scope of legitimate public criticism. New regulations for the internet have recently been put in place in Indonesia (2008) and Thailand (2007) which imposes penalties on both senders and receivers of information over the internet.

3.    Defamation charges are commonly filed against many journalists both in the mainstream and alternative media including online citizen journalists who report on human rights and corruption issues. In Cambodia, Malaysia and Vietnam a number of human rights defenders, bloggers and journalists are facing defamation charges from powerful individuals and private companies who have been reported to have committed abuses and anomalies.

These defamation charges demonstrate that what is at stake in this arena are mostly the personal interests of the state officials and powerful private actors, rather than the public or state interests, to cover up acts of corruption and abuse of human rights.

Although this dark outlook and the challenges remain daunting, journalists and citizen bloggers continue to struggle to bring light to the truth by publishing reliable information to the public and the international community.

FORUM-ASIA calls on the governments across Asia to:

  1. Recognize the role of journalists and human rights defenders who struggle against impunity and censorship by legislating laws to protect human rights defenders.
  2. Guarantee press freedom and internet freedom under the law and in practice; and repeal all laws that restrict press freedom and freedom of expression.
  3. Ensure the right to information to protect the act of accessing information and coverage of issues vital to public interest. There are already existing and emerging models in a number of Asian states on freedom of the press and the right to information that others can emulate. Regional cooperation is vital for countries to learn from each other about good practices and the benefits of governance where freedom of expression is guaranteed. States must also use regional cooperation mechanisms to agree on common standards on guaranteeing the freedom of expression that follow international human rights law.

FORUM-ASIA calls on the entire Asian community to commemorate the World Press Freedom Day by taking these concrete steps to fully guarantee the right to freedom of expression for journalists and citizens.

For more information, contact:
Mr. Yap Swee Seng, Executive Director,  +66 818 689 178, [email protected]
Mr. Surya Deuja, South Asia Programme Manager, +66 840 904 079, [email protected]
Ms. Gayoon Baek, East Asia Programme Officer, +66 850 566 548, [email protected]