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Death in custody of a Nobel laureate, sentencing bloggers, and Pakistan's UN review

Last month in the Asia-Pacific region saw the death of China's most renowned political prisoner, harsh convictions against dissident bloggers in Vietnam, threats to encryption in Australia, concerns about PNG's cybercrime act, the first ever review of Pakistan's human rights record by the UN Human Rights Committee, and more.

Prominent blogger
Prominent blogger "Mother Mushroom, left, stands trial in the province of Khanh Hoa, Vietnam, 29 June 2017

Vietnam News Agency via AP


China: Liu Xiaobo and #FreeLiuXia

Detained since 2008, Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo was diagnosed with late stage liver cancer last June 2017. He died on July 13 prompting many to accuse the Chinese government of failing to provide adequate medical care to the 2010 Nobel peace prize laureate. After his death, Internet censors immediately removed keywords and images related to Liu Xiaobo to prevent the people from mourning his death. His friends and supporters are campaigning for the release of his wife, Liu Xia, who is under house arrest. (Read this IFEX report to learn more about Liu Xiaobo and his legacy).


Vietnam's harsh treatment of bloggers

Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, known online as Me Nam ('Mother Mushroom'), was given a 10-year prison sentence last June for conducting anti-state propaganda. During the same month, blogger and former university professor Phạm Minh Hoàng was detained, stripped of his Vietnamese citizenship, and exiled to France. It was the first time that a Vietnamese was deprived of his citizenship for simply expressing his views.

Vietnam's legal offensive against perceived 'enemies of the state' showed no signs of slowing down in July. Activist Trần Thị Nga, also known by her pen name "Thúy Nga," was sentenced to nine years in prison and five years of house arrest last July 25 for propaganda, the same case filed against Me Nam.

In Ho Chi Minh City, Tran Hoang Phuc was detained on July 3 for "possessing materials, producing and posting videos on internet critical of the government" under article 88 of Vietnam's penal code.

Meanwhile, video journalist Nguyên Văn Hoá was charged with propaganda for capturing a drone footage of protests against the Formosa steel plant, the company responsible for the massive fish kill in 2016 in central Vietnam.


Pakistan faces UN Human Rights Committee

Pakistan was reviewed for the first time by the UN Human Rights Committee on July 11 and 12. Among the issues raised during the review include the continuous attacks against journalists, the use of vague cyber laws to silence government critics, and the broad powers of authorities to regulate the work of media. Observers of the review process noted that the Pakistani State refused to acknowledge any responsibility for attacks against the press, instead blaming it squarely on terrorist groups.

On 28 July, the Committee released its report which echoed many recommendations of civil society groups, PPF and IFEX included, on what actions Pakistan should take to uphold freedom of expression. Below is an excerpt of the Committee's report:

"The State party should decriminalize defamation, and ensure that imprisonment is never a punishment for defamation and that criminal laws are not improperly enforced journalists and dissenting voices. It should also review its legal provisions relating to freedom of expression, including Article 19 of the Constitution, the rules applicable to the PEMRA (Amendment) Act 2007, and the Code of Conduct for programs and advertisement for broadcast media and distribution services, with a view to putting in place effective oversight mechanisms and procedural safeguards and bringing them in line with Article 19 of the Covenant."

The Committee also urged the Pakistani government to "investigate all reported cases of harassment, disappearance and killing of human rights defenders and bring the perpetrators to justice and intensify its efforts to ensure a safe and favourable environment for the work of journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders."


Arrests and harassment

Pakistan can also look into the recent string of arrests made by security forces against members of the media. Agents of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) reportedly harassed and detained Channel 24 reporter Saba Bajeer and Dawn News reporter Aitzaz Hassan in Islamabad last July 21. FIA members also arrested Daily Qudrat reporter Zafar Achakzai in Zafar Achakzai on June 29 in Balochistan for criticizing law enforcement agencies on Facebook.

Elsewhere in the region, three journalists were arrested in northern Burma after they were accused by the military of having ties with a rebel group. The arrested journalists are Aye Naing and Pyae Phone Naing from the Democratic Voice of Burma, and Thein Zaw from the Irrawaddy News.

In China, police arrested Yang Xiuqiong, a contributor to the banned human rights news website 64 Tianwang. The journalist was charged with "illegally providing state secrets overseas."

In Nepal, Sarpa Lal Giri, the editor and publisher of the Bajura Aawaj weekly, was attacked by a group of drunk locals on 13 July in Bajura, located in the western part of the country. Another incident on the same day in the province involved Image Television reporter Chakka Bahadur Malla who was attacked by a gang of unknown assailants.


Media regulation

Papua New Guinea's Media Council is concerned about the legal and political impact of the 2016 Cybercrime Act on press freedom, freedom of expression and public access to government information.

In the Philippines, a senator wants to criminalize the "malicious distribution of false news." Media groups are warning it could lead to censorship.

In Burma, the much-criticized Telecommunications Law is under review but the proposed amendments of the government would retain criminal defamation as an offense. Since its passage in 2013, military officials have been invoking article 66(d) of the law to file defamation charges against members of the media.

In Bangladesh, more than 20 journalists have been sued over the past 4 months under Section 57 of the 2013 Information and Communication Technology Act. The law prohibits digital messages that can "deteriorate" law and order, "prejudice the image of the state or person," or "hurt religious beliefs", but it's often used to undermine the work of media.

In Australia, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance has expressed its reservations about the proposal of the government to force tech companies to break encrypted communications, and the concentration of surveillance powers in a new super "Home Affairs" ministry. According to the group, both measures can muzzle free speech in the country.


Court cases

In Brunei, a government employee was charged with sedition with after criticizing the Ministry of Religious Affairs on Facebook.

In Papua New Guinea, a local court issued a gag order against a prominent blogger who has been critical of the way the general elections are being held in the country.

In Thailand, three academics could face a military court probe after they raised a protest placard in an international conference.

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