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Freedom of expression comes under fire in Southeast Asia

Publications, journalists, columnists, and activists face repression if they attempt to exercise their right to free expression.

Boris Sullivan

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In April, Cambodia’s last independent newspaper, the Phnom Penh Post, was sold to a Malaysian investor with links to Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The newspaper’s editor was sacked for refusing to remove a report on the sale from its website.

In late May, the Cambodian authorities announced draconian restrictions on reporters covering next month’s elections. Two former employees of Radio Free Asia’s Cambodia bureau, which closed under government pressure last September, were detained in November on espionage charges and remain in custody.

In the Philippines, the government in January ordered the closure of online news service Rappler, which had been critical of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

In Thailand, nearly 100 people have been charged with sedition for expressing opinions or holding peaceful protests since the May 2014 coup.

They include three Pheu Thai Party members who criticised the junta at a news conference last month on the eve of the coup anniversary, and 15 activists who demonstrated against the junta the next day. More people have been charged with sedition since.

In Myanmar, dozens of journalists, activists and others have been charged – and many jailed – under 66(d), the criminal defamation clause of the 2013 Telecommunications Law.

Much attention has also been focused on pre-trial hearings in Yangon of two Reuters reporters arrested last December while investigating a massacre of Rohingya villagers. They are accused of breaching the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, and face jail for up to 14 years if convicted.

Confirmed panellists:

Pravit Rojanaphruk, a senior staff writer with online publication Khaosod English, who since the 2014 coup has twice been detained for “attitude adjustment”. In August 2017, he was charged with sedition over comments on his Facebook page. In September 2015, he resigned from The Nation, which he had joined in 1991, after it came under pressure because of his political opinions. Pravit said he left the newspaper because “it was like his own home, which he did not want to destroy”. In 2017, he was awarded the International Press Freedom Award by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Wai Phyo Myint, since June 2015 regional outreach manager with the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business, a joint initiative of the Institute for Human Rights and Business and the Danish Institute for Human Rights.

She focuses on advocacy and government relations. Wai Phyo Myint previously worked as a senior associate in the Yangon office of Singapore consultancy, Vriens & Partners, and as a journalist.

Matthew Bugher heads the Asia Programme for ARTICLE 19, an international human rights organization that promotes the right to freedom of expression and information.

Before joining ARTICLE 19 in January, much of his work focused on human rights in Thailand and Myanmar. From 2013 to 2015, Matthew was a research fellow and clinical instructor at the Harvard Law School Human Rights Program.

7pm, Wednesday June 13, 2018

Members: free, Non-members 450 Baht, Thai journalists and Students with valid ID: 150 Baht

Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand
Penthouse, Maneeya Center Building
518/5 Ploenchit Road (connected to the BTS Skytrain Chitlom station)
Patumwan, Bangkok 10330
Tel.: 02-652-0580

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