ASIA: Violations of freedom of expression and extra-judicial killings denounced in Thailand, Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines
An Oral Statement to the 20th Session of the UN Human Rights Council by the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), a non-governmental organization in general consultative status
date: June 19, 2012
document id: ALRC-COS-20-10-2012
HRC section: Item 3, Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression and extra-judicial killings
speaker: Ms. Tyrell Haberkorn
Thank you Madam President,
The ALRC welcomes the work and reports of the Rapporteurs on freedom of expression and extra-judicial killings. We welcome the Pakistani government’s agreement to a visit by the mandate on freedom of expression. As detailed in an ALRC written statement submitted to this session, Pakistan remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. The ALRC documented the killing of 16 journalists and injuring of 46 others in the first eleven months of 2011, of which five were allegedly abducted and killed by the state intelligence agencies. Senior journalist Mr. Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistan Bureau Chief of the Asia Times Online, was abducted on May 29, 2011, and was subsequently killed, having exposed an Al-Qaida network operating within the Pakistan Navy. He had received death threats from the intelligence agencies. Despite the Supreme Court instituting a commission of inquiry into this killing in June 2011, those responsible have not been identified and held to account.
This illustrates a wider pattern of arbitrary arrests or abductions, forced disappearances and torture, following which victims are surfaced dead. In Balochistan Province alone, between July 2010 and October 2011, the ALRC documented 215 such extra-judicial killings. Journalists, teachers, political activists, students and human rights defenders have been targeted in particular.
Concerning Thailand, the ALRC would like to highlight the absence of full and transparent information on the number of prosecutions under Article 112 of the Criminal Code and the 2007 Computer Crimes Act. Information released by the Office of the Judiciary indicates a rise in the number of complaints filed under Article 112 between 2005 and 2010, from 33 to 478, however whether or not these led to prosecutions remains unavailable, and contributes to the atmosphere of fear in the country. Evidence from several cases, including Amphon Tangnoppakul, who died in custody on 8 May 2012, and Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul, indicate that individuals convicted of violating these laws experience a lack of access to medical care and abuse in prison. The last six months have seen a rise in online, verbal, and physical threats made against advocates of reform. Within this context, your request to visit Thailand should be granted by the government without delay.
Mr. La Rue, we are gravely concerned by the verdict concerning Alexander Aan in Indonesia, who had been charged with religious blasphemy, atheism propagation and dissemination of religious hostility. He was sentenced on June 14, 2012, to two and a half years imprisonment for the latter charge under the Electronic Information and Transaction Law (ITE Law), which the ALRC deems to be vague, open to abuse and in need of reform, in line with Indonesia’s international obligations and commitments under the recent UPR.
Finally, Mr. Heyns, we urge your intervention with the government of the Philippines to ensure that Major General Jovito Palparan, who is allegedly responsible for the country’s targeted extra-judicial killings of hundreds of activists, is arrested and held accountable. We also urge the governments of Thailand and Sri Lanka to agree to country visits by both your mandates, as requested.
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About the ALRC: The Asian Legal Resource Centre is an independent regional non-governmental organisation holding general consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. It is the sister organisation of the Asian Human Rights Commission. The Hong Kong-based group seeks to strengthen and encourage positive action on legal and human rights issues at the local and national levels throughout Asia.
Thai delegation's statement:
Thank you, Madame President.
The Thai delegation would like to thank both Special Rapporteurs for their comprehensive reports.
On the report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right of Freedom of Opinion and Expression, we thank him for highlighting the issue of the protection of journalists and media in situations outside of armed conflict. The media and journalists play a vital role as a watchdog of the government. At the same time, they act as a major channel of communication and the chief purveyor of information and opinions about the public affairs.
We, therefore, share the view of the Special Rapporteur that without them, we will be substantially deprived of our rights to seek and receive information, fundamental rights for any democratic country. As such, journalists and media freedom should be protected in accordance with the Article 19 of the ICCPR.
Like in other democratic societies, the people in Thailand enjoy the rights to freedom of opinion and expression. Differing views are aired widely and there are vibrant debates on all aspects of life. The media also enjoy much freedom and criticism of the government is abundant. But what has become the challenge for us as well as many others is how to strike the right balance between the right to freedom of expression and the rights of the rule of law. This consideration can indeed differ from one place to another. However, despite this dilemma, we can assure all delegations of our unwavering commitment to the freedom of opinions and expression as enshrined in the Thai Constitution.
The Thai delegation takes a particular interest in the role of the media workers and the citizen-journalist. These actors have become more common in the modern information and communication technology era. They play a vital active role in processes of collecting, reporting, analyzing, and disseminating news and information to a broad audience, and in most instances, at a faster rate than the traditional media. Although they are not professional journalists, they should also have the obligations to adhere to the media ethics and the principles of objectivity, while being afforded the same protections in line with the international standards.
We agree that any restrictions applied to online content must also be in conformity with paragraph 3 of the Article 19 of the ICCPR.
As regards to Thailand’s lese majeste law, the Thai delegations would like to stress that the law itself is not aimed at curbing the rights and the legitimate exercise of academic freedom, including debates about the monarchy and the institution. Issues that have arisen with regard to the lese majesté law lie not in any fundamental problem with the law itself, but in the abuse of the law for political gain in the context of political conflicts which have been ongoing in Thailand for the past few years. Indeed, an ongoing lively public debate has been taking place on the lese majesté law to which the Thai people will find an appropriate solution for themselves.
Madame President, as you know, Thailand has announced a standing invitation to all special procedure mandate holders during the UPR review last October. Currently, we are preparing initial schedules to receive three mandate holders over the next three years, which will accordingly lay the basis for the calendar of visits for the period ahead. Thailand thanks both Special Rapporteurs again for their work and efforts and will continue to work closely with them.
Thank you, Madame President.
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