U.N. Rights Chief Alarmed at Asia-Pacific Crackdown on Freedom of Expression Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Sandra Loyd

UN Excessive Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet voiced alarm Wednesday that curbs on freedom of expression had elevated in 12 Asia-Pacific countries throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, with dictatorships and democracies alike stifling public debate within the title of preventing faux information.

“Arrests for expressing discontent or allegedly spreading false information through the press and social media, have been reported in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam,” the Excessive Commissioner’s office mentioned.

In lots of countries, legal guidelines on alleged faux information elevate human rights considerations and “have been used in other contexts to deter legitimate speech, especially public debate (and) criticism of government policy,” it mentioned.

In remarks printed Wednesday Bachelet mentioned: “Whereas Governments could have a professional curiosity in controlling the unfold of misinformation in a risky and delicate context, this have to be proportionate and defend freedom of expression.”

“In these times of great uncertainty, medical professionals, journalists, human rights defenders and the general public must be allowed to express opinions on vitally important topics of public interest, such as the provision of health care and the handling of the health and socio-economic crisis, and the distribution of relief items,” Bachelet added.

The office famous that in Vietnam, over 600 Facebook customers have been summoned by police for questioning over their online posts about COVID-19 because the start of the epidemic there.

Usually, the Facebook customers have been handed administrative sanctions, and ordered to delete their posts, however at least two obtained felony sentences for posting what the federal government known as “fake news” about COVID-19. The sentences have included as much as 9 months of detention and fines exceeding U.S. $1,000.

The OHCHR mentioned the elevated restrictions throughout the pandemic added to “long-standing concerns” concerning the diploma of Vietnamese media restrictions and sentencing in circumstances involving freedom of expression, each online and offline.

“This crisis should not be used to restrict dissent or the free flow of information and debate. A diversity of viewpoints will foster greater understanding of the challenges we face and help us better overcome them,” mentioned the excessive commissioner.

“It will also help countries to have a vibrant debate on the root causes and good practices needed to overcome the longer-term socio-economic and other impacts. This debate is crucial for countries to build back better after the crisis,” Bachelet mentioned.

Liberal Publishing house wins Prix Voltaire

The UN warning got here the identical day that Vietnam’s Liberal Publishing Home (LPH), its solely unbiased writer, was awarded the 2020 Prix Voltaire by the Switzerland-based International Writer Affiliation (IPA).

The prize “honors a person or organization adjudged to have made a significant contribution to the defense and promotion of freedom to publish in the world,” in accordance with the IPA.

In operation since February 2019, the dissident founders of the Ho Chi Minh city-based Liberal Publishing Home problem authorities management of publication, delivering the non-fiction works of fellow dissident writers to locals in.

Its publications are thought of unlawful copying and distribution by the federal government, which has banned the writer for anti-state exercise. Penalties can embrace imprisonment for as much as 20 years. As such the writer should function underground.

LPH was one of 4 nominees from the Asian area for the award, which included prize money of U.S. $10,400.

“I and the LPH’s other members were very happy when we were chosen for this prize, especially in the current circumstance, as there has been so much chaos occurring both in our country and all over the world,” Pham Doan Trang, spokeswoman for the LPH, informed RFA’s Vietnamese Service Wednesday.

She acknowledged that the award would put the writer in danger, implying that the elevated notoriety would possibly trigger the federal government to accentuate its crackdown towards underground publishing.

“The point of our publishing operation is not only to enhance knowledge for the people, but also to be part of the fight for human and citizen rights in reading and writing, without censorship,” she added.

LPH has printed about 25,000 copies of 30 books with titles like Politics for the Frequent People, Handbook for the Care of Prisoners, and others.

Final month Amnesty International reported that since early October 2019, police have harassed, and intimidated dozens of folks “in what appears to be a targeted campaign” that had caught folks within the main cities of  Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Hue, and the provinces of Binh Duong, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Phu Yen.

People “believed to have either bought or read books printed by the publisher, or to have worked for the publishing house” have been summoned to native police stations and interrogated about books they purchased from the publishing house,” Amnesty mentioned.

Dissent will not be tolerated in Vietnam, and authorities routinely use a set of imprecise provisions within the penal code to detain dozens of writers, bloggers, and activists calling for better freedoms within the one-party communist state.

Estimates of the quantity of prisoners of conscience now held in Vietnam’s jails fluctuate broadly.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has mentioned that authorities held 138 political prisoners as of October 2019, whereas Defend the Defenders has recommended that at least 240 are in detention, with 36 convicted final yr alone.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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