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21 Jul 2020

Pattama Kuentak, Bangkok Post

SLAPPs are on the rise in Asia as governments use the pandemic to silence free speech, says article

"Slapped into Silence," 20 Jul 2020

Freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly are fundamental human rights. They are crucial in any country that truly values public participation in development and decision-making.

However, these basic rights are under siege in many countries in Asia and beyond. The attacks take many forms -- from home visits to physical assaults, military or police suppression, online disinformation, false accusations, enforced disappearance and even murder...

The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) defines a Slapp as a lawsuit filed or initiated with the intent to intimidate and harass those engaged in acts of public participation, including criticism or opposition to certain activities. It documents the extent of the problem in a report entitled "Defending Defenders: Challenging Malicious Lawsuits in Southeast Asia"...

Governments in Southeast Asia, most of which have a strong authoritarian streak to begin with, have been using the pandemic as an excuse to further censor free speech. For example, Cambodian authorities have jailed three journalists for reporting about land disputes, a speech by Prime Minister Hun Sen and his response to economic hardship caused by Covid-19. They were charged under a vaguely worded law against "incitement"...

In Malaysia, some journalists reporting on Covid-19 have been arrested and could face up to six years in prison and fines of up to 500,000 ringgit. The government is also investigating a team from Al Jazeera over their reporting on the treatment of undocumented workers under the Covid lockdown. They could face charges of sedition, defamation and violation of the Communications and Multimedia Act...

And under Thailand's longer-than-it-should-be emergency decree, the Facebook whistleblower page Mam Pho Dam with 3 million followers, which exposed hoarding of face masks, was charged in March under the "anti-fake news" law.