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2012 continued to be a difficult year for human rights defenders in Asia. Front Line Defenders has documented an increasing number of cases in which HRDs working on economic, social, and cultural rights were specifically targeted for their work – especially in Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Pakistan, and the Philippines.
2012 was marked by an increase in the number of HRDs killed because of their work on economic, social and cultural rights. Front Line Defenders reported on the killing of ten HRDs in Cambodia, India, the Philippines and Thailand. In Cambodia, the founder of Natural Resource Protection Group, Chut Wutty was shot dead in April and no effective investigation was carried out. In July, in India, K Rajmohan Chandra was attacked and killed in connection to his work on cases of corruption involving judges, police officials, politicians and businessmen.
In the Philippines, HRDs working to defend indigenous communities’ rights to land have been most targeted in the past years. In March, human rights defender and indigenous leader Jimmy Liguyon was shot dead outside his home in Barangay Dao, reportedly by a leader of a paramilitary group. An arrest warrant on the alleged killer was issued in May, but to date the accused has not been apprehended by the authorities. Other physical attacks against HRDs were documented in India, Laos, Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam.
Smear campaigns branding human rights defenders as enemies of the State or working for foreign interests continued in China, India, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. In India, the Vice Chairman of the Gandhi Peace Foundation was branded as a Maoist sympathiser for his work on the protection of land and water rights of the disadvantaged. Human rights defenders who provided information to UN human rights bodies faced reprisals in Sri Lanka. In March, four prominent HRDs received verbal threats by the Sri Lankan delegation attending the session of the UN Human Rights Council, where they had been lobbying to expose human rights abuses. A smear campaign was conducted in government-affiliated media accusing them of treason, belonging to the defunct separatist armed group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and receiving money to work against the interests of the country. During a public rally, the Minister of Public Relations also threatened them with physical harm.
HRDs sending information to international organisations and media outlets about the human rights situation in China were also targeted. At least one Tibetan human rights defender received a lengthy prison sentence for circulating information regarding a self-immolation and the human rights situation in the region to foreign organisations. The work of HRDs in Tibet and surrounding areas has become extremely difficult and dangerous as a result of the security crackdown in response to the self-immolation protests by Tibetans.
The rise of fundamentalism has affected HRDs working in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Pakistan. In Pakistan, from May to July, Salafist clerics in the Kohistan district made repeated threats against women human rights defenders and NGOs. In May, a former member of the Pakistan National Assembly publicly threatened that women human rights defenders will be forcibly married off to local men if they continue their work in the district. In October, 14 year old Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head and severely injured because of her campaigning for the right of girls to education.
Judicial harassment was used against human rights defenders in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam. In China a number of HRDs have faced criminal charges and lengthy prison sentences as a result of their human rights activities. Inciting subversion of state power’ remains a common charge with which to target human rights defenders, especially writers and poets. Revisions made to the Criminal Procedure law in March allow for the secret detention of suspects in state security, terrorism and serious bribery cases for up to six months. Charges of ‘fraud’ were also brought against HRDs to damage their reputation within the community. House arrest, travel bans and extra-judicial detentions continued to be used by the security apparatus to prevent activists from doing their work, especially during times of heightened sensitivities. This was the case in November when a changeover of leadership took place at the top of the Chinese Communist Party: scores of human rights defenders were prevented from leaving their houses, forced out of Beijing or denied permission to travel abroad.
Political opening in Burma resulted in more space for HRDs working on civil and political rights. However, new development projects affected HRDs working on land, community rights and forced evictions, which faced more intimidation. In November, riot police violently dispersed thousands of protesters and human rights defenders who had gathered to protest against the impact of a copper mining project on the local community. Governments in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have shown their unwillingness to fully protect the rights to freedom of association and of peaceful assembly at the regional level. Civil society conferences aiming to engage with ASEAN governments on issues such as human rights, sustainable development, environment and fair trade have been disrupted in February and November. In November, during the ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh, local authorities put pressure on guesthouses to refuse accommodation to civil society representatives, refuse hotel services and cut power supplies. An event held by ASEAN Grassroots People’s Assembly, involving 1,300 human rights defenders, farmers, workers, and ordinary people was forced to end prematurely when electricity at the venue was intentionally cut off.
China: Liu Xia, wife of Liu Xiaobo, appeals to Chinese government amid worsening health while under house arrest
Burma: Human rights defenders Messrs Moe Thway and D Nyein Lin receive prison sentence along with four other peaceful protesters
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25 June 2007
- Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development
- Diplomacy Training Program
- Asian Human Rights Commission
- Human Rights and Peace Society (Nepal
- Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
- Human Rights Council of Australia
- Human Rights in China (HRIC)
- Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN) (Burma/Thailand)
- Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM) Indonesia
- Tenaganita SDN BHD (Malaysia)
- Urban Poor Consortium (Indonesia)
- Women’s League of Burma
- Olympic Watch: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008
- SAFE (Support for Afghan Further Education)