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The situation facing HRDs in Asia and the Pacific remained critical in 2013. Front Line Defenders documented killings, enforced disappearances, physical attacks and threats, arbitrary arrest and detention, judicial harassment and intimidation against HRDs across the region. HRDs working on economic, social, and cultural rights continued to face increasing threats.
Killings of HRDs took place in India, Pakistan and the Philippines. In India, Dalit rights activist Chandra Kant Gaikwad was shot and killed in February after filing a complaint about caste-based violence. At the end of the year in the Philippines, indigenous and land rights defender Rolen Langala was killed. In the same country, the inquiries into the murder of three HRDs in 2012 did not result in the perpetrators being brought to justice.
Enforced disappearances were reported in Laos, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. In Laos, prominent community leader Sombath Somphone remained missing one year after his disappearance in December 2012, when his car was stopped at a police checkpoint. By year’s end, there was very little progress in the investigation.
Physical attacks and death threats were reported in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Thailand. In February, in Sri Lanka, human rights lawyer Lakshan Dias received a number of threatening phone calls, and a suspicious white van was seen following him the previous day. Dias has been providing legal representation to victims of torture. In December, in Cambodia, Ou Virak of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights received threats, including death threats, both online and offline, in relation to concerns he expressed over discriminatory language used by the leadership of the Cambodian National Rescue Party. The threats, which numbered in the hundreds, included racial slurs, accusations of treason and espionage, and demands that he go into exile.
In Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam, trumped-up criminal charges and lawsuits were filed against HRDs. In Burma, community leader Naw Ohn Hla was found guilty of ‘disturbing public tranquillity’ and was sentenced to two years in prison with hard labour. Naw Ohn Hla was instrumental in calling for the suspension of the Letpadaung mining project in Northern Burma. Imprisoned until a presidential amnesty in November, she was re-arrested in December for her continuing campaign against the project. In the Philippines, in September, Joel Q. Yagao, member of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, was arrested by six members of the army and national police on fabricated charges of multiple murder on account of his work with farmers’ communities. He remained in detention at the time of writing. In October, in Vietnam, human rights lawyer Le Quoc Quan – detained since December 2012 – was convicted on a charge of tax evasion and sentenced to 30 months imprisonment.
Threats by non-state actors were reported in Pakistan and Thailand. In November, gunshots were fired in the air by unidentified men to intimidate members of the Southern Peasants Federation of Thailand. The men were travelling in vehicles bearing the stickers of a company involved in a land dispute with the community. Also in Thailand, migrant rights defender Andy Hall had three lawsuits filed against him by a fruit processing company for his work documenting the labour conditions of migrant workers in the company’s plant.
In Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, China, Fiji, India, Nepal, South Korea and Sri Lanka, police violently dispersed demonstrations, prevented them from taking place, including through the arrest of the organisers, or prosecuted HRDs who documented the use of violence by police. In Fiji, in March, police withdrew the permit previously granted for the annual International Women’s Day March organised by the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre, due to alleged security and public order concerns. In Nepal, between January and March, several sit-in protests against gender-based violence and impunity were violently dispersed by the police and attacked by youth groups linked to the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). The protests were organised by Occupy Baluwatar, a civil society movement fighting for accountability for abuses committed by security forces and Maoist rebels during the armed conflict.
Governments in the region also limited freedom of assembly, including gatherings such as festivals, seminars and private events. In July, a human rights forum organised by Rights Now Collective for Democracy in Sri Lanka was disrupted by government supporters despite the presence of police, who did not intervene. In September, in Malaysia, Lena Hendry was charged under the Film Censorship Act for organising the screening of a documentary on human rights violations in Sri Lanka. She was arrested in July when approximately 30 police officials raided the screening. In China, the nascent New Citizen Movement, which called for constitutional government, attracted HRDs from up to thirty cities who met regularly for dinner to discuss issues around political reform. The authorities responded by arresting dozens of activists in a number of cities, including the Beijing lawyer and architect of the movement, Xu Zhiyong.
Instances of arbitrary arrests and detention were reported in Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. Prolonged pre-trial detention was used against HRDs in some of these countries. In Bangladesh, Adilur Rahman Khan, secretary of Odhikar, was arrested without a warrant in August and later charged with publishing false information and disrupting law and order following the publication of a report on the crackdown against Hefazate Islam rally, which resulted in dozens of deaths. He was eventually released on six-month bail in October. In Burma, Rohingya community leader Kyaw Hla Aung remained in pre-trial detention following his arrest in July on false accusations of supporting a movement aiming to create an independent Rohingya state. In China, house arrest, secret prisons, forced travel and detention in psychiatric hospitals were employed against HRDs, especially during sensitive occasions. In one egregious example of arbitrary detention, Liu Xia, wife of jailed 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Liu Xiaobo, remained under strict house arrest three years after her husband was awarded the Peace Prize, without being accused – or convicted – of any crime.
Travel restrictions, legal or de facto, were used in China, Malaysia, South Korea and Sri Lanka. In April, Taiwanese HRD Wang Yu Hsuan was not allowed to enter South Korea despite holding a visa. Since 2010, Hsuan has been working with people from the village of Gangjoeng who are at risk of being evicted to make way for a naval base which was planned without proper consultation with the community. The People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy documented 21 cases of HRDs deported as a result of their work against the naval base.
In North Korea, the level of repression and control over society remain so severe, overwhelming and systematic that no HRDs are able to operate visibly.
Thailand – Meeting between human rights lawyer Ms Sor Rattanamanee Polkla and local communities interrupted by military
Cambodia: Seven land rights defenders sentenced to one-year imprisonment and fine for peaceful protest
Thailand: Seventeen human rights defenders summoned for interrogation after signing statement against martial law
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- 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)