We recognize that the digital sphere is quickly emerging as one of the key spaces in which human rights are under threat.
Manushya Foundation works towards the promotion and protection of online freedom of expression and online privacy. To ensure local and marginalized communities and local journalists are not subject to governments’ attempts to control the digital world, resulting in silencing human rights defenders, censorship, and defamation charges, we encourage governments to align their national legislation and policies with international human rights standards. Similarly, we lobby the ICT sector to uphold digital rights and resist states’ pressure to control the internet. We encourage private companies to comply with the UN Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights – in particular, Pillar 2 – related to the corporate responsibility to respect human rights and exercise human rights due diligence.
Our digital rights strategy aims to uphold online freedom and push back against authoritarian regimes. At Manushya Foundation, we work under the motto that “digital rights are human rights” and recognize that all human rights are also applicable in the digital realm. Governments and businesses must respect and protect human rights offline and online! Our online democracy is under threat in Southeast Asia, with increasing digital dictatorship in the hands of governments, cracking down on netizens, civil society, local communities, human rights defenders and journalists speaking their truth to power.
Our strategy on Digital Rights has two objectives:
1. Upholding Digital Rights, Online Freedom and Data Privacy by advocating for national legal frameworks and business activities to comply with international human rights standards and the UNGPs;
2. Enhancing Digital Literacy by raising awareness and building capacity of Netizens in Asia to navigate the digital world safely.
Objective 1: Upholding Digital Rights
(1) Proposed Amendments to Thailand’s Cybersecurity Act (2019)
In Thailand, to realize our first objective, we are advocating for a Cybersecurity Bill which would respect online freedom and data privacy of Thai netizens, according to international human rights standards, while effectively tackling cyberattacks and cyber-threats. For that purpose, Manushya Foundation in collaboration with the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Bangkok launched a project to analyze the process of development, implementation and monitoring of the Cybersecurity Bill drafted by the Thai Government. The project aims at providing recommendations and good practices and led to the publication of a study in collaboration with other civil society members upholding digital rights, to respond to the growing concerns over the shrinking of online civic space entitled ‘Thailand’s Cybersecurity Act: Towards a Human-Centered Act Protecting Online Freedom and Privacy, While Tackling Cyber Threats’. The study is the first of its kind in ASEAN and the aim is to assist Thailand, its institutions, its private entities, and its netizens to strengthen and streamline the implementation of the National Cybersecurity Act in line with international human rights standards, promoting a human-centered approach to protect people, while opposing its misuse for the control and surveillance of citizens.
Access our “Thailand’s Cybersecurity Act” Study here
Access our Summary of “Thailand's Cybersecurity Act: DOs & DON'Ts” here
Watch the launch of our study here
(2) Freedom on the Net: Thailand’s Country Report
Since 2020, Manushya Foundation develops the yearly Thailand country report of ‘Freedom on the Net’ together with Freedom House, exploring the digital rights situation and investigating whether internet freedom has declined or improved since the past year. Check below and access the ‘Freedom on the Net country report for Thailand 2020’, ‘Freedom on the Net country report for Thailand 2021’ and ‘Freedom on the Net country report for Thailand 2022’.
Access our Freedom of the Net 2020 Report for Thailand here
Access our Freedom of the Net 2021 Report for Thailand here
Access the Joint Press Release of the report here
Access our Freedom of the Net 2022
Report for Thailand here
Access the Joint News Release of the report here
Watch Freedom of the Net 2022: Unpacking Internet Freedom Trends in Southeast Asia here
(3) Digital Rights at Thailand’s Universal Periodic Review, 2021
To inform Thailand’s Third UPR review which took place on 21 November 2021, together with Access Now, Article 19, and the ASEAN Regional Coalition to #StopDigitalDictatorship, we developed the ‘Digital Rights in Thailand: UPR Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review for Thailand’s Third UPR Cycle 39th Session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group’ and the ‘UPR Advocacy Factsheet on Digital Rights in Thailand’, which bring to light Thailand’s growing digital dictatorship, authoritarian policies and abuse of laws aimed at eliminating citizens’ basic human rights, including but not limited to, freedom of expression online. The UPR submission and UPR Factsheet also provide community-led UPR recommendations to advance the human rights situation on the ground, and the implementation of UPR recommendations in relation to digital rights.
Access our UPR Submission on Digital Rights in Thailand here
Access our Thailand UPR Factsheet on Digital Rights here
Access our analysis of Thailand’s UPR III here
(4) Joint UN Submissions on Digital Rights
Since the beginning of 2022, we successfully sent three submissions: ‘Joint Submission to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression: Freedom, Independence, Diversity of Media and the Safety of Journalists in Southeast Asia’; ‘Joint Submission to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: Human Rights Due Diligence, Tech Sector Responsibilities and Business Transparency’; and ‘Joint Submission to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: The Right to Privacy in the Digital Age: Mass surveillance, Digital Contact-tracing, Social Media Monitoring, and Data Requests in Southeast Asia’ to inform the UN Special Procedures of the state of digital rights in Southeast Asia. We did this together with the ASEAN Regional Coalition to #StopDigitalDictatorship, a coalition of like-minded organizations to advance shared digital values founded and coordinated by us.
Access the Joint Submission on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression here.
Access the Joint Submission on Human Rights Due Diligence, Tech Sector Responsibilities and Business Transparency here.
Access the Joint Submission on The Right to Privacy in the Digital Age here.
(5) #StopDigitalDictatorship in Southeast Asia Campaign
End of 2020, we also launched a Campaign to #StopDigitalDictatorship in Southeast Asia to fight against rising digital dictatorship in the region, where the internet is no longer a free, safe, and secure space for expression. We joined forces with ASEAN partners to highlight the legal challenges to digital rights in the region while presenting their impact on netizens and proposing strategies to fight back digital dictatorship as shared by leading voices working on the ground.
Manushya Foundation, together with ALTSEAN-Burma, Cambodian Center for Human Rights, ELSAM (Indonesia), Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA, Philippines), Free Expression Myanmar (Myanmar), ILGA Asia (Asian Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association), SAFEnet, The 88 Project (Vietnam), and Women’s Peace Network (Myanmar), we are working together to restore our online democracy in ASEAN:
We denounce rights violations taking place in the digital space and provide governments, policy-makers, businesses and civil society with key recommendations to uphold online freedom of expression and privacy rights. We do so via joint statements, research and analysis to inform UN human rights reviews and UN Special Procedures thematic reports, joint research on emerging digital rights issues, and joint campaigns to hold governments and businesses into account.
We raise awareness and build capacity on digital rights via joint webinars, joint online workshops, and by joining international digital rights forums to tell the world what’s happening in our digital space in Southeast Asia.
Access all the materials of the ASEAN Coalition by taking a look at our Campaign here and see what you can do to #StopDigitalDictatorship!
(6) Joint Webinars on Digital Rights issues in ASEAN
On June 6, 2023, Manushya Foundation, Freedom House, and Free Expression Myanmar (FEM) hosted the “Digital repression and resilience across Southeast Asia” session as part of RightsCon 2023. Together with leading activists and experts, we looked at threats to and opportunities for digital rights across the region.
On June 8, 2022, Manushya Foundation, Article 19, and Access Now hosted the “Thailand: Authoritarianism Rising” talk show as part of RightsCon 2022. It was a comprehensive discussion on the topic of security, censorship, surveillance, legal apparatus, and the right to privacy in the country. Several human rights and digital rights experts gathered to talk about the Thai context in which people’s everyday lives are constantly under surveillance, and where the state itself employs spyware to monitor the country’s citizens. Further problems were debated, such as the newly enacted PDPA and its potential impact on Thailand’s society and lastly, the racially- and politically-motivated surveillance in Thailand’s Deep South provinces.
Watch RightsCon 2022: Digital authoritarianism in Thailand here
On June 13, 2022, the ASEAN Regional Coalition to #StopDigitalDictatorship hosted a session titled “How Can The Global South Protect Itself From Unchecked AI Ethics and Data Protection,” as part of RightsCon 2022. The fruitful discussion shed light onto the challenges posed by the AI in a society where regulations are scarce and human rights are at risk of being violated. Our panel consisted of human rights activists and #DigitalRights defenders, out of which some highlighted the need for Thailand to develop a comprehensive legislative framework addressing the use of AI, as well as Meta’’s complicity in the spread of hate speech against Rohingya people. Others emphasized the dangers of sexist AI algorithms and automation, including the negative impact of AI on LGBTIQ+ people in the Global South.
Watch RightsCon 2022: AI Ethics and Data Protection in the Global South here
Objective 2: Enhancing Digital Literacy
(1) Digital Literacy Training to Marginalized communities and journalists
To realize our second objective, we are partnered with Internews on the "Increasing Digital Literacy in Thailand" project, aimed at creating a network of Digital Literacy Trainers to increase the digital literacy of the broader Thai netizen community. During multi-day workshops, we have focused on three main areas: knowledge of digital risks and threats, digital tools, and training ability. With the information and skills obtained through these workshops, and Manushya’s ongoing mentoring and technical support, these Digital Literacy Trainers have been able to pass this knowledge on to many other members of their communities.
In Phase 1 (April 2018 -- October 2018) of this project, we trained 15 Regional Trainers, who directly trained 153 end-users (Thai netizens), including journalists, human rights defenders, activists, NGO workers, students, and academics. In Phase 2 of the project (December 2018 -- February 2020), we further built the capacity of 25 additional digital literacy trainers who then reached up to 125 end-users. While we enhanced the skills of trainers to be able to train end-users, we most importantly aimed to create a strong network of Thai Netizens who are aware of the cyber-threats they may encounter and how to effectively navigate a secure digital world. From this, we hope to lay the groundwork for a sustainable network, able to continue raising awareness and building the capacity of digital literacy across Thailand.
Access our first newsletter on Digital Literacy here
Access our second newsletter on Digital Literacy here
Access our third newsletter on Digital Literacy here
(2) 'Pause’ digital literacy campaign
In September 2019, we launched the brand-new Thailand Digital Literacy Facebook page and campaign. The campaign, titled "Pause", was designed by SideKick Creative & Media Agency for Social Change, and invites netizens to stop and think about security before posting online. The page provides an online platform with free tools and activities for netizens to navigate the digital world safely, including regular updates on the latest developments on digital rights in Asia and around the world.
(3) Sub-grants to Digital Literacy Trainees
In 2019-2020, Manushya Foundation and Internews provided sub-grants to support six individuals with backgrounds in journalism, writing, activism and communication, who conducted activities to raise awareness on threats to freedom of expression and digital literacy for netizens. Our six selected grantees’ projects focused on issues related to digital rights and human rights, cyberbullying, internet privacy and gender-discrimination issues.
Our six grantees were:
Check our grantees' work below: