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  • Writer's pictureManushya Foundation

🔊Highlights From Our #RightsCon2023 Session



Did you watch our session on "Digital repression and resilience across Southeast Asia"? #RightsCon2023 may be over, but our #DigitalRights spirit is certainly not!


Our session focused on the increasing trends in digital repression in the regional context, with each speaker detailing the context in their countries: Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Myanmar. The speakers also highlighted the importance of civil society, the power it has, and its continuous resilience.


A discussion on cross-country trends revealed the increasing efforts of authoritarian Southeast Asian governments to silence online users.


Thanks to the seamless moderation by Kian Vesteinsson from Freedom House and to our amazing speakers for the insight on the digital repression trends in Southeast Asia:


✦ Preeyanun Thamrongthanakij, Manushya Foundation, for painting the picture of the issues of surveillance and censorship that Thai citizens are grappling with, and the Thai elections;


✦ Nenden Arum, SAFEnet, for talking about the Indonesian government's efforts to use regulation to expand its control over online content and the problematic provisions in the new Criminal Code;


✦ Kelly Koh, Sinar Project, for her take on the hate speech and disinformation in Malaysia, and the government’s plan to enact laws and regulations targeting social media platforms;


✦ Oliver Spencer, Free Expression Myanmar, for diving into what is happening in Myanmar, the repressed internet freedom, and long-term internet shutdowns.


Check out these highlights from the event! ⤵️


Kelly Koh expanded on the problems arising in Malaysia. A new government was elected at the end of 2022, but during the election process, a worrying growth in hate speech and misinformation was noted. In Malaysia, it is common for online users to be investigated when they post any kind of content related to the royal family, race, and religion. Kelly drew attention to the case of Fahmi Reza, a well known political graphic designer, who has been charged multiple times for creating satirical content depicting the monarchy.


Nenden Arum followed, by highlighting the current situation in Indonesia. Journalists are being deported, activists are abused, and online users in general are also being targeted in the attempt to stifle online expression. Digital attacks such as doxxing, online gender-based violence, and trolling are common ways in which the government targets human rights defenders and critics.


Nenden stressed that these forms of abuse are particularly prominent in times of political unrest, which is why she is concerned about the 2024 elections. The content censorship and internet shutdowns that have been happening recently are further causes of concern, since they could lead to riots and offline violence.


Preeyanun Thamrongthanakij was the next speaker, talking about the rising digital repression in Thailand. Thailand’s punitive approach towards critics of the monarchy has led to excessive enforcement of the lèse-majesté law, with an extremely high number of human rights defenders, activists, and journalists being prosecuted based on Article 112.


Highlighting major threats to online free speech, Preeyanun said that 2021 witnessed the most draconian sentence for royal defamation, and the first half of 2023 again saw heavy prison sentences related to this offense. The government’s use of surveillance technologies is also concerning, as Pegasus spyware was deployed for illegal surveillance. There is now hope that the situation will change in Thailand, with the pro-democracy parties’ victory in the May election.


Lastly, Oliver Spencer expanded on the oppressive measures violating human rights in Myanmar. He noted the decline of freedom in the country, with Myanmar often being compared to China in the international context due to its severe control over the population. Mass surveillance and interception are commonly used to monitor and ensure opposition is silenced.


Next, Kian approached the topic of regulations. While regulation of the tech industry is much needed, when this is done in a way that disregards human rights, it becomes problematic. More often than not, people end up paying the price for these inappropriate laws.


Indeed, in the summer of 2022, the Indonesian government blocked a multitude of platforms in the country for failing to register with the government. Steam and PayPal were among the platforms blocked. Nenden mentioned that the government ceased the blockage on some of the platforms, but this shows how strong content moderation by the state is in the country.


However there might be hope, Kian stated, with elections representing opportunities both for repression and for safeguarding online expression or enacting change to favor human rights online.


In this sense, Preeyanun talked about the smear campaigns and disinformation that were spread ahead of Thailand’s election in May, part of the military government's efforts to remain in power.


The context is not very different in Myanmar, Oliver explained. A sham election is likely to be underway in Myanmar in 2023. Because of this, Myanmar may see a rise in violence as the military junta will make an attempt to tighten its control over various parts of the country. Wanting to remain in power, the junta is expected to use mass surveillance, interception, internet shutdowns, doxxing and trolling as forms of silencing oppression and stopping Myanmar from shifting towards democracy.


To conclude, Kian and Preeyanun had an exchange about the progress of the ASEAN Regional Coalition to #StopDigitalDictatorship, founded and coordinated by Manushya Foundation, its successes so far and plans for the future.


The Q&A session focused on what opportunities would constitute a “win” for the civil society in the current context. Kelly and Oliver both agreed that cross-border cooperation among actors within the civil society space would increase expertise and chances of success. A more free civic space can only be achieved through partnership and cooperation.


📹 A recording of the session is available here 🔗 http://bitly.ws/HGsV

If you don’t have access to it, don’t worry! Soon you'll be able to watch it on our website. Stay tuned!


#WeAreManushyan ♾ Equal Human Beings


While you’re here…


👉🏼 Check out how Manushya demystifies digital rights and pushes back on digital authoritarianism together with the ASEAN Coalition to #StopDigitalDictatorship, the leading regional expert on human rights:

  • Digital Rights are Human Rights

  • #StopDigitalDictatorship Campaign in Southeast Asia

  • Freedom on the Net 2022: Internet Freedom Remained Under Threat in Thailand, October 19, 2022

  • 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’, June 2022

  • Joint Submission to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: Human Rights Due Diligence, Tech Sector Responsibilities and Business Transparency, February 2022

  • 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, January 2022

  • Thailand UPR III Factsheet on Digital Rights, September 9, 2021


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