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#StopDigitalDictatorship: Launch Event Recap of “Dawn of Digital Dictatorship: Weaponizing the Law Against Online Speech in Southeast Asia,”

👾⚠️ #StopDigitalDictatorship: Launch Event Recap of “Dawn of Digital Dictatorship: Weaponizing the Law Against Online Speech in Southeast Asia,” the inaugural Thematic Report of the ASEAN Regional Coalition to Stop Digital Dictatorship 📑

📅 On March 12, 2024, individuals from Southeast Asia and around the globe gathered in Bangkok, SEA Junction, for a hybrid event where six panel members discussed the state of digital repression in the region. Some attendees sought a broader transnational understanding of the issue, others were captivated by the inclusive perspectives shared by the panelists, and some simply aimed to broaden their general knowledge. Regardless, the comprehensive 350-page report is meant to meet all requirements. Over 4 years of collaborative effort and still counting, the coalition highlighted how governments in the region use vague laws to stifle freedom of speech, information, and privacy, granting them extensive monitoring powers over digital communication. 

What exactly is the ASEAN Regional Coalition to #StopDigitalDictatorship, you may need to get know better? 

🔍 To gain a better understanding, let's rewind back to 2020 when Emilie Palamy Pradichit, Founder and Executive Director of Manushya Foundation founded the coalition. Its objective? To decolonise the field of Digital Rights and consider intersectional perspectives, with a particular focus on marginalised voices from the Global South 💗💙🏳️‍🌈. 

This coalition is a powerhouse of 10 organisations and individual: ALTSEAN-Burma, Cambodian Center for Human Rights, ELSAM, Foundation for Media Alternatives, ILGA Asia, Manushya Foundation, Project88, The Rohingya Maiyafuinor Foundation Collaborative Network, SAFEnet, and Women’s Peace Network. Together, they form a united voice representing the countries analysed in this report, respectively: Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, The Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Each organisation brings its unique perspective and expertise to the table, joined in the mission to combat digital dictatorship and advocate for digital rights across Southeast Asia. 

Where are we at with #DigitalRights in Southeast Asia?

👁️ Digital authoritarianism is exceptionally prevalent in Southeast Asian countries, where governments have long failed to safeguard certain human rights of their citizens. Some human rights that are still being severely withheld from many Southeast Asian people include their rights to freedom of speech, to information, and to privacy. The goal of this report is to paint a detailed picture of digital repression and the rise of digital dictatorship in Southeast Asia over four years, from 2020 until the end of 2023. The use of vague and expansive laws to criminalise legitimate online speech have given governments sweeping monitoring powers over the digital space and communication. Laws such as lèse-majesté, sedition, defamation, hate speech, and criminalisation of fake news are just a few of the offences invoked to threaten and punish individuals for speaking the truth or sharing their opinions. Moreover, governments evidently took advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown to implement laws and policies that regress democracy, violate human rights, and further entrench repressive measures.

🌟  In celebration of the soft launch of this inaugural report, there couldn't have been a more fitting moderator than Debbie Stothard, Founder and Coordinator of ALTSEAN-Burma, to take us on a powerful expedition through Southeast Asia! 

we’re…fighting back against oppressive economic and political practices aimed at keeping marginalised communities down and promoting neo-liberal and colonialistic values instead of local, Indigenous communities.”

🌍 Our journey began with panelist Emilie Palamy Pradichit, an international human rights lawyer. She shared insights about the situation in Laos and alerted us to the growing threat of Transnational Repression.

“It is important for people to understand that digital dictatorship is going beyond borders, it is starting online and ends offline with activists being killed, disappearing and being victims of attempted murder.”

📢 Next up was Hafizh Nabiyyin, Head of the Freedom of Expression Division of SAFEnet Indonesia. He expanded on the general lack of security and safety experienced by HRDs on a day-to-day basis.

“Furthermore, whistleblowers and activists endure inadequate protection, hindered by institutional gaps and corruption within existing laws. Amidst these challenges, the misuse of laws such as the ITE Law has led to the criminalisation of countless individuals exercising their right to freedom of expression online, with high-profile cases illustrating the prosecution faced by everyone””


🚺 Tanruthai “Pim” Thanrut from Mokeluang Rimnam offered a new and poignant perspective by sharing her personal journey. She shed light on how HRDs from marginalised communities, including LGBTIQA+ individuals and women, face escalated mistreatment. 

“ is a very difficult time if you're an activist and [especially] if you're a woman activist. And if you’re an LGBTIQ activist, it is more will be blamed for everything and [made to feel] that we deserve the bad treatment [like sexual violence]”

👥 Wai Wai Nu, a Burmese Woman Human Rights Defender and Founder of Women’s Peace Network, kept the conversation going by sharing her experiences in Myanmar. She also provided insight into the issues faced by ethnic minorities, representing the Rohingya people, and explained how they keep fighting tirelessly.

“…I myself was targeted by [hate] campaigns on Facebook and other social media platforms even before the attempted coup. I was doxxed, intimidated, and sent rape threats online for my activism, and my identity. I recall reporting these posts, but never seeing any kind of proper, follow-up action from the company to this day.”

“...despite the immense challenges…people of Myanmar are still determined to defeat the military, hold it accountable, and build a truly inclusive federal democracy. People remaining in Myanmar continue to express and resist in all sorts of ways.”

🌈 Henry Koh, Executive Director of ILGA Asia, chimed in, highlighting the collective power and praising the courageous work of activists that has already been accomplished.

“We unite our power and solidarity to end digital dictatorship by continuing our informative activities, advocacy, and cross-sector collaboration, as well as support independent evaluations and set up an independent multi-stakeholder body which monitors digital rights abuses.”

🛡️ Cybersecurity expert and the Philippines Diasporic Human Rights Defender, Jean Linis-Dinco, Ph. D, wrapped up the panel discussion by emphasizing the responsibility of governing bodies and corporations, especially big tech companies to protect user safety and privacy, especially if they want to be considered protectors of human rights and champions of human progress.

We were promised that technology would flatten organisations, would globalise society, decentralise control and harmonise people, but look at what we have now?This is the stark reality that we face: a reality where…digital chains are forged from the very tools that we once celebrated as hallmarks of progress and enlightenment.

Hungry for knowledge? 

➡️  Watch the full panel discussion for valuable insights here

➡️ Watch the media coverage from RFA Laos here 

➡️ 🔖 Read our full report here

🎨 Grateful acknowledge go to the talented Putu Deoris, Yansanjay for design and lay out and political artist Ivana Kurniawati as the cover illustrator.

#WeAreManushyan ∞ Equal Human Beings 

🗣️In our mission to combat digital repression and decolonize digital spaces, we rely on the collective support of each and every individual. We recognise that not everyone can actively engage in activism, but we're dedicated to ensuring that their voices are heard, regardless of their circumstances. This is why we dedicate our time and resources to crafting reports and other impactful initiatives. However, we cannot achieve this goal alone; we need the collective support of the community, including yours, to ensure that every voice is not only heard but also respected and valued. Therefore, we invite you to join us in this crucial mission by sharing this report with others. Together, let's forge a future where every voice matters and resonates loudly and clearly!

If you've read this far, don't stop now! Check out our most recent writings on the democracy and digital rights in the region. 👇


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