[ADN Publication] CELEBRATING INTERNATIONAL DEMOCRACY DAY 2019

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September 5, 2019
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CELEBRATING INTERNATIONAL DEMOCRACY DAY 2019

Alarming Threats in the Region:  Call for Citizens Mobilization to Strengthen Democracy Together

 

Image by Tyrone Siu via REUTERS
Anti-extradition bill protesters march during the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China

 

Seoul, 15 September 2019 – The Asia Democracy Network (ADN) is celebrating International Democracy Day together with democrats around the globe to preserve and persevere for democratic principles. The ADN with its network of member organizations across Asia is hoping and striving to progress democracy in Asia despite its serious challenges. On this occasion, the ADN would like to share a snapshot of the democracy situation in Asia by highlighting the challenges we currently face. Through this we call for more solidarity of all democrats to continue the efforts to promote defend democracy for all.      

 

Despite achieving some democratic victories in Asia, the road to stabilizing democracy is a long one and signal more alarming situation, especially with geopolitical dynamics empowering autocrats, cultivating intolerance, and the rise of the non-democratic actors influence affecting leader’s attitude towards authoritarianism. Civil society are urged to strategize its approach and bring their advocacy close to the people and elevate its efforts to mobilize the citizens to take part in fighting contemporary democracy challenges. 

 

Growing trends of radicalism and intolerance have become a severe threat to hard-won democracy in many Asian countries. India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Myanmar are among the few countries that have gone through setbacks as minorities are being targeted by hatred. With approximately 2 billion people having access to mobile phones in Asia alone, radicalizing vulnerable communities and swaying public opinion has become more accessible. Information space not only provides a space for hate speech and fake news to spread like wildfire, it is also easy access to these vulnerable communities more susceptible to intolerant and radicalization. Unfortunately, an effort to regulate the media often ridden by political interests and turn to suppress the political opponents and citizens who are addressing criticism to the government policy. 

 

Authoritarianism and state-controlled freedom remains a concern in the region. Through the capture of political events such as elections that legitimize power. Cambodia, Bangladesh, and Thailand are evidently going through different levels of unideal electoral circumstances where unlevel playing field with frequent incidents of arranged electoral fraud happened, uncontested and unsanctioned. Democratic principles and people’s rights are being undermined and continues to affect the daily livelihood of citizens’ freedom. Suppression on the media freedom, arbitrary arrest, and extra-judicial killing is on a constant rise in the region. Asia has become a region dangerous for journalists, human rights defenders and civilians.      

            

The steady growth of non-democratic actors through its development funding and international relation connection are an increasing concern. The lure of power is enormous that turns autocrats undemocratic and increases corruptive authoritarian attitude. 

 

One factor that merits exploration in countering those challenges, is bringing citizens as a part of advocacy work. Citizen mobilization initiatives provide an opportunity to organize stakeholders and get a better understanding of the threats, and motivate them to take part in activities in confronting the risk by increasing citizen’s pressure to policymakers. 

 

ADN on this celebration of international democracy day want to call and invite all stakeholders to strengthen unity and solidarity, and this time to bring citizens at all levels to work hand in hand and contribute to ensure that democratic principles and citizen rights are observed and respected.     

 

 

 

DEMOCRATIC SITUATION IN ASIA 

SOUTH ASIA

Afghanistan

Afghanistan remains one of the most fragile, war-torn countries marred by violence as there are constant attacks against civilians and casualties in Taliban-held territories. According to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan’s (UNAMA) Quarterly Report on Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, from January 1 to March 31, 2019, there were 1773 civilian casualties including 582 child casualties.  With its surging number of civilian deaths, people’s rights to freedom of expression and participation in public life are severely curtailed and there are harsh restrictions imposed on women’s rights and right to education in the country. Furthermore in 2019, there were at least 32 cases of reported attacks and intimidation against media agencies and workers in the country, according to a report released by Nai Media Watch, an Afghan CSO media watchdog organization. There are ongoing peace talks between the United States and Taliban to settle the turbulence in the region, however, it raises concerns since it excludes civil society organizations including human rights and media rights organizations. The country expects to have its presidential elections on Sep 28th 2019 after several delays. This election will be another test for the country to uphold democratic elections despite enormous security challenges in electoral operation and voter’s safety to vote.

Bangladesh

Prospects of democracy in Bangladesh remain grim as the result of its recently held general election that has been marred by widespread irregularities with its electoral body rejecting charges. The       December 30th 2018 elections accused as fraudulent, resulting in the landslide victory of the Awami League with the incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina affiliated parties won 288 seats out of 350. There are growing concerns of a  trend of consolidation of power reigned by the ruling Awami League party. there were reports, at least 18 opposition activists were killed and over 200 were injured. Furthermore, there were continued reports of violent crackdown on political opposition, including arbitrary arrests, judicial harassment and killing before and after the election. Human Rights Watch has reported a series of cases which includes intimidation, arbitrary arrest and detention of the political oppositions and incidents of young activists and students being threatened by the members of the current ruling party. In 2018, there were 97 cases of enforced disappearances in Bangladesh, allegedly perpetrated by various authorities including police and other law enforcement agencies according to Odhikar, a Dhaka-based human rights organization.      

Bhutan

Bhutan is a country with a unique context due to its peaceful transition of power from absolute monarchy to parliamentary democracy which was introduced by the Bhutanese King himself in 2008. Ever since the first general election was held in 2008, the country has strived to make progress by stabilizing its governance based on its constitutional monarchy with democratically elected government despite several challenges confronted with. One of the challenges is the lack of safe spaces for the independent media as its controversial chapter 22 of the Penal Code criminalizes defamation which could lead to the imprisonment of maximum three years. There are two Bhutanese journalists who were sentenced by the court for defamation on Facebook which led to the fall of its press freedom ranking by 10 places according to the 2018 World Press Freedom Index. In May 2019, in an effort to improve the situation, Bhutan presented its third universal periodic review (UPR) of the human rights situation in the country. And the recommendation made during the review, which urged Bhutan to prevent the misuse of the law from constraining freedom of expression, was agreed and supported by the delegation of Bhutan. As Bhutan reiterated its commitment to pursue the situation of human rights and address the gaps, gradual progress in stabilizing democratic institution with respect of human rights are expected in the country.

India

In May 2019, India’s world’s largest month-long election ended with the landslide victory of Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) winning 353 seats in Lok Sabha, the country’s Lower House. Despite its well-known status as the world’s largest democracy with its regularly-held elections and peaceful transition of government, there are some challenges that India has faced. Firstly there are constant cases reported that outspoken rights advocates and organizations are targeted in India, including house raids of human rights defenders and lawyers such as Indira Jaising and Anand Grover. Few months prior to its election held in April 2019, it was reported that authorities continuously used repressive laws, such as Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and Sedition Act, to criminalize, detain and silence the dissenting activists and those who are critical to the ruling party. Furthermore, the current climate of growing intolerance concerns rights groups in India, as the violent attacks against Indian Muslims spiked over the recent years, including cow vigilantism and sectarian mob attacks.

Maldives

Maldives has gone through its watershed moment, as the Maldivian Democratic Party won the election last year in September, ending the ruling of authoritarian leader Abdulla Yameen. On September 23rd 2018. The people of the Maldives held peaceful and successful presidential elections and marked the establishment of a peaceful transition in the country. This year in April, the Maldives also held its parliamentary elections. As a result, winning more than three-quarters of the seats the Maldivian Democratic Party secured a clear majority in the parliament. The new government under President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih promised an overall reform of the judiciary, police and government bureaucracy.  The government has been struggling to address the widespread corruption and the vestiges of Abdulla Yameen’s authoritarian rule. Civil society organizations in the country have urged the government to expedite its effort to ensure justice and accountability for the previous president’s widespread enforced disappearance and intimidation against human rights defenders. To maintain and unfold a smooth and peaceful transition and reform in the country, the current government’s political stability and its attempt to address such issues need to be closely monitored. Despite the progress, however, there are continued concerns over on-going risk for those expressing critical views against the government. According to a recent report released by the Maldivian Democracy Network, individuals who belong to political or non-political groups promoting human rights and open democracy are still often at risk, facing threats and intimidation on social media platforms and forcible disappearance and murders as well. The police authority and government has yet to acknowledge that such human rights defenders are at risk and the means to protect them is absent in the country which requires further attention and monitoring. 

Nepal

The path to democracy in Nepal is faced with serious challenges than thought, despite its progressive constitution that protects people’s fundamental rights to freedom of expression and press freedom. In February 2019, the government introduced its controversial Information Technology Bill which would allow the authorities to impose sanctions on ‘improper’ social media posts. This draconian law has brought up grave concerns that it would significantly curtail freedom of expression and be used to silence the dissent by criminalizing ‘defamatory’ posts. Organizations including Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and CIVICUS has expressed their concerns that it would prohibit people from sharing their critical views through online media platform and dramatically shrink civic space. Furthermore, in May 2019, the government passed the Media Council Bill which allows the government to directly appoint the president and members of the Media Council. The independence of media and freedom of expression, which are vital principles of democratic governance, are now faced with grave challenges in Nepal due to the introduction of such laws that could easily be misused. 

Pakistan

Since 2018, Democratic establishment in Pakistan remains fragile and volatile due to its close ties with military establishments, growing intolerance and rise of populism under Imran Khan’s administration with his vision for a “New Pakistan.” Enforced disappearances of dissenters and human rights activists continue to increase despite Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent approval of the recommendations to amend the law declaring enforced disappearance a criminal offense. Furthermore, the concerns over the lack of its respect of people’s fundamental rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. According to the report of the Pakistan Human Rights Defenders Network (PHRDN), the Pakistani government rejected to register 42 NGOs working for human rights and socio-economic development without a clear explanation. Furthermore, according to the report on Pakistan released by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Pakistani press freedom advocates are under a high degree of self-censorship, due to the government authorities directing who should be hired or fired which significantly suppress independence of the media.

Sri Lanka

In December 2018, the constitutional crisis that derailed democracy in Sri Lanka ended as the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe was reinstated after being removed from his office for seven weeks. Once was thought to be the democratic victory in the region, however, is now struggling with deepening challenges to maintain its democratic governance with the growing tendency of radicalization and violent extremism. On April 21st 2019, more than 350 lives were taken and hundreds were injured after a series of bombings which targeted Catholic church on Easter Sunday. It was followed by the introduction of an emergency law which allowed police to detain and interrogate suspects related to the bombing without court orders or due procedures, which ended up bringing in over 100 people in custody after the attack. Furthermore, major social media outlets and messaging apps were blocked by the defense ministry following the attacks in April, to “prevent speculative and mischievous attempts to spread rumors.” The ban lasted until the end of April, ended up cutting most widely used communications channels and preventing people from getting access to the right information in an emergency situation. With growing sentiment of hostility towards Muslim population including reprisal attacks and arbitrary arrests of journalists who are critical towards anti-Muslim violence, Sri Lanka is faced with another democratic crisis with its curtailed civic freedom.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Brunei Darussalam

Within its framework of an absolute monarchy, led by the hereditary sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Brunei remains its strict restrictions on its citizens’ political and civic freedoms, as well as the right to freedom of expression and assembly. Without any national level elections, political oppositions are unable to challenge the regime as well as there is virtually no civic space for independent media or active domestic civil society organization in the fields of human rights or press freedom. As of April 2019, the country also enacted its revised Sharia penal code which would impose death penalty for offences such as insult or defamation of Islam, sodomy, and adultery, and introduce public flogging for abortion and having homosexual relationship. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights strongly condemned the introduction of such laws which are “cruel and inhuman punishments that seriously breach international human rights law.” According to the Brunei Project, a human rights initiative in the country, the existence of such law has created the “culture of fear” among citizens, deterred the critics and silenced dissent.

Cambodia

The country’s democracy still remain unimproved after previous 2018 “controlled elections” that marker with dissolvement, enactment of undemocratic laws, and allegedly frauds on elections of the opposition (ANFREL, 2018, p. 4). After the election held in July 2018, there were continued suppression on human rights defenders, activists, NGOs, and media which dramatically has curtailed the people’s freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and public participation. The UN Special Rapporteur on Cambodia reported that the genuineness of the election is questionable and raised grave concerns about the lack of respect for human rights as individuals, political opponents and media are being targeted and their activities are restricted by the government. Furthermore, despite growing popular support for the now-dissolved major opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the government continues to crackdown on dissent with its systematic efforts. The country’s press freedom ranking by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), continues to fall as civil society groups continue  reporting its ongoing judicial harassment and attacks against the opposition leaders and independent media journalists. In February 2019, the European Union (EU) has launched its procedure to suspend Cambodia’s “Everything but Arms (EBA)” trade privileges which has given the country tax-free access to the EU, due to its “serious and systematic violation” on core human and labor rights which has long been raised by Cambodian civil society organizations and activists. In March and April 2019, there were peaceful protests celebrating International Women’s Day and International Labor Day but were blocked by the government security forces for the reasons of disrupting public order.

Indonesia

Marking its 21st anniversary as the world’s third largest democracy, Indonesia held its  general election in April 2019, re-electing Joko Widodo for his second term. The result was marred by widespread suspicion of election fraud and sparked violent protests in the capital Jakarta, leaving at least seven people dead and hundreds injured. Police have responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons to quell the protesters which overshadowed the country’s democratic and peaceful process of regime change. The country continuously suffered the effect of intolerant and hate speech in all social and political spectrum as the effect of the political competition in the recent Indonesian elections that caused division and disharmony of the societies. However, the state has been accused of inadequately in providing proper response to address the issues instead made a communication blockade, legal prosecution to the citizens who expressed their criticism through ITE (information and Electronic Transaction) law, and treason accusation. The recent electoral protest and unrest in Papua following the racial slurs during the raid in the Papua student dormitory over the flag’s incident in Surabaya is a some eminent example.

Lao PDR

As a one-party state where the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party monopolizes power over most of the political system in the country, the Lao PDR remains as a country with virtually non-existent political freedom, excluding the public from any form of civic participation. In March 2019, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, released his report on the country  highlighting a “near-total lack of space for freedom of expression, strict limitations on media and civil society” with on-going political reprisals, arrests and disappearances. CIVICUS monitor also rated the country as  “closed” civic space where political persecution and attacks against democracy activists and journalists persist. On December 15, 2018, it marked the sixth year anniversary of the disappearance of Laos’ civil society leader Sombath Somphone and over 100 civil society organizations all over the world called for the government to conduct investigation which Lao authorities have failed to do so until now. A series of arrests and disappearances of high profile human rights defenders and activists have continued in the country. According to the briefing paper released by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) in March 2019, there are at least 14 political prisoners remain imprisoned across the country.

Myanmar

Ever since the Rohingya refugee crisis erupted in 2017, Myanmar’s fragile democracy continues to worsen with the peace process in a deadlock and growing international pressure calling for the resolve of the Rohingya crisis. As the administration under the lead of the National League for Democracy (NLD) continues to condone the on-going war crimes by the military against civilians including the ethnic Rohingya and to contain the exercise of people’s fundamental rights that is freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. This increases the distrust between the government authorities and its people. On 16th July 2019, the U.S. Department of State sanctioned four top Myanmar military officials for gross human rights violations including extrajudicial killings, during the campaign of violence beginning in August 2017 in the Rakhine State. Furthermore, the government continues to attack civic freedom including the recent internet blackout in Rakhine and Chin State in late June 2019 and arrests of journalists and peaceful protesters who are critical towards the military and the government. Especially, the case of internet blackout has put serious restrictions on humanitarian organizations in conflict-affected areas as well as it undermines transparency amid clashes between the military and the insurgents.  Reuters Journalist released,  with the presidential pardon after 500 days in jails over the “secret act” showed a complicated step toward improving the freedom of the press in  Myanmar’s. 

Malaysia

With an unexpected sweeping victory of an opposition alliance in the 14th general election in May 2018, Malaysia experienced its democratic victory, ending the government led by Najib Razak who has been embroiled in a multibillion-dollar corruption scandal. The new government committed itself to undertake overall reforms in terms of restoring democratic rule of law and human rights in an effort to maintain its momentum of democratic triumph. However, people’s fundamental rights to freedom of expression is still imperiled in Malaysia with its continued reported cases of individuals being harassed under a certain set of repressive laws such as the Sedition Act and the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA). In November 2018, an activist and artist was prosecuted and fined under the Communications and Multimedia Act for publishing a satirical caricature of the former prime minister. A human rights group in Malaysia, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) stated that the authorities kept intimidating human rights activists by calling the protesters in and question them without proper cause. Furthermore, there are constant cases of individuals who are arrested and prosecuted for their social media posts critical of religion or the monarchy. Unless the government follows through its commitment on abolishing the repressive laws, the prospects of democracy upheld through last year’s electoral victory would be likely to remain uncertain.

Philippines

After more than two years of Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency, there is an on-going progress as the Human Rights Defenders Protection bill, which includes the recognition of the rights of human rights defenders to form organizations and receive resources, moved closer to becoming law in June 2019 after it was approved by the House of Representatives. Despite the progress, the UN warned that the deterioration of the human rights situation continues to worsen. According to human rights group Karapatan, at least 134 human rights activists have been killed under the Duterte administration since 2016 and at least 613 defenders have been killed since 2001. Furthermore, the judicial harassment of the independent media still continues, as Maria Ressa the co-founder and executive editor of Rappler, online media outlet, in the Philippines was arrested on March 29th 2019 which was her second time being arrested this year. As Rappler indicated in their statement, it is a clear form of “continuing intimidation and harassment against Rappler and an attempt to silence journalists” in the Philippines. 

Singapore

Singapore democracy index rose from 69th to 66th, according to the Economic Intelligence Units (EIU). However, the country remains classified as a flawed democracy. Especially with the issue of free expression and media freedom is pressing in the country. Recently the country passed the “Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill” to combat fake news. As the bill was passed on May 2019, it sparked controversy among civil society organizations and academics since it includes provisions would stifle the freedom of expression. The bill allows unfettered discretion to the ministers and government authorities with its vague, overbroad wording, since the minister can order to delete online content or block access as long as it is deemed to be in “public interest.” According to the World Press Freedom Index released in April 2019 by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Singapore ranked 151th out of 180 countries due to the country’s established culture of self-censorship and its press independence under attack. Recently on September 1st, 2019, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong requested the executive director of Singaporean online political activism and community platform, The Online Citizen, Terry Xu to remove an article from the website and take down the Facebook post. The article was taken down only hours after the request was sent, allegedly due to its “several false allegations” against the Prime Minister Lee. The enactment of the country’s ‘fake news law’ dramatically curtails citizens’ freedom of expression which create the climate of fear that deters people from speaking up against the authority. Furthermore, its Public Order Act which was amended and passed last year April requires the police permit for any “cause-related” assembly to be held at a public place.  Suppression of people’s right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly is still prevalent in the country which requires our further attention.  

Timor-Leste

After going through turbulent times of post-war nation-building era, Timor-Leste has established ground to hold a series of successful and competitive elections and experienced successful transfer of power, despite its weakness in democratic institutions. Democracy Index in 2018 released by Economist Intelligence Unit assessed the country as “the most democratic country in Southeast Asia,” however, according to the Southeast Asia Press Alliance (SEAPA), there is a lack of respect to the independence of media and press freedom in the country. According to the article released by SEAPA, there is on-going political interference in media and widespread intimidation towards journalists, as there are already three cases of such incidents in January 2019 alone. On June 22 2019, Tempo Timor editorial director, Jose Belo, received a threatening letter from the Timor-Leste Press Council for publishing contents which is “a breach of ethics.” Furthermore, the Office of the Secretary of State for Social Communication (SECOMS) proposed a law to criminalize defamation, and it is also planning to draft a cybercrime law to counter increasing use of social media platform which could “spread rumors and disinformation, as well as insult the country’s leaders.” The challenge towards the sound democracy and respect for fundamental civic freedom remains with introduction of such repressive laws in Timor-Leste.

Thailand

On March 24 2019, marking the fifth year of the ruling military junta, Thailand had its first general election after the 2014 military coup, which left the country divided with no party gaining an absolute majority, with number of elections being postponed. As a result, General Prayut Chan-o-cha, who appointed himself prime minister after the coup in 2014, retains his premiership as his new established party able to win the polls and able to consolidate other parties to secure the majority support in parliament. the Polls itself rated as unsatisfied by ANFREL as the authority failed to establish the healthy political climate and status of fundamental human rights that essential for democratic elections processes. this made Thailand remains as one of the region’s democracies in serious setback. Furthermore, there are continued attacks against pro-democracy activists and human rights defenders in Thailand. On June 2nd, 2019, a prominent pro-democracy and anti-junta political activist, Sirawith “Ja New” Seritiwat was attacked and beaten by five plain clothed men. Thai Lawyers of Human Rights (TLHR) called the attacks “systematic violence” and reported that this case was the tenth attack against pro-democracy activists since the March 2019 elections. Also, there are constant harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and activists reported, which includes surprise house visits by state authorities asking about their travel plans, political involvement and surveillance. 

Vietnam

With its continuously worsening human rights violations and repressive environment, the democratic prospects of Vietnam remain bleak. In May 2019, Amnesty International released a report stating it had identified 128 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam who were arbitrarily detained and prosecuted in an unfair trial under charges of being a threat to national security. Civil society groups like VOICE and CIVICUS continue to  document the arrests, prosecution, disappearance and long sentences of individuals for the exercise of their rights to peaceful assembly and expression. Furthermore, the controversial law on cyber security took effect since January 2019 which allows the Vietnamese government to request user data and removal of online content from internet companies if it deems to be against the state. Under the new cybersecurity law, major social networking platforms such as Google and Facebook are faced with much more strict restrictions and censorship which would easily threaten the lives of human rights defenders and activists in the country. In July 2019, the UN Human Rights Council adopted Vietnam’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of its human rights record, accepting 241 recommendations on the range of human rights issues but rejected the recommendation to release political prisoners. 

NORTHEAST ASIA

China

As China remains as the largest non-democratic state in Asia and beyond, its increasing influence on the economic dynamics and geopolitics of the region. With President Xi Jinping’s indefinite term, repression of people’s fundamental right to assemble peacefully and speak freely continues to increase. Human rights activists, lawyers and critics are often detained or banned from leaving the country for being a threat to the national security of China. Chinese authorities continue to narrow safe space for the people to exert their fundamental rights to freedom of expression with its heavy media censorship as well. Especially in regards to the on-going political unrest in Hong Kong since June 2019, despite the continued large scale protests with international media coverage, many in mainland China continue to remain unaware of what is happening in Hong Kong and unable to access to information. Photos, posts, articles, videos and online messages containing words such as “Hong Kong,” “democracy,” and “no extradition bill” have been filtered, erased and silenced in any online platform including mobile apps and social media outlets, due to what is often referred to as the “Great Firewall” of China. Furthermore, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a multi-billion dollar investment in infrastructure of strategically sensitive region, has raised significant concern as it expands its influence in many developing countries across Southeast Asia to South Asia. Despite its original purpose to improve global economic infrastructure and regional integration via land and maritime networks, the effect of China’s investment goes beyond the economic benefits. As more countries turn to Chinese aid and grants, there are growing concerns over its impact on democratic governance in growing number of beneficiary countries.

Hong Kong 

Democracy in the Special Administrative Region (SAR) is facing its most serious test as pressure from its citizen against the government proposed extradition bill in March 2019 sparked protests that still continues today. The extradition bills will allow people of Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China for trial, triggering one of the biggest public demonstrations in Hong Kong since 2014. Millions of people flooded the streets every Sunday since June 9 against the proposal, protesting against increasing Chinese interference in the semi-autonomous region of Hong Kong and demanding Chief Executive Carrie Lam to step down. As anti-government protesters occupied the major streets, police had fired hundreds of tear gas and rubber bullets to crackdown the rallies. Pro-democracy protesters were also attacked and beaten by the group of masked men wielding Chinese flags in white shirts, who had assaulted injured at least 45 people, including protesters, journalists, commuters and a member of Democratic Party of Hong Kong. On August 9th, marking the tenth consecutive week of protest in Hong Kong, thousands of protesters joined a massive three-day sit-in at Hong Kong International Airport to put their case in front of the international audience and to protest against the use of excessive violence by the police. The struggle for securing fundamental rights of the people in Hong Kong is still on-going. On September 4, Carrie Lam announced the withdrawal of the extradition bill. However, the withdrawal was received as “too little, too late” from the protesters and continues to protest demanding greater democracy for the region. The people of Hong Kong demand all five demands to be fulfilled and vows to continue to demonstrate.  The five demands are: (1) Complete withdrawal of the bill; (2) Withdrawal of the “riot” characterization of the June 12 protests; (3) Unconditional release of all arrested protesters, (4) Independent Commission of Inquiry into police brutality; (5) Universal Suffrage

Japan

One of the dominant features of Japanese democracy under the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is voter apathy based on the right-wing nationalism. The 25th Election of Members of the House of Councilors was held on July 21st to elect 125 seats in the upper house, with the voter turnout falling below 50% which marks its second-lowest figure since the end of the World War II. Furthermore, on June 24th 2019, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, David Kaye, submitted a compiled report at the annual meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva in regard to the mounting concerns of the independence of the media in Japan. In this report, he underlined that there has been constant pressure on media directly or indirectly that journalists have become reluctant to report critical of the government in Japan due to the existing state secrecy law and other restrictions. Despite the Japanese stable democratic system of governance, growing apathy and eroding civic space for free speech cast doubt on the country’s prospect of sound democracy.

Mongolia

Mongolia, once considered an “oasis of democracy,” displayed a significant regression of democracy when a new legislation was passed and adopted on March 27th 2019, allowing  the National Security Council of Mongolia to remove court judges, personnel in anti-corruption agencies and prosecutors. This newly adopted law practically gives the current President “free rein to bend the court in his favor,” allowing him to forcibly recuse any judge or prosecutor who are critical to the president. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Prosecutor General of Mongolia were dismissed by the presidential decree on the following day the legislation was adopted. Furthermore, since November 2018, there were a series of demonstrations triggered by corruption scandals which implicated the involvement of the speaker of Mongolia’s parliament, Miyegombyn Enkhbold, being accused of conspiring to sell government offices in return for raising 60 billion tugrik (22 million US Dollar) and embezzling from the Small and Medium-sized Enterprise (SME) Development Fund. Undermining judicial independence and arbitrary removal of the heads of the anti-corruption agency will slow down the country’s fight against corruption and ultimately would undermine the safe space for fundamental rights to freedom of association, casting grim prospects of reinstating democratic governance in Mongolia.

North Korea 

North Korea remains as one of the world’s most repressive states and its civic space is virtually closed. All civil and political freedom including fundamental rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association are restricted and the government prohibits any form of political opposition, independent media and civil society. Asia Press, a North Korea-focused news outlet in Japan, reported through sources in North Korea that the Ministry of State Security (MSS) and police officers were patrolling residential areas around the clock and that local district officials and government cadres were conducting surprise visits to the houses of ordinary people every night. To restrict the movement around the country and across the borders, North Korean authorities has expanded its video surveillance network along the 17km-long China-North Korea border area since December 2018 and instilling fear among the residents by wiretapping phones to identify users of mobile phones placing international calls. In addition to the strict restrictions on people’s daily lives, the government continues to crackdown on influx of foreign media content by detaining and persecuting citizens for watching and distributing foreign media sources including South Korean movies and TV shows. 

South Korea

With its experience of peaceful change of government and dramatic demonstration of people power which is often referred to as the “candlelight revolution,” South Korea stands as the symbol of democracy and people power in Asia with its vibrant civil society and free press. Despite the country’s reputation for relatively open civic space. However, there are increasing concerns over people’s right to freedom of expression and privacy online. In March 2019, South Korea has introduced an internet filtering system to block user accounts that is raising concerns among privacy and freedom of expression activists. In addition to the long-existing National Security Act, the Act on Anti-Terrorism for the Protection of Citizens and Public Security also enables the NIS (National Intelligence Service) to remove any content posted online that they deem “a threat to security.” As the Act allows NIS to access to personal conversation and a whole host of other data, it encourages self-censorship and violates people’s right to privacy and freedom of expression. 

Taiwan

Taiwan has maintained a fairly peaceful and stable democracy, respecting fundamental freedoms within its constitution. Freedom of expression and media freedom is respected. However, there are challenges to the freedom of assembly and association due to the remnants of the martial law period such as the Assembly and Parade Act and the Civil Associations Act. The democracy process was furthered in 2014 when a coalition of students and civic groups came together on March 18 and April 10 2014 and marched to the Legislative Yuan and the Executive Yuan protesting against the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement by the Kuomintang (KMT) the then ruling party. This deterred China’s attempted to stronghold Taiwan on its civic freedoms through economic power. Currently, Taiwan is considered to be one of the most open and democratic countries in the region. In May 2019, the parliament legalized same-sex marriage setting precedent for the region. There have however, journalist and the media are being faced with challenges as they are targets of harassment and libel cases. In July 2019, Kathrin Hille, Financial Times reporter faced a libel lawsuit after writing an article about Chinese government officials’ influence in Taiwanese politics and media agencies. According to Reuters, there were reports of Chinese authorities paying Taiwanese media agencies for favorable coverage in newspapers and television programs and for overseeing China’s “reunification” agenda toward Taiwan.

 

The Asia Democracy Network

Email: ADN@adnasia.org 

Website: www.adnasia.org 

 

Please find the PDF version of the document HERE: [ADN Publication] 2019 International Democracy Day Celebration