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From Hong Kong to Australia: Protesters and journalists fight back against police violence and intimidation (Demo)

Hong Kong’s largest protest ever

A million people joined the protest in Hong Kong on 9 June to stop the Legislative Council from passing amendments to the extradition law. The government’s response was to suspend deliberations instead of withdrawing the proposal, which led to another massive rally on 12 June. After several days of continuing protests, the government finally announced the withdrawal of the measure on 15 June. But a bigger rally was organized on 16 June which gathered an estimated two million people, representing almost 30 percent of the city’s population. Protesters also demanded the resignation of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam.

At present, Hong Kong’s laws prevent the extradition to countries where prisoners might be tortured and subjected to unfair judicial processes.

If passed, the extradition law amendments would make it easier to send arrested individuals to mainland China. The government said this will address ‘legal loopholes’ but human rights groups warned that this could allow Beijing authorities to target and order the arrest of dissidents, activists and even journalists.

During the protests, the police were accused of using unnecessary force and violence to clear streets and disperse the crowd. They initially dubbed the peaceful protests ‘riots’, and tried to ‘restore order’ by using beanbag rounds (less lethal rounds, often used in shotguns by riot squads, in order to control a crowd), rubber bullets, pepper spray, and batons.

At least 26 journalists were reportedly harassed and attacked by the police, prompting the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) to file a complaint with the government. The group is calling for an independent investigation. The statement reminds the police about the important role of media in democracy: “A media that can do its job without fear is of utmost importance in the balance of police power and public safety as well as the protection of the public’s right to know.”

Police raid journalists in Australia

“Police raiding journalists is becoming normalised and it has to stop,” said the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) after two separate raids were conducted by the Australian police in less than 24 hours.

On 4 June, the home of News Corp Australia journalist Annika Smethurst was raided in connection to a story she wrote in April 2018 about the proposal to extend the powers of intelligence agencies to spy on the emails, text messages and bank accounts of Australian citizens. The following day, the police raided the Sydney headquarters of the national public broadcaster ABC in relation to its July 2017 report about the alleged role of Australian special forces personnel in the deaths of civilians in Afghanistan.

Both cases are based on court orders seeking to identify media sources who divulged state secrets and classified government documents.

MEAA Media section president Marcus Strom said “these raids are about intimidating journalists and media organisations because of their truth-telling.”

An open letter was signed by several media companies and prominent journalists asserting the need to protect press freedom: “A healthy democracy cannot function without its media being free to bring to light uncomfortable truths, to scrutinise the powerful and inform our communities.”

The letter also asked Parliament “to legislate changes to the law to recognise and enshrine a positive public interest protection for whistleblowers and for journalists.”

Australian journalists were quick to show solidarity to their affected colleagues:

Thai junta critics are being attacked

“Violence by thugs against pro-democracy activists has become a dangerous new trend in Thailand,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, after noting a surge in physical attacks by unidentified men targeting critics of the military-backed government of Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha.

The latest – against activist Sirawith “New” Seritiwat on 28 June – was so severe that he was placed in intensive care. He had previously been assaulted on 2 June. Fellow activist Anurak “Ford” Jeantawanich was knocked down on 25 May, while military critic Ekachai Hongkangwan was beaten on 13 May.

All of them were attacked after joining a protest or posting a statement on social media calling for democratic reforms. In all these instances, the police have failed to arrest a single suspect for carrying out these crimes.

Thailand’s military staged a coup in 2014 and imposed severe restrictions on the media while persecuting those who dared to speak out against the junta. An election was finally conducted this year, but the military remains in control of the bureaucracy.

Another alarming trend is the harassment of young people and artists for simply mocking the government. In the past month, authorities have pressured a foreign satirist, a famous comedian, and high school students to apologize and delete their videos, which they had uploaded on social media, which poked fun at the prime minister and the military government.

In brief

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has issued ‘show cause’ notices to 14 TV channels for violating its advisory to avoid discussing a case filed against two senior judges with the Supreme Judicial Council. The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists and the Karachi Union of Journalists have condemned the decision of PEMRA as a violation of the freedom of expression and speech.

The Philippine police arrested veteran journalist Margarita Valle on 9 June and detained her for nine hours before releasing her and claiming that it was a case of mistaken identity. Valle was arrested in Mindanao, where Martial Law has been imposed since 2017. Media and human rights groups deplored the arrest as a clear case of harassment.

Cybercrime law has been a new weapon for the Nepal police in suppressing the voice of journalists, writers, and comedians. Freedom Forum has documented 180 cybercrime cases in the first six month of 2019. A total of 132 were registered in all of 2018, and only 53 the year before that. The case of Youtuber Pranesh Gautam received wide attention after he was arrested and kept in custody for six days for simply reviewing and making a satirical comment about a Nepali movie.

Myanmar’s Ministry of Transport and Communications ordered telecom operators on 21 June to suspend internet services in several conflict areas of Rakhine and Chin states, supposedly to preserve peace and order in the region. But local civil society groups said that internet restriction in a conflict zone could “reduce the ability of emergency services to communicate and locate people, and undermine the abilities of the authorities to disseminate important information to move people to safety.”

The Taliban has threatened Afghanistan journalists that they will be targeted unless news outlets stop broadcasting ‘government propaganda’ against the insurgents. The Afghanistan Journalists Center urged the government to adopt a comprehensive measure to protect journalists. It also urged the Taliban to air their criticisms about media reports without harming journalists or making them targets.

A disturbing new report by the Uyghur Human Rights Project revealed that 58 journalists, editors and publishers from the Xinjiang region in China have been detained or disappeared since March 2017. This reflects a bigger, systematic crackdown on the Turkic Muslim population in Xinjiang which has forced at least one million people to undergo ‘re-education’ in political camps.

Focus on gender

On 7 June, Bhutan’s National Assembly voted in favor of removing Sections 213 and 214 of the country’s penal code which criminalize sodomy and ‘unnatural’ sexual conduct. The bill will now go to the National Council, the upper house of parliament, for further deliberation. This is an important first step in the campaign to decriminalize homosexuality in the country.

A popular online petition was presented to Japan’s Ministry of Labour requesting that the country’s labor laws be amended to ban employers from forcing footwear on female employees. The #KuToo hashtag – combination of “shoes” (kutsu), “agony” (kutsuu) and “MeToo” – inspired many women to share their stories of being forced to wear high heels or pumps in their work. It quickly became a campaign to outlaw rules requiring high heels in the workplace, and generated broader discussion about gender discrimination.

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