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#HoldTheLine: Journalists push back against state persecution and sexual harassment from Philippines to Maldives (Demo)

Afghan journalists succeeded in persuading the government to drop its plan to amend media laws. A Maldives editor is suing a top official at the president’s office for sexual harassment. Hong Kong journalists are exposing and decrying police violence. And a global #HoldTheLine coalition has emerged in support of journalists in the Philippines.

Good news! Afghanistan drops media law amendments

The Afghanistan government has scrapped the plan to amend media laws after this was vigorously opposed by journalists. The proposed amendments would have required journalists to disclose their sources and allow government censorship of news reports. An open letter by journalists opposing the amendments was sent last month to the Afghan president who responded by creating a panel to review the issue.

The Afghanistan Journalists’ Center director Ahmad Quraishi welcomed the decision to reverse the earlier plan of the parliament to table the proposed amendments.

“At a time when the government is preparing for the peace talks with the hardline Taliban group, any amendment to the media law would have had serious consequences for media freedom in Afghanistan, adding to the growing insecurity and attacks that affect media outlets and journalists in the country.”

Hong Kong: ‘Freedom in danger’

China’s National Security Law for Hong Kong took effect on 30 June amid concerns that it will put an end to Hong Kong’s autonomy. The law criminalizes “separatism, subversion of state power, terrorism and interference” aside from allowing Beijing to operate a security office in the city.

Despite a police ban on rallies and mass gathering, thousands protested on 1 July against the new law. Around 370 people were arrested that day.

The impact of the law on media freedom is a major theme in a new report by the Hong Kong Journalists Association. Titled ‘Freedom in Danger’, the report cited the COVID-19 crisis and the ‘political storm’ generated by the anti-extradition protests and the recently passed national security law as among the challenges facing the media sector. In particular, HKJA highlighted the police violence directed against journalists covering the protests.

What do ABS-CBN, 24 News, and Al Jazeera have in common?

Their license to broadcast was questioned by authorities in retaliation to their critical reporting.

In the case of ABS-CBN, the largest TV and radio broadcaster in the Philippines, its franchise renewal application was rejected by Congress. It was a decision that reflected the threat of President Rodrigo Duterte to close down the network. The shutdown of the media company rendered 11,000 journalists jobless and further eroded press freedom.

The Pakistan Electronic Media Authority ordered the suspension of 24 News TV channel over alleged licensing violations. Media groups described the order as politically motivated, an attack on press freedom, and “a move to effectively silence voices that are critical of the current government.” The suspension could also displace 700 journalists.

Al Jazeera’s documentary that tackled Malaysia’s alleged crackdown on undocumented migrants and refugees during the COVID-19 pandemic was rebuked by authorities for being “false” and “malicious’. Al Jazeera was immediately investigated by the police for possible violations of the Penal Code, including the Sedition Act. Later, the Communications and Multimedia Ministry announced that Al Jazeera’s accreditation and license will be reviewed as well.

#HoldTheLine: Support for Maria Ressa and Rappler

The #HoldTheLine coalition was launched in support of journalist Maria Ressa, news site Rappler, and the campaign for an independent Philippine media. The coalition is composed of around 80 civil society and journalism groups, including IFEX.

Aside from appealing her cyber libel conviction in June, Ressa continues to face eight more active cases which media groups describe as part of an ‘orchestrated harassment campaign’ by the Duterte government.

After her court appearance on 22 July, Ressa commented about the state of democracy in the Philippines.

“At times, it feels like we’re a dictatorship masquerading as a democracy with rule of law. We appeal to the legislators – do your jobs. To the journalists – let’s do our jobs to expose. To the people – every generation builds its democracy. Don’t take it for granted.”

An online petition calls for the dropping of charges against Ressa and Rappler.

The documentary titled ‘A Thousand Cuts’ provides more context about the role of journalists like Ressa in exposing the decline of press freedom and human rights in the Philippines.

Appeal to take action on Cambodia’s human rights situation

On 12 August, the European Union will partially suspend Cambodia’s “Everything But Arms” tariff preferences in response to the continuing “serious and systematic violations” of human and labor rights conventions by the Hun Sen government. In support of this initiative, around 32 civil society organizations, including IFEX, are urging several governments to echo the EU in its call for the respect of human rights in Cambodia.

Some of the urgent demands of human rights groups include the release of political prisoners, the dropping of harassment charges against opposition forces, the repeal of laws undermining the right to association, and the fair resolution of land conflicts. Civil society groups are also calling for the establishment of an independent and impartial commission that will thoroughly review and investigate the 2016 killing of political analyst Kem Ley.

In brief: Pride, Equality Act, sexual harassment case

On 26 June, police in Manila arrested and detained for five days 20 Pride participants who were protesting the passage of an anti-terror bill and the government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. Carla Nicoyco told Global Voices why her group organized the protest near the Philippine presidential palace.

“We believe that at its very core, Pride is, and will always be a protest; Pride means fighting back. And so we marched to Mendiola bringing the demands of the people for the right to health, economic aid, and democracy.”

Since 2019, protests in Hong Kong have mobilized more than 2 million people. Susanne Choi, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, wrote about the active role of women in the resistance. She cited a signature campaign initiated by an anonymous ‘housewife’ against the extradition bill amendments.

“As housewives, we have to take care of the household everyday, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t care about society. No matter how tired we are, we bare the responsibility to stand up against the anti-China extradition bill…”

Rae Munavvar, the editor of The Edition, the English-language version of the Mihaaru daily newspaper, said she was sexually harassed by Hassan Ismail, the secretary of communications at the president’s office in the Maldives. She added that no action was taken by authorities after she filed a complaint with the president’s office, the police, and the Anti-Corruption Commission on 4 February.

Human rights groups are urging Japan’s government to pass the Equality Act ahead of next year’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. They welcomed Tokyo’s landmark ordinance that protects LGBTQI+ people from discrimination, but they asserted that a similar measure needs to be passed by the national government, since the Olympic games will also be held in other cities.

And finally, a global survey by the International Federation of Journalists revealed that more than half of women journalists have experienced increased gender inequalities due to the pandemic. In India, respondents said they suffered from higher levels of stress which affected their overall health. Fewer than 4 in 10 women journalists claimed they received protective equipment from their employers. The Indian Journalists Association highlighted the survey results to remind media houses to “emphasize gender sensitivity and work-life balance in their in-house operational strategies.”

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