July Roundup: New Laws Restrict Free Expression

Legal experts held a meeting on July 10 in the Cambodian Ministry of Interior to review the content of the draft law on cybercrime. | Facebook

CYRILLA’s monthly roundup highlights digital rights legal updates and trends to contextualize the legislation and caselaw in our database. As governments continue to propose restrictive new laws in the name of progress, the CYRILLA Collaborative is committed to documenting these instances. Al-Jazeera English recently covered our efforts to catalogue legislation and caselaw in the Middle East and North Africa in an article about the continued threats newly introduced “cyberspace” legislation poses to activism.

This month, we explore legislation that threatens free expression in Southeast Asia, the worsening environment for freedom of expression in Hong Kong, a Turkish court ruling, and a number of detentions that infringe on fundamental rights.

A Dangerous Pattern for Free Expression in Southeast Asia

In Southeast Asia, a number of new laws restrict digital rights. In Cambodia, the ministries of Interior and Justice are reviewing a draft law on cybercrime, allegedly to catch up with other developing countries’ legislation. However, Cambodian activists and human rights defenders have expressed concerns that the government might use the law to restrict the freedoms of critics of the government.

In Singapore, the government recently passed the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) in May, citing the need to prevent the spread of “fake news.” The law gives ministers the ability to order social media companies to “correct” or remove content that the government disagrees with. Many journalists and press-freedom activists state that the law, which will come into force later this year, is a “straightforward power grab” and a “mechanism for expanding government controls into digital world.”

Deteriorating Situation for Freedom of Expression in Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, the legislation has not necessarily gotten worse, but the situation for freedom of expression has deteriorated. Amidst the protests, which have turned increasingly violent, The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) recently published their annual report, which claims 2019 is “the worst year” for freedom of expression since the city’s post-colonial history begun in 1997. The study, “Red Line Stifles Freedoms,” documents a number of incidents that demonstrate the government’s strong control over the press. In an official statement, HKJA urged the government “to reaffirm their commitment to freedom of expression and freedom of press through concrete actions,” including withdrawing the controversial extradition bill and enacting a freedom to access information law.

Turkish Court Rejects Claim it Violated Right to Freedom of Expression

Earlier this month, the Turkish Constitutional Court rejected a complaint claiming authorities violated the right to freedom of expression by censoring online content. Academics Kerem Altıparmak and Yaman Akdeniz submitted the complaint, which contained examples of blocked Twitter accounts and domains “belonging to individuals and organizations critical of the government.” From 2014 and 2018, Turkish authorities prevented users from accessing between 245,825 websites and domains, according to a report by the Istanbul Freedom of Expression Association (İFÖD).

Human Rights Defenders Detained for Expressing Their Right to Free Speech

Authorities detained a number of human rights defenders, artists, and activists. Recently, Israeli authorities arrested Dareen Tatour, a Palestinian poet. She was released nine months ago after a five month prison term and three years of house arrest. Last week, Israeli prosecutors filed an appeal with the Supreme Court to reopen a case against her concerning a poem she posted online.

In Nigeria, authorities have detained journalist Jones Abir again. He had been detained for two years without a trial until August 2018, because as Amnesty International states, “journalists, bloggers and people that stand up for human rights in Nigeria are constantly being arrested, harassed and intimidated by the authorities.” According to human rights groups, the government continually trumps up charges to jail people who speak against them.

Burmese filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi has has also spent three months under arrest after he criticized the military on Facebook.

If you have any feedback or would like to suggest a story, let us know in the comments or send us an email at collaborative[at]CYRILLA.org.

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