WOMEN IN FOCUS: STANDING UP TO ATTACKS AND DEFENDING THE RIGHTS OF ALL
1 March 2022
8 minute read
Artists perform during a protest against the arrest of investigative journalist Rozina Islam, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, 20 May 2021, Syed Mahamudur Rahman/NurPhoto via Getty Images
February 2022 in Asia-Pacific: A free expression round up produced by IFEX's regional editor Mong Palatino, based on IFEX member reports and news from the region.
Looking ahead to International Women’s Day, 8 March, this brief features stories of women who are overcoming various challenges to create a safer civic space for all: journalists facing persecution, students protesting the hijab ban in south India, a Sri Lankan lawyer testifying about human rights abuses, and striking Naga World hotel workers in Phnom Penh who are resisting persistent government intimidation.
A DANGEROUS CLIMATE FOR WOMEN JOURNALISTS
Rana Ayyub is an award-winning Indian journalist and Washington Post columnist who has been viciously trolled by Hindu nationalist groups for her work criticizing Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In January, online attacks instigated by pro-Saudi trolls intensified against her when she tweeted about the human rights abuses inflicted on the Yemen population. At one point, she received 26,000 tweets on a single day threatening her and her family with rape and murder. This “digital lynching” was followed by a government order freezing her bank accounts and assets after she was accused of misusing funds she had raised for COVID-19 victims. Ayyub remained defiant, despite the online harassment campaign:
“The smear campaign against me will not deter me from my professional commitment to continue to do my work as a journalist, and especially to raise critical issues and ask inconvenient questions, as is my duty as a journalist in a constitutional democracy.”
United Nations human rights experts have expressed support for Ayyub. Fellow journalists and media groups have released statements urging authorities to stop the persecution of a journalist who is simply doing her work.
The violence directed against Ayyub reflects the rising threats faced by Muslim women journalists in India. Recently, more than 20 journalists were “auctioned-off” in a malicious app that featured photos and other information culled from their social media profiles. The app is no longer available, and the police said they have already apprehended the app developers – but this latest cybercrime is just one of the many forms of violence that women journalists have to endure and survive under an increasingly intolerant regime.Rozina Islam is an investigative journalist with Prothom Alo who has written about corruption and problems with the pandemic response of Bangladesh. The award-winning journalist was arrested and detained for seven days after her meeting with the Minister of Health in May 2021. The police filed a case against her after they allegedly found classified documents and photographs on her phone. Her passport, mobile phone and media accreditation card were confiscated, and she was barred from entering government ministries to conduct her work as a journalist. She was charged with violating the Official Secrets Act.Groups, including several IFEX members, have signed a joint statement saying that there has been no real substantial review of Rozina’s court case, and asking the government to respect the journalist’s fair trial rights. They also warned against the decline of press freedom in Bangladesh.“Rozina’s case is illustrative of a broader and increasingly violent crackdown on press freedom in Bangladesh. At least 80 journalists were reportedly attacked, injured, or killed while doing their jobs in 2021. Those who expose government corruption or express dissent are particularly at risk.”
Sincha Dimara has been with EMTV, Papua New Guinea’s public broadcaster, for 33 years. She was suspended as head of EMTV news because of alleged political interference. Pacific media groups and journalists rallied to support Dimara, who was suspended for 21 days without pay for insubordination. According to reports, her suspension was related to an editorial dispute over a news report that criticized a police procedure – and annoyed a government minister. EMTV staff members who walked out in support of Dimara were initially suspended, and then fired .
Kora Nou, president of IFEX member the Pacific Islands News Association, shared his concern about the situation at EMTV News and encouraged other media groups in the region to protect their editorial independence.
“In light of the current situation at EMTV in Papua New Guinea, I encourage all news organisations to always uphold and protect your editorial independence at all cost; this is what defines you as an independent and impartial media outlet.”
SRI LANKA: SOLIDARITY WITH AMBIKA SATKUNANATHAN
Ambika Satkunanathan is a prominent lawyer and former Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka. On 27 January, she spoke at the European Parliament’s Sub-Committee on Human Rights to raise the issue of deteriorating civic space in the country under the government of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. The Sri Lanka government described her speech as misleading and false.
Eight civil society groups responded, expressing deep concern over the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry’s statement, which refuted Satkunanathan’s testimony. They say that the statement “clearly constitutes an act of harassment and intimidation,” adding that she accurately described a situation that had already been reported by the United Nations, as well as by many domestic and international human rights organizations.
Satkunanathan is worried that the government statement could be “aimed at silencing critique of government policies and actions.” She also mentioned the spread of disinformation against her after the Ministry released its statement. But she asserts her right to speak out against the abuses committed by those in power.
“As a Sri Lankan citizen, it is my right and civic duty to question the actions of elected representatives of this country when such actions lead to the suffering and marginalisation of vulnerable communities, and demand accountability.”
PENG SHUAI APPEARS AT THE WINTER OLYMPICS FOR A ‘CONTROLLED INTERVIEW’
Chinese tennis champion Peng Shuai shocked supporters and the public last year when she accused a former high-ranking Chinese Communist Party official of sexual harassment. She soon disappeared and her online accounts were removed, alarming fans and sporting bodies across the world.
Peng made the revelation in November, but she later retracted her statement. Chinese censors were quick to filter keywords related to the issue. She has made a few public appearances in recent months, but doubts remained whether she is actually free to talk and move around.
The French reporter who interviewed Peng was also not completely convinced about her safety. He later described the interview as “propaganda” since advanced questions were submitted as a requirement, and a Chinese Olympic official was present to serve as interpreter – even though Peng can speak in English.
Human rights groups and the women’s professional tennis tour (WTA) continue to demand an independent probe into the allegations made by Peng.
NIGHAT DAD: ‘WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO?
Nighat Dad is a Pakistani lawyer and the founder and director of IFEX member Digital Rights Foundation (DRF). Her work on digital rights – particularly the digital rights of women, minorities and dissidents – is internationally recognized. In a Twitter thread, she reflects on how DRF’s work has made a difference in the lives of women through their Cyber-harassment Helpline. She describes how their team worked hard to address a particular case of sexual violence which she described as “extremely traumatizing” for the victim, but one in which ultimately the perpetrator was arrested, and prosecuted.
Cambodia: Targeting women strikersOn 18 December 2021, over 1,300 employees laid off by Naga World casino in Cambodia organized a strike demanding compensation and their reinstatement. Since then, the strikers have encountered various forms of violence and intimidation at the hands of authorities.Civil society groups have noted that the women strikers “have been repeatedly and disproportionately targeted by government efforts to disperse the peaceful strike.” Some workers have accused police officers of sexual harassment. Authorities have also arbitrarily invoked COVID-19 protocols to force the suspension of the strike. “State-sanctioned violence against women, arbitrary enforcement of COVID-19 mitigation measures, and the use of the judiciary to stifle public participation are unjustified and unlawful under both international and domestic law.”Despite these difficulties, the strikers have not backed down, and continue to assert their rights.
Hijab ban protests in south IndiaIn February, women students protested the ban on the wearing of hijab or headscarf in some state-run colleges in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.The ban had been backed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which claimed that it was necessary to maintain public safety. But human rights groups say the ban is the “latest example of Indian authorities increasingly seeking to marginalize Muslims, exposing them to heightened violence.”Protesting students said they were prevented from entering their classrooms, and heckled by Hindu nationalist activists. The personal information of female students who led the protests was also leaked online.Students have already filed a court petition questioning the constitutionality of the hijab ban.Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly has advice for the local government: “Instead of engaging in communal politics, Indian authorities should focus on protecting the rights of all women and girls, including to freedom of religion and expression, and to education.”
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BASED ON IFEX MEMBER REPORTS
- ARTICLE 19
- Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
- Cambodian Centre for Independent Media (CCIM)
- Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
- Digital Rights Foundation
- Freedom House
- Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
- Global Voices Advox
- Human Rights Watch
- Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
- Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF)
- Pacific Islands News Association (PINA)
- Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
- Rozina Islam
- Source : IFEX