Legislators across Southeast Asia have come under increasing threats and harassment in the past year, said a new report by the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).
The group blamed the military coup in Myanmar and the political developments in the region for the growing number of attacks.
From one legislator detained in 2020, there were 91 in 2021, said APHR in its new report titled “Parliamentarians at Risk: Reprisals against opposition MPs in Southeast Asia in 2021.”
The group noted that aside from the situation in Myanmar, “there have also been alarming developments elsewhere in the region, including Thailand, the Philippines, and Malaysia.
Former opposition lawmakers have also been targeted in Cambodia, said APHR in a statement.
“This year has been yet another dark year for human rights in Southeast Asia,” said Filipino member of Congress Teddy Baguilat Jr., a member of the board of APHR.
“As our region slides deeper into the grasp of authoritarianism, elected lawmakers have been among those heavily targeted, particularly those standing up for basic decency, human rights, and democracy,” he said.
Baguilat noted that “developments in Myanmar have been particularly troubling, where the political opposition has come under assault by the junta.”
He added, however, that “there are also concerns elsewhere,” with governments in the region reportedly using the coronavirus pandemic “to undermine opposition MPs, and erode the important oversight role they play in a democracy.”
Baguilat said that aside from arrests and detentions, legislators have been the target of orchestrated campaigns of judicial harassment and disinformation “aimed at both discrediting and silencing them.”
While the situation in Myanmar has dominated headlines, lawmakers were also at risk elsewhere in Southeast Asia, notably Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand, APHR said.
In Malaysia, in January the government of then-prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin allegedly used the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to impose a state of emergency, while parliament was suspended for more than seven months.
Opposition politicians were among those targeted in a growing crackdown on dissent, with at least ten lawmakers interrogated or charged for expressing criticism related to human rights abuses or the suspension of parliament.
In the Philippines, disinformation campaigns, threats and so-called “red-tagging” of opposition lawmakers rose alarmingly ahead of the general elections taking place in 2022.
President Rodrigo Duterte and other senior officials accused left-wing legislators of supporting an armed communist insurgency.
In Thailand, the government and its allies continued to level criminal cases against the Move Forward Party lawmakers, while opposition MPs were also the target of widespread abuse online, often through highly coordinated “information operations” allegedly orchestrated by state-affiliated actors.
“An attack on an MP is an attack on democracy. The systematic harassment of MPs – whether online, offline, judicial or otherwise – is clearly aimed at preventing them from doing their jobs, and acting as a check and balance on behalf of the people,” said Baguilat.
He called on governments across Southeast Asia “to do everything in their power to protect the human rights of all MPs, and urge our fellow parliamentarians to call out the abuses they see at every turn.”