Parliamentarians in Southeast Asia continue to face risk of reprisal simply for exercising their mandate or expressing their political opinions, according to the latest annual Parliamentarians At Risk report from ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), launched this week in Jakarta.
“The increasing risks, both physical and otherwise, faced by parliamentarians in the region are totally unacceptable and a matter of the utmost concern,” said Mercy Barends, member of the Indonesian House of Representatives and APHR chairperson.
The group called on the ASEAN and ASEAN member states “to implement sufficient protections for [parliamentarians] and put pressure on those governments that are arbitrarily and unjustly persecuting their lawmakers.”
The new report said the year 2022 saw a “worsening trend for parliamentarians at risk in the region, particularly in Myanmar, where MPs face increasing dangers” in the aftermath of the Feb. 1, 2021, coup d’état.
The number of parliamentarians detained across Southeast Asia remains high at 85, with 84 in Myanmar and former senator Leila de Lima in the Philippines.
“Even Myanmar MPs who have managed to take refuge in neighboring countries such as Thailand remain in a very precarious situation,” said Charles Santiago, former member of the Malaysian Parliament and APHR co-chairperson.
The report said that outside of Myanmar — Cambodia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand — cases of physical attacks remain rare, but governments often resort to politically motivated charges against opposition parliamentarians.
Reprisals and threats are not only of a judicial nature, said the report. Parliamentarians also face online harassment, and being the victims of both disinformation campaigns as well as hate speech.
In Cambodia, the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen has conducted a series of mass trials and convicted more than 100 members and supporters of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, including a number of former lawmakers in absentia.
Political persecution and intimidation by the government against members and supporters of the opposition parties, human rights defenders, land rights and environment protection activists, and journalists are expected to continue escalating in the lead up to the next general election, expected to be held in July 2023.
In Malaysia and the Philippines, online disinformation and hate speech against MPs continue to be widespread, said the report.
It said that opposition parliamentarians in both the Philippines and Thailand also often face judicial harassment through the use of overly broad legislation, while the continued existence of draconian laws such as the Sedition Act and the Communication and Multimedia Act in Malaysia remain a threat that hangs over the heads of potential government critics.