JOSEF BENEDICT | Civicus Monitor | Edited
JOHANNESBURG – ‘People Power Under Attack’, a report released today by Civicus Monitor and which tracks respect for fundamental freedoms in 196 countries, depicts the dismal state of civic freedoms in the Asia-Pacific region.
The report categorises civic space as either closed, repressed, obstructed, narrowed or open depending on a country’s approach to freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.
In the Pacific, Papua New Guinea and Nauru have been downgraded to join Fiji in the ‘obstructed’ category.
A staggering 94% percent of people in the Asia Pacific region live in countries with closed, repressed or obstructed civic space.
Activists are facing increasing levels of persecution and the media is under assault.
As governments seek ways to remain in power, citizens who take to the streets to seek changes are frequently met with violence and many are prosecuted.
Nauru is being downgraded due the increasing restrictions on press freedom in the country. This is hampering independent scrutiny of Nauru’s policies and practices, especially of the Australian-run refugee detention centres on the island, where there have been widespread reports of abuse.
As for PNG, media freedom continues to deteriorate with journalists subject to harassment and attacks because of their reporting. Land rights, environmental and anti-corruption activists have also faced threats and arrests.
Our research reveals that censorship is the most common civic space violation in the Asia Pacific region, occurring in at least 20 countries. Censorship in China has increased under Xi Jinping with the government selectively blocking critical outlets and social media sites.
The Chinese leadership has devoted more and more resources to controlling content online to silence important voices advocating reform. Other tactics being used by governments to control the public narrative include taking news channels off the air, intercepting the circulation of newspapers, blocking websites or intimidating and prosecuting journalists.
Despite the bleak picture, some positive civic space developments have also been documented in the region. In July a new Whistleblowers' Protection Act was passed in Solomon Islands. It is designed to protect activists who expose corruption from reprisals.
Over twenty organisations collaborate to compile the Civicus Monitor which provides an evidence base for action to improve civic space on all continents.
The Monitor has published more than 1,400 civic space updates in the last two years, data which is analysed in ‘People Power Under Attack’,