by Alana Meier and Amita Dhiman
This week’s stories in focus:
The Continued Plight of Rohingya Refugees
On July 27 Malaysian authorities found twenty-six Rohingya refugees, including women and children, hiding on the northern islet off of Langkawi, Malaysia. The people were feared drowned and believed to have been transported by local fishermen from a larger vessel out at sea in order to sneak in undetected. The Rohingya have been detained for further investigation and will be handed over to the immigration department.
This year thousands of Rohingya have risked the dangers of similar boat trips in order to avoid persecution in Myanmar – formerly called Burma – and the widespread poverty within refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh.
For decades the Rohingya people of Myanmar have experienced gross violations of their human rights, being subjected to systematic discrimination, statelessness, and targeted violence. This has led mass numbers of Rohingya to flee. The largest and fastest exodus of refugees took place following the violent military crackdown against Rohingya Muslims that began in August of 2017 which the United Nations has declared as a ‘textbook example of ethnic cleansing’,
Hundred of thousands fled to places like Cox Bazar, the world’s largest refugee camp, where nearly one million Rohingya refugees are now stuck living in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, conditions which have only worsened amidst monsoon season and with the spread of COVID-19.
International obligations ignored by Southeast Asian governments
Muslim-dominated Malaysia has become a common destination for boats arranged by traffickers promising refugees a better life abroad. For instance, 269 Rohingya were detained on arrival in Langkawi last month having transferred from a larger ‘mother-boat’ on which dozens of others were believed to have died and thrown into the sea. The suspected smuggling boat had been intentionally damaged so it couldn’t be turned back to sea.
Hundreds of Rohingya refugees have been stranded at sea for weeks and months, many dying in the process, during attempts to reach Southeast Asia. Against international law and regional commitments, governments have blocked them from safely landing and seeking asylum and failed to launch search and rescue operations. Malaysia does not recognise refugee status, and Prime Minister Muhiddin Yassin recently stated the country could not take in any more Rohingya due to their struggling economy brought about by the coronavirus.
Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch states, “The reality is if they want to deal with both movements, they have to work with the source country. They have to deal with Burma to agree to allow these people back and with safety and dignity in the form of repatriation that the international community can approve of.” Amnesty International has urged Malaysia to stop the ‘cruel and inhumane’ practice of sentencing refugees to jail terms and caning under alleged immigration offences. While Malaysia has been content blaming and criminalising the Rohingya, what is truly needed is pressure on Myanmar to change its policies.
Turkish Internet Law- A threat to Freedom of Expression
The Turkish ruling government has passed new legislation that would tighten its grip on social media and censor freedom of expression online. The law which is an amendment to existing regulations of publications on the internet, known as the Internet Law, was adopted without any changes by Parliament’s Justice Commission on 23 July and passed through Parliament on 29 July.
The new law will compel social media companies with over one million users a day to have representatives based in Turkey who are Turkish nationals, and non-compliance would be fined up to 40 million Turkish Lira ( approx. 5 million Euros). Other amendments force social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to comply with demands by the government to block or remove content within 48 hours and provide reasons for any refusal to comply with requests within that same period. One of the other provisions requires social media platforms to restore the data of customers, so as to aid Turkish government to track down dissenters, which could lead to their prosecution for what they have said or shared online.
States, under various International Human Rights standards are under an obligation to provide for the Right to freedom of expression to all people alike and hence, such acts of proactively monitoring online content or imposing intermediary liability regimes contravenes the spirit on which this right is founded upon i.e. free expression.
The current proposal is a revised version of the April draft, adding provisions to order the full removal of content and increasing the level of fines that social media companies could face for non-compliance. In January 2019, after a Constitutional Court ruling, Wikipedia was unblocked by the government after 3 years.
“The government claims this law is needed to protect personal rights, national security and public order.’’ However, these amendments are a threat to the fabric of free speech and expression and would significantly increase the power of the government to censor online content thereby violating International Human Rights Law. Amnesty International suggests that tolerance, education and dialogue should be promoted to counter stereotypes, eradicate discrimination and foster greater equality.
Other stories making the headlines around the world
Australasia and Oceania