Covid-19 has eroded democracy and respect for human rights in large parts of Asia with strongmen governments using the pandemic to justify a crackdown that was already well underway.

In the Asia Rights Repressed Journalism Series, six media outlets from Nepal, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Cambodia and the Philippines document how Covid is being used to repress political, social and economic rights, affecting in particular, the most vulnerable.

Under pressure from new surveillance laws, laws against assembly and lockdown restrictions, Asia’s independent media and citizens must navigate a tightening operational space while dealing with the economic fallout of the crisis and the risk of being punished for speaking out about the pandemic. The stories have been published in their country of origin.

Listen Up: Podcasts about Filipinos being silenced

Listen Up: Podcasts about Filipinos being silenced

Podcasts by PumaPodcasts from the Philippines

Indonesia: New bills pushed through during pandemic a setback for women’s and workers’ rights

Indonesia: New bills pushed through during pandemic a setback for women’s and workers’ rights

Article by Indonesian online publication Magdalene

Trolls in Pakistan: A woman journalist is harassed online

Trolls in Pakistan: A woman journalist is harassed online

Video from Pakistani media Lok Sujag

Myanmar’s lockdown keeps independent media out of the story

Myanmar’s lockdown keeps independent media out of the story

Blog post by Sonny Swe; CEO at independent media Frontier Myanmar

“Covid is just being used as excuse to clamp down on oppositionists

“Covid is just being used as excuse to clamp down on oppositionists"

Article from Cambodian online news media VOD

Nowhere to go: Broken promises by authorities during Covid traps Nepali migrants between a rock and a hard place

Nowhere to go: Broken promises by authorities during Covid traps Nepali migrants between a rock and a hard place

Video by Nepalese online media Herne Katha

A PANDEMIC OF REPRESSION

Since the start of the pandemic, journalists across the continent have increasingly come under attack for doing their job covering Covid-19 and rights violations during the pandemic and experiencing harassment.

In Cambodia, the Government upholds a strict lockdown and is arresting people for spreading “fake news” related to the Covid-19 pandemic. During 2020, 51 people have been warned or arrested by authorities for spreading fake news.

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people arrested

The Philippines’ emergency law has served as a tool for President Rodrigo Duterte to consolidate his power and intimidate critics. A last-minute addition to the law punishes the spread of “false information” with a fine of 1 million pesos ($19,600) and up to two months in prison.

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the fine for "false information"

With online trolling exploding in Pakistan since the start of the lockdown, journalists – especially women – are experiencing more cases of abuse and harassment. On August 12, 20 Pakistani women journalists issued a statement denouncing a cyber-harassment campaign against them by government supporters.
Today (October 27, 2020) 165 women journalists have signed the petition.

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women signatures

EXPLORE THE STORIES

Independent journalists from across the continent report on repression and human rights violations through podcasts, video stories, blog posts and articles.

Covering the pandemic and rights in Asia

If there is one ray of hope in the tragedy of this pandemic, it could be that Covid-19 is re-awakening people to the vital role that independent media plays in their societies. With disinformation spreading in almost all countries and false stories being shared on social media, more than ever people need reliable, media outlets to report the facts and document life under the pandemic.

To many powerholders, and especially those with authoritarian leanings, independent media has an annoying tendency to point out their failures and shortcomings through critical journalism. The novel coronavirus has given independent media lots of opportunities to do just that recently. As a response to this situation, and in an effort the control the flow of information, there has been an alarming clampdown on free media across the globe from political leaders trying to stifle the free press. And as this Asia Covid-19: Rights Repressed Journalism Series documents, several governments in Asia have used the lockdown during Covid to surpass usual parliamentary procedures to pass new emergency laws that have a long-term impact on especially vulnerable citizen groups.

Among the few opportunities that this crisis has offered is the possibility for stronger collaboration between like-minded independent media organisations. The Asia Covid-19 Rights Repressed Journalism Series is an example of this. Together with independent media partners in the IMS Asia Start-ups Network, this series brings to light violations of rights during the pandemic, some of which have slipped through underneath the radar while everyone’s eyes remain on the spread of the pandemic.

It is hard to know how long it will be before normality returns, or what normality will look like. But as a media development organisation working with innovative and independent media partners, we will bring all our firepower to bear and do our part to support and work with independent media partners fighting for good public interest journalism in these difficult times.

Covid-19

A TURNING POINT FOR INDEPENDENT MEDIA?

Across the world, Covid-19 is re-awakening people to the vital role that independent media plays in their societies. 

From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, many independent media outlets are seeing their audiences grow as people realise they need quality information to navigate the crisis.