Amnesty International says governments across Asia are attempting to “uproot” fundamental freedoms, sparking a wave of youth-led protests against “escalating repression.” In its annual report on the Asia-Pacific region, released on January 30, the London-based human rights watchdog noted that governments in China, India, Pakistan, and other countries across South and Southeast Asia are increasingly active in silencing dissent and the media, reducing the space for peaceful protests, and introducing legislation that punish online critics.
“2019 was a year of repression in Asia, but also of resistance,” Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s regional director for East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said in a statement.
“Online and offline, youth-led popular protests are challenging the established order,” Bequelin added, citing Hong Kong’s mass protest movement against growing Chinese encroachment and protests in India against “anti-Muslim policies.”
The report said Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s efforts to crack down on dissent and impose the absolute control of the ruling Communist Party translated into increased persecution of human rights activists and others. In the northwestern region of Xinjiang, Chinese authorities subjected Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other mostly Muslim ethnic groups to intense surveillance, arbitrary detentions, and forced indoctrination.
In Pakistan, Amnesty International said that “enforced disappearances continued relentlessly, as did cases of torture, violence against women, media censorship and the harassment of ethnic and religious minorities.” Human rights defenders, journalists, and members of the Shi’ite Muslim community were among the hundreds of people who were “disappeared” by security forces, often detained without charges or trial, it said.
Laws against sedition and defamation were used to curtail media freedoms and political activism, while anti-blasphemy laws continued to be used to “harass individuals and enable human rights violations.”
“It has become increasingly difficult to fight for human rights in Pakistan at a time when the authorities continue to forcibly disappear people, censor journalists, crack down on peaceful demonstrations and enforce repression through draconian laws,” said Omar Waraich, South Asia deputy director at Amnesty International.
Last year also saw Pakistanis taking to the streets in large and peaceful rallies in support of women’s rights and students’ rights and against enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, according to Waraich.
In Afghanistan, civilians continued to pay the price of the ongoing conflict as justice proved elusive for the victims, Amnesty International said. The watchdog cited the International Criminal Court’s refusal to authorize an investigation into crimes under international law in Afghanistan and the country’s authorities’ failure to investigate human rights violations.
“In 2020, the world must shake off its indifference to this long-running conflict, and provide the people of Afghanistan with the protection they need and the justice they are owed,” Waraich said.
In the first nine months of 2019, 2,563 people were killed and 5,676 were injured, mainly in attacks carried out by armed groups such as the Taliban and the so-called Islamic State of Khorasan.