Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

From killing until the closing down of media: 203 cases of violations in southeast asia in 2023

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Southeast Asia, January 30, 2024 – The PFMSea Coalition documented 203 cases of attacks on journalists and media in the region throughout 2023, impacting at least 329 media workers and media companies. This documentation is displayed via the monitoring platform pfmsea.org, which has monitored the press freedom situation in several countries: Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, The Philippines, and Timor Leste, not to mention a few prominent cases in Vietnam and Myanmar. This database is limited to officially submitted reports and the coalition estimates that there may be more cases occurring in the field.

Shockingly, almost half or 46% of documented attacks are perpetrated by State Actors, including Police Officers, Military Officers, Government officials, and Public Institutions. Non-state actors were responsible for 33% of the entities involved, while actors with unidentified identities represented 20% of the total. The data further reveals a concerning trend, approximately 3.6% of these incidents were attributed to gender and identity-based violence, while around 2.6% were linked to gender background or words containing sexual nuances.

Media workers get the brunt of these attacks, facing physical assaults in 61% of recorded incidents. On the other hand, digital attacks represented almost 20% and legal attacks about 19.2% of the total. Physical attacks included Physical Intimidation, Physical Assaults, and Verbal Intimidation. Digital attacks encompassed Online Intimidation and Hacking, and legal attacks primarily involved Criminal Lawsuits related to Defamation.

When looking at the breakdown by country, Indonesia had the highest number of incidents, which represented nearly half of the total. This amounted to 86 incidents or 44.1%. Thailand followed with 37 incidents (19%), the Philippines with 33 incidents (17%), and Cambodia with 32 incidents (15.8%). There have been a total of 9 incidents in Malaysia and 4 incidents in Timor Leste. Furthermore, there have been records of legal violence that specifically target press freedom and have a significant impact on journalists in Myanmar and Vietnam.

“The media landscape continues to experience upheaval both regionally and internationally. Media face ongoing crackdown on critical voices and independent media, imposition of internet shutdowns, disinformation and hate campaigns, media capture as well as facing challenges on its economic viability and sustainability. Our collaboration in Southeast Asia is centered on collective monitoring, establishing the alert system and capacity building of our media cohorts in the region. The solidarity and network building is critical to meet the evolving challenges and threats to media in Southeast Asia.” Said Wathshlah, the representative of PFMSea coalition from CIJ, Malaysia.

HIGHLIGHT OF EACH COUNTRY REPRESENTATIVES. 

Cambodia: The arbitrary closure of Voice of Democracy (VOD) by the Prime Minister in February 2023, the environment of independent media in Cambodia is getting more concerned. Immediately after the incident, the outlet became the target of offensive social media memes, while its reporters encountered personal attacks both online and in media associated with the government. The female VOD Khmer reporter who wrote the piece that offended Hun Manet and Hun Sen also started experiencing misogynistic abuse and sexual harassment on social media.

Indonesia: Journalists in Indonesia continue to face serious dangers. There are a significant number of physical and digital attacks, along with legal actions using the problematic law. In a recent update, concerning the passing of the Personal Data Protection (PDP) Law which regulates that anyone who unlawfully discloses personal data that does not belong to them may be subject to criminal sanction. The law does not mention the exception for journalistic work that can be misused to target journalists reporting corruption or human rights violations. Meanwhile, the second amendment to the Electronic Information and Transaction (ITE) Law doesn’t provide significant changes to the articles that have been a threat to press freedom.  

In January, 2023 a Papuan journalist Victor Mambor was terrorized by a fabricated bomb that exploded near his house. The bomb exploded on the side of the road, only three meters from Victor’s house. Victor heard a motorcycle stop near his house, followed by an explosion. CCTV footage showed a motorbike passing by Victor’s house before the explosion. The latest update said that the Investigation is terminated by police investigators to stop criminal proceedings due to insufficient evidence.  

Malaysia: In 2022, Malaysia saw a political shake-up as Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional united to form the ‘Madani Government’ under PM Anwar Ibrahim. Promises of reform were made, but a year later, the results were underwhelming. Freedom of expression faces massive hurdles. A plethora of legislation still exists to restrict freedom of expression, and the lack of an independent media council is a red flag for the media landscape. 

News website blockades are on the rise, and political bloggers are feeling the space shrinking. June 2023 witnessed MalaysiaNow being blocked by some ISPs on orders by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission.

Thailand: Physical assaults as journalists and media workers have emerged as significant concerns, while incidents of legal prosecution cannot be ignored, including some cases that may qualify as SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). 

In March 2023, two reporters for Wartani, an online news agency that extensively reports on separatist violence and human rights situation in Thailand’s southern border region, were charged with obstructing law enforcement officers for livestreaming a confrontation between local residents and security officials in Yala province. Rights advocates fear that the charges, which carry a maximum penalty of 4 years in jail, were aimed at silencing the press in the restive Deep South.

The Philippines: Surveillance and harassment were the most commonly reported incidents in The Philippines throughout 2023.

In July 2023, six journalists from San Juanico TV were tailed to their houses by unknown people after a shooting incident in Pastrana, Leyte. The journalists were reporting on a land dispute in Pastrana, Leyte when a police officer approached them and instructed them to leave the area. The individuals forcefully grabbed and shoved the journalists who were capturing footage of the incident. Simultaneously, unexpected reinforcements reportedly fired shotguns. 

Timor Leste: State institutions in Timor-Leste have used power to threaten and restrict press and expression freedom, demonstrating a lack of understanding of Press Law and media role in a democratic country.

In May 2023, a journalist was detained for 72 hours after covering political campaigns for the 2023 legislative election. He was detained after a clash with two gangsters in his neighborhood, leading to one death. The incident was fueled by social media intimidation, affecting other journalists and press freedom. 

The report concludes with an acknowledgment of potentially unreported incidents and a strong call for media workers to report any attacks or incidents. Please find our representatives from Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, The Philippines, and Timor-Leste that can be reached at https://pfmsea.org/about 

 Members of The PFMSea Coalition:

  1. The Alliance of Independent Journalists, Indonesia (AJI). 
  2. The Association Journalist Timor Leste (ATJL). 
  3. Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association (CamboJA). 
  4. Center for Independent Journalism, Malaysia (CIJ). 
  5. Movement for Independent Media, Malaysia (GeramM).
  6. National Union of Journalists Philippines (NUJP). 
  7. Prachatai, Independent Media in Thailand .

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