Asian countries are swiftly mimicking China’s authoritarian policies, according to a report prepared by rights groups Forum-Asia and Civicus. The People Power Under Attack 2019 report found increasing instances of censorship, and the restriction of political and democratic rights.
“In this region, out of 25 countries, four are rated as closed, eight repressed and ten obstructed. Civic space in South Korea and Japan is rated as narrowed, while Taiwan is the only country rated open… China continues to be the main offender as it expands its censorship regime, blocking critical outlets and social media sites,” the report states (Radio Free Asia).
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Censorship was found to be the most common civic space violation in Asia, since almost 20 countries had such restrictions in some form. The report highlighted China’s attempt to block local coverage of the Hong Kong protests and its deployment of “an army of trolls to disrupt social media narratives and control public discourse.” Laws that stifle democratic and political rights were the second most common form of civic space violation, observed in 18 nations.
According to Josef Benedict, a researcher at Civicus, a growing number of journalists are being persecuted by governments for bringing authoritarian state abuses to light. Defamation laws are often used to silence activists and journalists from speaking about things that would be troublesome for those in power. Other research and activist groups have also been reaching the same conclusion of late as to the overall political trend in Asia. A recent analysis by Freedom House, a human rights organization, found that Internet freedoms in Asia hit an unprecedented low in 2019.
“Over the past year, the internet became less free in 10 countries in the region… Unsurprisingly, China secured the title of the world’s worst abuser of internet freedom for the fourth consecutive year. Constraints in the country went from bad to worse… 14 out of 15 countries assessed in Asia arrested or imprisoned people for their nonviolent expression online — the highest number ever recorded… Only users in Japan were spared from such punishment,” according to Freedom House.
Jailing journalists in authoritarian countries
An annual survey conducted by the Committee to Protect Journalists has ranked China as the worst authoritarian nation for journalists. In total, about 250 journalists were jailed around the world, with China alone accounting for 48 of them. Turkey came at a close second with 47 jailed journalists. The country recorded 68 jailings last year.
“For the fourth consecutive year, at least 250 journalists were imprisoned around the world… [the group] said President Xi Jinping of China, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, and President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt had shown ‘no sign of letting up on the critical media,’” according to The New York Times.
The survey warns not to see Turkey’s lower numbers as an improvement. Rather, it is an indication that the Turkish government has succeeded in silencing journalists from freely criticizing the authoritarian state. The Turkish administration was found to have shut down over 100 news outlets, lodging terror charges against several of the employees. In Saudi Arabia, 18 journalists were behind bars without any charges being brought against them. The report raises concerns that some of these detained journalists were being beaten, starved, and even burned.