No protection, more repression: freedom of expression in Southeast Asia

Years since the killing of prominent human rights defenders and political commentators; the judiciaries of Indonesia, Cambodia, and the Philippines still have failed to take any concrete actions to deliver justice to the case that is acceptable to the public. These prominent individuals put their lives on the line for social justice, yet no justice has been found for their expression.

On 7 September 2004, Munir Said Thalib, a well-known human rights activist, was poisoned with arsenic and found dead on a flight from Jakarta to Amsterdam operated by state-owned airline Garuda Indonesia. Kem Ley, one of Cambodia’s best-known political commentators, was drinking his morning coffee at a petrol station café in Phnom Penh when a man walked in and opened fire, killing him instantly in July 2016. Zara Alvarez, former education director of the human rights alliance Karapatan, died on the spot after being shot six times on Monday evening, August 17 of 2020, as she was heading home after buying food for dinner.

Before his assassination, Munir had been repeatedly targeted because of his courageous criticisms of human rights abuses and exposure of corruption. One day before he was killed, Kem Ley had spoken publicly about the NGO Global Witness report, Hostile Takeover, which exposed the close ties between Cambodian’s ruling family and private sector. Zara Alvarez was the 13th member of her organisation—working on human rights protection—killed since mid-2016 when Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte came to power.

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