[Amnesty] Myanmar: Military onslaught in eastern states amounts to collective punishment

13 June 2022

May 31, 2022 – https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/05/myanmar-military-onslaught-in-eastern-states-amounts-to-collective-punishment/

  • Post-coup military assault in Kayin and Kayah States includes war crimes and likely crimes against humanity
  • More than 150,000 displaced, with entire villages emptied and burned
  • Amnesty International interviewed almost 100 people and visited border area

Myanmar’s military has been systematically committing widespread atrocities in recent months, including unlawfully killing, arbitrarily detaining and forcibly displacing civilians in two eastern states, Amnesty International said today in a new report.

The report, “Bullets rained from the sky”: War crimes and displacement in eastern Myanmar, found that Myanmar’s military has subjected Karen and Karenni civilians to collective punishment via widespread aerial and ground attacks, arbitrary detentions that often result in torture or extrajudicial executions, and the systematic looting and burning of villages.

The violence in Kayin and Kayah States reignited in the wake of last year’s military coup and escalated from December 2021 to March 2022, killing hundreds of civilians and displacing more than 150,000 people.

“The world’s attention may have moved away from Myanmar since last year’s coup, but civilians continue to pay a high price. The military’s ongoing assault on civilians in eastern Myanmar has been widespread and systematic, likely amounting to crimes against humanity,” said Rawya Rageh, Senior Crisis Adviser at Amnesty International.

“Alarm bells should be ringing: the ongoing killing, looting and burning bear all the hallmarks of the military’s signature tactic of collective punishment, which it has repeatedly used against ethnic minorities across the country.”

Post-coup surge in violence

For decades, ethnic armed organizations in Myanmar, including in Kayin and Kayah States, have been engaged in struggles for greater rights and autonomy. Fragile ceasefires in place in both states since 2012 broke down after the February 2021 coup, and new armed groups have emerged. In its operations, the military has relentlessly attacked civilians.

Some attacks appear to have directly targeted civilians as a form of collective punishment against those perceived to support an armed group or the wider post-coup uprising. In other cases, the military has fired indiscriminately into civilian areas where there are also military targets. Direct attacks on civilians, collective punishment, and indiscriminate attacks that kill or injure civilians violate international humanitarian law and constitute war crimes.

Attacks on a civilian population must be widespread or systematic to amount to crimes against humanity; in Kayin and Kayah States, they are both, for crimes including murder, torture, forcible transfer, and persecution on ethnic grounds.

Unlawful strikes

In its ongoing operations, Myanmar’s military has repeatedly fired explosive weapons with wide-area effects into populated civilian areas. Dozens of witnesses told Amnesty International about barrages that lasted days at a time. The organization documented 24 attacks by artillery or mortars between December 2021 and March 2022 that killed or injured civilians or that caused destruction to civilian homes, schools, health facilities, churches, and monasteries.

For example, on 5 March 2022, as families were at dinner, the military shelled Ka Law Day village, Hpapun Township, Kayin State, killing seven people, including a woman who was eight months pregnant. A close family member of four of the people who were killed said he had to sit in his house all night looking at the bodies, for fear of being injured by further shelling, before burying them in the morning.

Many people described the military’s use of fighter jets and attack helicopters as particularly terrifying. Witnesses described not being able to sleep at night out of fear of air strikes, or fleeing to seek shelter in bunkers and caves.

Amnesty International documented eight air strikes on villages and an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in eastern Myanmar in the first three months of 2022. The attacks, which killed nine civilians and injured at least nine more, destroyed civilian homes and religious buildings. In almost all documented attacks, only civilians appear to have been present.

In one case, at around 6pm on 23 February 2022, a fighter jet fired on Dung Ka Mee village, Demoso Township, Kayah State, killing two civilian men and injuring several others. Amnesty International interviewed two witnesses and a relative of one of the deceased as well as an aid worker who responded after the attack. They said there was no fighting that evening and that the nearest armed group base was a mile or more away.

A local resident, a 46-year-old farmer who witnessed the attack, said the military aircraft made three passes, firing guns and a rocket:

“When that fighter jet was flying toward us in a nose-down position, I was numb… When they fired the rocket, I got myself together and realized I had to run [to a bunker]… We were shocked to see the dust and debris come towards us… There is a two-story building… The family lives upstairs and the downstairs is a mobile phone store. This building collapsed and it was also on fire.”

Another witness, a 40-year-old farmer, saw the remains of a neighbour’s body:

“We couldn’t even put them in a coffin, we put them in a plastic bag and buried them. People had to pick up the body pieces and put them in a bag.” In another incident, the military carried out an air strike on Ree Khee Bu IDP camp at around 1am on 17 January 2022, killing a man in his 50s as well as 15- and 12-year-old sisters.

Extrajudicial executions

The report documents how Myanmar’s military carried out arbitrary detentions of civilians on the basis of their ethnicity or because they were suspected of supporting the anti-coup movement. Often, detainees were tortured, forcibly disappeared or extrajudicially executed.

In one of many cases where soldiers extrajudicially executed civilians who ventured out from displacement sites to collect food or belongings, three farmers from San Pya 6 Mile village in Kayah State went missing in January 2022. Their decomposed bodies were found in a pit latrine around two weeks later.

The brother of one of the victims said he identified the men by their clothes and the state of their teeth. Soldiers fired on him and others as they tried to retrieve the bodies; they could only return to finish the burial a month later. 

In a massacre that prompted rare international condemnation, soldiers near Mo So village in Kayah State’s Hpruso Township reportedly stopped at least 35 women, men and children in multiple vehicles on 24 December 2021, and then proceeded to kill them and burn their bodies. Doctors who examined the bodies reportedly said many of the victims had been tied up and gagged, bearing wounds suggesting they were shot or stabbed.

Amnesty International maintains that the incident must be investigated as a case of extrajudicial executions. Such killings in armed conflict constitute war crimes.

Witnesses also described Myanmar’s military shooting at civilians, including those attempting to flee across a river along the border with Thailand.

Looting and burning

Following a pattern from past military operations, soldiers have systematically looted and burned large sections of villages in Kayin and Kayah States. Witnesses from six villages reported having items including jewellery, cash, vehicles and livestock stolen, before homes and other buildings were burned.

Four men who fled Wari Suplai village, on the border of Shan and Kayah States, said they watched from nearby farmland as houses went up in flames after most villagers fled on 18 February 2022. They told Amnesty International that the burning went on for days, destroying well over two-thirds of the houses there.

“It’s not a house anymore. It’s all ashes — black and charcoal… It’s my life’s savings. It was destroyed within minutes,” said a 38-year-old farmer and father of two young children.

Amnesty International’s analysis of fire data and satellite imagery shows how villages were burned, some of them multiple times, in parts of Kayah State. The burning directly tracks military operations from village to village in February and March 2022.

A defector from the military’s 66th Light Infantry Division, who was involved in operations in Kayah State until October 2021, told Amnesty International that he witnessed soldiers looting and burning homes: “They don’t have any particular reason [for burning a specific house]. They just want to put the fear in the civilians that ‘This is what we’ll do if you support [the resistance fighters].’ And another thing is to stop the supply and logistics for the local resistance forces… [Soldiers] took everything they could [from a village] and then they burned the rest.”

The violence has caused the mass displacement of more than 150,000 people, including between a third and a half of Kayah State’s entire population. In some cases, entire villages have been emptied of their populations; at times, civilians have had to flee repeatedly in recent months.

Displaced people are enduring dire conditions amid food insecurity, scant health care — including for the conflict’s enormous psychosocial impact — and ongoing efforts by the military to obstruct humanitarian aid provision. Aid workers spoke of growing malnutrition and increasing difficulties in reaching displaced people due to the ongoing violence and military restrictions.

“Donors and humanitarian organizations must significantly scale up aid to civilians in eastern Myanmar, and the military must halt all restrictions on aid delivery,” said Matt Wells, Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Deputy Director – Thematic Issues.

“The military’s ongoing crimes against civilians in eastern Myanmar reflect decades-long patterns of abuse and flagrant impunity. The international community — including ASEAN and UN member states — must tackle this festering crisis now. The UN Security Council must impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Myanmar and refer the situation there to the International Criminal Court.”

Methodology

The report is based on research carried out in March and April 2022, including two weeks on the Thailand-Myanmar border. Amnesty International interviewed 99 people, including dozens of witnesses or survivors of attacks and three defectors from Myanmar’s military.

The organization also analysed more than 100 photographs and videos related to human rights violations — showing injuries, destruction and weapon use — in addition to satellite imagery, fire data, and open-source military aircraft flight data.


[CNN] Malaysia to abolish mandatory death penalty in move welcomed by rights campaigners

12 June 2022

By Heather Chen, CNN

Updated 0716 GMT (1516 HKT) June 10, 2022 – https://edition.cnn.com/2022/06/10/asia/malaysia-death-penalty-abolish-human-rights-intl-hnk/index.html

(CNN) Malaysia will abolish the mandatory death penalty, the government said Friday, in a move cautiously welcomed by rights groups as a rare progressive step on the issue for the region.

In a statement, Malaysian law minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said mandatory death sentences for serious crimes would be replaced by “alternative punishments” at the discretion of the courts.

“This shows the government’s emphasis on ensuring that the rights of all parties are protected and guaranteed, reflecting the transparency of the country’s leadership in improving the criminal justice system,” he said.

Relevant laws will be amended, the statement said, adding that further research would be carried out on alternative sentences for a number of crimes that carry the death penalty, including drug offenses.

Like many of its neighbors in Southeast Asia, Malaysia has notoriously tough drug laws, including capital punishment for traffickers.

The country declared a moratorium on executions in 2018 but laws imposing the death penalty remained and courts were required to impose the mandatory death sentence on convicted drug traffickers. Terrorist acts, murder, and rape resulting in death also still warranted a mandatory death penalty.

Friday’s decision comes three years after human rights campaigners had criticized the government for making a U-turn on an earlier pledge to abolish capital punishment entirely.

Cautious welcome

The move Friday was welcomed by rights groups who said it was an “important step forward” for the country and wider region.

“Malaysia’s public pronouncement that it will do away with the mandatory death penalty is an important step forward — especially when one considers how trends on capital punishment are headed in precisely the opposite direction in neighboring countries like Singapore, Myanmar, and Vietnam,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

No executions were carried out in Malaysia throughout 2021, according to a recent Amnesty International report about global executions.

“As of 12 October [2021], 1,359 people were under sentence of death, including 850 with their death sentences being final and appealing for pardon and 925 convicted of drug-related offences,” the report said. Out of the 1,359 sentenced to death, 526 were foreigners, it noted.

However, executions have been on the rise in other parts of Southeast Asia like Myanmar, Vietnam and Singapore, which recently executed an intellectually disabled prisoner from Malaysia despite global condemnation.

This week, Myanmar announced scheduled executions for two men accused of “being involved in terrorist acts” in what would mark the first judicial executions in the country in decades since the military coup.

Although he welcomed Malaysia’s move as a sign of progress, Human Rights Watch’s Robertson said the government needed to follow through on its statement with action.

“We need to see Malaysia pass the actual legislative amendments to put this pledge into effect because we have been down this road before, with successive Malaysian governments promising much on human rights but ultimately delivering very little,” he said.

“The Malaysian government … knows the international community will take this as a sign of the country progressing forward but hopefully, they really mean it this time and move quickly to do away with the mandatory death penalty once and for all.”


[Malay Mail] Malaysia’s abolishment of death penalty not done deal yet until Parliament passes law, Human Rights Watch rep says

12 June 2022

By John Bunyan

Friday, 10 Jun 2022 4:35 PM MYT – https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2022/06/10/malaysias-abolishment-of-death-penalty-not-done-deal-yet-until-parliament-passes-law-human-rights-watch-says/11669

KUALA LUMPUR, June 10 — A Human Rights Watch (HRW) representative Phil Robertson has insisted today that any abolishment of the mandatory death penalty in Malaysia needs to be accompanied by a legislative amendment in the Parliament before the pledge can be put into effect.

The deputy director of the human rights watchdog’s Asia division said Malaysians must instead to take a wait-and-see approach as Putrajaya has historically only delivered little of its promises despite promising so much on human rights.

“Malaysia’s public pronouncement that it will do away with the mandatory death penalty is an important step forward, especially when one considers how trends on capital punishment are headed in precisely the opposite direction in neighbouring countries like Singapore, Myanmar, and Vietnam.

“But before everyone starts cheering, we need to see Malaysia pass the actual legislative amendments to put this pledge into effect because we have been down this road before, with successive Malaysian governments promising much on human rights but ultimately delivering very little,” he said in a statement.

Earlier, Malaysia’s de facto law minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar announced that the government has agreed to abolish the mandatory death penalty and substitute sentences at the discretion of the court.

Wan Junaidi also confirmed that the Cabinet has agreed that further scrutiny and study be carried out on the proposed substitute sentence for 11 offences carrying the mandatory death penalty, one offence under section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 [Act 234] 2 and 22 other offences which carry the death penalty but at the discretion of the court.

This further study will be carried out in collaboration with the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) Legal Affairs Division, the Prime Minister’s Department and other interested ministries and departments.

Robertson described the latest announcement on the death penalty by the Malaysian government as merely to show the international community that the country is progressing forward.

“The Malaysian government loves to float trial balloons about human rights initiatives because it knows the international community has a short attention span and will take this as a sign of Malaysia progressing forward.

“But the reality is often more complicated, so we’ve learned to be wary. Hopefully, Malaysia will do the right thing by immediately implementing this pledge to do away with the mandatory death penalty,” he said.

Malaysia has had a moratorium on all executions since 2018 while awaiting recommendations from the committee.

In August 2019, the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration formed the Special Committee to Review Alternative Punishments to the Mandatory Death Penalty to examine alternatives to the mandatory death sentence.

However, the PH government collapsed in February 2020 before the Bill for the abolition of the death penalty could be tabled in the March meeting of Parliament that year.


[APHR] Southeast Asian MPs call Indonesia to give a voice to the Global South at the G20

11 June 2022

JAKARTA, 9 June 2022 – Parliamentarians from Southeast Asia have called Indonesia, the only G20 member in Southeast Asia and its President this year, to “give voice to the aspirations of the Global South” and bring to the table issues that particularly affect the region, but also the world in general, at the group’s Summit which will be held in November this year in Jakarta.

In a position paper published today, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) has urged Indonesia to advocate at the Summit for stronger and more creative global responses to the devastation caused by conflicts like that of Myanmar, a substantial increase in global financial support for a sustainable energy transition, and to find ways to reduce the impact of the world’s digital transformation on human rights and democracy.

We, Parliamentarians from Southeast Asia, are urging the Indonesian Government to use its preeminent position to promote at the G20 a form of collective and inclusive collaboration among nations to address challenges that, having a specific resonance to our region, affect humanity as a whole,” said APHR in the Position Paper.

APHR suggests that new creative ways are necessary to prevent the human and economic costs of crises such as those devastating Myanmar, Ukraine, Yemen or Syria. As international organizations like the UN, or regional groups like ASEAN, have often failed to prevent atrocities, Indonesia should propose a new Working Group at the G20 to discuss responses from the largest economies in the world to those crises.

On the climate change front, it has become evident that current pledges from states to reduce carbon emissions will not be sufficient to slow climate change, and the necessity to transition to renewable sources of energy is more urgent than ever. APHR urges Indonesia to lead the G20 to agree to accelerate the phasing out from coal and fossil fuels, but it must also substantially increase global financial support for such a transition.

Lastly, and in face of the challenges posed by the spread online of disinformation campaigns, divisiveness and hate-speech, APHR urges the G20 to discuss and identify measures that can be adopted to regulate the digital marketplace along democratic lines, put an end to invasive use of people’s personal data, and hold online platforms accountable for their harmful business models.

Click here to read the position paper.

Click here to read this press release on APHR’s website.

For more information please contact info@aseanmp.org.


[UN News] Myanmar: ‘Meaningful action’ needed to stop the slaughter’ 

6 February 2022

1 February 2022

https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/02/1110992

“Now is not the time for more rhetoric, it is time for meaningful action”, said Tom Andrews, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

“The international community must take strong, meaningful steps to cut the junta’s access to weapons, funds and legitimacy”.

People ‘deserve better’
The UN expert reiterated the urgent need for the Security Council to impose an arms embargo on the Myanmar military and significantly increase financial pressure on the junta.

“The fact that one year has elapsed with no Security Council Resolution imposing a comprehensive arms embargo – as arms continue to flow to the junta and kill innocent people – is unacceptable”, he stated.

“The people of Myanmar deserve better from the United Nations”.

Criminal enterprise’

The Special Rapporteur said that he would soon release a report identifying the weapons in the junta’s arsenal and where they came from.

Mr. Andrews pointed out that the military junta is functioning as “a criminal enterprise”, committing murder, torture, abductions and forced displacement – while stealing revenue and seizing assets of the people of Myanmar.

“What is worse, they appear to be getting away with it. Their attacks continue unabated. The suffering of the Myanmar people is steadily increasing”, he continued.

Recent months have seen an even further escalation of violence, and a campaign of terror now widespread across the country.

“I have received more reports of mass killings, attacks on hospitals and humanitarian targets, and the bombing and burning of villages”, he added.

Unwavering commitment
“I am amazed at the resilience of the Myanmar people. In the face of aerial assaults, and mass arrest and torture, they continue to strike, to protest, to speak out and to defend themselves. They need and deserve stronger support from the international community”, he said. “The best and worst of humanity is unfolding in Myanmar”.

Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation. The positions are honorary and they are not paid for their work.

New UN humanitarian response plan
Meanwhile, Jens Laerke, Deputy Spokesperson for the UN humanitarian office, OCHA, noted that the newly published 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for Myanmar requests a record $826 million to assist 6.2 million people in need.

The 2022 plan represents double the amount requested last year, reflecting a growing crisis that has plunged an estimated 14.4 million people into humanitarian need.

Since the military coup, conflict and insecurity has continued, displacing more than 400,000 people to camps, displacement sites and with host communities. Many others have crossed into Thailand and India or sought refuge in the jungle, lacking adequate food, shelter, sanitation and medical care.

Sick and hungry
The economic and political turmoil of 2021, combined with the devastating impact of COVID-19, have driven half the population into poverty, with many unable to feed their families.

Over 13 million people are moderately or severely food insecure and malnutrition is expected to worsen among children, unless parental support is increased.

“Our ability to save lives and reduce suffering on this scale will depend on increased funding, improved access and removal of bottlenecks such as visa delays and banking restrictions”, said Mr. Laerke.

“Humanitarian agencies must be allowed access to displacement sites to conduct needs assessments and deliver lifesaving aid including food, water and health care”, he added.


[Amnesty International] Myanmar: World must act now to prevent another year of intolerable ‘death and misery’

6 February 2022

27 January 2022

If the international community continues to drag its feet on the grave human rights violations including lethal violence targeted at protestors that we have seen in Myanmar this past year, many more people will suffer and this human rights crisis could worsen, Amnesty International said today ahead of the one-year anniversary of the 1 February, 2021 coup.

“Enough is enough, the 55 million people of Myanmar cannot afford another year of wavering and sitting on the sidelines by many governments around the world. Concrete action aimed at holding the military accountable and preventing their access to weaponry used to commit widespread human rights abuses must be taken now or the shocking death and misery that have defined life in Myanmar since the coup is likely to persist,” said Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns.

“As the anniversary of the coup draws near, the military has launched indiscriminate air strikes that have killed civilians in the southeast, blocked life-saving aid, and kept up a bloody campaign against activists and journalists, who have been detained and killed in custody. Too many governments continue turning a blind eye to all these atrocities, as they did following the gross violations of human rights against the Rohingya people. As a result, the military has been increasingly brazen, acting with impunity in its efforts to wipe out any resistance to its rule.

“The Myanmar people are desperate and have become disillusioned about help from the international community. But there are clear steps that need to be taken to prevent the Myanmar military from maintaining its dystopian campaign of terror and persecution. The UN Security Council must stop dragging its feet, and instead impose a global arms embargo and targeted sanctions against military leaders, and urgently refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court.

“In addition, all local and foreign companies in business partnerships with the military or military-owned businesses need to responsibly disengage, cutting the flow of funds that the military uses to prop up its lethal operations.

“Closer to home, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) must present a unified front on Myanmar and demand the military to immediately stop the violence against civilians. The ASEAN should also exert pressure on the military to stop blocking humanitarian access and expand on and implement with a clear timeline its five-point consensus adopted last year, which has proved a failure.

“The new year must bring new approaches to Myanmar, placing human rights for the people of Myanmar, accountability, and a zero tolerance to human rights violations and abuses at the forefront.”

Background:

Myanmar’s military seized power in a coup in the early hours of 1 February, 2021. Since then it has killed more than 1,400 people and arrested more than 11,000, with over 8,000 currently in detention, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. The shocking violence fits into a long history of well-documented crimes under international law against ethnic minorities in the country, including the Kachin, Shan and Rohingya.

The UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar has previously called for Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and other senior officials to be investigated and prosecuted for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

The former civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been sentenced to six years on bogus charges and faces more than 100 years if convicted on all the counts against her. Many of her closest allies, including President Win Myint, have also been convicted on similarly trumped-up charges.

Following the violent crackdown on peaceful protesters, some opponents of the military authorities have established the armed People’s Defense Force, which claims to have killed hundreds of soldiers through shootings, bombs and ambushes.

On top of the chaos that has gripped major cities and towns across the country in the aftermath of the coup, economic and food insecurity as well as pandemic-related challenges have caused millions to face hunger. Hundreds of thousands have also been internally displaced while thousands have fled across the border to Thailand.


[Reuters] ASEAN should rethink non-interference policy amid Myanmar crisis, Malaysia FM says

24 October 2021

Published October 21, 2021 – https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/asean-should-rethink-non-interference-policy-amid-myanmar-crisis-malaysia-fm-2021-10-21/

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 21 (Reuters) – The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should rethink its decades-long policy of non-interference in the affairs of member states, amid a worsening human rights crisis in Myanmar, Malaysia’s top diplomat said on Thursday.

The 10-member bloc on Friday made an unprecedented move to exclude the leader of Myanmar’s junta from an upcoming regional summit, over a lack of progress on a peace plan it agreed to with ASEAN in April. A non-political figure from Myanmar will be invited instead.

The decision – which sources said was pushed by Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines – was a rare bold step for ASEAN, which has traditionally favoured consensus and engagement over criticism of member nations. read more

Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said ASEAN should do some “soul-searching” on its non-interference policy, given deteriorating conditions in Myanmar, where more than 1,000 civilians have been killed in a crackdown on strikes and demonstrations since a Feb. 1 coup.

“I reminded the meeting (on Friday) that ASEAN is about 10 member states. As much as the issue in Myanmar is local and national, it has an impact on the region, and we should also recognise the concerns of the other nine member states,” he told a virtual dialogue on human rights in Myanmar.

“And I also stated the fact that we cannot use the principle of non-interference as a shield to avoid issues being addressed,” he said, in a rare critique by an ASEAN foreign minister of one of the most valued parts of the bloc’s code.

Saifuddin said non-interference had contributed to ASEAN’s inability to make effective decisions quickly, and suggested a move towards a new policy of constructive engagement or non-indifference.

A junta spokesman has blamed ASEAN’s decision on “foreign intervention”, including by the United States and European Union. read more

Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Martin Petty


[CNBC] Nobel Peace Prize goes to journalists Maria Ressa, Dmitry Muratov for work on freedom of expression

10 October 2021

https://www.cnbc.com/2021/10/08/2021-nobel-peace-prize-goes-to-maria-ressa-dmitry-muratov.html

PUBLISHED FRI, OCT 8 2021 5:05 AM EDT | UPDATED FRI, OCT 8 2021 10:46 AM EDT

Chloe Taylor

  • Maria Ressa is founder, CEO and executive editor of Rappler, an online news outlet covering the policies and actions of President Rodrigo Duterte’s regime in the Philippines.
  • Dmitry Muratov is editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper that publishes critical coverage of the Kremlin.

The 2021 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression.

The Nobel committee praised Ressa and Muratov for “their courageous fight for freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia.”

“They are representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions,” it said in a press release following the announcement Friday.

Ressa is founder, CEO and executive editor of Rappler, an online news outlet covering the policies and actions of President Rodrigo Duterte’s regime in the Philippines.

The Nobel committee said she “uses freedom of expression to expose abuse of power, use of violence and growing authoritarianism in her native country, the Philippines.”

Muratov is editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper that publishes critical coverage of the Kremlin. Novaya Gazeta, co-founded by Muratov in 1993, is renowned for in-depth exposes of power abuses, human rights abuses and corruption under the Russian regime.

Both Ressa and Muratov have faced attempts by their respective governments to silence their publications.

Ressa and Rappler

In November 2018, Filipino authorities accused Ressa and Rappler of tax evasion, claiming the government had enough evidence to indict her.

Authorities had claimed that year that foreign investment into Rappler amounted to prohibited foreign control of a media company, an accusation denied by the organization. In 2019, the Philippines’ Court of Appeals rejected Rappler’s appeal against the claims.

Rappler was banned from covering official presidential events in 2018, with a presidential spokesperson saying Duterte had “lost trust” in the publication.

Rappler continues to operate, with Ressa telling the Committee to Protect Journalists in 2018 that the government’s action against her website was “a politicized decision aimed at stifling critical coverage.” 

Muratov and Novaya Gazeta

Meanwhile, Novaya Gazeta was praised by the Nobel committee on Friday for its coverage of a range of topics, including police violence, unlawful arrests, electoral fraud and “troll factories,” as well as the use of Russian military forces both within and outside Russia. It added that six of its journalists have been murdered for carrying out their work, and the publication has been met with harassment, threats and violence.

“Despite the killings and threats, editor-in-chief Muratov has refused to abandon the newspaper’s independent policy,” the Nobel committee said. “He has consistently defended the right of journalists to write anything they want about whatever they want, as long as they comply with the professional and ethical standards of journalism.”

Kremlin response

In response, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday that the Russian government congratulated Muratov for winning the Nobel prize.

“He persistently works in accordance with his own ideals, he is devoted to them, he is talented, he is brave,” he said, according to Reuters.

The Nobel committee said that the peace prize was awarded to Ressa and Muratov to reflect the importance of freedom of expression and information.

“Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda,” it said. “These rights are crucial prerequisites for democracy and protect against war and conflict. The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov is intended to underscore the importance of protecting and defending these fundamental rights.”

The Nobel Peace Prize, which includes 10 million Swedish krona ($1.14 million), will be awarded to Ressa and Muratov at a ceremony in Oslo, Norway, on Dec. 10.

There were 329 nominees for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, 234 of which were individuals and 95 were organizations.

Neither the names of the nominators or the nominees are disclosed until 50 years after the prize is awarded. Only those who meet strict criteria — such as members of the International Court of Justice or Nobel Peace Prize laureates — are permitted to submit nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The 2021 prize had the third-highest number of nominees ever.


[Straits Times – Opinion] Forum: Concerns arise from misunderstanding of Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill (reply by Ministry of Home Affairs)

2 October 2021

PUBLISHED OCT 2, 2021, 12:00 AM SGThttps://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/forum/forum-concerns-arise-from-misunderstanding-of-foreign-interference-countermeasures

Mr Harpreet Singh Nehal expressed some concerns on the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill (Anti-foreign interference Bill – 3 areas of concern, Sept 28).

Mr Singh’s concerns arise from a basic misunderstanding of the Bill and its provisions.

He says that the broad language of the Bill may capture “perfectly legitimate collaborative activity” undertaken by Singapore citizens and non-governmental organisations, which seek to “influence and improve” our laws and policies.

He also says that directions under Part 3 of the Bill could be issued against “legitimate online activity”, even in the absence of any manipulation or influence by a foreign government or its agents.

These assertions are quite inaccurate.

The Bill does not apply to Singaporeans discussing issues, or advocating any matter (regardless of what the Government or anyone else thinks about that).

The Bill will also not cover the vast array of collaborations between Singaporeans and foreigners, on many matters.

However, if a Singaporean acts on behalf of a foreign principal, and if such actions are contrary to public interest, then directions can be issued to such a person.

One example of this would be if a foreign government agency pays a Singaporean to conduct an online campaign, to create discord and unrest among Singaporeans. Such modus operandi have been repeatedly used around the world.

If the above involves covert activity, the persons involved can be prosecuted.

The philosophy underpinning the Bill is a longstanding one – we should not allow foreign subversion of our country and society.

The Bill complements our existing legislation, by providing a targeted and calibrated approach to be used against hostile information campaigns, conducted by foreign agencies and foreigners.

More information on the Bill can be found on the Ministry of Home Affairs’ website: https://www.mha.gov.sg/mediaroom/press-releases/first-reading-of-foreign…

Mr Singh also says that the Bill restricts the role of the Singapore courts to review some actions.

The offences in the Bill relating to criminal conduct are all required to be prosecuted in the courts.

For directions against hostile information campaigns, the oversight will be by a tribunal, headed by a Supreme Court Judge.

Such provisions are not new, and exist in several pieces of legislation.

The matters to be considered in the issuance of directions, (including information obtained through intelligence) may often have to be kept highly confidential.

The courts have also recognised, on several occasions, including in the Nagaenthran case (which Mr Singh refers to), that the judicial process may not be best suited to deal with such issues. Instead, as stated earlier, a tribunal headed by a High Court judge will deal with these matters.

Sam Tee
Senior Director, Joint Operations Group
Ministry of Home Affairs


[Straits Times – Opinion] Anti-foreign interference Bill – a sharper tool for the digital age [by Ong Keng Yong and Stanley Lai]

2 October 2021

PUBLISHED OCT 1, 2021, 5:00 AM SGT – https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/anti-foreign-interference-bill-a-sharper-tool-for-the-digital-age

A rebuttal to points raised about over-broad language and restrictions on courts’ role

We refer to the article “Anti-foreign interference Bill – 3 areas of concern” by Senior Counsel Harpreet Singh Nehal in The Straits Times on Tuesday. We wish to share our perspectives on the subject and respond to some of the points he makes.

Mr Singh makes two primary points in his articulation of concerns about the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act (Fica).

First, he says the Bill suffers from “extremely broad language” and risks capturing “perfectly legitimate collaborative activities” undertaken by Singapore citizens and local non-governmental organisations.

Second, he says that the Bill “restricts the role of the Singapore courts to review the legality of the Government’s exercise of powers”. Instead, appeals against Part 3 directions provided for under the Bill are made to a reviewing tribunal, which is governed by its own procedural rules.

We do not agree with his interpretation of the Bill.

As regards the “broad language” of Fica, we do not see how the examples of “legitimate” collaborations with foreigners referred to by Mr Singh in his article can be proscribed under the Bill. (He cites public policy issues such as climate change and women’s rights).

One of the key purposes of the Bill is the protection of the public interest. It includes countermeasures against hostile information campaigns on electronic platforms.

However, before the powers under the Bill can be invoked, the following conditions must be met: First, there is an online communications activity, or planning for such an activity. Second, the activity is conducted by or on behalf of a foreign principal. Third, it must be determined that it is in the public interest for a direction (provided in the Bill) to be issued.

The Bill prescribes a statutory regimen requiring a foreign element, and it also must be considered necessary to protect the public interest against this foreign interference.

For the rest of the article, please visit https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/anti-foreign-interference-bill-a-sharper-tool-for-the-digital-age