PRESS STATEMENT (21 OCTOBER 2016): The Gwangju Prize for Human Rights Laureates release statement of solidarity for the advancement of human rights in Asia

SHRINKING DEMOCRATIC SPACE IN SOUTH EAST ASIA:

A CRITICAL ANALYSIS AND CALL FOR SOLIDARITY

Regional & Laureates Workshops, 19-21 October 2016, Kuala Lumpur

The Gwangju Prize for Human Rights (GPHR) Laureates today released a statement of solidarity to call for action on human rights violations across Asia while in Malaysia to attend the “Shrinking Democratic Space in South East Asia: A Critical Analysis and Call for Solidarity” workshops.

The Laureates were also present for the presentation ceremony of the GPHR Award 2016 to BERSIH 2.0 (Gabungan Pilihanraya Bersih dan Adil, in Bahasa Malaysia) on 19 October 2016. BERSIH 2.0 chairperson, Maria Chin Abdullah, had been barred from leaving the country earlier this year in April to accept the award in South Korea. BERSIH 2.0 shares the award with Nguyen Dan Que, a Vietnamese pro-democracy activist in Saigon.

The GPHR Award is conferred by South Korea’s May 18 Memorial Foundation on individuals or groups that have made a significant contribution to the advancement of human rights.

The Laureates, past winners of the GPHR Award, hail from different Asian nations. In attendance were Ms Latifah Anum Siregar and Ms Hermien Y Kleden from Indonesia, Ms Ng Shui Meng from Singapore (on behalf of Mr Sombath Somphone), Mr Adilur Rahman Khan from Bangladesh, Mr Babloo Loitongbam from India (on behalf of Irom Sharmila Chanu), Mr Sushil Raj Pyakurel from Nepal, and Mr Basil Fernando and Ms Jayanthi Dandeniya from Sri Lanka.

Ms Maria was absent from the meeting, having to handle threats of death and violence levelled against her recently in her fight for institutional reforms. She was replaced by BERSIH 2.0 steering committee member, Rama Ramanathan. Given the increasingly intolerant climate in Malaysia, the Laureates’ statement is all the more relevant.

The Laureates finalised the statement after an hour long discussion, which can be read in full below:

Solidarity Statement from

Gwangju Prize for Human Rights Laureates

We gathered in Kuala Lumpur over three days – 19-21 October 2016 – at the invitation of the May 18 Memorial Foundation, Bersih 2.0 and Suaram. Eleven countries were represented: Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor Leste.

We listened to reports from representatives of civil society organizations from these countries and discussed them. We focused on the shrinking democratic space in South East Asia: A Critical Analysis and Call for Solidarity.

We learned of the threats on Maria Chin Abdullah, Chairperson of Bersih 2.0, Laureate of Gwangju Prize 2016. We learned also of the smearing of paint on her son’s car and other attempts to intimidate her, her family and her associates.

Bersih 2.0 is an organization which is engaged, like us, in a legitimate struggle to establish free and fair elections, clean government and the right to dissent. We call upon the authorities in Malaysia to protect the freedom to dissent and to protect the life and person of Maria Chin Abdullah and others. We also call for an inquiry into the threats and attempts at intimidation.

Amongst us was the wife of Sombath Somphone, a well-respected Human Rights Defender and a Gwangju Prize Laureate from Laos. Sombath disappeared four years ago and his whereabouts remain unknown. We call upon the government of Laos to conduct an urgent inquiry into this matter and take all steps for his safe return.

Bersih 2.0’s co-laureate for 2016, Dr Nguyen Dan Que from Vietnam was unable to attend our gathering because he remains under house arrest. We call upon the Vietnamese authorities to release him and to restore to him all rights and freedoms in keeping with his dignity as a human being.

We wish also to recognize the struggle of Laureate Irom Sharmila Chanu who continues to struggle for the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act imposed in the state of Manipur in India. We are gravely concerned that many authorities are using the pretext of protecting national security to arrogate to themselves vast powers to restrict the freedoms and civil liberties of ordinary citizens.

We are alarmed by reports of torture, enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings taking place on a large scale in several countries in the region. It is the duty of all authorities to do their utmost to immediately bring to an end these heinous crimes.

There is a widespread practice of suppression of dissenting voices and curtailment of freedom of expression. There are recurrent reports of land grabs in pursuit of development goals which result in displacement of persons.

All the above are serious threats to human rights. As laureates of the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights, we renew our commitment to the May 18 spirit which is committed to peace, human rights, and justice. We call upon everyone to actively engage in the quest for these enduring values and thus promote a better future for all people.

Kuala Lumpur, 21 October 2016.

Gwangju Prize Laureates

Adilur Rahman Khan, Bangladesh. Bersih 2.0, Malaysia. Basil Fernando, Sri Lanka/Hong Kong. Dandeniya Gamage Jayanthi, Sri Lanka. Irom Sharmila Chanu, Manipur, India.
Latifah Anum Siregar, Papua, Indonesia. Ng Shui Meng (for Sombath Somphone), Laos
Sushil Pyakurel, Nepal. Tempo Weekly Magazine, Indonesia.