New report shows Southeast Asian parliamentarians remain at risk despite democratic trappings


New report shows Southeast Asian parliamentarians remain at risk despite democratic trappings

MANILA — In many countries in Southeast Asia – most notably in Myanmar but also elsewhere – parliamentarians and ex-parliamentarians continue to be subject to multiple forms of human rights violations, according to the latest annual Parliamentarians At Risk report from ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), launched today in Manila, the Philippines.

Parliamentarians’ ability to safely conduct their mandate and to speak and act on behalf of their constituents, are important ways for power to be checked and democracy to be strengthened. Today, our collective voice will send a clear message that an attack against one parliamentarian is an attack against the democratic institution of parliament itself,” said APHR Chair and member of the Indonesian House of Representatives Mercy Barends. “We stand in solidarity with them, ensuring that the voices of those who are silenced are not forgotten, and calling for an end to the violations of their human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

In 2023, parliamentarians in Southeast Asia continued to face threats and harassment. Myanmar remains the worst country when it comes to jailing members of parliament (MPs), with all 74 of those detained in the region being held there.

A total of 73 of the lawmakers from the National League for Democracy (NLD), and only one was from another party, the Mon Unity Party, a fact that demonstrates the political nature of the arrests, since it is MPs from the NLD – which resoundingly won the 2020 election – that are overwhelmingly targeted. Many of the ousted parliamentarians are continuing their work in hiding, either inside Myanmar or abroad, because if found by the military they are at risk of detention, torture, and even death. Some have seen their family members harassed and their properties seized by the military.

But Myanmar is not the only place where harassment against lawmakers takes place, and governments in many Southeast Asian countries have continued to use judicial harassment in particular against opposition lawmakers. In the Philippines, for example, while APHR Member and former senator Leila de Lima was finally released on bail after almost seven years of unjust detention in November 2023, she is still awaiting trial for the last remaining drug case against her. 

My case is just one among the many cases our region continues to see. It is a reflection of how Southeast Asia, a region of so much potential, is witnessing a worrying trend of authoritarianism where opposition figures are silenced, dissenting voices are stifled, and ultimately fundamental freedoms are quashed,” said de Lima. “This is done through a spectrum of tactics, such as the continuing use of draconian laws to curb free speech, to time and jail, intimidation, and violence.” 

Opposition MPs also continue to face harassment in the Philippines, in particular through the dangerous use of “red-tagging”, in which political activists, journalists, and others are accused of being communists. Those who are “red-tagged” are often physically attacked.

Two countries – Thailand and Cambodia – held elections in 2023, but in neither of those countries were citizens freely allowed to vote for the political leadership they wanted, either due to physical and judicial intimidation against MPs, or through non-democratic state apparatus preventing the will of the people from being fulfilled.

Consistent with recent elections in Cambodia, the 2023 vote was another farce that only served to bolster the grip on power held by Hun Sen – the autocratic strongman who has ruled since 1985 – and his allies. Only three parties participated in the election, and the country’s largest opposition party, the Candlelight Party, was barred from participating on dubious administrative grounds weeks before the election took place. In the weeks leading up to the election, the Hun Sen regime also launched relentless attacks against human rights defenders and opposition parties.

Meanwhile in Thailand, the Move Forward Party was prevented from forming a government by unelected senators, despite winning the highest number of votes in the May 2023 elections. As well as being prevented from becoming prime minister, a campaign of judicial harassment has also been pursued against then-party leader Pita Limjaroenrat, and the Move Forward Party, part of a pattern that has been used against progressive politicians in recent years – most notably members of Future Forward, Move Forward’s predecessor.

In Malaysia, while the new government campaigned on a platform of reform, judicial harassment continues, including through draconian laws such as the Sedition Act, which APHR has repeatedly called to be repealed. The act – which has previously been used against opposition parliamentarians – can carry a punishment of three to seven years in prison for vaguely worded offenses, including acting with “seditious tendency” against the government.

Parliaments – and by extension parliamentarians – play a crucial role in providing oversight of the government in a functioning democracy. It is therefore of the utmost importance that lawmakers can conduct their mandate without fear of reprisals from the government,” said APHR Board Member and Malaysian member of parliament Wong Chen. “In view of the continued risks faced by parliamentarians in the region, APHR continues to call on all stakeholders and international partners to step up collective efforts in protecting parliamentarians at risk in the region.”

Click here to read this statement in Burmese.

Click here to read this statement in Thai.

Click here to read this statement in Bahasa Melayu.

Click here to read this statement in Bahasa Indonesia.


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ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) was founded in June 2013 with the objective of promoting democracy and human rights across Southeast Asia. Our founding members include many of the region's most progressive Members of Parliament (MPs), with a proven track record of human rights advocacy work.

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