In countries across Asia-Pacific, the simple act of publicly expressing one’s opinion – whether on the streets or online – was met with brutal state oppression. People were routinely harassed, attacked, jailed and killed for daring to challenge the authorities.
In Viet Nam, more than 20 peaceful dissidents, including bloggers and songwriters, were jailed on spurious charges relating to national security. In Indonesia, authorities locked up six people for blasphemy, and 70 peaceful political activists remained behind bars. In Cambodia, security forces gunned down people peacefully protesting against forced eviction and poor working conditions.
In China, people protesting against mass forced evictions risked detention, imprisonment or being sent to Re-education Through Labour camps. In Sri Lanka, journalists and others were arbitrarily arrested or abducted – never to be seen again – for criticizing the authorities. And in India, activists working for the rights of Indigenous communities – whose desire to protect their traditional land rights ran counter to corporate interests – were jailed on politically motivated charges.
High-profile leadership changes in various countries in the region did little to improve the human rights landscape. In China, more than 100 people were detained to prevent protests ahead of the Chinese Communist Party leadership change in November – the first such change in 10 years. In the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, where Kim Jong-un continued to consolidate his leadership after assuming power in 2011, political opponents continued to be banished to remote prison camps where they faced severe malnutrition, hard labour, torture and, in many cases, death.
Protests in the Maldives against the resignation in February of Prime Minister Mohammed Nasheed were met with violent repression as security forces targeted his political allies and tortured them. Armed conflict continued to blight the lives of tens of thousands of people in the region, with civilians suffering injury, death and displacement as a result of suicide attacks, indiscriminate bombings, aerial assaults or targeted killings in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Pakistan and Thailand.
The ambitions of women and girls continued to be thwarted across the region, as states failed to adequately protect and promote their rights. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, many women and girls continued to be barred from public life, and in some cases subjected to execution-style killings by the Taliban. Public outcry at the gang-rape and subsequent death of a student in India highlighted the state’s persistent failure to curb violence against women and girls. And in Papua New Guinea such violence, although pervasive, went largely unpunished. Progress for women’s rights, however, was recorded in the Philippines which passed a new Reproductive Health Law after 10 years of lobbying by activists.
Other positive – albeit tentative – steps occurred elsewhere in the region. Although Afghanistan, India, Japan, Pakistan and Taiwan resumed executions after a hiatus of between 17 months and eight years, Singapore and Malaysia made efforts to remove mandatory death sentences from their statute books.
Surprisingly, a breath of opportunity – and change – opened up in Myanmar. In November, the authorities announced plans to develop a mechanism to review prisoner cases, and hundreds of political prisoners were freed throughout the year. Still, hundreds more remained under arbitrary arrest and detention – an indication of just how long the road to reform remains, not just in Myanmar, but the region as a whole.