Thousands of Southeast Asian women and men will join together in solidarity with women human rights defenders at risk during JASS Southeast Asia’s regional One Day, One Voice Campaign, which coincides with the global 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women. This year’s theme – “Stand Up For Women Human Rights Defenders” – will include a series of art performances, media events, peace marches, dialogues, bazaars, and film screenings to honor the brave women of Southeast Asia who are defending human rights and precious land and resources.
One week ago, Malaysian women human rights defender Maria Chin Abdullah, Chairperson of the pro-democracy group Bersih 2.0, was arrested under the anti-terrorism law Security Offences (Special Measures) Act or Sosma. The law allows for up to 28 days of detention without trial. Maria was arrested the day before a big demonstration demanding that Prime Minister Najib Razak resign over alleged involvement in a financial scandal.
Backlash and violence against women defending a range of human rights has become a growing reality in Southeast Asia as it has around the world. Hundreds of women face false charges and many are arrested and criminalized for participating in peaceful protests, for leading their communities against destructive mining projects, for leading social justice and pro-democracy movements, and for exercising their freedom of expression. Women activists face unique threats because of their gender, including stigmatization from public officials and community or religious leaders, gender-based violence, and pressure from their families and communities to stop their activism. Their families also become targets of violence.
In the Philippines, of the 482 political prisoners, 33 are women. Among them is Maria Miradel Torres of the women’s group GABRIELA. She was arrested in 2014 while pregnant. She was denied immediate medical attention despite her difficult pregnancy. Women activists and indigenous women are at the forefront of the struggle against large corporate interests in their ancestral lands that are enforced by military and police. This resulted in displacement of their communities and false charges for leading protests and demonstrations to protect their land, resources and culture.
In Cambodia, women land rights activists of the Boeung Kak community were jailed in August 2016 for leading a “Black Monday” protest in Phnom Penh. These Boeung Kak women have been leading protest actions against evictions since 2012. Five human rights activists were also detained in April 2016 for allegedly bribing a witness. Activists call it a politically-motivated case and now efforts to free them under the #Freethe5KH campaign are ongoing.
In Indonesia, LGBT rights activist are under threat of violence. Religious fundamentalist actors—including the country’s top Muslim clerical body—are heavily targeting the LGBT community, using mainstream and social media to spread messages of hate, and fuelling violence against LGBT people and the activists who defend LGBT rights.
In Myanmar, women’s rights leaders have received death threats and have been called “enemies of religion” by Buddhist fundamentalists for speaking out against the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities.
In Thailand, holding protests is illegal under the current martial rule and dissenters risk arbitrary detention and imprisonment. In two years of martial rule, many have faced arrest, and prosecution for expressing themselves on Facebook or displaying graffiti.
With the shrinking space for civil society and the increasing backlash against and criminalization of human rights defenders in the region, JASS Southeast Asia’s 6th Annual Regional One Day, One Voice campaign spotlights the brave efforts of these women human rights defenders in the face of extreme risk. Seven countries of Southeast Asia – Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Timor-Leste, and the Philippines – will hold public awareness activities from November 25 to December 10, 2016.