BANGKOK, Dec 4 (Bernama): Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) has raised concern over dramatic rise in the number of Member of Parliaments (MPs) detained across Southeast Asia.
In its newly released annual report, "Parliamentarians at Risk: Reprisals against opposition MPs in Southeast Asia in 2021”, APRH said the number of MPs detained rose from just one in 2020 to 91 in 2021, largely due to developments in Myanmar, where the military seized power in a coup in February.
The report said there have also been alarming developments elsewhere in the region, including Thailand, the Philippines, and Malaysia.
Although not featured in detail, the report said former opposition lawmakers have also been targeted in Cambodia.
"Across South-East Asia, parliamentarians are increasingly at risk.
"Lawmakers who use their mandates to defend human rights or to hold power to account have for years been targeted through trumped-up criminal charges, threats and harassment, physical violence, and detention.
"In 2021, we continued to see MPs targeted, to a large extent because of the military coup in Myanmar and its devastating aftermath, but also due to alarming developments elsewhere,” it said.
The report said the governments used responses to Covid-19 to unjustifiably silence democratic debate, including by bringing politically-motivated cases against critics and lawmakers who expressed dissenting views.
The report alleged Covid-19 was used as an excuse to suspend elections and parliament for more than seven months in Malaysia.
"Judicial harassment against MPs continued in countries like Thailand and the Philippines, and escalated substantially in Malaysia. Legal cases rarely lead to convictions but are instead filed to harass MPs and muzzle freedom of expression.
"Online abuse and harassment of MPs continued at an alarming rate throughout the region, often through coordinated disinformation campaigns. In the Philippines, such abuse spiked ahead of the upcoming elections in 2022,” it said.
Meanwhile, an APHR Board Member and former Philippines MP, Teddy Baguilat Jr said the systematic harassment of MPs - whether online, offline, judicial or otherwise - is clearly aimed at preventing them from doing their jobs, and acting as a check and balance on behalf of the people.
"An attack on an MP is an attack on democracy... The role of MPs is absolutely crucial in a democracy, particularly during the pandemic of the last two years, or as elections approach, as is the case in the Philippines and Cambodia,” he said at the launch of the report via webinar today. - Bernama