Explicit Red-Tagging Escalates in the Philippines

By: Thea Bonifacio

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

MANILA, Philippines – With national elections approaching in 2022, the Philippine government, under President Rodrigo Duterte, has escalated its red-tagging efforts in a bid to silence opposition. As a result, the current government’s propaganda has led to increased deaths in the past year.

Woman holds sign protesting against Red-Tagging after a famous celebrity had been red-tagged by government officials for expressing dissent. Photo Courtesy of LiCAS News Philippines.

Red-tagging is the act of accusing a group of persons as communists, or sympathizers, and publicizing these persons as “Enemies of the State,” attempting to violently overthrow the government. However, these accusations are commonly baseless and are targeted at dissenters or at civilians aiding minority or indigenous groups.

Last December 2020, a doctor and her husband were gunned down in broad daylight. Prior to her death, Dr. Mary Rose Sancelan had appeared on an unverified list from the local militia group “Kagubak,” which linked Sancelan to the New People’s Army (NPA). Sancelan had spearheaded her community’s response to COVID-19. In January 2021, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) published a list of alumni and academics from the University of the Philippines, the national university, claiming they were current NPA rebels. Recently, a lieutenant general accused a journalist of “aiding terrorists by spreading lies” when the journalist had earlier reported on a Supreme Court petition that alleged that soldiers tortured members of an Indigenous community.

Under the Philippine 1987 Constitution Article II Section 2, the Philippines adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land. Additionally, the Philippines is one of the first countries to support the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Thus, the country has accepted Article 18 of the UDHR—the right to freedom of opinion and expression, including the right to hold opinions without interference.

Red-tagging is an indirect attempt to suppress civilians’ freedom of expression. The activity criminalizes the perpetuation of socialist practices that have helped society to various degrees. Dissent towards ineffective government responses and clamors for change becomes more challenging to continue when a label could lead to one’s death. A June 2020 report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights found that red-tagging in the Philippines has “posed a serious threat to civil society and freedom of expression.”

According to Neri Colmenares, a former House Representative, the escalated red-tagging of government critics is directly linked to the upcoming 2022 elections. Two specific reasons are connected to this escalation. First, dissent and criticisms towards the government’s COVID-19 response and the killings of human rights activists are mounting, which require more active tagging to stifle dissent. Second, the government fears that their candidates for the upcoming elections are not fairing well in surveys, which start as early as 2 years before elections.

As the Philippine national elections start closing in, there is a need to stay vigilant of the government’s attempts to monopolize and police free expression. The upcoming months will be a test to see whether the act of red-tagging will be penalized, with the Philippine Senate spearheading the efforts to combat the repressive act.

For further information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Philippine General Should Answer for ‘Red-Tagging’ – 10 Feb. 2021

Philippine – Red-tagging, as explained by an AFP top brass and a premier activist – 25 Jan. 2021

LiCAS.News Philippines – Yes, let’s talk about red-tagging as censorship – 31 Oct. 2020

Official Gazette – 1987 Philippine ConstitutionConstitution of the Republic of the Philippines -–  2 Feb. 1987

United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights -–  10 Dec. 1948

Voice of America – Deadly ‘Red-Tagging’ Campaign Ramps Up in Philippines – 18 Feb. 2021 

Modi Regime Cracks Down on Free Speech Amid Farmers Protesting for Fair Agricultural Laws

By: Hannah Bennink

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

NEW DELHI, India – In the midst of massive protests led by farmers in pursuit of fair agricultural laws, the Indian Government has imposed a crackdown on media outlets providing coverage. Police have filed criminal charges against journalists and activists for covering and sharing information on the protests.

Citizens gather to protest for freedom of speech and expression. Photo Courtesy of BBC and Getty Images.

Among the arrested include editors of two prominent independent news outlets, The Wire and The Caravan, as well as Shashi Tharoor, a very prominent opposition Congress party politician who is charged with “misreporting facts” surrounding the death of the protestor. Other charges include sedition, promoting communal disharmony, and making statements prejudicial to national integration.

This is not the first time the press has targeted India despite the freedom of expression being a constitutionally guaranteed freedom. There have been 405 sedition cases filed against Indian citizens for criticizing politicians and governments in the last decade, an overwhelming majority of those arrests coming after Modi gained power in 2014. In 2020 alone, sixty-seven journalists were arrested and 200 physically attacked. Despite the Indian government’s pride in its vibrant and competitive media, the country ranked 142 on the 180-country World Press Freedom Index in 2020 according to Reporters Without Borders.

The Indian government denies that journalists are being targeted. The National Vice President, Baijayant Panda, told the BBC that “All journalists with avowed political affiliations and evident slant against the government have continued to write and speak freely in newspapers, television and online portals.”  The Vice President alleges that recent arrests of journalists have been in response to “serious criminal allegations of fake news peddling in a riot-like situation, with the intent of fanning violence.”

In addition to the arresting journalists, the Indian government has shut down mobile internet services at protest sights in order to “maintain public safety”. Internet rights groups have condemned the shutdowns, asserting they were “suppressing the free flow of information related to peaceful assembly and the right to protest.” International human rights law requires India to ensure that restrictions on the internet and other forms of communication are part of a necessary and proportionate response to a specific security concern, and not to curtail the flow of information or to harm people’s ability to freely assemble and express political views. The Indian government has been known to block internet access in the past. In 2019, they shut off web access more than one hundred times, along with the longest imposed blanket internet outage in a democracy for five months in Kashmir.

Several internationally known figures have spoken out in support of the farmers and the journalists including Rhianna, Rupi Kaur, Greta Thunberg, and Meena Harris. Despite the international attention, arrests have continued, the most recent being February 13th when 22-year-old climate activist Disha Ravi for being a “key conspirator” in the “formulation and dissemination” of a protest “tool-kit” meant to provide resources to farmers.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Disha Ravi: India activist arrest decried as ‘attack on democracy’ – 14 Feb. 2021

BBC News – Why journalists in India are under attack – 4 Feb. 2021

Columbia Journalism Review – India cracks down on journalism, again – 5 Feb. 2021

Human Rights Watch – India: Journalists Covering Farmer Protests Charged – 2 Feb. 2021

The Guardian – Indian journalists face criminal charges over police shooting reports – 1 Feb. 2021

The NY Times Modi’s Response to Farmer Protests in India Stirs Fear of a Pattern – 8 Feb. 2021

Pro-Democracy Demonstrations in Thailand Shed Light on the Government’s Troubling Constraint on the Right to Freedom of Expression

By: Rachel Brenner

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

BANGKOK, Thailand – Recent pro-democracy demonstrations have put a spotlight on Thai authorities pressuring them to allow peaceful protests, end police crackdowns on nonviolent demonstrations, and stop the repeated use of serious criminal charges against individuals exercising their right to freedom of expression. Since demonstrations organized by the People’s Movement began on July 18, 2020, the Thai government and police have shown increased hostility toward protestors. Protestors are calling for the drafting of a new constitution, an end to harassment for exercising freedom of expression, and the dissolution of parliament.

Pro-democracy protesters during a rally near the Democracy Monument in Bangkok, Thailand on August 16, 2020.

On November 17th, police in Bangkok used water cannons laced with purple dye and teargas chemicals, teargas grenades, and pepper spray in an attempt to prevent peaceful protestors from reaching the national parliament. Demonstrators had planned to protest outside the parliament as debates over proposals for seven different constitutional amendments were underway. The Erawan Medical Centre in Bangkok reported at least 55 injuries, most of which resulted from teargas inhalation.

On November 18th, the spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General “expressed concern regarding the human rights situation in Thailand.” He emphasized that the Thai government must refrain from the use of force and ensure the full protection of Thai people who exercise their right to peaceful assembly. UN guidance on less-lethal weapons in law enforcement states that “water cannons should only be used in situations of serious public disorder where there is a significant likelihood of loss of life or injury,” and should only be used to the extent required to achieve a legitimate policing objective. In 1996, Thailand endorsed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which protects the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. However, Thailand has consistently subdued discussions about human rights and public reforms.

Thailand’s royal family is protected by one of the world’s strictest defamation laws, known as lese majeste law. This controversial law, which is punishable by a maximum of 15 years in prison, prohibits defaming, insulting or threatening the royal family. Between July and November 2020, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights noted that at least 175 protestors had been prosecuted for taking part in political demonstrations. Many protestors face illegal assembly penalties, while some protest leaders face a more serious sedition charge. Additionally, at least five pro-democracy leaders face accusations of lese majeste in connection with the demonstrators’ call to reform the monarchy.

The lese majeste charges against pro-democracy leaders were the first time since 2018 that the law has been enforced, indicating that the Thai government is becoming increasingly frustrated with pro-democracy demonstrations. A senior researcher on Thailand at Human Rights Watch states that “as pro-democracy protestors break the longstanding taboo that prohibits Thai people from criticizing and challenging the monarchy, reactions from the state are becoming harsher.” The UN expressed concern over the charges, which inhibit the exercise of free speech, and urged the Thai government to amend the lese majeste law. Regardless of the government’s intolerance to listen to the demonstrators, these charges are unlikely to stop the movement due to the protestors’ outrage with Thailand’s outdated political system. 

For further information, please see:

Amnesty International- What’s Happening in Thailand: 10 things you need to know- November 6, 2020

CNN- Thai protest leaders report to police on charges of insulting the monarchy, as authorities’ tolerance wears out- November 30, 2020

CNN- Thousands protest in Bangkok after Thai parliament votes on constitutional reform- November 18, 2020

Statement by International NGO’s on Pro-Democracy Protests on November 17 and 25, 2020- November 25, 2020

UN News- Thailand: UN rights office deeply troubled by treason charges for protests- December 18, 2020

Jade Mining in Myanmar Poses Severe Human Rights Abuses to the Health and Safety of its Workers

By: Kathryn Sharkey

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

HPAKANT, Myanmar – If anyone has ever purchased jewelry made from jadeite, perhaps they should consider how that necklace or ring came into their possession. Jade mining in Myanmar has received little to no recognition from mass media, but even more unfortunate is the lack of recognition that its labor has resulted in the loss of thousands of lives.

Jade pickers hold onto each other while carrying large stones up steep hills where the stones will be cracked open in search of any jadeite slivers. Photo Courtesy of TIME.

Many people have died trying to make a living by searching for jade stones. Some of these individuals are children, who are forced into labor. Despite the high-risk environment, these workers desperately continue to search for jade stones to feed the billion-dollar industry. Led by China, this industry relies heavily on Myanmar mines since they have produced approximately seventy percent of the world’s jade.

These jade pickers spend hours every day and sometimes, even more dangerously, hours at night, sifting through rocks and dirt searching for “stones of heaven.” The environment and conditions under which they labor is anything but “heaven.” Precarious working conditions pose extreme risks for the jade pickers who often work on unstable, steep ground and are at severe risk of being swept away or buried by unexpected mudslides during the monsoon season. In 2020 alone, almost two hundred workers died as a result of mudslides. Amongst those lost were many child workers. Bodies are almost never recovered due to the terrain and the fact that most laborers are illegal migrants, drug addicts, and rarely thought to be persons worth finding. Some workers die due to rampant infection within mining camps, such as HIV from unsanitary needles. Nearly all of them die alone and terrified. Families of those who have died in the mines receive almost no compensation for their loss.

The industry itself is tight-lipped about labor conditions and most of Myanmar’s mines are completely closed off to unwanted visitors. Many of these mines are also run illegally and without proper licensing. Security appears to be overboard, but the Myanmar army maintains control over the jade mines. According to a senior campaigner at Global Witness, “If you keep the jade business in a black box and don’t let any information get out, it’s hard to put pressure on the people that control the industry.” The army has made sure of that.

Stones found by the workers vary in price depending on size. Most workers only make a small wage each day, but some who fail to find any stones walk away with no pay for that day. Supervisors or corporate entities profit off of larger stones, forcing jade pickers to earn little profit.

The National League for Democracy has failed the laborers, having made no effort to implement regulatory policies to help curb the devasting conditions under which vulnerable adults, and especially young children, operate in. Civil and human rights activists have been advocating for change but calls for reform are largely overlooked. The industry has remained corrupt and will likely continue to pose severe risks to the health and lives of Myanmar’s men, women, and children working there for the foreseeable future.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – ‘I feel guilty for surviving’: The deadly hunt for jade in Myanmar – 3 Aug. 2020

International Labour Organization – Child labour in Myanmar’s jade mines is a deadly gamble – 10 Jan. 2021

The Diplomat – A Deadly Gamble: Myanmar’s Jade Industry – 13 July 2020

The National News – Jade trade in Myanmar thrives on exploitation, rights abuses – 29 Sep. 2008

TIME – Myanmar’s Jade Mines May Yield Great Wealth – But They Leave A Long Trail of Death – 9 Mar. 2017

China, Minorites, Persecution, and Summer 2020… Now, Why Does That Sound So Familiar?

By: Marshall Read

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

GUANGZHOU, China – Okay, stop me if you have heard this one before: a national government using crisis response measures to suppress and discriminate against minority communities within that nation’s borders. No, it is not the United States this time; it is China. In a sequence of events that should, unfortunately, surprise no one, the Chinese government has persecuted Africans, trampling on the equal protection mandated by international law and Beijing’s stated policy of equal treatment.

An African Restaurant in Guangzhou Shut Due to Coronavirus Fears.

Before the pandemic, the Chinese Province of Guangdong was officially home to some 14,000 African people. However, thousands more are expected to reside there undocumented. The city of Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong, has become a hub for African immigrants. One district, dubbed “Little Africa,” was populated by roughly ten thousand Africans. When the COVID-19 was still an epidemic in China, the African population dropped by nearly seventy percent. Most left or were evacuated by African Governments. Those who remained in China are still on their own.

It all began mere weeks after China closed its borders. 5 Nigerian individuals tested positive for COVID-19 in Guangdong Province. This was followed by false rumors that over 1,000 Africans in china had caught the disease.  China ordered that all foreigners must submit to COVID-19 control measures. This kicked off a wave of COVID-19 suppression measures on African’s in Guangdong.

All of this happened during the Summer of 2020, while other parts of the world, including the United States, saw massive BLM demonstrations against police brutality. In response to international outcry, the Chinese government has insisted that China and Africa (yep, the whole continent) are friends, noting Beijing’s “zero tolerance” policy for discrimination. The response makes sense considering China’s participation in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. However, the reality of events in China is contradictory to those stated goals. The law may say “all foreigners,” but it only seems to be enforced against the black foreigners.

The government began forcibly testing all Africans in the region this past April. Police entered homes, either forcibly tested, or ordered residents to go to a hospital to get tested. Africans were also quarantined. Additionally, Africans are routinely being evicted and denied service throughout China.

Ade, a Nigerian student at Guangdong University, had just paid his University fees when his landlord evicted him. Police met him and his roommates as they frantically moved their stuff out.

Mohammed, a Tanzanian trader in Guangzhou, was forced out of his apartment and quarantined in his shop. He lived like this for months until the situation in Guangdong Province began to subside. Nonetheless, the circumstances are such that it will be challenging to continue as normal for either Ade or Mohammed, because now in China, the virus is inextricably linked to African immigrants.

Writing this in December of 2020, it appears as though the situation has mostly subsided. Despite being a space away from having a winning summer 2020 bingo card, China appears to have gotten away with its persecution of Africans. Despite the start of a return to normalcy in Guangdong Province, the damage has already been done. The Chinese government has continued the dark tradition of persecuting black people by tying their presence in China to the spread of COVID-19.

For further information, please see:

Reuters – “In China’s ‘Little Africa’ a struggle to get back to business after lockdown” – 26 June 2020

BBC – “Africans in China: We face coronavirus discrimination” – 17 Apr. 2020

Nikkei Asia – “China’s ‘Little Africa’ shrinks 70% as coronavirus leaves its mark” – 24 June 2020

Human Rights Watch – “China: COVID-19 Discrimination Against Africans” – 5 May 2020

OHCHR – International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination – 21 Dec. 1965