Repression of civic space escalated in South Asia during 2022, according to the international rights monitor CIVICUS alliance, as restrictive laws, crackdown on protests, detention of protesters, harassment and prosecution of activists, were noted as the top violations.
Bangladesh, Pakistan and India, were categorised as ‘repressed’, Sri Lanka and Nepal as ‘obstructed’ and Afghanistan has been downgraded to a ‘closed’ country since the Taliban took over in August 2021.
In South Asia, restrictive laws including defamation and anti-terror laws have been used in a systemic manner to muzzle dissent, per the findings. Protests have been disrupted with excessive force with impunity and arrested arbitrarily.
“The climate of impunity in South Asia means that many activists are taking extreme risks in continuing their work,” Josef Benedict of CIVICUS alliance told The Friday Times.
In India, anti-terror laws such as Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) were used by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to detain human rights activists including students. Khurram Parvez, the Coordinator of the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) and Chairperson of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), has been detained since November 2021 by India’s counterterrorism body under the UAPA.
In Bangladesh, the draconian Official Secrets Act was abused to arrest and continue judicial harassment of journalist and human rights activist Rozina Islam, and in Pakistan Idris Khattak continues to be incarcerated for espionage under the same colonial era law.
Across the Asia Pacific region, human rights activists were prosecuted in 17, and restrictive laws were enacted in 23. The number of total countries categorised as ‘closed’ went to seven from four. Bangladesh and Cambodia are termed as ‘countries of concern’ due to widespread violations of freedoms of assembly, association and expression.
The civic space monitor’s annual report — People Power Under Attack 2022 —
is a global research collaboration of civil society which documents state of civic freedoms in 197 countries and territories, categorised as ‘closed’, ‘repressed’, ‘obstructed’, ‘narrowed’ or ‘open’.