AHRC TV: Police in Philippines shoot dead 14 farmers and other stories in JUST ASIA, Episode 254

This week Just Asia begins with the Philippines, where police shot dead 14 farmers in Negros island on Sunday. While rights groups called this a ‘massacre’, authorities said it was a legitimate operation against suspected communist rebels. According to the police, the 14 men shot at officers with search warrants for illegal firearms, prompting them to return fire. Rights groups however, insist the men were ‘farmers asserting their rights to land’, the latest victims caught up in a violent crackdown under President Rodrigo Duterte.

Next, Thailand conducted its first post-coup general election on 24 March 2019. The results have not been announced yet however, creating chaos and confusion in the country. Thai youth who voted for the first time in this election are particularly unhappy. As a result, students from at least 19 universities are demanding the removal of the Election Commission of Thailand. On March 31, at least 4,000 signatures were collected, and the students hope to put forth their arguments to both the public and government agencies, showing how this election was not free and fair. 

Moving to Indonesia, there is great concern regarding the neutrality of the presidential elections to be held on April 17. Adjunct Commissioner of Police in the Garut Chief Police Office, Garut regency, West Java province, Sulman Azis, told the media and national human right organizations that he was ordered by the Garut Police Commander to support presidential candidate Mr. Joko Widodo. Azis’ statement triggered a national discourse regarding the presidential election’s accountability, given that the police force is not neutral.

Bangladesh told the UN Security Council last month that it would no longer take in anymore Rohingya refugees from Burma. Bangladesh is now sheltering more than a million Rohingya refugees in camps, some 700,000 of whom arrived since August 2017, fleeing a military-led crackdown in Rakhine state. Just Asia speaks to Kirity Roy, activist at MASUM, a human rights group in India, who says Bangladesh, Burma and the UN have all failed the Rohingya. Roy says Bangladesh presents a different image to the world, and a different image to the Rohingya.

Lastly, Pakistan will no longer try civilians in special military courts, a measure put in place earlier to help the government curb terror attacks. Their mandate apparently ended Monday, and there was no consensus in parliament to extend them. Rights groups have long called for an end to these military trials, which caused numerous rights violations, including denial of the right to counsel of choice; failure to disclose the charges against the accused; denial of a public hearing; and a very high number of convictions based on “confessions”. Terrorism cases will now be handled by Pakistan’s regular courts.

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