Bernice Chan  

Published: 8:15am, 8 May, 2019

  • Hong Kong student volunteers present weekly video news programme showing oppression and state brutality across Asia
  • Just Asia’s producer and cameraman, journalist Amila Sampath, is frustrated by channel’s low viewership but says: if we don’t do something for victims who will?

    A Pakistani man shaves his wife’s head when she refuses to dance for his friends in their home. On the Philippine island of Negros, police slay 14 innocent farmers they suspect are communist rebels. A mother and her two children die from suspected smoke inhalation after she was banished to a “menstrual hut” in rural Nepal.

    These are just a few of the recent stories covered by Just Asia, a weekly YouTube news programme from the independent, Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission that aims to broadcast news of regional human rights abuses to a global audience.

    As founding video producer of Just Asia, Amila Sampath, 30, gathers film clips and news snippets from around the region. His sources include activists, lawyers and NGOs, and the show, uploaded on Fridays, is anchored by university student volunteers.

    “There are a lot of TV channels but there is no space for those victims and to talk about human rights. I want to create a platform [for] victims, survivors, lawmakers, journalists, human rights defenders … to …   discuss their problems,” Sri Lanka-born Sampath says.

    Among other issues Just Asia has covered recently are clashes over clean water in Sri Lanka, the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility to nine in the Philippines, and the political aftermath of Hong Kong’s 2014 “umbrella movement” pro-democracy protests.

    Sampath has produced more than 250 episodes of Just Asia, but getting audiences to take an interest in the protection and well-being of fellow human beings has not been easy. He is disappointed the show is not more widely viewed.

    “It is difficult to get people to watch human rights stories,” Sampath says. “They’re not music videos, but I just have to keep trying.”

    The social injustice Sampath witnessed growing up in rural Sri Lanka propelled him to study journalism.

    “When someone is beaten up by police in Sri Lanka, people think the police have the right to do that, thinking that torture is part of the investigation. They don’t know it’s not right,” he says, and this ignorance has deep roots.

    Sampath shows a video clip on his smartphone filmed in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, last month of a frightened woman lying on the ground. She struggles to breathe as a man presses a foot against her throat. The woman is an actress, he explains, who chose to give birth when she fell pregnant as a teenager, snubbing convention. Now her ex-boyfriend is attacking her in the street, angry that she is dating someone else.

    “She has the right to do what she wants to do … but this man thinks he can do anything to her,” says Sampath. “Can you imagine, in a faraway village, how the women there are treated like this?”

    He credits his educated mother for his strong moral beliefs. “She was smart to teach me what is correct and what is wrong. She inspired me to learn about human rights,” he says.

    Sampath’s first job was with a television station in Colombo, where he covered government press conferences, but he found the assignments tedious. He became more passionate about work when he got involved with the Asian Human Rights Commission’s Sri Lankan partner organisation, Janasansadaya (People’s Forum), where he produced more than 300 videos that together garnered a million views.

    Many abuses are carried out by the authorities, Sampath says. When a minor crime is committed, police will round up several suspects and put them in a cell, for example. In the evenings they will become inebriated and start to physically abuse the suspects.

    “I was behind the camera, listening to the victims’ stories. It’s painful to hear how terrible society is, how they were tortured illegally in the police barracks. They have so many torture methods … some people could not handle the pain and hanged themselves.”

    The People’s Forum has a programme called Urgent Appeal, where Sampath and others of a like mind help victims by writing letters describing the injustices meted out against them and demand authorities take action and investigate the incident.

    In some cases, the Asian Human Rights Commission has been able to help victims find justice, while some torture victims have been awarded compensation, though the amounts are low – ranging from 50,000 (US$285) to 100,000 Sri Lankan rupees.

    Sampath arrived in Hong Kong in 2013 after the commission invited him to take up an internship.

    “I got more experience learning a lot about other Asian countries. I thought, I can do something more than just for people in Sri Lanka. I see more people need help in Asia, so we started to do a human rights Asia weekly round-up,” he explains.

    That was Just Asia, which he puts together with a skeletal crew comprising himself as producer, cameraman and director, and colleague Meryam Dabhoiwala, who writes the scripts and edits. Their studio is a simple office in Ho Man Tin, Kowloon, with a green screen background. Each week he compiles five regional stories and enlists the help of university students to shoot the episodes and edit the videos.

    One volunteer is Alexandra Leung Chui-yan, 22, who will be graduating from the School of Communication at Hong Kong Baptist University this month.

    She became involved with Just Asia 18 months ago when she was introduced to Sampath through a mutual friend. As Leung was keen on improving her public speaking skills, her friend thought working as a TV host would be good training, and she had personal experience of the wrongs humans commit against each other.

    On August 17, 2017, Leung was on the last day of a trip to the Spanish city of Barcelona, walking along La Rambla boulevard, when a car ploughed into a crowd on the famed pedestrian strip.

    The terrorist attack killed 13 people and injured more than 130, including Leung. In the ensuing chaos she was trampled, resulting in a broken toe and fractured knees.

    “It made me realise how safe Hong Kong is. We talk about terrorist attacks, but I had never seen one until then,” she says.

    Leung has since undergone surgery, but is still not completely healed; she cannot wear high heels or work out intensely. She continued to follow the news of the attack, shocked by what human beings can do to others – particularly the innocent, like herself.

    A few months after the incident she began volunteering for Just Asia as a trainee, learning how to read the news in front of a camera and how to pronounce Southeast Asian names.

    “I actively read news every day, but you almost never hear of human rights violations in Hong Kong news. We are practically the only channel to share this kind of news,” she says.

    Leung praises Sampath’s passion for human rights, adding that it’s a difficult job. Some of the raw footage Sampath receives is too shocking to broadcast and has to be blurred, he says, but he thinks it is too important to ignore.

    “A lot of it is too graphic to show, and most of the time I decide not to show it. But sometimes I also try to show how cruel it is. Without seeing it, you can’t see how terrible society is,” he says.

    “Sometimes, when we write urgent appeals, you send it to people to read. But if you have the image, you get more sense of the [overall] picture. I try to use my maximum capacity to protect the victims, and at the same time show how bad our society is.”

    Having filmed more than 250 episodes of Just Asia, Sampath is mentally exhausted, but feels content to have done something to help victims of human rights abuses.

    “It’s not like giving you money or comforting you. I can’t go and hug you. I didn’t see you or talk to you, but I did something for you … I feel if I can do something, if you can do something, do it. If we don’t, then who will?”

    Find out more about Just Asia at


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Document ID :AHRC-ETC-001-2019
Countries : Asia
Date : 02-07-2019