Michael Caster on Free Expression, Internet Access, & Human RightsJul 19, 2021
"Across the Asian region, from South Asia to Southeast Asia to East Asia--and from India to Vietnam to China--we see a serious backtracking in terms of human rights," Michael Caster, co-founder of Safeguard Defenders, told Orchid's Derek Silva on this week's episode of Priv8.
Safeguard Defenders helps human rights advocates to protect civil liberties in Asia. Together, they discussed how authoritarian governments restrict freedom of expression, and the effect this has on other human rights.
"We see governments enacting laws and policies that restrict the freedom of expression, access to information; we see restrictions on privacy, rights to assembly, and freedom of association online," Michael said. "Some [of this] has been done under the guise of a covid pandemic response." Before covid, governments restricted access to information "under the cover of combating 'fake news.'"
"Unfortunately, what we see being done in other parts of the world has a rippling effect in [Asia]," he said. "So, when the president of the United States talks about 'fake news,' it empowers heads of state in other parts of the world...to use the 'fake news' narrative to silence and intimidate legitimate journalists and independent press."
Indeed, Michael explained that restrictions on journalism play a major role in human rights abuses: "A lot of countries in the [ASEAN and APAC] regions have ranked quite low on [press] freedom indexes, such as the Freedom House Index, Reporters Without Borders, and the World Press Freedom Index.
"Some countries have really never had anything resembling a free and independent press---or they haven't for decades," he added. Many of these countries have simultaneously "been under direct, non-democratic military rule."
Derek asked Michael how free and open Internet access helps individuals and businesses in Asia cope in times of crisis.
"Without access to an independent source of information, people are going to be at a disadvantage," he answered. "Having access to independent information is a human right under the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, and it should be something that's promoted and defended at all times." Michael added that open Internet access has been vital in the time of covid-19: "How else are people going to access information that helps them determine fact from [fiction]?"
Of course, "some disinformation is also spread easily online. But the antidote to that disinformation is also more widely available when [people have] open Internet access."
Check out Derek's entire conversation with Michael, and don't forget to subscribe to Priv8 Podcast on your favorite streaming service.