World Human Rights Day is celebrated worldwide on December 10 annually, Representative of Malaysia to the AICHR Eric Paulsen noted in a joint statement in Nusa Dua, Bali, Tuesday.
A joint statement on 2019 World Human Rights Day by the Indonesian Representative and Malaysian Representative to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights was delivered after the AICHR consultation in Bali.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental freedom that underpins all other human rights, Paulsen remarked.
It offers people an opportunity to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all types, to engage in important conversations on issues of public concern, instigate change, and hold those in power to account, he stated.
Paulsen noted that freedom of speech must encompass press freedom and the right to express unpopular or challenging views without fear of reprisals or persecution.
Article 23 of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) stipulates that every individual in the ASEAN has “the right to freedom of opinion and speech, including freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information, whether orally, in writing, or through any other medium of that person’s choice”.
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However, having the right enshrined in the AHRD is not sufficient, when in practice, several people across the ASEAN yet struggle to enjoy true freedom of expression.
With advancements in technology and connectivity in the region, the online world has the potential to become a space where journalists, bloggers, activists, and members of the public can express themselves more freely, Paulsen emphasized.
However, such developments also raise concerns for governments that seek to regulate the online world, especially on hate speeches, incitement, disinformation, and other issues.
Several ASEAN member states have become abreast of such developments, enacting specific laws for cyber-crimes and offensive postings online.
However, there is a fine line between legitimate restrictions on speech and restrictions that needlessly and unduly restrict the right to freedom of expression.
"As we celebrate this World Human Rights Day, it is important to recognize the role that the right to freedom of expression, including press freedom, has to play in the promotion and protection of all our human rights," he noted.
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Representative of Indonesia to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights Yuyun Wahyuningrum stated that people of the ASEAN must be able to speak on the issues they care about, including those viewed as being controversial or challenging.
Broadcasters, journalists, politicians, activists, and ordinary citizens should be able to voice their views, concerns, and ambitions freely, she stated.
In the age of swift changes in digital technologies, online communications, and the spread of hate speech and disinformation, it is more challenging than ever for the ASEAN member states to regulate harmful speeches while still upholding and protecting freedom of expression, Wahyuningrum pointed out.
"We call upon all the ASEAN member states to do more to ensure that legislation, guidelines, and policies that regulate speech of any kind uphold the right to freedom of expression as guaranteed in the AHRD and in line with international standards," she added.
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