Category Archives: News

24Sep/19

Ten million children at risk from air pollution due to Indonesia forest fires

Source: UN Children’s Fund
Country: Indonesia

While forest and peatland fires are common in Indonesia during the dry season, the situation is made worse this year because of extended droughts and global warming.

Jakarta (Indonesia), 23 September 2019 – Wild forest and peatland fires across Kalimantan and Sumatra in Indonesia are putting nearly 10 million children under 18 at risk from air pollution, said UNICEF today.

Small children are especially vulnerable to air pollution because they breathe more rapidly, and their physical defenses and immunities are not fully developed. It is estimated that 2.4 million children under five live in the areas most affected by the haze and wild fires, which have been burning in Indonesia since July 2019.

UNICEF warns that air pollution affects babies even before they are born. Research has shown that babies born to mothers exposed to high levels of pollution during pregnancy are more likely to experience reduced growth while in utero, low birth weight, and be delivered preterm.

“Poor air quality is a severe and growing challenge for Indonesia,” said Debora Comini, UNICEF Representative. “Every year, millions of children are breathing toxic air that threatens their health and causes them to miss school – resulting in lifelong physical and cognitive damage.”

According to the Ministry of Education and Culture, more than 46,000 school are currently affected by poor air quality, impacting more than 7.8 million students. Many schools have had to be closed in the most affected areas, depriving learning opportunities from children.

While forest and peatland fires are common in Indonesia during the dry season, the situation is made worse this year because of a combination of factors, including extended droughts and global warming.

“It is vital that families and children receive accurate information regarding their exposure to toxic air pollution, as this will help them to protect themselves”, said Comini.

UNICEF offers support to Indonesian authorities as they work on measures to mitigate the impact of poor air quality on children.

For more information:

Kinanti Pinta Karana, UNICEF Indonesia: Mobile: +62-815-880-5842; Email: kpkarana@unicef.org

Kate Rose, UNICEF Indonesia: Mobile +62 81 18714894; Email: krose@unicef.org

Media Contacts

Kinanti Pinta Karana
UNICEF Indonesia
Tel: +62 8158805842
Email: kpkarana@unicef.org

24Sep/19

Mass Arrests Cast Doubt on Rights Reform in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan police officers detain a protester during an opposition rally in Almaty, September 21, 2019.


© 2019 AP Photo/Vladimir Tretyakov

Since coming to power in June, Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokaev has claimed a desire to accelerate political reforms and improve human rights in the country. But the mass detention of peaceful protesters over the weekend and other recent large-scale arrests undermine Tokaev’s expressed commitment to reform.

On September 21, authorities appeared to use excessive force to detain about 100 people at a rally by the banned opposition movement Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK); 15 were fined or held in custody. One man was so manhandled by the police that his prosthetic leg came off when they carried him into a police van.

In June, Tokaev promised to reform the country’s protest law, which requires protesters to obtain prior permission from local authorities, requests that are often denied. Riot police regularly round up those participating in unsanctioned demonstrations ­ as was the case in June, when at least 4,000 people protesting the presidential election were detained and hundreds placed under administrative arrest. Tokaev reiterated his support for reform during his first national address in September.

Tokaev, whose predecessor Nursultan Nazarbaev ruled the country for 30 years, is right to call for change. But despite his reformist message, the reality in Kazakhstan remains largely the same.

Authorities did not detain anyone who participated in an August march for constitutional reform, nor were arrests made in protests against growing Chinese investment in Kazakhstan earlier this month. But in the weeks since, at least 36 people who participated in those anti-China protests and other forms of civic action have been placed in administrative custody or fined.

Human rights groups have proposed concrete changes to Kazakhstan’s protest law that would protect the right to peaceful assembly, but say the government has not acted on them.

If Tokaev truly wants to break with Kazakhstan’s past rights record, he should seek to reform the law on protests and end the arrest and detention of peaceful protesters. Grand pronouncements and rhetoric are not enough.

24Sep/19

Thailand: Pro-Democracy Activists Acquitted

The Bangkok Criminal Court acquitted six pro-democracy activists who had been charged with illegal assembly and sedition in 2018 on September 20, 2019.


© 2019 Nuttaa Mahattana

(New York) – Bangkok’s Criminal Court acquitted six prominent pro-democracy activists in an important verdict for protecting free expression in Thailand, Human Rights Watch said today. The court ruled that a 2018 rally demanding a free and fair election was a peaceful exercise of fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Thai constitution.

“The Thai government should never have put activists on trial for peacefully calling for a free and fair election in the first place,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The court’s acquittal of the six pro-democracy activists will hopefully discourage the authorities from pursuing other criminal cases against people critical of military rule.”

On September 20, 2019, the Bangkok Criminal Court acquitted Nuttaa Mahattana, Chonthicha Jangrew, Sirawith Seritiwat, Anon Numpha, Kan Pongprapaphan, and Sukrit Piensuwan, all members of a network of pro-democracy activists calling themselves the “We Want Elections” group. Authorities had charged them with illegal assembly and sedition for protesting on Ratchadamnoen Avenue near Bangkok’s Democracy Monument on February 10, 2018.

The court dismissed the illegal assembly charge because the then-ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) lifted the ban on a political assembly of more than five persons in December 2018. The court also rejected the sedition charge on the basis that the activists had held their rally peacefully in accordance with the constitution. The court also said that the activists’ criticisms of the military and government leaders were made in good faith according to democratic principles, and therefore did not constitute an act of incitement of unrest.

Another protest leader, Rangsiman Rome, a member of the parliament for the Future Forward party, faces a separate trial on charges of unlawful assembly and sedition, scheduled for June 2020. The prosecutor had already dropped the charges against 43 other people who faced illegal assembly charges for participating in the rally after the junta lifted the political assembly ban.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand is a party, protects the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, association, and peaceful assembly. However, Thai authorities frequently treated people who peacefully expressed dissenting views as threats to national security. When a new government took office in July 2019 and the junta disbanded, at least 130 people in Bangkok and other provinces still faced illegal assembly charges, and in some cases sedition charges, for peacefully holding rallies in 2018 or posting online commentaries in support of those rallies.

“Thailand’s proclaimed path toward democracy will be unconvincing so long as the authorities are bringing politically motivated charges against peaceful critics,” Adams said. “Governments around the world should press the Thai government to end its harassment and persecution of activists demanding that Thailand respect basic rights.”

23Sep/19

Critics of Myanmar Government Facing Prison Time

Demonstrators shout slogans at a protest against an amendment to Myanmar’s public assembly law in Yangon, March 5, 2018. 


© 2018 Thein Zaw/AP Photo

Speech critical of the government is under increasing attack in Myanmar. While the military has long been intolerant of criticism, members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) are not far behind. In the past two weeks, NLD officials have filed several criminal defamation charges against government critics.

On September 18, the NLD’s Mandalay region office filed defamation charges against Aung Pyae San Win and Swam Ka Bar for posting memes on a satirical Facebook page about the Mandalay chief minister.

The same week, the chairman of the NLD’s Maubin township branch filed a criminal complaint against cartoonist Naing Zaw Oo (known as “Ahtee”), alleging that he defamed the NLD and its local branch in social media posts criticizing the local party’s record.

All of these cases were filed under section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Act, which as amended in August 2017 provides for up to two years in prison for anyone who “defames” any person using a telecommunications network.

Both the Myanmar military and the NLD have repeatedly used the provision to silence their critics. Others currently facing charges include the editor of local media outlet The Irrawaddy, members of a group that put on a satirical thangyat (slam poetry) performance critical of the military, and filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, who has already been sentenced to a year in prison at hard labor under a provision of the penal code for criticizing the military’s role in politics on Facebook.

While she cannot control the military, Aung San Suu Kyi can control her party, and should direct NLD party members not to file criminal cases against peaceful speech. She should also use the NLD’s majority in Parliament to repeal section 66(d) and amend or repeal other abusive laws that penalize peaceful speech. Until that happens, those who criticize the government as well as the military will continue to face imprisonment in Myanmar.