A gathering of human rights advocates and lawyers from South East Asia will be taking place next week between the 21st and 23rd of March 2017 in Jakarta. I would like to thank the secretariat of The South East Asian Lawyers for inviting me to speak and appraise the conditions of human rights lawyering in Singapore.
The theme for the event, “Assessing Public Interest Lawyer Protection” is timely and apt in the current turmoil-filled world we live in.
To be able to act as essential agents in the administration of justice, lawyers need to be able to perform their roles without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or interference. They need to be able to enjoy civil and penal immunity for actions they take in accordance with their professional duties, standards and ethics.
However, several recent cases and news in the press have shown that lawyers in South-East Asia have been intimidated and criminalized – at times, their own lives put in considerable jeopardy whilst they are performing their duties. In Vietnam, Nguyen van Dai was arrested and charged for organizing meetings and discussions. In Malaysia, Eric Paulsen arrested with sedition act for criticising the Malaysian Islamic Development Department. A similar thing happened to Mathias Chang for conducting his professional functions. Meanwhile in Thailand, Anon Nampa was arrested and charged for organising a peaceful protest. Further, Pornpen Khingachonkiet was threatened because he published content relating to the torture and enforced disappearances by the Thai government. In Indonesia, Hendra Supriyatna was arrested for representing a client from forced eviction. This year, two lawyers in Indonesia, Tigor Gemdita Hutapea and Obed Sakti are facing trial for representing the working classes in a peaceful protest.
Till date, there has been no local or regional systematic collection of data and discourse on the risks that human rights lawyers face on a daily basis. LBH Jakarta (the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute) as the secretariat body for the SEALawyers is instrumental in facilitating this meeting. Several goals for the event have been identified and these include:
Looking forward to attending the meeting next week and meeting fellow human rights practitioners from the region.