UN Human Rights Chief Slams Clampdown On Freedom Of Expression In Sri Lanka And Other Asia-Pacific Countries During COVID19 Outbreak

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet expressed alarm at the clampdown on freedom of expression in parts of the Asia-Pacific, including Sri Lanka, during the COVID-19 crisis, saying any actions taken to stop the spread of false information must be proportionate.

Many countries in the region already have laws governing alleged “fake news” and online media that raise human rights concerns and have been used in other contexts to deter legitimate speech, especially public debate, criticism of government policy and suppress freedom of expression.

Measures should adhere to the principles of legality, necessity, proportionality, serve a legitimate public health objective and should be the “least intrusive” approach required to achieve that result.

Bachelet said the COVID-19 pandemic had seen a further tightening of censorship in several countries, along with the arbitrary arrest and detention of people critical of their Government’s response or for simply sharing information or views about the pandemic.

She said arrests for expressing discontent or allegedly spreading false information through the press and social media, have been reported in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam.

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