• Can Democracy Stand Up to the Cult of the Strongman Leader?

    By Mandeep Tiwana and Andrew Firmin

    Donald Trump’s presidency, recent protests in Russia and South Africa and the referendum to consolidate presidential power in Turkey have reignited debate about an emerging form of macho conservative politics called ‘Putinism’. This new form of politics is shaping contemporary notions of democracy while undermining the international rules-based system and harming civil society.

    Read on: Diplomatic Courier




  • Joint Statement: End judicial harassment of Singaporean activist Jolovan Wham

    CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance and its partners Asia Democracy Network (ADN), Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), Forum Asia, Instituto de Comunicación y Desarrollo (ICD), West African Human Rights Defenders Network, Experts for Security and Global Affairs Association, Balkan Civil Society Development Network (BCSDN),  European Civic Forum (ECF) and International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) call on the Singapore government to drop contempt charges against human rights activist, Jolovan Wham for his comments on social media criticising the judiciary. Our organisations believe the charges brought against him are politically motivated, aimed to suppress his freedom of expression.


  • Pacific Island leaders are tightening the screws on press freedom, dissent

    By Josef Benedict, CIVICUS  civic space research officer. 

    It’s not only climate change and rising sea levels that threaten the lives and well-being of Pacific Islanders. Rising levels of official intolerance of dissent and free speech across the region poses a threat to the well-being of their democracies.
    Read on: Asian Correspondent


  • Singapore's Adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

    Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights -- Outcome Adoption for Singapore

    Delivered byCornelius Hanung

    Thank you, Madame President.

    Singapore has fully accepted just four of the 21 recommendations on civic freedoms during this UPR cycle. It has done so on the basis that ‘the right to freedom of speech, expression and assembly is guaranteed under the Singapore Constitution’ and that ‘a balance must be struck between an individual’s freedom of speech and the need to preserve a harmonious society.’

    During its last UPR cycle, Singapore accepted eight recommendations on civic space. None were fully implemented; contrary to its claims of upholding the rights guaranteed in its Constitution, Singapore has persistently failed to address unwarranted restrictions to the freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression.

    The government has eroded freedom of peaceful assembly by its continuous deployment of the 2009 Public Order Act, which has been regularly used to harass and investigate activists and critics for organising peaceful gatherings, and even towards solo protests.

    The government has also continued to use restrictive laws to criminalise dissent. The 2017 Administration of Justice (Protection) Act, a vaguely-worded contempt of court law, has been used to prosecute human rights defenders for criticism of the courts, under the guise of protecting the judicial system. The authorities have also failed to reform laws restricting media freedom and introduced the 2019 Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act to harass the political opposition, activists, journalists and civil society. A Foreign Interference Countermeasures bill recently introduced by the government will potentially narrow civic space even further.

    Far from preserving a ‘harmonious society,’ these restrictions serve only to silence legitimate political dissent. We call on Singapore to engage constructively with the UPR process and international human rights mechanisms by implementing the recommendations it has accepted, to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and to establish a national human rights body, and we call on member states to hold Singapore to account to its commitments.

    We thank you.

    Civic space in Singapore is rated as Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor  



  • THAILAND: ‘Spyware was used to monitor protesters’ online activity’

    Sutawan ChanprasertCIVICUS speaks about the use of surveillance technology against civil society activists in Thailand with Sutawan Chanprasert, founder and executive director of DigitalReach, a civil society organisation (CSO) that promotes digital rights, human rights and democracy in Southeast Asia.

    What is DigitalReach working on?

    DigitalReach is a digital rights organisation working in southeast Asia. We are looking at the impact of technology on human rights and democracy in the region. We initiated this project with a focus on the use of Pegasus spyware in Thailand and reached out to The Citizen Lab and iLaw for collaboration. This is because iLaw is a well-known organisation based in Thailand with a great connection with local activists, and The Citizen Lab is well-known for its expertise in spyware investigation.

    What were the main findings of this research?

    Pegasus spyware, which is produced by NSO group and sold only to state agencies, can infect devices (both iOS and Android) through a technology called ‘zero click’, which means that it needs no action on the part of the targeted user. Once the spyware is installed, it can gain access to everything on the device, including photos and text messages, and can turn the camera and microphone on and off.

    In Thailand, this spyware has been used against at least 35 iPhone users: 24 activists, three CSO workers, three academics and five opposition politicians. These infections happened between October 2020 and November 2021, which was peak time for the democracy movement.

    There were three reasons why the spyware was used against dissidents: to monitor protesters’ online activity, to monitor the protests and to find out more about the movement’s funding. On the basis of forensic evidence, The Citizen Lab confirmed that zero-click technology was used, exploiting vulnerabilities in the system to gain access to the devices.

    This was likely not the first time spyware was used against activists in Thailand, but we have no evidence to confirm this suspicion. Other digital surveillance tools have also been used: as detailed in our report, GPS devices were found attached to some dissidents’ vehicles during democracy mobilisations.

    How did the government react to your findings?

    On 22 July the Prime Minister said in parliament that he does not know anything about this spyware, and he added that such spyware would be unnecessary as we all knew what was going on from social media. The Deputy Minister of Defence also declared in parliament that it is not the government’s policy to use spyware against people or ‘generally’ violate their rights. Meanwhile, the Minister of Digital Economy and Society stated in parliament that spyware technology had been purchased but not by a department or agency under his authority. However, he referred to it generically as ‘spyware technology’, without ever confirming that he was referring to Pegasus.

    Is there anything CSOs and activists can do to counter spyware?

    Spyware is considered a dual-use item, which means it can also be useful in criminal investigations. However, we all know this is not always the case. In Thailand and many other countries, spyware has been used against dissidents and members of the opposition, which means that the technology needs to be strictly regulated so it’s not abused. However, it’s hard to see that happening under the current administration, as the government itself is the likely perpetrator. Only policymakers who care about human rights will be able to make progress on this.

    As for individual activists, there is no total solution to prevent a device from being infected by this kind of spyware. However, exposure to this threat can be reduced in several ways, such as by using two-factor authentication, using a security key or an authenticator app rather than an SMS, using a messaging platform with the disappearing message feature and by enrolling in Google’s Advanced Protection Program.

    What can the international community do to support Thai activists facing surveillance?

    This is a tricky question. Thailand doesn’t currently have an active local digital rights organisation, so working on this would be a good first step to increase digital security protection. The global community that works on digital security can play an important role. However, training activities offered in Thailand must be conducted in the local language and customised to fit the Thai context.

    There’s also a need for digital security work in Thailand that goes beyond training, including monitoring to watch for emerging digital threats against dissidents, more research and work with local activists and organisations to ensure their long-term digital safety with a sustainable approach. Funding is also needed because local activists and organisations must buy tools to support their digital security.

    Civic space in Thailand is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Follow DigitalReach via itswebsite and follow@DigitalReachSEA on Twitter.