Taiwan rated only country in Asia with open civic space in 2021

Taiwan is again rated as the only country in the Asia-Pacific region with an open civic space for the third year in a row in a report published Wednesday by human rights organization Civicus.

According to the report, titled "People Power Under Attack 2021," Civicus Monitor wrote that of the 26 countries and territories in the Asia-Pacific region, Taiwan remains the only country rated as "open," for the third time in a row since 2019.

In Taiwan, authorities are tolerant of criticism from civil society groups, which are able to form and operate freely without hindrance, Civicus said in a statement.

But there are also concerns about attempts to ban books that allegedly glorify Beijing and criminalize the display of the five-star People's Republic of China (PRC) flag, it added.

"Further, there is a need to revise the Assembly and Parade Act, which continues to disproportionately restrict people's right to hold protests close to specified areas, such as the Executive Yuan, courts at all levels and foreign embassies and the need to obtain approval from the government," Civicus said.

The annual report assesses civic space based on freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression. Each country is placed in one of five categories: "open," "narrowed," "obstructed," "repressed," or "closed."

The report says that the most widespread civic space violation in at least 21 Asia-Pacifc countries this year has been the use of restrictive laws to criminalize and prosecute human rights defenders. Other violations include harassment, torture or ill-treatment and the detention of journalists, activists and critics.

Four Asian countries - China, Laos, North Korea and Vietnam - are rated as closed, while 11 are ranked as repressed and seven as obstructed. Japan, Mongolia and South Korea are rated narrowed.

In China, where civic space is closed, the government continued to detain scores of human rights defenders for broadly defined and vaguely worded offenses, while in Hong Kong, the newly-installed National Security Law has been weaponized to target democracy and opposition activists and journalists, the Civicus report said.

Notably, Singapore is the only country in the region to be downgraded from obstructed to repressed this year due to its decline in fundamental freedoms.

Government critics and independent media outlets continued to be restricted, while journalists and bloggers still faced defamation charges, according to the Civicus report.

Some positive civic space developments in Asia are visible. Mongolia passed a law for the protection of human rights defenders and has been upgraded from obstructed to narrowed, the only country whose rating improved this year, while Bhutan's parliament approved a bill to decriminalize same-sex relations, in a major victory for LGBTQI+ rights campaigners.

A total of 197 countries and territories were surveyed, but only 39 were rated open, down from 42 last year, while 25 countries ranked closed, up from 23 in 2020, most of which are located in the Middle East and North Africa and Africa regions.

43 countries were rated obstructed, and 49 countries ranked repressed.

According to the report, 88.5 percent of the world's population lives in countries rated as closed, repressed, or obstructed, while only 3.1 percent lives in countries ranked as open.

Established in 1993 in South Africa, Civicus is a global alliance of civil society organizations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world.

Its Civicus Monitor research tool provides a comprehensive assessment of the conditions for civil society in 197 countries and territories.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel