Rights activists, academics and artists of South Asia have declared a democracy emergency in the region. The declaration came after a careful examination of curbs on freedom of expression and association in the region, in a regional consultation that took place at Kathmandu, Nepal. South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) organised the consultation on 15 and 16 November 2019 which was attended by participants representing Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

With majoritarian politics, threats by state and non-state actors, increased militarisation, digital surveillance, corporatisation of the media, travel restrictions and increased financial restrictions for civil society organisations being some of the major contributors to the shrinking spaces for expression and association, the participants noted with concern the lack of opportunities to address the countless challenges.

The participants noted the commonalities in the implications of the restriction of fundamental rights in the region. The continued crisis of democracy was declared as disproportionately impacting religious and ethnic minorities, women, sexual and gender minorities, human rights defenders and civil society actors.

The gathering also noted with concern the increasing and unfettered violation of the right to privacy through digital surveillance as well as the brazen censorship of counter-narratives for democratic reform and human rights following the emergence of social media as an intrinsic alternative platform for expression and dissent.

They discussed complicit activities of the international community by way of providing resources and technology for warfare and surveillance while espousing democracy and freedom in their rhetoric, which in turn need to be duly monitored since it is a global phenomenon to be curbed.

They condemned the extra-legal measures such as intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders, enforced disappearances, and extra-judicial killings, as well as draconian laws that restrict freedom of expression, and policies such as network shutdowns and disinformation campaigns. The importance of strengthening right to information regimes was also stressed upon.

There was special concern for the unprecedented lockdown of Jammu and Kashmir where the entire population has been cut off from the rest of the world for over a hundred days.

The participants agreed and advocated for the need for South Asians to unite in devising strategies to tackle the challenges facing the fundamental rights and democracy in the region.

On behalf of the participants of the regional consultation,

Sultana Kamal
Chairperson