The authorities in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand should immediately reform laws, policies and practices that have led to violations of the right of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender diverse (LGBT) persons to safely and freely express themselves and access information online, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said in a new report launched on 25 July 2023.
The 50-page report, "Silenced But Not Silent: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Persons’ Freedom of Expression and Information Online in Southeast Asia", documents the restrictions and barriers LGBT individuals face to safely and freely express themselves and access information online in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.
“The challenges faced by LGBT people in exercising their right to freedom of expression and information online are more severe in countries with discriminatory laws that criminalize or place restrictions on LGBT identities and expression. Repressive legal environments reflect and echo broader patterns of stigmatization, marginalization and pathologization to which LGBT individuals are subjected in these countries,” said Daron Tan, ICJ Associate International Legal Adviser.
In Indonesia and Malaysia and, to a lesser extent, in Singapore, the authorities have unlawfully and arbitrarily limited LGBT-related expression and information through legal sanctions against and restrictions on access to websites and online content. Such clampdown has been pursued under an overly expansive purported justification of curtailing content that is “indecent”, “improper”, “obscene” or “pornographic”.
LGBT individuals in all five countries have reported facing online violence, abuse and hate speech, with rare access to justice and effective remedies for such violence and abuse due to the substantive and procedural barriers they face. Common forms of violence and abuse reported include doxing, outing, online harassment, cyberbullying, non-consensual recording and distribution of intimate content, and in serious cases, incitement to violence and death threats.
“These human rights violations and abuses are continuing in these five countries with little, if any, accountability, in the absence of comprehensive anti-discrimination laws and protective legal frameworks for LGBT individuals. As a result, LGBT people self-censor themselves and choose to conceal their identities in online spaces out of fear of facing reprisals or repercussions, both online and offline,” added Tan.
The ICJ’s report also maps out how technological companies, such as Meta, TikTok, and YouTube, have contributed to the online marginalization faced by LGBT persons, including through the arbitrary removal of LGBT-related content; their failure to sufficiently respond to anti-LGBT content; and the algorithmic amplification of content harmful to LGBT people.
The report concludes by providing concrete recommendations to States and tech companies in order to ensure that they fulfill their obligations and responsibilities under international human rights law and standards vis-à-vis LGBT individuals in online spaces and beyond.