Amnesty: Several Asian nations 'repressing dissent'

Nilar Thein, centre, an activist of the 88 Generation Students Group, shakes hands with one of her colleagues as she arrives at Rangoon airport after being released from Theyet prison Friday 13 January, 2012. The report welcomed Burma's decision to free political prisoners

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Several governments in the Asia-Pacific region responded to the Arab Spring protests with a clampdown on dissent, Amnesty International said.

Leaders from China to Thailand employed a range of methods to silence critics, the group said in its annual report.

But activists were increasingly able to use new technologies to voice their opinions, it said.

The rights group also noted positive changes in countries including Burma.

Despite ''serious obstacles'', many human rights defenders and activists in Asia were still able to ''navigate their way towards greater respect for their rights'', said the 2012 report on the state of the world's human rights.

'Muzzled critics'

Few governments were as ''brutal'' as North Korea in crushing dissent, Amnesty said, but ''violations of the right to freely express and receive opinions continued throughout the region''.

China employed the full weight of its security apparatus to suffocate protest in the worst crackdown since 1989, the rights group said.

In North Korea the succession of Kim Jong-un yielded no improvement in human rights, Vietnam continued to criminalise dissent while in Indonesia attacks persisted on religious minorities.

Other countries, such as Thailand, Singapore and South Korea, also ''muzzled critics'' albeit employing ''less overtly violent means''.

In Thailand, lese-majeste laws had been ''aggressively enforced in recent months'', Amnesty's Asia-Pacific deputy director, Catherine Baber, told the BBC.

Leaders in the region put profits before the interests of people with land grabs and evictions in China and Cambodia affecting thousands, and ''impunity for past violations'' continue to plague Sri Lanka and Cambodia, the report said.

On a positive note, Amnesty also highlighted several advances in human rights and free speech.

Burma freed many political prisoners and allowed Aung San Suu Kyi to contest elections, although ethnic conflict there continued.

In China, the blind activist Chen Guangcheng had substantial grassroots support and after the artist Ai Weiwei was detained, it was local people who helped pay a government fine, Ms Baber noted.

Technology had provided the Chinese people with access to a wide range of media and ways to organise themselves, as activists found ways around the government's technological reach, she said.

''We hope this will develop,'' she added.

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