Japan's new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during a press conference at the prime minister's official residence Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan.

Japan’s new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during a press conference at the prime minister’s official residence Wednesday, September 16, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. © Carl Court/Pool Photo via AP

Prime Minister Suga Should Use Favorable Position to Advocate Reforms

Human Rights Watch, October 18, 2020

(Tokyo) – Japan’s new prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, should press the governments of Vietnam and Indonesia to improve their deteriorating human rights records during his visit to the two countries, Human Rights Watch said today. Suga will visit Vietnam and Indonesia on his first foreign trip as prime minister, scheduled for October 18-21, 2020.

Human Rights Watch, in an October 16 letter, urged Suga to publicly and privately raise concerns about Vietnam’s widespread violations of civil and political rights, including freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and movement. He should also criticize Indonesia’s clampdown on freedom of religion, press freedom, the rights to sexual orientation and gender identity, and the rights of Indigenous peoples.

“Japan should use its significant leverage as a major donor to the Vietnamese and Indonesian governments to press both to stop violating human rights,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “Prime Minister Suga should publicly and privately show that Japan is serious about its policy declarations to promote human rights abroad.”

People who criticize the Vietnamese government or the ruling Communist Party are subjected to police harassment, restricted movement, physical assault, arbitrary arrest and detention, and imprisonment. The police routinely detain political activists for months without access to legal counsel and subject them to bullying interrogation. Vietnamese authorities have also shut down access to politically independent websites and social media pages, while pressuring social media and telecommunication companies to remove content deemed critical of the government or the party.

Rights abuses under Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo include increasing violations of the rights to freedom of religion and belief. In 2020, at least 38 people have been arrested for blasphemy, including a man who was sentenced to three years in prison for tearing a Quran inside a mosque.

“Prime Minister Suga should make human rights a cornerstone of Japan’s foreign policy in a way that his predecessors never did,” Robertson said. “Suga’s first foreign trip as head of the Japanese government is a great opportunity to urge the leaders of Vietnam and Indonesia to end abuses and protect the human rights of their people.”