In India, the Hindu nationalist government “generally failed to curb a rise in anti-Muslim violence and intimidation, at times appearing to encourage or take advantage of religious divisions for political gain,” the U.S.-based Freedom House said in its annual report.
Across South and Southeast Asia, religious extremism gave rise to increased tensions and violence last year, the Freedom House said in its annual report. Released on January 27, the report features Asia as a region where “religious nationalism [is] linked to political tensions” and highlights six countries — all in South and Southeast Asia.
“In a range of Asian countries, strained political institutions were paired with various forms of religious nationalism or extremism,” noted a statement accompanying the report. In Myanmar, anti-Muslim discrimination “remained a serious problem,” the report notes, adding that it is unclear whether the newly elected National League for Democracy government will be able to address the issue.
In Muslim-majority countries, meanwhile, secularists and other minorities bore the brunt of the oppression. The report highlights a series of attacks in Bangladesh on atheist bloggers, foreigners and Shiites carried out by Islamist radicals. In Malaysia, increased conservatism has led to the persecution of the LGBT community, and in Brunei “the government restricted minority religious displays and moved toward implementation of a harsh new criminal code based on sharia.”
Among the listed nations, only Sri Lanka is singled out as a country that has seen a de-escalation, with Buddhist nationalists losing influence following last year’s surprise change in leadership. The country in fact saw one of the largest gains on the report’s ratings, shooting up 14 points to 55 on an index ranking freedom from 0 to 100. The country also was bumped up from “not free” to “partly free” on the reports’ three-tiered ranking system.
Across Asia, just 41 percent of the countries surveyed fell into the “free” tier. “In many countries with authoritarian governments, the drop in revenues from falling commodity prices led dictators to redouble political repression at home and lash out at perceived foreign enemies,” said Arch Puddington, senior vice president for research, in a statement accompanying the report, which also highlighted Thailand as a nation where “the previous year’s dramatic setbacks for freedom … continued to fester.” The region also performed poorly in Transparency International’s annual Corruptions Perception Index, which was released Jan. 27.
On 168 countries surveyed, much of Asia received less than 50 on a 100-point scale of perceived corruption. Cambodia performed the worst in Southeast Asia, scoring just 21 points, followed by Myanmar at 22. Singapore and Hong Kong were the only Asian nations to receive scores higher than 70.
“Has Asia Pacific stalled in its efforts to fight corruption?” asked Srirak Plipat, regional director for Asia Pacific. “This year’s poor results demand that leaders revisit the genuineness of their efforts and propel the region forward with actionable measures.”