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A wide range of public sources (news reports, blogs, catalogues, freedom of expression reports) and unpublished accounts (interviews, oral histories) will be analysed using qualitative and quantitative research methods to test the hypothesis that there are common patterns and features in the way that artistic freedom is constrained in Southeast Asia.

To be included, a case must either have a published or publicly available source, or must be supported by a first-person interview which is recorded (audio/video recording and transcription).

Analysis will draw out baseline information about each case, which will be fed into a specially designed database. Baseline information here refers to key data about each case, including, but not limited to:

  • Genre of work/group/individual targeted
  • Source of the attack – e.g. state or non-state agents, known or anonymous, etc.
  • Methods used – e.g. formal ban, destruction of work, detention of artists, reputational damage
  • Reason cited for challenge or censorship – e.g. alleged immorality, sexuality, religious sensitivity

Response from the artist – e.g. compliance, withdrawal of work, legal challenge

These granular data points will be used to generate quantitative statistics, about the frequency, source, and methods used to constrain free expression in arts and culture in the region.

The qualitative readings of the case studies will draw out more nuanced learnings, including identifying unique features in the way that arts and culture are constrained, or in the way that artists respond or fight back in each country.

The database will not be exhaustive. Some cases remain hidden due to safety concerns, or others may not be verifiable.


a) Challenges and Censorship

A broad range of obstacles stand in the way of artistic free expression in Southeast Asia. These may be explicit, such as censoring a film, or detaining artists. Some are implicit – the withholding of resources or intimidation.

Censorship encompasses a range of actions that remove, change, damage, destroy or restrict access to artistic products, works, events and practices. It also includes acts that constrain, detain, cause harm, or impede creators and presenters.

Challenges encompass speech and actions which cast aspersions, place obstacles, draw negative public attention. These may not result in actual censorship, but are methods used to instil fear and constrain free expression. Tracked over the research period, these are useful data points to measure public and state attitudes towards free expression in each country.

The criteria for inclusion in this database therefore casts its net wide, to include a spectrum of methods used in the region to challenge or censor the rights of art makers and presenters to make and distribute works, and/or the public to freely access and participate in arts and culture.

To be included in the Database, a target would have to have been subjected to specific methods, which include but are not limited to:

  • Banning, censorship or damaging of works and events
  • Restriction or withdrawal of resources funds, venue, utilities
  • Restricting distribution/access such as higher age rating or a change of venue or language
  • Legal and extra-judicial action that cause physical harm, detention, intimidation to those involved in the making, distribution and consumption of arts and culture
  • Social media campaign, statement and actions that delegitimize, de-platform, “cancel”, cause reputational damage to artists and presenters
  • Sexual violence, sexual harassment and other forms of gender-related actions

Exclusion: This database does not include incidents of media/news censorship nor threats to human rights or political activities, as there are existing mechanics to monitor these.

b)  Forms

Arts and Culture refers to artistic and cultural practices and products in the following forms:

  • Visual arts – all genres, including sculpture, performance art, digital art, painting, biennales, festivals
  • Performing arts – all genres including traditional, contemporary and live/recorded dance, theatre, street art, etc.
  • Publishing/literary arts – all genres including fiction and nonfiction; print and online publications such as novels, playscripts, journals, magazines, text books; literary festivals, readings, etc.
  • Music – all genres, including rap, metal, traditional, classical; concerts, albums, song lyrics, composers, music festivals, music videos, etc.
  • Community arts – all genres including performance, dance, visual arts, music, video/film social media
  • Broadcast/social media – shows, series, memes, TikToks, posts, advertisements, etc. on streaming, web, free and cable services and social media. Excluding challenges or censorship of news media and journalists, or programmes/content that are solely focused on news, current affairs, politics.
  • Film – all forms, including feature films, short films, documentaries, film festivals.
  • Culture/Customs – a range of practices, including apparel, clothing, dialects, religious or cultural, etc.

c) Target type 

Target as follows:

artwork, product, item, or event.individual, group, collective, organisation (a writer, an art group, a theatre company, LGBTQ representation) .art form, artistic or cultural practice (e.g tattoos, rap music).

  • Artistic product/event – e.g. a painting, monument, public art, film, TV or web series, book, performance, concert, music video, advertisement, poetry slam, festivals, workshops, etc.
  • Individual/Group/Organisation  –e.g . sculptor, playwright, actor, singer, curator, Festival Director, editor, translator, showrunner, online content creator, organiser, producer, presenter, gallery, production company, cinema chain etc. 
  • Art form, cultural forms/practice – when the whole form, rather than an individual work is censored, e.g. forum theatre, satirical cartoons, street art; tattoos, a dialect, a religious or cultural ritual, a musical form.

d) Period

Challenges and censorship occurring  between 1 Jan 2010 – 31 Dec 2022 will be included, as part of the Pilot Programme.

Case summaries will include information current at the time the information is entered into the database.

If there are further developments after the Pilot Period, the entry will be updated in a special “Update” section of the form.

e) Countries

The Pilot will focus on Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Cases will be designated to the country where the challenge took place. This may be different from the country where the work originated from, i.e. a Cambodian film is banned in Thailand. If the same film is also targeted in Indonesia, a case report for Indonesia will be created too.

Targets that are challenged/censored online/across borders will be tagged to indicate so.

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