Hello New Naratif readers! Huge apologies for the delay with Akan Datang this week, which comes to you several days later than usual. Still, better slightly late than never, as we have a spate of news, from the sublime to the ridiculous, from around the region. This week we look at syariah bodybuilding contests in Malaysia, a presidential pardon in Cambodia, and a dribbling media apology in Indonesia.
Over at New Naratif, we started the week with a look at the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) and its “toothless” approach to dealing with human rights issues. Keeping with the theme of human rights, I wrote a piece on Rohingya refugees and the American Dream, looking at what happens when refugees are finally resettled.
We also have the latest episode of our fortnightly podcast series Political Agenda, which looks at the latest effort to repeal Section 377A of Singapore’s Penal Code, which criminalises sex between men. New Naratif sits down with Ready4Repeal co-author Johannes Hadi, Clement Tan of Pink Dot and PhD candidate Pamela Devan to talk about the anti-gay law and other LGBT issues in Singapore.
Here are all the stories to watch in Southeast Asia this week…
Over in Malaysia, we have this news of a woman who was arrested for allegedly engaging in sex work in Terengganu, which is punishable by a prison term of three years and six strokes of the rotan (cane). This comes on the heels of the public caning of two lesbians in Kelantan several weeks ago, a move apparently welcomed by the local community.
Some are worried that both of these cases show that Malaysia is far from the “New Malaysia” we were all expecting after the recent change of government, but, while same-sex acts and prostitution are illegal, Kelantan has found other ways for its residents to have fun—with plans for a syariah-compliant bodybuilding contest to be held in October.
Over in Vietnam this week, our contributor Mike Tatarski has this report:
The big story from Vietnam this week will be the fallout from the death of President Tran Dai Quang on Friday morning. Rumours of Quang’s ill health began last year, and state media finally reported that he had suffered from a rare viral illness with no known cure. He had even travelled to Japan six times for treatment, to no avail. Quang, who was 61, was appointed president in April 2016; prior to that he had run the country’s powerful Ministry of Public Security, which gathers domestic and foreign intelligence and oversees internet monitoring operations. The role of president is largely ceremonial in Vietnam, with Quang greeting visiting heads of state while Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc runs the government and Party Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong sets ideological and policy directions. This is a notoriously opaque system though, and it’s difficult to know how this will play out in the coming weeks. A two day mourning period will start on 26 September and will be followed by a state funeral.
Vice President Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh has been appointed acting president following Quang’s death, making her the first female head of state in the country’s history. A new president will be elected by the National Assembly at some point; the legislative body’s next session begins October 22.
In lighter news, the Vietnamese version of the reality TV show The Bachelor made international headlines for a surprisingly good reason: on a recent episode one of the contestants expressed her feelings for another contestant, and asked her to leave the show with her and leave the guy they are supposed to be fighting for behind. The pair did not walk off into the sunset in the end, as one of the women decided to stay, but the drama shocked many viewers nonetheless, especially those abroad who think of Vietnam as a strictly conservative country.
From Cambodia, we have some good news for once, as Australian journalist James Ricketson has been granted a pardon having been sentenced to six years in jail for flying a drone over a political rally. While this is great news for Ricketson and his family, a pardon is not the same as having had his conviction overturned and still ultimately finds him guilty of the crime of espionage—so this is a hardly a triumph for press freedom across Southeast Asia. Ricketson has said he plans to return to Cambodia as soon as possible, and we may hear more about his arrest and the year he spent in jail in Cambodia in the coming week.
The pardon comes at a time when Cambodia has started to release a number of political activists and journalists on bail, including opposition party member, Kem Sokha several weeks ago and the Diplomat has a good piece on what these prisoner releases mean in Hun Sen’s Cambodia.
In Indonesia this week we have a follow up to the Asia Sentinel piece I flagged last week which alleged massive fraud in former president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s government. Asia Sentinel has now taken the inflammatory article down and issued a fawning apology that ends with this particularly obsequious gem:
“Finally Asia Sentinel would like to express its high regard for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has served his country with distinction and is widely respected as an Asian statesman.”
Pretty rich considering the publication alleged that SBY may have fleeced Indonesian taxpayers to the tune of USD12 billion but still, always good to apologise when you’ve screwed up, and it remains to be seen if SBY will follow through with threats of legal action against Asia Sentinel.
Another big story to watch in Indonesia this week is the sad news of a football fan, Haringga Sirla, who was beaten to death by rival supporters at a match in Bandung. Sadly this is not an uncommon occurrence in Indonesia, where violent clashes between football fans erupt periodically.
In an interesting twist to the tale, the new Governor of North Sumatra, Edy Rahmayadi, who is also the head of the Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI) walked out of an interview where he was asked about the incident, leading to questions about whether he should step down and focus on politics rather than sport. Meanwhile Indonesian Sports and Youth Minister, Imam Nahrawi, issued a warning to PSSI, “Do not trade lives for soccer”.
From Singapore, we have this from our Chief Editor Kirsten Han:
In Singapore, the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods has come back with its report, making 22 recommendations to the government. The Ministry of Law and Ministry of Communications and Information released a statement a day after the report was submitted to say that they have accepted the recommendations in principle; hardly a surprise when both the Minister for Law and Senior Minister of State for the Ministry of Communications and Information were themselves in the Committee that wrote the report. This means that Singaporeans will get to look forward to some anti-fake news legislation being tabled in Parliament, so that’s definitely something to watch.
And that’s a wrap on this week in Southeast Asia! If you have a tip on a news story you would like to see featured in Akan Datang, then send it over to firstname.lastname@example.org!