Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo - New Naratif

Akan Datang: Hope for the Thai cave rescue, anger at the Myanmar court’s decision

Hello New Naratif readers! It’s such a busy week in Southeast Asia that Akan Datang is actually a day late as I try to get on top of several stories currently breaking in the region. Apologies for the delay!

There’s so much going on that it’s hard to keep track, but we have the extraction of the Wild Boars football team in Thailand which has been one of the most riveting and (at times) heartbreaking stories in Southeast Asia in recent memory, a cat festival in Singapore, and more legal troubles for Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo in Myanmar.

Let’s get started before something else happens…


We start this week with Myanmar and this dispatch from our local contributor Victoria Milko:

After having spent over 200 days in jail, Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo will be charged under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which carries a sentence of up to 14 years in prison.

The duo were arrested on December 12 after they were invited to meet police for dinner in Yangon, with Myanmar government saying, they were “arrested for possessing important and secret government documents related to Rakhine State and security forces.” Both journalists say they were simply handed papers by the police and didn’t have a chance to read them before being arrested. It was later speculated that the documents they received contained information related to the Rohingya massacre at Inn Din.

It’s a bad blow to the credibility of Myanmar’s democratic transition. This devastating development sends a chilling message to all of us about crumbling press freedom not just in Myanmar but across Southeast Asia, which is also something New Naratif covered last week in this piece on Cambodia’s free press. Wa Lone however remains unbowed, saying “We will face the court,” he said. “We will not retreat, give up or be shaken by this.”


The other big news to follow this week is that of the plucky Wild Boars football team who have been stuck in Tham Luang Cave in Thailand for two weeks. As I write this, four boys out of twelve have been rescued and the extraction operation is ongoing. Let’s hope they are all brought out today, along with their coach, and that the rescue mission concludes successfully.

In the coming days, we may hear more about the boys’ ordeal in the cave, and the psychological effects of their weeks underground, which Asian Correspondent takes a look at here. I also really liked this piece from Lowy Institute about the politics of international rescue efforts like the one we have seen in Thailand, which former Australian PM, Tony Abbott, once called “an antidote to pessimism”.  

As many online commentators have pointed out, as we are gripped by World Cup fever, this is the one football team we can all root for. ‘Mon the Wild Boars!


It’s been a fairly quiet week in Singapore—unless you invest in property and started panic-buying condos before the surprise cooling measures came in. Meanwhile, there’ll be a Cat Festival on 14 and 15 July. It’s not really news, but there are a number of cat lovers on the New Naratif team so we’ve gotta say something.


Over in Vietnam, our contributor Mike Tatarski has this news:

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Hanoi on Sunday for a two-day visit aimed at deepening ties between Vietnam and the United States. Last night Daniel Kritenbrink, the American ambassador, shared on Facebook that Secretary Pompeo told a business forum: “The United States will continue to work for a strong, prosperous, and independent Vietnam—one that engages in fair and reciprocal trade, contributes to international security, and respects human rights and the rule of law…A free and open Indo-Pacific is vital to the continued growth of commerce between our two nations.”

Pompeo hasn’t publicly raised the case of Will Nguyen (perhaps he’s said something in private to his Vietnamese counterparts?) Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American graduate student, was arrested during protests in Ho Chi Minh City early last month. Other than a “confession” aired on national TV, there has been no update on Nguyen’s status or whereabouts in recent weeks, and the silence from the US side has been fairly deafening. I’m not surprised that the Trump administration hasn’t pushed more publicly for Nguyen’s release, but it is rather odd that an American citizen has been in jail without charges for nearly a month and little prominent attention has been paid to the topic.

This story hasn’t quite hit international headlines, but eight men have been arrested for their involvement in a bombing at a police station in Ho Chi Minh City last month. The bomb, which was reportedly remotely detonated, caused some structural damage and injured one police woman. Officials have said the men received training from an overseas organisation—which is usually code for Viet Tan, the pro-democracy Vietnamese group based in the United States—and four of them will be charged with terrorism, a crime which can be punishable by death. I’m very interested to see if more related arrests are made this week.

Mike, along with Dam Xuan Viet, also wrote this piece for New Naratif, published today, on Ho Chi Minh City’s sidewalks. We also have this video that accompanies the piece to give you a glimpse into the life of Ho Chi Minh’s sidewalk vendors.


In Malaysia, former PM Najib Razak was arrested last week for his role in the 1MDB scandal but, uh-oh, there’s trouble at t’mill as he’s suing three of the top investigators involved in the probe. I personally enjoy it when dictatorial and highly corrupt arseholes get their comeuppance, so hopefully it’s off to the slammer for Najib.  


And in Cambodia it’s still all about the elections and probably will be for some time. I’m amazed how gripping these elections seem to be in the region, considering we already know who’s going to win (Hun Sen) as there is no viable opposition. Still, I really enjoyed this explainer from VOA News which is one of the most comprehensive I’ve seen yet and was compiled after six months of research.


Finally over in Indonesia, as I predicted a few weeks ago, there is this think-piece in the Diplomat on the implications of the death sentence of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah leader, Aman Abdurrahman, that asks if the sentence will backfire, and an interesting (and free!) paper on pathways into terrorism in Southeast Asia that unpacks why individuals join terrorist groups.

In case you missed it, New Naratif also published this piece on Indonesia’s first female suicide bomber and the reasons for her radicalisation.  

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 to us via [email protected] !

See you next week!

If you enjoyed this article and would like to join our movement to create space for research, conversation, and action in Southeast Asia, please subscribe to New Naratif—it’s just US$52/year (US$1/week)!

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