Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo - New Naratif

Akan Datang: It’s not a great week for civil liberties

Hello New Naratif readers! Another busy week kicks off in Southeast Asia, and while it may be back to school and work for some of us as we move into September, the news continues to rumble on regardless. This week we have a never-ending trial in Myanmar, a football frenzy in Vietnam, and why Indonesia’s beef rendang is the best disaster relief donation.

Here at New Naratif, we started the week with an article about undocumented migrant workers in Thailand, and then followed it up with a research piece about why men are dying younger in Kelantan and Terengganu in Malaysia. We also published our LGBTQ series in Bahasa Indonesia, which features being LGBTQ in Brunei, the weaponising of science in LGBTQ research in Malaysia, and Indonesia’s LGBTQ “exorcisms”.

We also have a new episode of our fortnightly regional podcast series Southeast Asia Dispatches on the site for you. In this week’s episode, Kirsten Han visits a modernist building in danger of demolition in Singapore, Samantha Cheh talks to PJ Thum about anti-LGBT pseudo-science in Malaysia, and Febriana Firdaus examines the challenges faced by local journalists in Indonesia-ruled West Papua. We hope you enjoy it!

Here are all the stories to watch in Southeast Asia this week…


We start this week with Singapore, and the news that People’s Action Party MP and Deputy Speaker of Parliament Seah Kian Peng posted on his Facebook page about a group of Singaporeans meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Among these participants were New Naratif‘s Managing Director PJ Thum and Editor-in-Chief Kirsten Han.

In the post, he accuses PJ of asking Mahathir to interfere in Singapore’s affairs, and misrepresents events and comments made at the meeting. You can read Kirsten’s response to the Facebook post here, and also read about the meeting with Mahathir, which was not conducted in an official capacity for New Naratif, but as individuals.

I don’t have much to add, other than to say that as an employee of New Naratif, I echo Kirsten’s words when she says this: “I find it to be a great honour and privilege to work with someone who cares so much. PM Lee was right; PJ is an inspiration.”

They both are.


Over in Indonesia this week, we have a story which has been floating around for some time but doesn’t seem to have grabbed our attention. Reuters reports that the rupiah is in trouble, and actually is nearly at 1998 crisis levels. As I wrote in this piece, Crisis and Complicity, the Asian Financial Crisis from 1997-1999 caused the rupiah to depreciate, causing rioting across Indonesia and bringing about the resignation of Suharto following 32 years in power. This is definitely one to watch!

From Suharto to Sukarno now—we loved this story over at Asia Times about the ongoing bonhomie between the Sukarno clan and North Korea, prompting questions of whether Kim Jong-un may make an appearance here sooner rather than later.

And, in food related news, the Jakarta Post has this piece on why beef rendang is the right food to send to natural disaster victims, and Australian prisoners love Indomie so much that it’s costing the government half a million dollars.


Over in Malaysia, the big story to watch involves the possible caning of two women, which is due to take place this week. “The women were detained by religious authorities in April this year and charged for “attempting to have sex”. They were each fined RM3,300 and face six strokes of the rotan (cane).”


In Cambodia, we have the news that Australian journalist, James Ricketson, has been sentenced to six years in jail for espionage. As he has said, it’s unclear who he’s meant to have been spying for and why, but this case should send a shiver down the spine of many a journalist in Southeast Asia—a place where press freedom is curtailed more and more by the day.

Keeping with the topic of judicial and political turmoil in Cambodia, Mekong Review has this piece on street spirit in Phnom Penh. “I used to think of Phnom Penh as a city of protests […] After all, capitals have long served this purpose: the chance to petition directly those in power.”


From Vietnam, our contributor, Mike Tatarski, has this comprehensive report:

Vietnam is in the midst of celebrating its National Day holiday with a long weekend, and a mix of celebratory and worrying storylines will carry into the coming days.

On the positive side, the men’s football team has returned to Hanoi from the ongoing Asian Games as national heroes. They advanced to the semi-finals of the tournament, at which point they lost to South Korea 3-1. In the bronze medal game on Saturday they lost to UAE in penalty kicks, coming in fourth place in the end. Nonetheless, this was the most successful ASIAD appearance ever for the men’s team, and scenes of utter jubilation filled streets nationwide after each match. This spirit will likely carry over even now that the competition is over, as thousands braved the rain in the capital to welcome the team home.

Elsewhere, severe flooding in the north-central provinces of Nghe An and Thanh Hoa has killed six people and left seven more missing. Heavy rain combined with hydropower dam discharges has swamped communities in the area, leaving thousands displaced. It appears likely that the flooding woes will continue in the coming days.

In more worrying news, over the last week four men have been arrested for attempting to “sabotage national unity” ahead of the aforementioned National Day holiday. According to AFP, two men were arrested in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho for calling for demonstrations on Facebook. Another man was arrested in Binh Dinh Province in possession of seven rifles and 500 rounds of ammunition, which he intended to use to “cause unrest on national day.” Finally, a shrimp farmer was also arrested for allegedly planning a protest.

Finally, seven more people were arrested in connection to a bomb blast at a police station in Ho Chi Minh City in June. The small explosion injured one policewoman. The detainees are reportedly part of an overseas dissident group led by a Vietnamese-Canadian man intent on overthrowing the government. The steady drumbeat of dissent-related arrests that has followed early June’s nationwide anti-China protests shows no signs of abating.


And finally in Myanmar we are still looking ahead this week to the trial of Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who will be sentenced this week, having been charged under the Official Secrets Act. The sentencing was postponed last week as apparently the judge was ill—we continue to hope for a positive outcome. In the lead up to the sentencing, demonstrators are calling for the pair to be released.

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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