Hello New Naratif readers! We look forward to a new week in Southeast Asia. As always, it’s a busy one. We have a star-studded espionage trial in Cambodia, more blasphemy cases in Indonesia, and perhaps the best coverage of Southeast Asia’s favourite fruit, the famously stinky durian, that you will ever read.
It was also a busy week over at New Naratif as we kicked off with this piece on the 8 August 1988 revolution in Myanmar and a look at the country 30 years on. We followed this with the story of Cambodian activist Tep Vanny, who has spent two years behind bars following a neighbourhood protest, and ended the week with a piece on the Vietnamese government’s reaction towards the World Mission Society Church of God.
Here are all the stories to watch in Southeast Asia this week…
We start this week with Indonesia and the news of yet another blasphemy case, this time in North Sumatra. Chinese-Indonesian Meiliana complained that the call to prayer from her local mosque was too loud, saying it “hurt” her ear back in 2016, which sparked a backlash that saw several Buddhist temples destroyed in Tanjung Balai. Prosecutors are seeking a 1.5-year sentence, and the most illuminating line from the article comes near the end: “The police arrested 19 people for their roles in the riot. Eight were charged with looting, nine with malicious destruction of property and two with inciting violence. All were given 1- to 4-month prison sentences.”
The blasphemy law has repeatedly been used over the years to target minorities, or anyone who doesn’t adhere to the six recognised religions in Indonesia. Also in the news this week, and one to watch, is this case, which is still under investigation in Banten Province, about a supposed sect called the Jellyfish Kingdom. The sect has come under fire as, “locals believe [followers] to be ‘heretical’ for their beliefs that Prophet Muhammad was a woman.”
The Sorrow of War is one of my favourite Southeast Asian books, which I first read all the way back in university in the dark ages, so I was delighted to see an interview with its notoriously taciturn writer, Bao Ninh, in the latest edition of Mekong Review. You can read the rare and fascinating interview here, and Mekong Review’s sister site, Mekong Teahouse, has a piece by Michael Karnavas about how he once managed to score a sit down with the reclusive writer.
Southeast Asia Globe has this interview with Will Nguyen about his arrest for “disturbing public order”, to which he says, “I argue to this day that I have done nothing ‘wrong’”.
You can read the piece that Will contributed to New Naratif here.
Over in Cambodia, our contributor Andrew Nachemson has this update:
Cambodia’s court schedule is fully packed this week as trials continue for Australian filmmaker James Ricketson, opposition leader Kem Sokha, and a group of Boeung Kek Lake community activists.
The ongoing trial of Australian filmmaker James Ricketson started last week and, rather surprisingly, featured testimony from well-known producer and director Peter Weir—apparently a long-time friend of the accused. Ricketson is on trial for alleged spying after flying a drone above a political rally, although no one really knows who he’s supposed to have been spying for.
Sokha was jailed on treason charges in a move that marked the beginning of the end of Cambodia’s democracy. Some predict that he’ll be released to ease international pressure now that the election is over.
Tep Vanny and others were arrested while protesting the government’s seizure of their land—a case covered by George Wright for New Naratif.
Instability continues at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, with the international judge recently recommending to charge ex-Khmer Rouge official Ao An while the Cambodian judge recommended dismissing the case. Prime Minister Hun Sen has vocally objected to further prosecutions—the former Khmer Rouge cadre Im Chaem’s case has been dismissed entirely and the Cambodian prosecutor in the Yim Tith (a former commander in Pol Pot’s regime) case recommended dropping charges. The suggestion of political interference has big implications for the legacy of the court, and may have international implications if naval commander Meas Muth is also let off. Muth was in command during the Mayaguez Incident when the Khmer Rouge attacked a US container ship, prompting a confrontation that left 41 American soldiers dead or missing. With Cambodia and America’s relationship already severely strained, this could be a further blow.
Over in Thailand, we’ve a plethora of monk related news, starting with this piece calling obesity in monks “a ticking time bomb”.
Also, if you’ve ever wondered why trees are being ordained as monks in Thailand, then Mongabay has the answer.
From Myanmar, we have this rather unsurprising news that Facebook is losing the battle against hate speech, after Reuters found more than 1,000 examples of posts, comment and pornographic images attacking the Rohingya and other other Muslims.
Lots of Singapore-related news coverage this week has to do with Crazy Rich Asians—to the delight of the Singapore Tourism Board, who’s taking this opportunity to go on a hard sell. Our Editor-in-Chief, Kirsten Han, has the hottest take of them all, looking at how a representation milestone in America does not translate into a similar historic moment for Singapore over at Foreign Policy.
We’re just over 100 days into the new government in Malaysia, so expect a number of pieces like this one to come out in the coming days, where activists grade Pakatan Harapan’s progress. The main takeaway? Press freedom appears to have improved—which is definitely something we need more of across Southeast Asia.
On a related note, and in case you missed it, we published this piece in June on Malaysian graphic designer, street artist and political activist, Fahmi Reza, following the fall of Barisan Nasional to get his views on the new political scene in Malaysia. “We celebrate the victory of the people after decades of struggle. But my loyalty is not to any particular regime, political party or leader. I will continue to criticise the new Pakatan Harapan government and its leaders if they act like dictators,” he said.
And last but not least, we have this story about durian, or the “King of Fruits” as it is sometimes over-optimistically named. Love it or hate it, there’s a real fear that there won’t be enough durian to go round in Southeast Asia in the near future due to high demand and low supply. And, according to the article, there are also other, perhaps more pressing, issues: “In the future, we may have to evacuate this planet and head out past our own solar system… We must know if durians can survive in space, and we can’t rely on more influential countries to do it for us.”
Let’s all pack up and go home. Nothing will ever beat this.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org!
See you next week!
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