Michael Nguyen - New Naratif

Akan Datang: Our thoughts are with everyone in Lombok

Hello New Naratif readers! It’s going to be another busy week in the region and we have a whole host of developments to look out for including another worrying arrest in Vietnam, sexual abuse allegations in crisis centres in Indonesia and the anniversary of the 88 Uprising in Myanmar. Never a dull moment it seems…

We also have our own news here at New Naratif which we couldn’t be more excited to share with our readers. Today marks the start of a new podcast series, Southeast Asia Dispatches, hosted by our managing director PJ Thum!

Our first episode brings you stories from the region, including educating child labourers in Myanmar with Victoria Milko, a new train line in Cambodia with Mark Tilly, and reporting on grief with me. We hope you enjoy it and look forward to bringing you more from Southeast Asia in this fortnightly series! You can listen to the first episode here.

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


We start this week with our contributor Mike Tatarski who has this troubling news of another arrest in Vietnam:

It appears that another American citizen was arrested in Vietnam last month, around the same time that William Nguyen was detained during protests in Ho Chi Minh City. The family of Michael Nguyen (unrelated), a father of four from Los Angeles, have said that he’s currently in detention in Ho Chi Minh City and is being investigated for “activity against the people’s government.” Oddly, neither the State Department nor the US Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City have confirmed that this is the case. A consulate spokesperson told me that they are “aware of media reports regarding the arrest of an American citizen.”

If Nguyen is indeed in jail and being investigated under those charges, this could be a much more serious case than that of Will Nguyen, as the alleged charge involves more than just protesting. We wrote about Will’s case and issues with freedom of assembly in Vietnam here.

Elsewhere, the Chinese government is angry that a number of Taiwanese firms have flown Taiwanese flags over their building in Vietnam, as the firms want to avoid getting caught up in anti-China protests. The Vietnamese government has responded by saying it supports the one-China policy and that it has not given these companies permission to fly the Taiwanese flag. This is just the latest example of Beijing exerting pressure on Taiwan through diplomatic means beyond its borders.


Over in Indonesia, we have a spate of news about women’s rights in the country.

First up, we have this sad case of 12 Indonesian women who were allegedly trafficked to China where they were forced to enter into marriages with local men. Exactly what happened here and whether this is a case of human trafficking is not yet clear, so we may hear more about this in the coming week.

Following on from this, the South China Morning Post has this harrowing read about how women are often targets of abuse following natural disasters, such as the recent earthquake that hit the island of Lombok. As we were about to publish this column, we heard news of another huge quake near Lombok with a magnitude of 6.8 which is likely to have brought more devastation to the area. As I said last week, we often focus on the tourism angles of natural disasters of this nature, when really the conversation should be about the more serious issues that affect local communities who can’t just fly home when disaster strikes.

Talking of flying home however, that is exactly what happened to Australian student, Belinda Lopez, who was detained while trying to enter Bali and eventually released after 24 hours. It’s unclear at this stage exactly what the problem was as Ms Lopez is a former journalist and had also visited Papua Province, which may have led to her being blacklisted. For more information about media restrictions in Papua, Human Rights Watch has this interesting report.

For her part, Ms. Lopez says she’s “devastated” to have been blacklisted by the Indonesian authorities, while immigration spokesperson Agung Sampurno had this spectacular burn when asked about the case: “Situations like this are quite common. For example, the Australian government denies entry to our people every day without revealing the reasons.”

Okay then…


From Myanmar, our contributor Victoria Milko has this news:

This week marks the 30th anniversary of the 88 Uprising, in which large-scale democracy protests were held in major cities across Myanmar, prompting a brutal crackdown by the then-ruling military junta. The uprising led to the death and imprisonment of thousands of activists, many of whom were subjected to torture while in prison.

For those not well versed in this period of Myanmar’s history, NPR has this comprehensive wrap up.


And in Singapore we have this news that local pastor Lawrence Khong has called for 500,000 people to gather and “pray for the welfare of Singapore, especially since “natural marriage” and the state of the family is “under attack”—which is another way of saying he’s worried that everyone is now going to be gay. This isn’t the first time Khong’s made such comments, of course; he’s well-known in Singapore as a religious leader (and magician) who resists any move towards greater LGBTQ equality, such as the decriminalisation of sex between men.

We’re flagging it as we’re concerned about this kind of rhetoric being used in Singapore, but in the interests of not giving it any more oxygen, we suggest that readers check out LGBTQ coverage instead! We have this dispatch from Pink Dot in Singapore, a report on weaponising science and Malaysia’s LGBTQ “research”, and this piece on being LGBTQ in Brunei. Also keep an eye out for our latest feature from Indonesia coming out this week that’ll be part of our LGBTQ series!


And we end this week with Malaysia and this look in New Mandala about how patronage politics need to be reformed if we are really going to have a crack at forming a new Malaysia.

While not everyone may agree with the use of local slang terms like “pusing” and “gostan” in the article, it’s still a pretty sobering read about the culture of “cari makan” politics in post GE14 Malaysia.

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!

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