Hello New Naratif readers!
Indonesia continues to dominate the news this week, as Sulawesi recovers from the twin natural disasters of an earthquake and tsunami that hit the region last Friday. In addition to Indonesia, we also have a spate of other stories from around Southeast Asia to prove that there’s never a dull moment, no matter where you may be. In Malaysia, we have the latest twist in the tale of a Syrian refugee living in limbo in Kuala Lumpur International Airport, an alcohol crisis in Myanmar and a high-profile trial involving opposition politicians begins in Singapore.
Over at New Naratif, we started the week with this piece on how the new Mental Health Law is sparking hopes of greater dialogue and support around mental health issues in the Philippines. We then followed this with a piece on the Indonesian Women’s Ulama Movement which aims to promote a moderate and more progressive form of Islam across the archipelago and abroad.
Here are all the stories to watch in Southeast Asia this week…
We start this week with Malaysia and the story of Hassan al-Kontar, the Syrian asylum seeker who spent almost seven months living in Kuala Lumpur International Airport. We featured a story about Hassan in Episode 4 of our podcast Southeast Asia Dispatches, and it seems that he has now been removed from KLIA and will be deported back to Syria. Hassan said he’d left Syria to avoid military service, and this article has some background on the dangers of conscription in the country.
Keeping with the Syria–Malaysia connection, we have this piece in the New Straits Times about wanted militant Akel Zainal, which starts with this glorious but also quite confusing line: “Police will arrest Akel Zainal, a former drummer for now defunct 1990s rock band, the Ukays, if he returns to Malaysia.”
It turns out, if you read on, that Zainal is wanted after having joined a militant group in Syria in 2014, but we always enjoy a completely irrelevant opener that makes reference to someone’s musical portfolio, no matter what.
Of course, you didn’t think we were going to end this segment on Malaysia without mentioning that Rosmah Mansor, the wife of former Prime Minister Najib Razak, has been arrested? She spent a night in detention before she was presented in court and charged with 17 counts of money laundering. This is definitely something we’ll be keeping an eye on. For Singaporean theatre practitioners, it’s open season on poking fun at Rosmah now (and also the wife of Singapore’s prime minister).
In Myanmar, we have this news that local distilleries are opposing lifting a ban on important foreign liquor into the country—for obvious reasons—and this article has a great explanation of the history of alcohol in the country, including this great quote to explain exactly who likes to get tanked in Myanmar:
“Imports of alcoholic beverages were banned [in 1995] because they were not regarded as an essential product in Myanmar, said U Zaw Min, deputy director at the Department of Trade, under the Ministry of Commerce. Alcoholic beverages were regarded as essential by only a few people, most of them foreigners.”
Today also marks the 300th day in prison for jailed Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. The pair have been sentenced to seven years in prison for reporting on this massacre of 10 Rohingya men in Rakhine State.
Our Chief Editor Kirsten Han and Consulting Editor for Jakarta and Papua Febriana Firdaus were at the third Asian investigative journalism conference in Seoul this past week, and joined over 400 hundred journalists in demanding that Myanmar #FreeWaLoneKyawSoeOo.
Over in Indonesia, we’re still dealing with the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Central Sulawesi, and Reuters reports that the search for victims is going to be halted on Thursday. The death toll now stands at over 1,700, and as well as widespread devastation to the region, there have been reports of other effects of the twin natural disasters, including this piece in the Conversation on the impact on human rights activism. One of our contributors, Stanley Widianto, who co-wrote this piece for New Naratif on Indonesia’s blasphemy laws, has also been in Palu for the past week writing for the Washington Post, and has this latest dispatch from the field. On Sunday, the Indonesian authorities also announced that as many as 5,000 people could still be missing, presumed dead.
On a different note, our Jakarta and Papua Consulting Editor, Febriana Firdaus, recently contributed a written piece for an upcoming episode of CNN’s Parts Unknown set in Indonesia, which was shot before Anthony Bourdain’s tragic death. Febri co-wrote this piece for the Parts Unknown site all about the background of 1965 which will be discussed on the show—essential reading for anyone not familiar with this bloody chapter of Indonesia’s history.
For Singapore, our Chief Editor Kirsten Han has this:
It’s not been a great week for Singapore, what with an activist jailed, another on trial and families of death row inmates reporting three executions on Friday (I’m still waiting for the prison to get back to me about confirmation, although this is unlikely).
But the news to watch would be the trial for civil lawsuits involving, among others, three well-known opposition figures from the Workers’ Party: former leader Low Thia Khiang, chair Sylvia Lim and current secretary-general Pritam Singh. All three are sitting Members of Parliament for Singapore’s tiny opposition presence in the House.
Two town councils, one of which is still in a WP-held constituency, have alleged that the town councillors—who include the three MPs—had mismanaged the town councils finances. If they lose, the three (and others) could be liable to repay a whopping SGD33.7 million (USD24.38 million). That’s bankrupt potential; if this happens, the three would lose their seats in Parliament, so this is something that Singaporeans will be keeping an eye on. Lawyer Remy Choo has written a Facebook note on what to look out for.
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!