Southeast Asia Theater
Authorities in Malaysia have declared a state of emergency that suspends Parliament and puts on hold any new general elections at least through August. The order is ostensibly a measure to contain COVID-19, coming as Kuala Lumpur and other cities are being placed under near-total lockdown, or Movement Control Order. But critics are portraying the declaration as a ploy by embattled Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to remain in power. The accusations prompted Muhyiddin to go on national television after the order was issued Jan. 12 to insist the move is "not a military coup."
Authorities in Bangladesh are surrounding the Rohingya refugee camps with barbed-wire fencing and watchtowers, turning them into what refugees and rights groups liken to a "prison." Southeast Asia-based NGO Fortify Rights says construction on some 28 kilometers of fencing is nearly complete around parts of the camps, which are home to some 900,000 Rohingya pushed out of Myanmar. Humanitarian workers fear the fencing could hamper aid delivery and block access to medical clinics. Bangladeshi officials say the fencing is a response to growing concerns about crime and gang violence; humanitarian groups say any security measures must be proportionate. "The civilian and humanitarian character of the camps must be maintained," the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, warned in December.
Riot police used tear-gas and water cannons in Indonesia's capital on Oct. 8 to disperse large protests against a sweeping new law that rolls back protections for workers and the environment. Hundreds were arrested in Jakarta, and rallies took place in cities across the archipelago nation. The National Police have issued a notice to regional departments with directives on how to control the protests. The Omnibus Law, plugged as a "Job Creation" bill, was passed three days earlier, despite calls for a general strike by the country's trade unions. It revises more than 70 laws and regulations in an effort to cut "red tape" and improve the investment climate. Most controversially, it abolishes the national minimum wage, reduces severance pay, and relaxes the criteria for environmental impact statements on development projects.
Thai authorities on Aug. 19 arrested six activists who took part in ths month's pro-democracy demonstrations in Bangkok. Among the six activists arrested is lawyer Anon Nampa, who called for reform of the monarchy, marking the second time he has been arrested this month. Previously charged with sedition, Anon joined the student rallies demanding constitutional reform, the dissolution of parliament, and an end to the intimidation of activists. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said that the "Harry Potter-themed" rally on Aug. 3 went "too far" and urged protesters "not to create chaos." Speaking against the monarchy carries the risk of a 15-year prison term in Thailand. Demonstrators have been asserting that democracy is "impossible" without limiting the monarchy's constitutional role.
Hundreds of protesters marched in Manila June 12 against "anti-terrorism" legislation that critics fear will give Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte sweeping powers to crush dissent. This was the latest in a series of demonstrations held under the campaign #JunkTerrorBilllNow. The bill, already approved by Congress and expected to be signed by Duterte, would create a council of presidential appointees empowered to order warrantless arrests of those deemed to be "terrorists." It also allows for weeks of detention without charge. (AFP, Anadolu) The Philippine Department of Justice is to issue a formal review of the bill, and opponents are demanding that it recommend a veto. In a letter addressed to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, human rights group Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said that the Anti-Terrorism Bill "will inevitably and ultimately infringe on the people’s exercise of basic rights and fundamental freedoms." (Karapatan, Bulatlat)
Agribusiness and resource companies embroiled in land disputes with rural communities in Indonesia appear to be using the lull in oversight during the COVID-19 outbreak to strengthen their claims to contested areas. Since the first confirmed cases of the disease were reported in the country on March 2, two local land defenders have been killed and four arrested in connection with disputes in Sumatra, Java and Borneo.
Police in Jakarta last week arrested five suspected members of an "anarcho-syndicalist" group they claim was hoping to trigger unrest across the island of Java amid public anxiety over the COVID-19 pandemic. The group allegedly painted graffiti inciting people to riot with messages such as "time to burn," "kill the rich," and "die ridiculously or fight" on the walls of a shopping complex in Tangerang, an outlying city of the Greater Jakarta metropolitan area. Their plan to spark mass looting was announced on social media, police said. The five have been charged with "misinformation" and "public provocation," and face up to 10 years imprisonment.
The Hague District Court on March 25 ordered the Netherlands to pay compensation to the relatives of 11 men executed by Dutch soldiers in South Sulawesi in 1946 and 1947, during the 1945-49 Indonesian War of Independence. Ten of the cases under consideration were found to be summary executions; there was one case in which a man was randomly shot. The largest compensation, in the form of intangible damages of €10,000, was awarded to a man who witnessed his father's summary execution when he was a child. The relatives of other men were awarded material compensation for lost livelihood, varying from €123.48 to €3,634. The court explained that the amounts are low because many of the executed men were farmers who only earned about €100 a year. This judgment follows a series of “Indonesia cases,” which the Dutch courts have been hearing since 2011.