Southeast Asia Theater

Thai authorities arrest pro-democracy activists

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.

Philippines: mobilization against 'anti-terror' bill

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)

Land conflicts escalate in Indonesia

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 raid anarcho-syndicalists in Java

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.

Netherlands to pay over Indonesia atrocities

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.

ICJ: Burma must prevent Rohingya genocide

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled unanimously Jan. 23 that Myanmar (Burma) must take "provisional measures" to address the "ongoing risk of genocide" faced by the remaining Rohingya people within the country's borders. The ruling also ordered Myanmar to preserve evidence of killings and to make regular reports to the court. This decision arises as part of the ongoing dispute between The Gambia and Myanmar regarding allegations of genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority. The Gambia brought a complaint to the ICJ in November and the trial officially commenced in December with oral arguments from the two sides. The Gambia requested that the ICJ institute "provisional measures" against Myanmar to ensure the protection of the Rohingya people during the trial and to preserve evidence. The court found that given the inherent gravity of genocide allegations and the prima facie evidence already presented, provisional measures were necessary to preserve the rights of the Rohingya currently remaining in Myanmar.

China-Indonesia maritime stand-off

Dozens of Chinese vessels that were fishing in Indonesia's Exclusive Economic Zone off the disputed island of Natuna began leaving the area Jan. 9, after days of stand-off. Indonesia deployed eight warships and four fighter jets to the area in response to the presence of the Chinese vessels, and summoned Beijing's ambassador in Jakarta to complain. A military statement said: "Our Navy and air force are armed and have been deployed to the North Natuna Sea [to] drive out the foreign vessels." China was reported to have sent three coast guard cutters into the area during the stand-off. The Natuna archipelago, off the northwest coast of Borneo, occupies a particularly strategic spot in the South China Sea. Its waters contain significant oil and gas reserves, and it guards the eastern opening of the narrow Malacca Strait, a critical chokepoint for shipping lanes. The archipelago falls within China's "nine-dash line," an area covering nearly the entirety of the South China Sea. 

Killings of ecological defenders rise in Philippines

Named the most dangerous country in the world for land and environmental defenders, the Philippines has become an even deadlier place for activists in 2019, with 46 recorded deaths so far this year, according to the Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE), a local NGO. The same organization recorded 28 killings of land and environmental defenders in 2018. Global Witness, an environmental watchdog, tallied 30 such killings in the Philippines that year and designated the country the most dangerous in the world for defenders based on sheer number of deaths.

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