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February 24 2014

UNICEF Calls for “Child-Free” Protests in Thailand

After a grenade explosion killed three children in an anti-government protest site in Bangkok, the United Nations Children’s Fund urged government and protest leaders to protect children by keeping them away from protests. Bijaya Rajbhandari, the UNICEF Representative in Thailand, made this appeal:

(The UNICEF) condemns the violence that resulted in these tragic and senseless deaths and injuries to children. These incidents underscore the urgent need to keep children out of harm’s way in order to ensure their safety. UNICEF urges the Government, pro- and anti-government protest leaders and all parents to ensure children do not enter protest sites and are kept well away from all protest areas.

February 17 2014

Dancing and Rising for Justice in Southeast Asia

Filipino activists hold a 'One Billion Rising' dance protest near the Philippine presidential palace to push for greater subsidy to social services.

Filipino activists hold a ‘One Billion Rising’ dance protest near the Philippine presidential palace to push for greater subsidy to social services.

The ‘One Billion Rising’ campaign was supported by many groups and individuals in the Southeast Asian region. This year, the theme was broadened to include the call for justice aside from the particular demand to end violence against women.

In Cambodia, the violence inflicted on striking garment workers was highlighted during the preparation of the event:

…there have been crackdowns and violence on garment factory workers who demonstrated for better working conditions which resulted in many (casualties). Other female land rights activists had also been savagely beaten, arrested and detained without investigation. Reparations have never been made for the victims and until (today) the perpetrators have not been brought to justice

But the biking activity on February 14 was blocked by the police since it was seen as a threat to peace and order.

Cambodia's bike event was blocked by the police

Cambodia's bike event was blocked by the police

In Indonesia, ‘One Billion Rising’ activities were held in seven cities across the country.

The 'One Billion Rising' dance was performed in seven cities in Indonesia

The ‘One Billion Rising’ dance was performed in seven cities in Indonesia

'Rise for Justice' in Indonesia

‘Rise for Justice’ in Indonesia

Members of the Women in Hai Hau in Nam Dinh province, Vietnam led a practice session for the ‘One Billion Rising’ dance event. Below is a video of their rehearsal:

In Thailand, students of Chiang Mai University supported the ‘One Billion Rising’ campaign. Below is a video of their practice session:

Another 'One Billion Rising' photo in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Image from Facebook page of Lisa Kerry

Another ‘One Billion Rising’ photo in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Image from Facebook page of Lisa Kerry

In the Philippines, the women’s group Gabriela coordinated the ‘One Billion Rising’ campaign and they were able to mobilize thousands of women in various parts of the country. Joms Salvador, secretary general of Gabriela, explained the importance of the campaign to eliminate all forms of violence against women:

Sometimes, because of the impunity of poverty, human rights violations, violence against women and children, people tend to be desensitized. We need to realize that such situations must not be the norm and that these have to change. We need to act collectively and make our call for justice stronger because things could only get worse when we keep silent and just watch idly by.

In the city Davao located in the southern part of the country, the issue of corruption was underscored in the fight for meaningful justice:

With the state of the country marred by corruption especially with the anomalous use of the public funds, then all taxpayers should be with us in dancing to call for justice

'Justice' is the theme of this year's 'One Billion Rising'

‘Justice’ is the theme of this year's ‘One Billion Rising’

'Rise, Release, Dance' activity in Davao City, located in the southern island of Mindanao in the Philippines

‘Rise, Release, Dance’ activity in Davao City, located in the southern island of Mindanao in the Philippines

'Justice for typhoon Haiyan victims' is one of the demands of the campaign

‘Justice for typhoon Haiyan victims’ is one of the demands of the campaign

Workers called for a wage hike as part of the campaign for social justice

Workers called for a wage hike as part of the campaign for social justice

February 14 2014

‘Bizarre’ Thailand Elections

Thai writer Aim Sinpeng describes the recent election in Thailand as one of the most bizarre in the country's history:

The February 2 election in Thailand was not only one of the most bizarre, but also “pointless” elections in recent memory. “Missing” polling stations, locked up ballot boxes, an M16 shooting match, and a complete boycott by the second largest political party are among the many incidents that characterize the recent election in this Southeast Asia nation.

February 10 2014

Why are Rice Farmers Protesting in Thailand?

Protesting farmers in front of the Ministry of Commerce in Bangkok. Photo by Karnt Thassanaphak, Copyright@Demotix (2/6/2014)

Protesting farmers in front of the Ministry of Commerce in Bangkok. Photo by Karnt Thassanaphak, Copyright@Demotix (2/6/2014)

Hundreds of rice farmers have been protesting in the past several days in Bangkok after the Thailand government has repeatedly failed to provide payments under the rice pledging program. Delayed payments have already reached 130 billion Baht affecting more than a million farmers.

Introduced in 2011 after the election victory of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the program involved the government buying the rice output of local farmers at high a price before reselling the rice to the global market. The program was meant to improve the savings of farmers.

For five decades, Thailand was the world’s largest rice exporter but it has been overtaken by India and Vietnam in recent years. Critics blame the rice pledging program for the huge financial losses in the rice sector.

The rice protest has intensified the country’s political crisis as anti-government protests continue to gather thousands in the streets of Bangkok.

Majority of farmer-protesters are not affiliated with the People's Democratic Reform Committee which has been the lead organizer of the anti-government protests. In fact, many farmers are from the village strongholds of the ruling party.

The opposition has expressed support to the protesting farmers and has initiated a donation campaign to help sustain the protest in the city. The opposition is also blaming corruption under the Yingluck government for the present suffering of rice farmers.

For its part, the government said it was unable to pay farmers because of the protests which caused the dissolution of the parliament. It urged protesters not to block or occupy government banks.

It assured farmers that the government is finding a mechanism on how to deliver the payments. It also rejected criticism that the rice subsidy program has become a disastrous populist policy:

Ultimate goal of the rice pledging scheme is not the Government’s popularity, but simply the upgrade of income security for the better lives of farmers, and for the better future of our posterity since rice farming means growing the better future on our own land without any impact to the country’s monetary and fiscal disciplines.

But Bangkok Pundit believes a new subsidy program should be implemented by the government:

…some other form of subsidy which doesn’t involve the government being in the business of selling rice is a better option. A direct subsidy of something similar would be a much easier scheme to implement and manage. You can set a budget and you wouldn’t have to go through the problems the government is facing now with trying to issue bonds and who to borrow the money from.

Below are some photos and reaction on Twitter. In this photo, farmers mounted a street blockade near Bangkok, the country's capital.

Bangkok protesters showed solidarity to the farmers by gathering cash donations:

@PravitR thinks the Prime Minister should immediately apologize to farmers:

February 08 2014

No Winners in Thailand Elections?

Chris Baker analyzed election statistics in Thailand and concluded that there are no clear winners in the elections:

My overall impression is that nobody won. If full data are every released, Pheu Thai (ruling party) will probably have won a majority of the seats. But the party cannot have won enough votes in absolute numbers to bolster the government’s sagging legitimacy.

The election was boycotted by the opposition as anti-government protests continue to gather thousands in the streets of Bangkok, the country's capital.

February 02 2014

Millions Disenfranchised in Thailand Elections

An elderly woman holds a sign that reads 'Respect My Vote' as she poses with her grandchild who holds a Thai national flag. Photo by Matthew Richards, Copyright @Demotix (1/15/2014)

An elderly woman holds a sign that reads ‘Respect My Vote’ as she poses with her grandchild who holds a Thai national flag. Photo by Matthew Richards, Copyright @Demotix (1/15/2014)

Despite ongoing anti-government rallies and the boycott campaign of the opposition, Thailand was able to conduct a ‘peaceful’ election. But many Thais were unable to vote or prevented from going near polling centers because of protests. According to the election body, voting has been held at 89.2 per cent of polling stations nationwide or in 83,813 out of 93,532 stations.

The number of disenfranchised voters is estimated at 12 million. There are 48 million eligible voters out of the population of about 65 million.

The election took place amid rising political tension in the country. Protesters have been marching in the streets of Bangkok, the country’s capital, for several months already as they demand the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Yingluck is accused of being a proxy of her elder brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

As protests intensified, Yingluck dissolved the parliament and announced the holding of an election. But the opposition vowed to boycott the election as it called for the creation of a People’s Council. The opposition Democrat Party claimed that a fair and democratic election cannot be achieved as long as the ‘corrupt’ Thaksin family is allowed to participate in the electoral process.

The map below shows the political division in Thailand. The north and northeast parts of the country are mainly supportive of the ruling party while the southern provinces, where most of the blocked poll stations are located, lean in favor of the opposition.

Many voters who were blocked from voting went to the police to file a complaint. In Bangkok alone, 488 polling stations of nearly 7,000 were closed because of protests.

Because of the high number of voting suspensions, election results were not issued and they may have to wait for several weeks until by-elections are held.

Saksith Saiyasombut explains that disenfranchised voters can still cast their votes at a later date:

What will happen next? There’re hundreds of polling station that didn’t open today, those will have to hold elections at a later date. Those who were obstructed in last Sunday’s advance voting can cast their in by-elections on February 23. The 28 constituencies in the South that weren’t able to file a candidate will have to start the process at a later date.

@KhunPleum expresses his disappointment over the election process:

Twitter hashtags #ThaiVote2014 and #vote2014 are useful in monitoring election updates.

January 29 2014

PHOTOS: Drone Captures the Beauty of Thailand

Giant Buddha at Wat Muang in Ang Thon

Giant Buddha at Wat Muang in Ang Thon

Richard Barrow, blogger and long time resident of Thailand, is a trusted source of journalists and tourists about the situation in Thailand. In addition, he has been consistently promoting the rich tradition and natural beauty of Thailand. His new blog, Thailand from Above, features some marvelous aerial photos of Thailand which Richard took using a Quadcopter Drone.

Richard shares his experience in flying a drone while using a smartphone:

I don’t have any experience of flying any other drones so I cannot do any comparisons for you. But, I will tell you a few things that I found cool. Firstly, it is very easy to fly the drone and then take your hands off the controls to concentrate on the smartphone. In theory it will just hover in the same place. But a gust of wind might blow it away so do keep one eye on it. The next coolest thing is that the pictures from the camera on the drone are streamed live to your smartphone.

Pagoda in the river. Phra Samut Chedi in Samut Praka

Pagoda in the river. Phra Samut Chedi in Samut Praka

Wat Ban Rai in Dan Kun Tod, Nakhon Ratchasima

Wat Ban Rai in Dan Kun Tod, Nakhon Ratchasima

Temple of the Buddha’s Footprint. Wat Phra Phutthabat in Saraburi

Temple of the Buddha’s Footprint. Wat Phra Phutthabat in Saraburi

Pa Sak Jolasid Dam in Lopuri is the biggest reservoir in Central Thailand.

Pa Sak Jolasid Dam in Lopuri is the biggest reservoir in Central Thailand.

Richard is sharing photos via social media through the Twitter hashtag #thaidrone

Drones were also used by many journalists to monitor the ongoing protests in Bangkok, the country's capital.

*Photos are from Richard Barrow, used with permission

January 17 2014

#RespectMyVote Movement Vs ‘Bangkok Shutdown’ in Thailand

A Thai farmer holds a sign that reads 'Respect My Vote' as she poses with a Thai national flag. Photo by Matthew Richards, Copyright @Demotix (1/15/2014)

A Thai farmer holds a sign that reads ‘Respect My Vote’ as she poses with a Thai national flag. Photo by Matthew Richards, Copyright @Demotix (1/15/2014)

Those who are angry against corruption should support and participate in the February 2 elections instead of pushing for the creation of an unelected People’s Council.

This is the message of concerned Thai civic groups and individuals who have been holding candle lighting activities mainly in north Thailand to counter the ‘Bangkok Shutdown’ campaign. They are using the Twitter hashtag #RespectMyVote.

The ongoing street protests in Bangkok are aimed primarily at forcing the ouster of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra who is accused of being a puppet of her elder brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin was ousted by a coup in 2006 but his party has remained victorious in the polls. He is in exile after being found guilty of plunder by a local court.

Yingluck dissolved the parliament to defuse the political crisis. An election is scheduled next month but the opposition said it will boycott the ‘corrupt’ electoral process. Protests have intensified in recent days but the opposition failed to completely paralyze Bangkok and other parts of the country. Protesters were able to occupy 7 major intersections in Bangkok:

Because of their rejection of elections, Bangkok protesters are criticized for spearheading an ‘anti-democracy’ movement. The hashtag #RespectMyVote emerged in recent days to encourage protesters to fight for change by voting next month.

A heckler was even able to send the #RespectMyVote message directly at former Prime Minister and opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Meanwhile, Fuadi Pitsuwan denounced the ‘the tyranny of global commentary’ and defended the ‘Bangkok Shutdown’ protest:

These global commentators should spend more time pondering why some 500,000-1 million people – many of whom used to be quite complacent about and uninterested in politics – have taken to the streets demanding an end to the Thaksin regime. There must be compelling reasons to this uprising against an elected government. Its size alone makes this an unprecedented phenomenon in Thai political history.

In a live interview during a rally, protest leader Dr Seri explained why protesters are not supportive of the coming elections:

Elections is just a process of democracy, but It is not democracy in itself. Being elected doesn’t mean that your corruption will be legalized or legitimized. Even when you are elected but if you do something unlawful, if you violate the laws, you violate the constitution, we have to overthrow you.

But Ryan Zander thinks that the creation of a People’s Council will create more problems for the opposition:

How could such a council claim any authority? Doesn’t it make a million times more sense to try to win a majority of seats in the fresh round of elections so that your side could claim to represent the will of the people?

January 16 2014

Day 3 of ‘Bangkok Shutdown’ Campaign

Stickman Bangkok posted photos and crowd updates of day 3 of the ‘Bangkok Shutdown’ campaign.

Forget what I said about dwindling numbers. Wednesday night saw at least as many supporters out as Monday.

These are the sorts of scenes you can expect in downtown Bangkok if you are out and about at this time – and you just don't know when and where. As per today's previous update, Asoke was very quiet even late afternoon, and then early evening it was chaos. Like I said, the situation is fluid.

The political action is mean to pressure the incumbent prime minister to resign and establish a ‘People's Council.’

January 14 2014

‘Bangkok Shutdown’ Begins in Thailand

Protesters pose near a train station with the theme 'Occupy Bangkok'. Photo by Camille Gazeau, Copyright @Demotix (1/13/2014)

Protesters pose near a train station with the theme ‘Occupy Bangkok'. Photo by Camille Gazeau, Copyright @Demotix (1/13/2014)

Tens of thousands filled the major intersections of Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, as opposition groups intensified their bid to topple the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The protest led by former lawmaker Suthep Thaugsuban aims to ‘shutdown’ Bangkok for several days or until Yingluck is removed from power.

Yingluck is accused of being a puppet of her elder brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin was ousted by a coup in 2006 but his party has remained victorious in the polls. He is in exile after being found guilty of plunder by a local court.

Protesters were able to occupy several government buildings last November and December aside from mobilizing thousands in the streets of Bangkok. To defuse tension, Yingluck dissolved the parliament to make way for an election next month. But the opposition said they will boycott the polls and instead they wanted to set-up an unelected People’s Council.

Despite the planned shutdown, Bangkok was not entirely paralyzed. Matt reported what he saw on the ground:

At the Bangkok Shutdown thousands of people have occupied various busy parts of Bangkok, complete with tents and sleeping mats. It's not really a shutdown, though. Bangkok more or less functioned as normal Monday with the exception of a number of mall closures. About 140 schools also had to close and many people worked from home. The streets in central Bangkok quiet and there were fewer cars on the road, which if anything was a good thing. How many people were out there is difficult to gauge.

Asian Cinema enjoyed the ‘festive atmosphere’ of the protest:

Thousands upon thousands of people, but at least so far it is a very festive atmosphere. A giant street party where people are singing, blowing whistles, clapping, eating, sleeping, smiling, holding up signs and just basically having fun. This could go on for weeks or perhaps only days so it will be interesting to see how long the good mood lasts.

The Twitter hashtag #BKKShutdown is useful to monitor the situation in the country. Bangkok's major streets were occupied with protesters as shown in this photo

A ‘half-road shutdown’

Even those on wheelchair joined the protest:

Many young people were also supportive of the protest:

Whistle was used by protesters as symbol of their fight against corruption:

On Day 2 of the shutdown campaign, expect more flag waving and whistle blowing in the streets.

Interestingly, numerous ‘survival’ apps were developed to help Bangkok residents cope with the protest.

But the demand of the protesters to cancel the February election was criticized as ‘undemocratic.’ They were told to respect the choice of the voters instead of pushing for the creation of a so-called ‘People's Council’

Despite the varying opinion on the protest, many agree that it solved Bangkok's notorious traffic problem:

Meanwhile, in the north part of the country where Prime Minister Yingluck continues to enjoy popular support, thousands joined a candle lighting event

January 05 2014

One Year in Asia

Antoine Lavenant, with his girlfriend spent a year in Asia – China, Laos, Cambodia, Thaïland, Malaysia, Philippines and Sri Lanka. The video is a brief record of their exciting journey.

December 31 2013

Human Trafficking in Southeast Asia

The Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development has published a policy briefer that tackled the extent of human trafficking in Southeast Asia.

Many Southeast Asian countries are at the bottom of a lot of the world's supply chains, including for food, garments, and technology. Yet few countries in the region have adequate laws for addressing corporate responsibility for human trafficking, including in their supply chains.

The primer also provides country-specific recommendations on how to best address the human trafficking issue in the region

December 30 2013

PHOTOS: Humans of Southeast Asia

Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York Facebook page has inspired many photographers around the world to share photos and stories of ordinary people in the streets in their respective countries. Let us review similar initiatives in Southeast Asia.

The Humans of Brunei page was created on May 17, 2013. Below is a photo of Brunei students

Photo from Humans of Brunei Facebook page

Photo from Humans of Brunei Facebook page

Meanwhile, the Humans of Indonesia page was created on August 16, 2013. Below is a photo of Indonesians in the Harau valley waterfalls in the Bukittinggi area:

“It was a very special experience … these pristine waterfalls were turned into some kind of public bathing area. So if I would zoom out you would see kids riding inflatable ducks, souvenirs, people selling noodles & bunch of other activities …” Photo from Humans of Indonesia Facebook page

“Those young coconuts look fresh?” “Oh, please take one if you like” “Thank you so much. Why don’t you just drop them down? Seems heavy to carry like that” “Don’t you see that few kids play under these trees? I am worry these coconuts would hit them.” Photo from Humans of Indonesia Facebook page

“Those young coconuts look fresh?”
“Oh, please take one if you like”
“Thank you so much. Why don’t you just drop them down? Seems heavy to carry like that”
“Don’t you see that few kids play under these trees? I am worry these coconuts would hit them.” Photo from Humans of Indonesia Facebook page

There is also a Humans of Jakarta page. Jakarta is the capital of Indonesia

Photo from Humans of Jakarta Facebook page

Photo from Humans of Jakarta Facebook page

Check the Humans of Bali page. Bali is a popular island in Indonesia.

In Malaysia, Avinash explains the idea of creating the Humans of Malaysia page:

…firstly its because I want those people know that there are people out there who care, for their opinions, for their stories, for their time, for their attention, for their thinking, for their views on life, on every issue, on everything, and that these people make Malaysia home. Second, i like to listen. and ask questions of course. And thirdly, well because I was at a point of my life where i really just needed to talk to someone, i needed someone to not help, but to just listen, no one was there for me then. I always have this thing in my mind, thinking that i might come across someone today who really just need someone who would listen. Thats why I do this

“What scares you the most?”
“Being poor. Having no money. Everything is about money nowadays. Supporting my family, food, transport, bills. Its everywhere.” Photo from Humans of Malaysia Facebook page

There is a separate page for the Humans of Kuala Lumpur. Kuala Lumpur is Malaysia’s capital.

“Abang (brotherly term for a guy) Hafiz washes and arranges the fish and vegetables at one of the agricultural grocery stores in KL. It is late at night and people are still coming in.” Photo from Facebook page Humans of Kuala Lumpur

The Humans of Thailand page has not been updated regularly but the Humans of Bangkok page seems active. Bangkok is the capital of Thailand. Zon explains the project:

The page is a small urban project that I've just started about the people and their everyday lives in Bangkok, which has become a much more hybrid-society than ever. Revealing lives of the city inhabitants would make us better aware that everyone is interconnected.

“My daily challenge is riding. I have to manage to ride through the gaps between big cars. And actually it's extremely dangerous. I've been a taxi rider for a year but honestly I don't know how long I could continue with this job, or either know what I want to do next with my life.” Photo from Humans of Bangkok Facebook page

Bangkok police. Photo from Humans of Bangkok Facebook page

Bangkok police. Photo from Humans of Bangkok Facebook page

As the political crisis deepens in Thailand, Bangkok residents are calling for a ‘peaceful Sunday’

“Political conflict in Thailand now. We hope for #peacefulsunday and that no violence will take place tomorrow.” Photo from Humans of Bangkok Facebook page

Check also the Humans of Chiang Mai page. Chiang Mai is located north of Thailand.

Photo from Humans of Chiang Mai Facebook page

“No texts, no calls, nothing. Cause I'm still thinking abt my Painting!” Photo from Humans of Chiang Mai Facebook page

In Vietnam, we’d like to feature the Humans of Saigon and Humans of Hanoi:

Photo from Humans of Saigon Facebook page

Photo from Humans of Saigon Facebook page

Photo from Humans of Hanoi Facebook page

Photo from Humans of Hanoi Facebook page

In Laos, there is a Humans of Vientiane page. Vientiane is the country’s capital.

“Local law enforcement in Luang Namtha enjoying a game of petangue.” Photo from Humans of Vientiane Facebook page

Below is a photo of Stacy from Singapore relaxing at Clarke Quay. Photo from the Humans of Singapore page:

“I've been sitting here because it's quite breezy. And you can watch the boats passing by too. They've been doing a tour of the entire river all the way till Marina Bay Sands, where they tell you about the history of these places and Singapore. It's quite interesting, you hear all sorts of things which you didn't know and it's always a bit of a surprise.” Photo from Humans of Singapore Facebook page

Visit Humans of the Philippines and Humans of Manila. Manila is the capital of the Philippines.

Children of Tondo in Manila. Tondo is a working class district. Photo from Humans of Manila Facebook page

Children of Tondo in Manila. Tondo is a working class district. Photo from Humans of Manila Facebook page

The People of Yangon page created by Chris James White was also inspired by the Humans of New York idea. Yangon is major city in Myanmar.

People of Yangon Facebook page

People of Yangon Facebook page

December 26 2013

Haze and Haiyan: Southeast Asia’s Deadly Disasters of 2013

A Malay couple wears a face mask while celebrating their wedding day during haze in Muar, in Malaysia’s southern state of Johor bordering Singapore. Photo by Lens Hitam, Copyright @Demotix (6/22/2013)

A Malay couple wears a face mask while celebrating their wedding day during haze in Muar, in Malaysia’s southern state of Johor bordering Singapore. Photo by Lens Hitam, Copyright @Demotix (6/22/2013)

2013 will be remembered as a year of disasters in Southeast Asia. Oil spills, dengue outbreaks, earthquakes, coral reef destruction, bus crashes, hail storms, and massive floods devastated many towns in the region. But the two biggest disasters of the year are the transboundary haze pollution which covered the skies of Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia; and supertyphoon Haiyan (Yolanda) which hit the central part of the Philippines.

Forest fires in Sumatra, Indonesia caused a thick blanket of smog to descend on Singapore and many parts of Malaysia last June. While it is true that forest fire is a recurring problem in the region, this year’s transboundary haze was worse than in previous years. It was bigger, blacker, thicker, and harder to clear. It caused air pollution indexes to soar to record levels in both Singapore and Malaysia.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono apologized to Singapore and Malaysia for Indonesia’s failure to prevent the burning of forests in Sumatra which caused the haze in the region.

Naturally, the haze gravely affected the lives of many Singaporeans and Malaysians. In Singapore, the wearing of face masks as protection against the haze has become the new normal in the prosperous city state. N5 face masks have become ridiculously expensive and many people have had to wait in line for several hours just to buy them. Workers have been advised to go home, travel has been restricted, and the young and old have remained indoors. Dozens of schools in south Malaysia also suspended operations.

Numerous apps and online portals were developed to help citizens monitor the haze situation, as well as to track the location of reliable haze masks, clinics, and shelters.

As expected, media reports focused on the impact of the haze in Singapore and other urban areas of Malaysia. Unfortunately, there was scant reporting on the situation of Indonesian citizens who have tremendously suffered from the impact of both the haze and forest fires. Riau, located west of Indonesia, is considered the ‘ground zero’ of the haze disaster.

Aside from writing about their haze experience, many netizens also highlighted the need to address the root of the haze problem. In particular, they wanted palm plantation companies to be made accountable for the burning of forests. They also pressed for greater protection of the environment.

Children preparing a big Christmas lantern in the typhoon-hit city of Tacloban in Leyte. Photo from Facebook of Max Baluyut Santiago

Children preparing a big Christmas lantern in typhoon-hit city of Tacloban in Leyte, Philippines. Photo from Facebook of Max Baluyut Santiago

After the haze subsided in the region, a series of disasters struck the Philippines. A strong earthquake destroyed many buildings in the Philippine provinces of Bohol and Cebu on October. A few weeks later, a super typhoon wrought destruction in the nearby provinces of Samar and Leyte.

Haiyan was the world’s strongest storm of the year. It was also the fourth strongest to make landfall in world history. Situated in the typhoon belt of the Asia-Pacific region, the Philippines gets battered by more than a dozen storms every year. But Haiyan was different. It proved to be a real super typhoon when it caused a tsunami-like storm surge that instantly killed thousands. As of this writing, more than 6,000 have died but the fatalities could be higher as relief workers continue to clean the debris in many villages.

The areas hit by Haiyan are among the poorest provinces in the Philippines. In fact, Eastern Visayas is the third poorest region in the country.

Many survivors have complained that aid was not properly and quickly delivered to communities. Many dead bodies were still seen lying in the streets, refugees had been begging for food, and rescue efforts have not yet reached the other remote islands of typhoon-ravaged provinces a week after the disaster.

After the partial restoration of telecommunication signals in some areas, some survivors and relief workers were able to connect online and they were able to narrate their ordeal during the storm; and also about how they coped for several days without power, food, and shelter. These were heartbreaking and powerful stories of loss and survival.

After the disaster, environmental activists pressed for more effective climate change treaties to prevent large-scale destruction in small island nations like the Philippines.

Meanwhile, Filipinos have been inspired by the global outpouring of aid and sympathy for the typhoon victims.

As 2013 draws to a close, it’s important to remember the painful lessons from Southeast Asia’s experience with the haze and Haiyan. The haze will return once more in 2014 if no regional effort is made to prevent forest fires in Sumatra. In the case of the Philippines, rehabilitation in the typhoon-hit provinces must be aggressively pursued or else the humanitarian crisis will further prolong the suffering of the typhoon victims.

December 24 2013

7 Rallies that Rocked Southeast Asia in 2013

1. ‘Million People March’ Against Corruption in the Philippines. Filipinos were outraged after a whistleblower exposed how legislators have been systematically stealing from their pork barrel allocations. Netizens called for a massive gathering in Luneta, the biggest park in the country’s capital to push for the abolition of pork barrel. Days before the August 26 rally, the president and congress vowed to abolish pork but it didn’t stop citizens from joining the event. It turned out to be the biggest rally during the administration of President Benigno Aquino III.

2. Thailand protest against the ‘Amnesty Bill.’ Various sectors, including those supportive of the government, rejected the controversial ‘Amnesty Bill’ which was approved by the parliament on November 1. Opposition to the bill emerged after it was reported that the amended version of the measure would benefit corrupt politicians and human rights violators. In particular, the opposition party said the bill will ‘whitewash’ the crimes of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who fled the country after being found guilty of plunder by a local court. The Senate eventually voted down the measure.

3. Anti-Government protest in Thailand. The shelving of the unpopular ‘Amnesty Bill’ didn’t end the protests in Thailand. More rallies were organized by the opposition but this time they started to demand the ouster of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra whom they accused of being a proxy of her elder brother. Rallies have intensified in the past few weeks and protesters were able to occupy several government buildings. Yingluck announced that the parliament will be dissolved to make way for an election on February. But the opposition said they will boycott the polls and instead they wanted to set-up a People’s Council. Thailand’s political crisis is expected to deepen in the next few weeks. This video shows the size of a rally in Bangkok last November.

4. Cambodia’s post-election protest. Tens of thousands participated in several assemblies, marches, and camp-ins organized by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party since September to protest the alleged manipulation of electoral results by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. The ruling party won by slim majority after it took 68 seats compared to the opposition’s 55 seats. It was the ruling party’s worst electoral performance since 1998 which has been in power in the past three decades. This video shows a protest scene at Phnom Penh's Freedom Park last September:

5. Malaysia ‘Black 505’ post-election protest. On May 8, 2013, hundreds of thousands gathered in Kuala Lumpur, the country’s capital, to protest the outcome of the election which gave the administration coalition a slim majority. ‘Black 505’ refers to the May 5 General Election which was tainted by allegations that the ruling coalition committed massive electoral fraud to remain in power. The ruling party, which has been in power since the 1950s, lost in the popular voting but it still retained majority of the parliament seats. The series of protests, which spread to other provinces, was also referred to as the ‘Malay Tsunami’. This video shows the protesting crowd assembled in a stadium:

6. Rallies in Singapore’s Hong Lim Park. Thousands gathered in Singapore’s Hong Lim Freedom Park on May 1, 2013 to protest the government’s White Paper on population. The May Day protest was the second time that a big crowd gathered in the park to speak out against the population program which many Singaporeans criticized since it would mean the hiring of more foreign workers. Then on June 8, 2013, an assembly organized by the ‘Free My Internet’ movement became the ‘largest blogger-led protest’ in Singapore which aimed to oppose the government’s new licensing scheme for news websites. The video below shows some of the Singapore blogs which replaced their homepages with a black image in solidarity with the protest:

7. Indonesia General Strike for Pay Hike. Workers in Indonesia have launched a two-day general strike on October 31-November 1 aimed at pressuring the government to raise the minimum wage. Tens of thousands joined the factory shutdowns, union visits, and rallies across the country although the turnout was smaller compared to last year's general strike.

Thousands of workers left production in a Sanyo factory. Photo from Facebook page of Tia Claudia E. Mboeik

Thousands of workers left production in a Sanyo factory. Photo from Facebook page of Tia Claudia E. Mboeik

December 16 2013

Bangkok has the Most-Instagrammed Location of 2013

The Siam Paragon, a popular shopping complex in Bangkok, Thailand is the ‘most-Instagrammed’ location of 2013. Suvarnabhumi International Airport, also in Bangkok, was ranked ninth in the list. Not surprisingly, Bangkok is second ‘most-Instagrammed city’ in the world this year.

December 07 2013

Causes of Bangkok Road Accidents

Interestingly, the Bangkok police in Thailand claims that 30 percent of road accidents is caused by ‘unroadworthy cars’ while speeding only accounts for 5 percent of accidents. Writer Thitipol Panyalimpanun notes that in most countries, traffic accidents are blamed on driver error and not on vehicles.

December 04 2013

10 Bangkok Rallies That Almost Toppled the Government

A temporary truce between anti-government protesters and government forces in Thailand has somewhat eased the political tension in the country.

More than 100,000 protesters have stormed the streets of Bangkok in the past two weeks demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra whom they accused of being a mere puppet of her elder brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin was ousted by a coup in 2006 but his party has remained victorious in the polls. He is in exile after being found guilty of plunder by a local court.

But the political crisis is far from over since the pause in fighting was only made in deference to King Bhumibol Adulyadej who is celebrating his birthday on December 5. The King is the most revered figure in Thailand.

One way to analyze how the current crisis will unfold is to review how various political forces reacted in the past when similar provocative rallies also shook the nation. In particular, the massive rallies in 2008 and 2010 can shed light as to why Thailand’s major political parties have failed to peacefully resolve their differences.

These rallies didn’t directly cause the removal of the elected government but they immensely contributed in eroding the legitimacy of the national leadership.

1. August 2008. Yellow Shirts occupied the Government House. In 2008 the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) or Yellow Shirts conducted daring street actions for several months to force the removal of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej whom they accused of being a proxy of Thaksin. PAD adopted the color yellow as their protest color in honor of the King.

PAD was able to occupy the Government House on August. Protests continued until September when the group was able to disrupt the railway operations and Phuket airport.

Yellow Shirts occupying the Government House. Photo by Craig Martell, Copyright @Demotix (8/30/2008)

Yellow Shirts occupying the Government House. Photo by Craig Martell, Copyright @Demotix (8/30/2008)

2. November 24, 2008. Yellow Shirts surrounded the Parliament building. PAD upped the ante on November when they were able to surround the Parliament building.

3. November 25, 2008. Yellow Shirts occupied two major airports in Bangkok. PAD paralyzed air travel in the country by occupying Bangkok’s two major airports. PAD withdrew from the airports after eight days when the country’s top court ordered the dissolution of the ruling party which forced the prime minister to step down. Further, the court disqualified allies of Thaksin from running for public office again. This video below shows protesters occupying Suvarnabuhmi international airport in Bangkok:

4. December 2008. Rise of the Red Shirts. The victory of PAD led to the rise of the Red Shirts who adopted the color red just to differentiate themselves from the Yellow Shirts. The Red Shirts were neither leftists nor anti-royalists but many of them were supporters of Thaksin. They were vigorously opposed to the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva whom they denounced as illegitimate.

5. April 2009 Black Songkran. Songkran, the Thai New Year became ‘Black Songkran’ in reference to the chaotic and violent confrontation between soldiers and anti-government protesters. The Red Shirts adopted the tactics of their yellow counterparts in order to undermine the administration. They often mobilized in the streets in 2009 to call for a new round of elections. This video shows Red Shirts taking control of a tank which was deployed when a State of Emergency was declared by the government:

6. March 2010 Blood protest. Red Shirts have mobilized more than 100,000 in the streets. And the protest became ‘bloody’ when protesters threw blood at government buildings. The following video clip shows a big assembly of Red Shirts:

7. April 2010 Crackdown of protest blockade. The Red Shirts were able to occupy many parts of Bangkok. They established protest camps in the city as they pushed for the resignation of Abhisit. After two months of protesting in the streets, they were forced to disperse when soldiers were deployed to disband the protest barricades. Tony Joh documented the violent clash between protesters and soldiers at Phan Fa bridge.

8. May 2010 Final Assault operation of the military against protest camp. Violence escalated on May 19 during the final assault operation of the military which led to intense street battles, riots, and looting. The retreating protesters also burned several buildings in the city. Scored were killed and more than 400 were injured during the clashes. Abhisit and some military officials were subsequently charged with murder for ordering the protest crackdown.

Red Shirt protest barricade. Photo from @potapotypoter

Red Shirt protest barricade. Photo from @potapotypoter

9. November 2013 Amnesty Bill protest. Abhisit’s party eventually lost in the parliamentary elections in 2011 and he was replaced by Yingluck Shinawatra. She recently supported an Amnesty Bill which critics believe would ‘whitewash’ the crimes of her brother. The senate rejected the measure but it didn’t stop opposition forces from mounting big rallies in the capital last month.

10. December 2013 ‘Anti-Thaksin’ protests. Several government buildings were occupied by protesters who have denounced the continuing influence of Thaksin in the Yingluck administration. They wanted Yingluck to step down and set-up a People’s Council. This video shows the size of rally in Bangkok last November 24, the biggest anti-government rally so far.

November 17 2013

Insulting a Dead King is a Crime in Thailand

David Streckfuss cites a Thailand Supreme Court ruling about a Lese Majeste (anti-royal insult law) case which upheld the verdict against a citizen who reportedly defamed a dead king:

Although the [defamatory] action was against a past king who had already passed on, it is still a violation….The defamation of a past king will inevitably affect the present king who still reigns.

November 08 2013

Thai Media Groups Reject ‘Internet Censorship’ Bill

Protesters hold up a banner demanding a reform in Article 112 or the Lese Majeste (anti-royal insult) law. Thousands of websites are blocked in Thailand by invoking Article 112. Photo by Matthew Richards, Copyright @Demotix (2/5/2012)

Protesters hold up a banner demanding a reform in Article 112 or the Lese Majeste (anti-royal insult) law. Thousands of websites are blocked in Thailand by invoking Article 112. Photo by Matthew Richards, Copyright @Demotix (2/5/2012)

Thailand’s Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) wants to revise the Computer Crime Act of 2007 but several media groups in the country are opposing changes to the law.

The ICT claims that reforming the law is necessary to curb the growing menace of cybercrime but critics fear it would lead to greater online censorship.

On October 24, five media groups in Bangkok issued a joint statement rejecting the amendments drafted by the Ministry. They include the Thai Journalists Association, Thai Broadcasting Journalists Association, Online News Providers Association, Information Technology Reporters and Academic Specialists on Computer Law Group.

The amendments would further tighten the Computer Crime Act (CCA), a law that has been widely criticized for its harsh penalties for various kinds of online speech. It includes the lèse majesté law under which several netizens have been imprisoned for criticizing the king online.

Among proposed amendments to the CCA is a measure that would allow authorities to block websites without seeking prior approval from a court and the ICT Minister. Under the current law, authorities cannot have sites blocked without a court order.

Media groups speaking out against the amendments to the CCA are particularly opposed to this amendment, calling it a violation of the people’s right to information. Further, they have demanded that the government drop the draft proposal as it “lacks standards of training for responsible officials and grants excessive power to the authorities.” The groups added that the bill goes “against Internet communication infrastructure” and places disproportionate burdens on “website operators, Internet and mobile phone service providers, and Internet users.”

Some Thai journalists are in favor of amending the controversial CCA, but for different reason. An editorial in the Bangkok Post derided the 2007 law, arguing that it has become a tool for harassing government critics and must be scaled back:

[The CCA] is the basis for massive internet censorship, sometimes compared with that of China. It has imprisoned people to longer terms than parallel, non-computer laws allow. And it has almost never been used for the purpose it was supposedly introduced for.

[...]

There is no longer even an estimate of the number of websites and pages closed or blocked by (the ICT) ministry. Certainly it is well into six figures. The ICT minister, using opaque and unaccountable appeals to a court, can effectively block any website from standard online access, without accountability, appeal or even the knowledge of those involved.

The editorial argued that the government should shift its focus back to the original intent of the law, which was to prevent online financial crimes such as phishing and identity theft.

Supporting the five Thai media groups is Reporters Without Borders, which cautioned the government not to approve the amendments and to “withdraw the legislation in its entirety.”

The bill – in addition to eliminating a requirement for a judicial warrant to block a website – would allow that action without approval from the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, thereby distancing the law even more from international standards.

In response, the ICT claims that because the proposed amendments have gone through public consultations, there should be no controversy over their passage.

The Thai government meanwhile is facing massive public pressure to shelf a bill of law that would grant blanket amnesty to politicians and leaders who committed various categories political offenses (including human rights violations) since 2006. The measure, which would allow former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to return to the country, has sparked massive street protests in Thailand over the past few days.

Mass protest against amnesty bill in Bangkok, November 2013. Photo by Twitter user @ter_TRnews

Mass protest against amnesty bill in Bangkok, November 2013. Photo by Twitter user @ter_TRnews

In the midst of public protests and the CCA debate still ongoing, the ICT has been accused of censoring websites that help users make anti-amnesty bill icons and e-banners. According to a report, the ICT was identified by the Prime Minister as a “security apparatus to control protesters.”

As political conflicts intensify in Thailand, the government is unfortunately also actively endorsing measures that would restrict media and Internet freedom in the country. But should the new regulations pass, they may inspire powerful and much-needed resistance from media and netizen groups.

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