Southeast Asia: Controversies and tragedies of 2008

In the previous post (Southeast Asia: Newsmakers of 2008), I wrote about the major events that took place in Southeast Asia. In this article, I will highlight other stories which became controversial as well. Another objective is to gather and categorize the linkposts on the right side of the Global Voices, pertaining to the region.

Let’s start with a controversial topic: sex. Malaysian politicians were involved in sex scandals: a politician caught on videotape having sex in a hotel; and an ex-Cabinet Minister was accused of molesting a woman.

GV author Tharum from Cambodia wrote about the issue of using sex and women to promote products in TV. A Filipino lawmaker wants the BBC to apologize for a comedy show which depicted a Filipina maid “as an object of sexual ridicule.” Also in the Philippines, doctors in a hospital were caught laughing hysterically in an operating room while removing a can of cologne spray inside a patient’s bottom.

There were marriage issues too. A published article in Singapore drew criticism for announcing the discount rate for Vietnam brides. Cambodia has stopped processing documents for the marriage of its citizens to foreigners in a move to minimize the possibility of human trafficking.

The National Fatwa Council of Malaysia has ruled that the physical aspect of yoga is ok but the spiritual elements are forbidden. Geert Wilders’s film, Fitna, has provoked rallies in Indonesia because of its “anti-Islam message.”

Concerning urban development, some bloggers think Cambodia's capital has too many casinos. Street vendors were banned from Hanoi's thoroughfares. GV author Angshah discussed the opposition of Singapore homeowners to the construction of dormitories for foreign workers.

GV author Karlo wrote about the scandal on missing book donations in a Philippine province. Singapore’s new rules and taxes for cigarettes elicited some discussion in the blogosphere. Another controversy was the proposal to legalize organ trading in the country.

Singapore faced a security nightmare when a terrorist escaped from a high-security cell. Indonesia confronted the past by executing the Bali bombers. Meanwhile, bomb blasts have been reported in Myanmar this year.

Ferry disasters were reported in the Philippines. More than 700 died after a ship capsized in central Philippines last June. Scores of Myanmar migrants suffocated to death in a lorry while being smuggled in southern Thailand last April. More than 3,000 residents lost their homes due to fire accidents in Yangon and Mandalay last February.

Fire at Mandalay's YadanarPon Market in Myanmar. Photo via Aung Chan Lin blog.


GV author Daniel discussed the plight of the Penan tribe, an indigenous group in East Malaysia. He also tackled the superstitions surrounding the vast jungles of Malaysia. And he also wrote about the scary Pontianak.

Thailand’s transvestite toilets became popular in the world. Thailand also experienced its first snowfall in history. Bangkok Freeze and Singapore Freeze were successful actions.

Showbiz personalities in Indonesia are entering the political arena. Due to high oil prices, water buffaloes are popular again in the fields of Laos and Thailand.

There is a wonderful project in Vientiane which helps the street kids of Laos by training them to be cooks. Apparently, “feather-boa bicycle bandits” have invaded Vietnam's city streets.

YouTube video of the Singapore Freeze

Media vs government

Several cases of press freedom violations have been reported in the region. GV author Caroline wrote about the arrest of two journalists in Vietnam whose only crime was to expose the corruption in a government agency. Another example: The Economist’s special report on Vietnam was censored by authorities.

Other disturbing news: Copies of The Burma Daily were confiscated in Cambodia. Harassment of journalists in Cambodia has not stopped. The website of the critical and independent paper The Irrawaddy was hacked.

A Vietnamese activist blogger faces tax fraud charges. A dissident Singapore blogger was arrested. Indonesia has blocked several websites.

Citizen media

Malaysian bloggers have become politicians; Malaysian politicians have become bloggers. Bloggers have warned of holding a strike as protest against dirty politics in Malaysia. Recognizing the power of blogging, the government said it wants to befriend bloggers.

Filipino bloggers supported the 2008 Blog Action Day against poverty. Catholic bishops in the Philippines have been preaching on YouTube. A Filipino migrant group in Hong Kong has set-up a blog to pressure the government to investigate the mysterious death of a Filipina worker. The Twitter Suu participatory media project aims to send millions of messages to Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi “to let her know she has worldwide support.” A senior citizen in Malaysia has been blogging his complaints against a consumer company in Malaysia.

Blogging has been recognized in Vietnam as a powerful tool of expression. Cambodia’s young bloggers were hailed as the country’s new intellectuals. In Myanmar, a veteran journalist criticized the behavior of many bloggers. An Australian blogger became famous/controversial in the Philippines when he exposed the decadent activities of his rich friends in Manila.

Kudos to the organizers of these events: Sabah Bloggers Gathering 2008, Mindanao Bloggers Summit, Twitter Saigon, Philippine Blog Awards, Pesta Blogger, BarCamp Malaysia, BarCamp Cambodia, Wordcamp Philippines.

In behalf of all authors of the Southeast Asia Team of Global Voices, we wish everyone a Happy New Year!

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