JAKARTA — The sight of commuters, their faces hidden behind masks, zipping around on the back of motorcycle taxis is common across Asia. The bikes weave through gridlock in cities like Jakarta and Bangkok, getting the passengers to work on time. The masks, sometimes worn by both driver and passenger, hint that the air they breathe might not be the cleanest. Judging from World Health Organization figures released on Wednesday, covering 4,300 cities across 108 countries, the commuters have the right idea. Of an estimated 7 million deaths worldwide per year from air pollution, just over two-thirds take place in Asia, which is home to slightly less than 60% of the global population. Breaking the numbers down further, the 10 countries in the WHO’s “South-east Asia” region account for about a quarter of the world’s population but suffer around 2.4 million, or 34%, of all air pollution deaths.
YANGON — Kyaw Soe Win, who was jailed from 1992 to 1998, now leads AAPP(B)’s work with ex-prisoners suffering mental health problems. “Friends, colleagues provided the photos to us,” he said of the hundreds of images, some grainy, faded, black and white, and dating to the 1960s. Inside the museum is a plastic table-top model of Insein, crafted by Htin Aung, another former political prisoner who works with Kyaw Soe Win. The display occupies the middle of the room alongside smaller examples of art and craft works by ex-detainees, as well as rusted shackles worn by prisoners forced to work in chain gangs in remote areas.
RANGOON — One of Burma’s thousands of former political prisoners, Bo Kyi fled to Thailand after he was freed from jail in 1997. He then spent the best part of 2 decades keeping track of and lobbying for the release of others jailed in his homeland for opposing the country’s former military dictatorship. His Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), or AAPP, opened an office in Rangoon, after Burma, officially known as Myanmar, after the army surprisingly handed power to a civilian government in 2011. The high point of that transition came in 2015 when the National League for Democracy, the party led by Aung San Suu Kyi, probably the world’s best known political prisoner since Nelson Mandela, won parliamentary elections. But now, three weeks after the AAPP opened a museum in Yangon commemorating those jailed fighting for democracy, Bo Kyi is angry. “We have a hybrid regime, we do not have democratic government, we still have political prisoners,” he said.
JAKARTA/SINGAPORE — A year ago two young female migrant workers in Indonesia, including 26 year old Indonesian Siti Nurbaya, were cast at the center of an international murder mystery when they were arrested by police for their alleged role in the audacious, Le Carré-esque assassination by poisoning of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which was carried out despite the usual bustling morning crowd at Kuala Lumpur’s international airport. Preying on the women’s perceived vulnerability as relatively-poor migrant workers at the margins of society, defense lawyers contend that North Korean agents duped their clients into unwittingly carrying out the murder by bluffing they were being recruited for a series of made for TV pranks. As the trial of Nurbaya and her alleged accomplice from Vietnam rolled on last month in Shah Alam near Kuala Lumpur, another case was emerging that highlighted the perils facing migrants in Malaysia. Adelina Sao died in a Penang hospital on February 11 after she was found with head injuries and infected wounds on her limbs, succumbing after two years in Malaysia as one of around 400,000 foreign maids working in the country.
JAKARTA – Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and New Mexico governor Bill Richardson has a record of freeing detainees held by some of the world’s harshest dictatorships. But in working for the release of detained Reuters journalists in Myanmar, he hit a brick wall. “I had success in freeing prisoners in Sudan, Cuba, North Korea, Mexico,” said Richardson, a former cabinet member under U.S. President Bill Clinton, in a telephone interview from his office in the New Mexico capital of Santa Fe. But Richardson could report no such triumph after interceding last week with Myanmar’s de factor leader, Aung San Suu Kyi — herself a former political prisoner — over the two journalists, who face over a decade in jail for alleged breaches of the country’s state secrets law. According to Richardson’s account of their Jan. 22 meeting, Suu Kyi, who won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize and who now holds the official title of state counsellor, bristled when he raised the detention of journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, arrested in mid-December. He suggested her reaction was stronger than those of some of the most notorious leaders of other authoritarian regimes he has dealt with.
JAKARTA — The region’s jarring social media jousting means that platforms such as Twitter are not really “social” anymore, but have become “weaponized” according to Indonesian political analyst Wimar Witoelar, who has 439,000 Twitter followers. “So interaction is more often divisive than not. You cannot form a consensus. Instead you sharpen your differences,” he said via WhatsApp. Even Joko Widodo, Indonesia’s president, is not immune to savaging on social media, taking to Facebook in September to make his point. “I was asked, ‘President Jokowi, how is the state of social media in Indonesia?’, I replied, ‘In Indonesia, it can get very vicious,” he posted.
KUALA LUMPUR — Businesses in Southeast Asia are increasingly counting the cost of land grabs, more than half of which result in delayed projects and nearly three-quarters of which lead to lawsuits, according to a wide-ranging research report. Out of a sample of 51 major land disputes surveyed across the region, all but 6 remain unresolved, meaning that Southeast Asia is the region most prone to land conflict in the world. That is according to research published Tuesday by UK-based consultancy TMP Systems and the Rights and Resources Initiative, a global coalition of land rights activists funded in part by the British and Norwegian governments. That 88% of land disputes in Southeast Asia are not resolved puts the region above the 61% global average, according to the research, which covers land disputes dating from 2001.
JAKARTA — Thousands of Indonesian Muslims chanting “Allahu Akbar” protested in central Jakarta on Wednesday at Burma’s treatment of its 1.1 million Rohingya minority. Around 146,000 Rohingya have fled Burma military counter-insurgency operations into Bangladesh over the past two weeks. The army’s reprisals came after Rohingya militants stormed Burma army and police posts in August. Wednesday’s protest was the fourth and biggest pro-Rohingya demonstration over the past week in the Indonesian capital, the commercial centre of the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country. The event was peaceful, though toward the end several dozen demonstrators tried to push through police barricades and razor-wire set up about 200 yards from the Burmese embassy. Overhead swung an effigy of the Buddhist monk Wirathu, leader of an anti-Islamic movement in Burma that has been blamed for stirring anti-Rohingya feeling in the predominantly Buddhist country.
JAKARTA — Hundreds of protesters in Indonesia rallied for the third straight day Monday as Muslim nations across Asia voiced growing concern over Myanmar’s brutal military crackdown against its Rohingya Muslim minority . Gathering outside the Myanmar Embassy in Jakarta, the demonstrators, mostly hijab-clad women, chanted, “God is great!” and demanded the Indonesian government put pressure on neighboring Myanmar to stop the military operation that has sent tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees streaming into camps in Bangladesh — the second such exodus in the last 12 months. “We are here because of solidarity of Muslims,” said one demonstrator who gave her name as Mama Bahin.