KUALA LUMPUR — When Malaysia’s opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was sent to prison in February, controversially convicted on charges alleging sodomy with a political aide, the well-known cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Alhaque could not restrain his anger. Criticizing the verdict as politically motivated, the cartoonist, better known by his pen name Zunar, posted a series of messages on Twitter mocking Malaysia’s judges. He described the judges as “lackeys in black robes” who are guilty of “bowing to the dictates of the political masters.” The 53-year-old was quickly charged with nine counts of sedition, which could lead to 43 years in prison if he is found guilty. Asked if he is optimistic that he will win in court, Zunar told the Nikkei Asian Review: “I’m not, no. This is a political case.”
KUALA LUMPUR – After months of internecine fighting that highlighted some of Malaysia’s long-standing ethnic and religious divisions, the end for the three-party Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Alliance) coalition came after a blistering attack on June 15 by the largely ethnic-Chinese Democratic Action Party on the mainly-Malay Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (Malaysian Islamic Party). The Islamic party, commonly known as PAS, had on June 6 voted to sever links with the DAP, meaning the future of the alliance was in doubt before the DAP’s announcement. PAS MP Khalid Abdul Samad told the Nikkei Asian Review that the change in party leadership and the June 6 vote to cut ties with the DAP meant that “there is no longer a Pakatan Rakyat.”
BANGKOK – In Aceh on the northern tip of Indonesia’s Sumatra Island, the refugees were in bad shape when they landed in early and mid-May after a long ordeal at sea. “They only had the clothes on their backs. Many had wounds from the fighting that had broken out at sea over food,” Nasruddin, a coordinator for the Geutanyoe Foundation, an Acehnese nongovernmental organization that has been working with the survivors, told the Nikkei Asian Review.
BANGKOK – Last year’s census was Myanmar’s first in over 3 decades but so far there has been no mention of how many of Myanmar’s 51.4 million people are Buddhist, the majority religion, and how many are Christian, Hindu and Muslim. Also withheld for now are crucial data on the country’s ethnic make-up. Estimates suggest that around 60 per cent of the population is Burman, with the rest made up of dozens of minorities. The government’s official classification lists 135 ethnic groups, though many dispute the methodology by which officials came up with that glossary. Khon Ja, an activist from Kachin state, a mostly-Christian region in northern Myanmar, said at the time of the census-taking last year that “my group is listed four times under different names, even using a geographic location as a tribe name.”
BANGKOK – For Rohingya, it surely seemed as if the Myanmar government was not taking the meeting seriously, much less committing to addressing the decades of discrimination and bias that prompt thousands of Rohingya to risk kidnapping and destitution overseas. “The [Myanmar] government just sent a low-level delegation. There was not even a Rohingya representative speaking at the meeting,” said Aung Win ,a Rohingya community leader speaking by telephone from a Muslim ghetto on the outskirts of Sittwe, the regional capital of Rakhine state.
BANGKOK – For now the numbers of people taking to the seas is likely to ease off, as the long rainy season hits Myanmar and Bangladesh, bringing with it the threat of cyclones and stormy seas. The change in weather should in theory give the concerned countries a five to six month window to deal with the causes of the crisis. But Aung Win, a Rohingya community leader living in a Muslim ghetto near Sittwe, the regional capital of Rakhine state, believes that many Rohingya will once again try to reach Thailand and Malaysia when the rains stop around October. “For sure, unless the government does something to make our lives easier, after the rainy season people will make for overseas,” Aung Win told the NAR.
BANGKOK — Deferring to a Myanmar government demand, representatives at a meeting here aimed at resolving southeast Asia’s ongoing maritime migration crisis are sidestepping using the term “Rohingya.” “We are totally against the use of the nomenclature Rohingya, which never [existed] as a race in [this] country,” Htin Lin, Myanmar’s representative at the Special Meeting on Irregular Migration in the Indian Ocean, told the Nikkei Asian Review. Friday’s discussions involve representatives of 17 countries and come after Thailand launched a crackdown on long-established human trafficking syndicates preying on migrants aiming to get to Malaysia from Bangladesh and Myanmar.
BANGKOK – “According to the information given to me by those who come back from the boats, there are no more now offshore,” said Kyaw Hla, a Rohingya businessman who paid out of his own pocket for the safe return to Sittwe of 75 trafficked Rohingya. “I paid 200,000 Myanmar kyat (about US$200) for each human person,” Kyaw Hla told The Edge Review. With the annual rainy season about to hit the Bay of Bengal and surrounding countries, the exodus of Rohingya and Bangladeshis will cease, for now, said Kyaw Hla. But unless conditions improve over the coming months, more Rohingya will likely take to the sea again come October, when the clouds break and the wind and rains stop and the boats point south toward Thailand and Malaysia once more.
YANGON – “I was in Calcutta, my niece phoned me to say that she saw my name on a list of the names of the cardinals announced by the Holy Father. I thought she was joking at first.” said Charles Maung Bo, Myanmar’s first Catholic cardinal. That was how the 66 year old Archbishop of Yangon found out back on Jan. 4 that he was to be one of 20 new cardinals appointed by Pope Francis. “He wants to show the universality of the whole church and he wants to hear the voice from the different people,” said Cardinal Bo, assessing the pope’s motives for naming new cardinals from Vietnam and Thailand, as well as Myanmar, which last year marked 5 centuries of Catholic Church presence in the country.
YANGON – For the Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees rescued near Aceh, the fishermen’s heroics ended what for some was a four month ordeal at sea. “When they were found by the fishermen they were all incredibly weak and many were barely conscious, especially the women and children. Those who were conscious were crying for help. Some jumped into the sea when they saw the fishermen approach asking to be rescued,” said Nasruddin, Humanitarian Coordinator for The Geutanyoe Foundation, which has been working with the survivors. “We have a wisdom that called in local language as “Pemulia Jamee Adat Geutanyoe” or ‘serving the guest is our ritual,’ said Teuku Youvan, a member of the Aceh Disaster Management Agency’s advisory board.