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Asia Through the Lens
Southeast Asia
Visual Story Header - Northeast Asia
Vietnam

Cambodia

Crushing political opposition
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24 October 2022Cambodia’s Prime Minister has been in power for nearly four decades and, in all that time, he has tried to stamp out both opposition forces and the embers of democracy in the country. But even as he wields the near-full power of the government to achieve his ambitions, even leveling threats against those who associate with lead opposition figure Sam Rainsy, total control over the government remains elusive. The public, too, appears to have their democratic aspirations intact. Despite the state’s strong control over Cambodia’s elections, people still cast their ballots while holding out hope that these will somehow steer their country back to genuine democracy. (Photo: Seth Akmal/Shutterstock.com)

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Cambodia

The deadly cost of education in Cambodia
Vietnam

 

17 October 2022The tragic boat accident that took the lives of 11 children who were on their way to school has exposed the sheer incompetence of the Cambodian government to provide even just the bare necessities for its students. Already struggling to return to normalcy after pandemic-related restrictions, the Southeast Asian country’s education sector also continues to be inaccessible to a majority of students, some of whom are forced to endure long, often dangerous commutes for the sake of learning while public authorities appear oblivious to their needs. Image shows students from Kompong Phluk on their way home from school. (Photo: imagestockdesign/Shutterstock.com)

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Thailand

Shooting at the heart of a nation
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10 October 2022Thailand is left in a mournful daze after a single assailant broke into a nursery school, massacred 24 young children, and then took his own life. Because the gunman was a former member of the police force, the incident has sparked calls for greater gun control and has raised questions about police impunity. The shooting has also prompted public discussion about mental health issues and tighter drug control, despite the autopsy finding no trace of illicit substances in the perpetrator’s body. The horrifying murder and these issues are expected to play a central role in the country’s elections next year. (Photo: kan Sangtong/Shutterstock.com)

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Indonesia

A virtual threat
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3 October 2022Indonesia has recently been made aware of how weak its cyber-protection is. A spate of recent spyware attacks has hit several senior officials, including the country’s chief economic minster, various military personnel, and diplomats. This, after some 11 million cyberthreats had been reported in the country during the second quarter of this year alone. Meanwhile, authorities have been left at a loss, unable to ensure the cyber-security of its most powerful leaders — let alone the regular Indonesian. Who should take responsibility over the country’s digital security? (Photo: Shutterstock.com)

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Malaysia

Desperate times, desperate measures, dull government action
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26 September 2022Pushed by harsh economic headwinds, more and more Malaysians fall for dubious online job offers and fall prey to the increasing number of scams. The Malaysian government has recently moved to pass tighter laws to keep these frauds in check and the hunt down the syndicates behind these schemes. But can an administration that’s always on the backfoot win against slippery underground groups with just reactive and passive measures? (Photo: Shutterstock.com)

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Cambodia

What comes after the verdict?
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19 September 2022Khieu Samphan, the last living leader of the brutal Pol Pot regime, is looking at a likely denial of his appeal, bringing an end to the decades-long legal saga that bared his complete lack of remorse and atonement for his deeds. But what comes after the gavel hits the block? The Khmer Rouge has left more than 30,000 survivors, all of whom are grappling with the psychological repercussions of genocide. Survivors are also in dire need of financial and medical support, in their efforts to live normal lives. Can the Cambodian government deliver? Image shows a high school room converted into a torture chamber. (Photo: diy13/Shutterstock.com)

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Cambodia

Crushing political opposition
Vietnam

 

12 September 2022Fifty years after the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Sr declared martial law to keep himself in power, his son and namesake Marcos, Jr has risen to take the Philippine presidency. Now that he’s finally clinched the presidency, different groups fear that the historical distortions glorifying the authoritarian rule of his father may become deeply entrenched beliefs under the new administration. In this scenario, the Marcoses will continue to escape accountability for the billions they stole from the country’s treasury, and erase from national memory the thousands killed and disappeared under martial law, alongside other atrocities.

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Myanmar

Spiraling out of control
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5 September 2022The rule of Myanmar’s military junta is defined not merely by its brutality and intolerance for dissent, but also by its sheer disregard for the people’s wellbeing. The incoming rainy season, along with poor support for the country’s agricultural sector, has severely crippled the yields of rice farmers. This, coupled with the dismal state of the global economy, is bound to impose a tight squeeze on citizens, who as it is already have to deal with hunger. All the while, the junta’s economic leaders show no signs of turning the situation around.

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Malaysia

Sentenced at last ... but soon to be free?
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29 August 2022The 12-year prison term heaped on Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak may be one of Malaysia’s most crowning moral victories in recent years — but the glory may not last for long. Given Najib’s long political pedigree, whispers of a royal pardon are growing louder and could pave the disgraced PM’s road to release and could set the stage for his political resurgence. In this context, Malaysia’s quest for justice over the 1MDB scandal and widespread corruption during Najib’s rule could prove precarious. (Photo: SL Chin/Shutterstock.com)

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Singapore

One step forward, two steps back
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22 August 2022 — Singapore has moved to repeal the colonial-era Section 377A of its Penal Code, which will decriminalize sex between men. While definitely a triumph for gender equality activists in the country, the government has also amended its constitution to further enshrine a heteronormative definition of marriage: that it can only occur between one man and one woman. While parties pushing for same-sex marriage can still do so—by securing a simple majority in Parliament—these amendments only highlight how deeply entrenched conservative values are in Singapore.

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Philippines

It's déjà you all over again?
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15 August 2022The Philippines’ Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF; Commission on the Filipino Language) this week moved to ban five books, citing subversive themes. This triggered strong backlash from democracy leaders, advocates, and the general public at large, who fear for the country’s democracy and are wary of a return to dictatorial rule, marked by censorship and the repression of civil liberties. The Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights was quick to flag the KWF’s move as a signal that the Marcos Administration could exploit the controversial anti-terrorism law to stifle freedom of expression. The Commission’s repressive act harks back to an era under Marcos Sr.’s rule that the namesake son is well familiar with.

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Indonesia

Conservation or workers' welfare?
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8 August 2022Conservation and livelihood are coming to a head in Indonesia, after the national government hiked the ticket prices to the Komodo and Padar Islands of the Komodo National Park by more than 20 times. Previously costing Rp 200,000 (~USD 14), tickets now go for Rp 3.75 million (~USD 251). The price increase is in line with conservation efforts that seek to limit foot traffic and visitor volume, protecting the endangered lizards from overexposure to humans. But workers in the tourism industry are saying that such a dramatic price hike is likely to drive virtually all tourists away, leaving them with no means to earn a living. (Photo: Ethan Daniels/Shutterstock.com)

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Vietnam

Wanted: Health care workers
Vietnam

 

1 August 2022Vietnam is now suffering from a crucial shortage of health care workers, crippling public health across the country—and by extension, its pandemic response. Citing dismal pay and high workplace pressures, more than 9,000 frontliners have already left state hospitals and clinics and moved to private institutions. Some have even opted to leave the country in search of the proverbial greener pastures. Vietnam’s electronics industry is similarly in dire straits. Employing only overworked and under-skilled laborers, local manufacturers are languishing in the lowest end of the global value chain. (Photo: xuanhuongho/Shutterstock.com)

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Philippines

Education in crisis
Vietnam

 

25 July 2022COVID-19 forced years of remote and home-based learning all over the world, but for the Philippines, a country with awful internet, this has led to a nationwide education crisis. A recent World Bank report has found that nine in 10 Filipino kids struggle to read, making the Southeast Asian archipelago one of the leading countries in the region in terms of learning poverty. While reopening the schools could, in theory, help alleviate the crunch, teachers are actually dreading their return to their cramped classrooms. The Alliance of Concerned Teachers has called on the Marcos administration to address concerns of classroom and teacher shortages. (Photo: Joel D. Pinaroc/Shutterstock.com)

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Malaysia

A dearth of drugs
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18 July 2022The current state of global disorder has yielded an unexpected, but no less fatal, consequence on Malaysia. Driven by supply chain disruptions, fluctuations in foreign currency, and mammoth demand, the supply of medicines has run dangerously low in the Southeast Asian nation. This comes at a most unfortunate moment, given the growing number of COVID-19 cases, the incoming flu season, and a mounting need for fever and cough treatments. In turn, the government has been forced to dip into its federal medicine reserves in order to keep even private hospitals and clinics well-stocked. (Photo: Herrieynaha/Shutterstock.com)

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Singapore

Compounding migrant workers' woes
Vietnam

11 July 2022 — With the recent death of a worker in a forklift accident, deep-seated labor problems in Singapore are back in the public eye. Low-wage, migrant workers have long been plagued by poor pay, undignified living quarters, and systemic discrimination—and it seems that these problems will still be the norm in a post-pandemic Singapore. As the city-state opens up, stalled construction projects due to mobility restrictions are now being rushed to completion with no mind for the safety and security of construction workers. In the first half of this year alone, the Ministry of Manpower took enforcement action for more than 9,000 workplace safety breaches.

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Myanmar

Staring at uncertainty
Vietnam

4 July 2022 — Myanmar’s democracy icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is no stranger to prisons, having fought against tyrant after violent tyrant her entire life. But when she was imprisoned by the Tatmadaw last week, supporters feared for her life. After all, at the age of 77 years, she is no longer the scrappy, defiant young woman that she used to be—and she may no longer be fit to see her sentence through. But as worries about her health grip her nation, and military atrocities persist, the rest of the world has fallen eerily silent.

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Thailand

Trimming the weeds
Vietnam

27 June 2022 — Was it too much of a good thing? Following the decriminalization of cannabis in Thailand, at least nine people have already sought medical attention for consuming too much weed, according to the Department of Medical Services. Binging the happy plant could lead to palpitations, dizziness, and an upset stomach. These health concerns, compounded by a lack of policies and legislation guiding the use of cannabis, have pushed schools, military institutions, and other such establishments to ban weed in their premises.

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Cambodia

Decimating the opposition
Vietnam

20 June 2022 — Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, among the prime icons of autocracy in the region, has been in power since 1985 and is the country’s longest-serving head of state. Key to his tight grasp on power is his unrelenting crackdown on the opposition, the latest example of which is his recent sentencing of 51 members and supporters of the Cambodia National Rescue Party. The trial, widely criticized as farcical, ended in prison sentences for the defendants over allegations of treason and incitement and drew strong condemnation from groups across the region.

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Malaysia

Deciding on the death penalty
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13 June 2022 — Malaysia’s rare but welcome move to abolish the death penalty stood in stark contast to Singapore’s unyielding stance on capital punishment. The former’s decision comes after Malaysian leaders appealed in vain to the Singapore government to spare the life of death row prisoner, Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, after he was convicted of trafficking but found to be mentally disabled, in turn spurring strong protests from rights activists across the region. The Malaysian government appeared to backtrack, however, when it announced that the death penalty remains a judicial option should courts choose to mete it out.

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Thailand

A lethargic labor situation
Vietnam

6 June 2022 — While official figures show a sharp decline in Thailand’s unemployment rates, the situation on the ground suggests otherwise, with businesses shuttering, throngs of workers laid off, and thousands of new graduates struggling to find jobs. According to experts, this disparity is due to a very generous definition of what constitutes employment, which counts even those who earn less than the minimum wage, leading to an inflated estimate of employment rates. Several government initiatives to boost labor have also had disappointing results.

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Timor-Leste

Feeding the nation's future
Vietnam

30 May 2022 — Nobel laureate Jose Ramos-Horta, having won the recent presidential polls, now has to face the tough task of getting Timor Leste back on track. Among his priorities is the pervasive and persistent challenge of child malnutrition. In 2020, despite years of government programs and international support, nearly half of Timorese children were still stunted and more than 60 percent of households lacked food. To turn the tide, the government is now looking to improve community services and empower families to provide nutritious food for their children.

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Philippines

Rough road ahead for free speech
Vietnam

23 May 2022 — After the presumptive victory of the Philippines’ president-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr, state agencies wasted no time in affirming that the incoming government would continue a virulent anti-communist, anti-free speech crusade. The latest target was Adarna House, a publishing house for children’s books, which had recently put on sale five books about the country’s martial law era. The state’s offensive was headed by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, which rose to infamy as the Duterte administration’s top tool in stifling dissent.

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Malaysia

Rx for toxic work culture in health care sector
Vietnam

16 May 2022 — Following the death of a trainee doctor in Penang, Malaysia’s Health Ministry has instituted a task force to investigate reports of superiors bullying junior physicians, which many say led to the incident. But experts and members of the health workforce say that this has been a decades-long problem, a deeply entrenched, industry-wide toxic work culture. Is the task force too late the hero? And can they enact meaningful change in the health sector?

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Singapore

Singapore's spar against stigma
Vietnam

9 May 2022 — The fight against mental health stigma is difficult, but in Singapore, the youth seem to be gaining ground. Though mounting academic pressures are bearing down heavy on students, schools are making counselling and related services more readily available, and providing safe spaces for mental health conversations. Parents, too, are starting to be more accepting and give their kids the support they need. Nevertheless, much is left to do to defeat stigma and provide adequate, affordable professional services to everyone.

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Thailand

When weed blooms
Vietnam

2 May 2022 — Excitement brews in Thailand as several individuals and businesses anticipate the passage of a law delisting marijuana as a narcotic drug. Though the law is still more than a month away, many have already applied for “weed licenses,” which will allow them to grow and import cannabis and hemp for both medical and recreational purposes. However, a word of caution seems to be in order as experts recommend caution to temper the enthusiasm: The risk of cannabis abuse and dependence following the law’s passage could outweigh its benefits.

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Cambodia

A nation in need of help
Vietnam

25 April 2022 — Cambodia has seen a recent spike in suicide attempts, most of which have occurred in young people aged 15 to 19 years. In the first quarter of 2022, nearly 250 people have died by suicide across the Southeast Asian country. According to experts, weak support for people with psychological disorders and their families could be a driving force behind this worrying phenomenon. In response, international funding has poured into Cambodia in hopes of improving the country’s mental health care system.

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Singapore

Uncovering COVID-19's hidden victims
Vietnam

8 April 2022 — Driven by pandemic-related job instability and financial stress, cases of child neglect and even physical and emotional abuse have skyrocketed in Singapore. Data show the year 2021 saw a 70 percent spike in child sexual abuse cases investigated, from 261 in 2020 to 443 in 2021, the country’s highest in 11 years. In response, the government instituted the Sexual Crime and Family Violence Command, designed to handle sexual crime and family violence cases. This move suggests that Singapore may finally be strengthening its systems to protect minors against sexual abuse.

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Vietnam

No raise for the weary
Vietnam

11 April 2022 — COVID-19’s resurgence in early 2022 has squeezed both workers and companies in Vietnam. As a result, the proposal by the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor to increase minimum wage by 7 percent has been met with disapproval from employers, arguing that higher payrolls would be too much of a burden, especially for smaller firms. On the other hand, workers have also suffered economically amid the pandemic, with the percentage of those earning below minimum wage jumping from 5 percent in 2019 to 7.8 percent in 2020.

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Indonesia

Weak laws, women's loss
Vietnam

28 March 2022 —In Indonesia, not even a killer virus could keep violence against women at bay. The National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) recorded around 4,500 complaints of sexual assaults in the first 10 months of 2021, double the number of cases from the year before. A bill penalizing sex crimes is slowly winding its way through parliament, held back by conservative forces that have already watered down its scope and definitions.

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Southeast Asia

The forgotten (mental health) crisis
Vietnam

21 March 2022 — People suffering from mental health problems have always been beset by strong social stigma and shame, which prevents them from seeking care. This has only been made worse by the pandemic. In response, Cambodia, with the help of Singapore, has started expanding mental healthcare services in three key centers across the country. The partnership also provides an opportunity for specialists from both countries to collaborate, working toward more sustainable mental healthcare solutions and ending the stigma around mental health.