Cambodian political teeth, Laos jails trio and Singapore exports slow

By: Will Feuer - Posted on: May 18, 2017 | Cambodia

The Region Today: Southeast Asia Globe’s daily rundown of the region’s top stories

Kem Sokha, President of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), speaks to the relatives of the victims who died in a grenade attack in 1997, during a ceremony in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 30 March 2017. Photo: EPA/Kith Serey
Kem Sokha, President of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), speaks to the relatives of the victims who died in a grenade attack in 1997, during a ceremony in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 30 March 2017. Photo: EPA/Kith Serey

18 May 2017

Cambodia’s opposition preaches peace in face of military threats

After Cambodian defense minister Tea Banh promised to “smash the teeth” of anyone who dares to demonstrate against the results of local elections on June 4, opposition leader Kem Sokha flipped the threat as he called for peace.

“If anyone wants their teeth smashed, they can vote for them,” Mr. Sokha told candidates at the CNRP party headquarters. “If anyone wants to keep their teeth for eating rice, come join us.”

General Banh said on Sunday that if the opposition loses and “do not accept that loss, and come up with this or that demand—maybe soon we will smash their teeth”. The threat has been decried by the opposition and rights groups who say and environment of intimidation makes free and fair elections unlikely. [Cambodia Daily]

Related reading from Southeast Asia GlobeRace to the bottom: how Cambodia’s opposition is targeting ethnic Vietnamese

Trio given harsh sentences for criticizing government in Laos

Three Laos dissidents have been handed lengthy prison terms, allegedly between 12 and 20 years, according to Paris-based Federation of International Human Rights (FIDH), citing local rights activists and an anonymous detention center official.

The three activists – Lod Thammavong, Somphone Phimmasone and Soukane Chaithad – were sentenced for criticizing rights abuses by the government on Facebook while they worked in Thailand. When they returned to Laos to renew their passports, they abruptly went missing.

“By locking up dissidents for up to two decades, the Lao government has abandoned any pretense of compliance with the country’s international human rights obligations,” FIDH president Dimitris Christopoulos said. [Radio Free Asia]

Related reading from Southeast Asia Globe: Four years since Laos activist Sombath Somphone’s ‘disappearance’

Thai student activist stands out for speaking up

At just 20 years old and still in university, Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal has a rising profile in Thailand for daring to openly criticise the Thai junta. He attracted attention last year when he refused a Thai student tradition of prostrating oneself before a statue of former King Rama V.

Chotiphatphaisal is understandably worried about the future of Thai political activism. “Many activists are hopeless and depressed…The junta created an atmosphere of fear.”

The Thai military government has taken myriad measures to quell freedom of speech, jailing those deemed to have offended the monarchy, censoring the internet and most recently threatening to shut down Facebook unless dozens of pages were closed off in the country.  [Reuters]

Related reading from Southeast Asia Globe: Thailand backs down on threat to shut down Facebook

Singaporean exports falters after strong five-month streak

To the surprise of economists around the world, Singapore’s non-oil domestic exports recorded a disappointing contraction of 0.7%, rather than the expected continued expansion. The news marks the end of the strongest Singaporean export growth streak in more than six years.

What it means for Singapore’s economy remains unclear with many calling this lapse just a temporary setback, while others say it is a symptom of a maturing electronics market and that previous growth will be difficult to sustain in 2017. [The Straits Times]

Related reading from Southeast Asia Globe: Tech executive Anna Gong on Southeast Asia’s start-up bubble and customer engagement in the digital age

Giant sea creature decaying on Indonesian coast identified

A massive dead sea creature that washed up on Indonesian shores last week has been identified by marine biologists after pictures and videos were widely circulated.

While locals and online speculators initially thought it was a giant squid, Regina Asmutis-Silvia, executive director of Whale and Dolphin Conservation, said it is most likely some sort of baleen whale.

“Giant squid are invertebrates and there are clearly bones visible (jaw, skull, vertebrate) so I am very comfortable saying it’s some type of rorqual whale,” Asmutis-Silvia said, referring to the largest species of baleens. [USA Today]