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The Globe as you know it is changing.

Since 2007, Southeast Asia Globe has been a space for some of the region’s best writers and photographers to take our readers behind the headlines into the stories that shape people’s lives. Every month, you could expect to pick up our latest print edition and find high-quality journalism, analysis and artwork waiting on every page. And since 2007, we’ve fought to uphold our promise of quality and independence to you, our readers.

But, like we said, the world is changing. Print publications just aren’t reaching the audiences they need to fulfil their promise of informing, educating and entertaining the public. Advertisers continue to invest in digital platforms while printing costs creep ever higher. Print may not be dead, but it’s fighting for its life. And we’re tired of waiting by a sickbed for its condition to improve. We want to be present at the birth of something new.

That’s why Southeast Asia Globe is relaunching as a member-driven platform featuring daily long-form features combining world-class journalism with enthralling art design and data-centered tech. Through our core pillars – Power, Money, Life and Earth – we are focusing in on the central issues that our readers have always engaged with most, with the same in-depth coverage of politics, business, social affairs and the environment that you’ve come to expect since 2007.

But leaving print behind us doesn’t just save our backs from lugging stacks of magazines across Southeast Asia. It opens up a global readership who don’t just want to read the news, but have a say in the stories that we tell and the way that we tell them. We’re not asking you to take out another magazine subscription – our stories are open to all. What we’re offering our members is a space where they can pitch and vote on the stories that they think deserve to be told. We want to inspire an engaged and active community of members who vote for, comment on and contribute to the stories that matter most to them. We want to work with our members to curate the way they engage with the news – not just as readers, but as an active extension of our editorial team.

That’s how we’re changing to bring you great stories. Here’s how we’re not.

We’re independent. Always have been, always will be. We’re not owned by any corporation or aligned with any state. We choose the stories that we tell, and the way that we tell them.

We’re creative. We’re not interested in churning out breaking news stories on the hour, every hour. We believe that the best stories are the ones that come alive on the page, digging deeper into the issues that shape Southeast Asia – and bringing you along for the ride. From our dedicated designers to our new software development team, our commitment is to constantly challenge ourselves to find new ways of reaching out to our readers.

We’re open. Challenging governments, NGOs and businesses to be transparent with the public means nothing if we keep our own readers in the dark. That’s why we will be completely open about why we tell the stories that we tell – and how we pay for them. Work with us to build something that endures where many media fail, and decide with us exactly where that money is going.

Above all, we’re optimistic. And yeah, we know what you’re thinking. Faced with impending climate collapse, the rise of right-wing authoritarian governments across the world, widening wealth and income inequality and deepening divisions rooted in race or gender or creed, it’s hard not to open the papers and feel the weight of the world pressing down. But we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t believe that when people work together, they can make their little corner of the world a more just, open and equal place.

And that’s why we can’t do this without you. We believe that across the globe is a community of people who care deeply about social justice, environmental action and press freedom – and who will join in to help make those ideals a reality. We’re not just holding our hand out – we need your voice to play a vital role in building Southeast Asia Globe into a leading space for progressive causes in the region. Tell us what stories the mainstream media is missing. Share with us the causes that matter most to you, and how we can champion those causes not just across Southeast Asia, but the world.

Our vision is clear. By 2025, we want to be recognised for building a great space for outstanding journalists from across the region to explore new ways of telling Southeast Asia’s most vital stories. Let’s bring together a community of engaged and loyal members who want to help reshape the media rather than just read it. And we want to reach a point where our readers, not advertisers, are the ones working to support our shared vision of an inclusive media.

We can’t do this without you. Let’s get together and build something that we all believe in.

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Malaysia / Marginalised groups hope promised reforms will include their rights

By: Josef Benedict - Posted on: August 22, 2018 | Current Affairs

There is optimism following the 100 days of Malaysia’s new government – but the country’s marginalised groups wonder if it will go far enough to fight for equal rights

Malaysia_Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad_CIVICUS_EPA_Southeast Asia Globe 2018
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad Photo: Larry Leung China Out/EPA-EFE

It is difficult to describe the euphoria produced by an event that, in a single day, vanquishes a party’s 61-year grip on power and its corruption-tainted leader.

Almost 100 days since Malaysia’s opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition took office after a historic election outcome in May, there’s still a strong whiff of optimism in the air. But not all Malaysians – in particular, marginalised groups that have long borne the brunt of repressive state action – are holding their breath for the dawn of the rights-respecting, corruption-free country the new rulers have promised.

Certainly, the administration has moved quickly to deliver on some of its election pledges, such as investigating the corruption scandal involving the state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and bringing charges against former Prime Minister Najib Razak. It has established a committee on reforming institutions, particularly the police, which have violated rights with impunity for years; has begun the process to repeal a “fake news” law that muzzled the press; and committed to ratifying international human rights treaties.

But for some civil society groups and activists in Malaysia, particularly those advocating for the rights of marginalised communities, the new government’s 100-day report card includes concerns that reforms will not go far enough, leaving them to continue their years-long human rights battles.

Continued forced evictions for farmers to favour private developers
Jerit, or the Coalition of Oppressed Peoples, has been mobilising marginalised communities and farmers since 2002 to demand the rights of workers and indigenous people as well as land rights, fighting forced evictions by private developers working in cahoots with the state. Over the years, many Jerit activists have been intimidated by state government officials or private companies and targeted for arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment, and prosecution by the previous government for their activism. But while the political change might be encouraging, activist Karthiges Rajamanickam said he’s seeing little of that change on the ground.

“I was arrested last week in Penang for opposing a forced eviction,” Karthiges revealed. He is currently facing criminal charges arising from that arrest. “This may be an isolated case… [but] it seems the new government seems to be still operating in the old ways of [the former ruling party] Barisan Nasional at the same time we are seeing some reforms,” he said.

Forced evictions were carried out by the old regime and they are still being carried out

While he’s prepared to give the new government time to prove it is different from its predecessors, Rajamanickam is concerned that its policies on land will be dictated by private developers.

Indigenous people: still profits above lives and land?
Another marginalised group that is expectantly watching for a change in policy are indigenous Malaysians – among them, the Orang Asli indigenous tribes of Peninsular Malaysia who make up about 1% of the population. Previous administrations had long sought to strip their identity by categorising them as members of the dominant Malay ethnic group. As a result, the authorities have rarely acknowledged their claims of ownership of their land when it decides to grant logging concessions to private companies.

“We were relieved [when the opposition coalition won the election], as we feel we can engage with the new government about our concerns,” said July Lanchong, an indigenous activist from the state of Negeri Sembilan.

Indigenous rights activist, July Lanchong Video: Josef Benedict

“We do not know if we can achieve our objectives. We will need to monitor their comments and actions,” he said.

But Lanchong need not look far for an indication of actions the government is already taking against indigenous communities in the interests of plantations or commercial logging.

In the state of Kelantan this month, a fruit company intimidated and tore down a blockade by the Temiar indigenous community, set up to guard their land from incursions by loggers and plantation workers.

Indigenous people in Sarawak, a state in northwest Borneo island, are now mobilising against a new law passed in July that strips them of customary rights to their land, requiring them to apply to the state for recognition of ancestral domain and communal forests. That coincides with growing demand for territory for commercial logging enterprises. Yet another case of government – this time, a new broom promising sweeping reforms – placing logging interests above the rights of indigenous communities.

Refugees: ready to legally work, learn and move freely in Malaysia
Malaysia’s refugee community has suffered untold discrimination and hardship at the hands of the former ruling BN party. Refugees are not legally allowed to work or attend school in the country. But one campaign promise has inspired hope among refugees and their advocates: in its election manifesto, Pakatan Harapan pledged to ratify the 1951 International Convention on Refugees, which would grant refugees employment rights.

“It will make it easier for people once they sign this [document]. I hope they will give us rights to go to school, to hospital, freedom of movement and documentation,” said Muhamad Hason of the Geutanyoe Foundation, a regional rights group.

But the Mahathir administration is yet to spell out a clear plan of when it plans to ratify the Refugee Convention or any other policy reform that will ease hardship on refugees and protect their rights. Until then, refugees will continue to live in limbo. Refugee rights need to be normalised through legislation amendments and policy changes. Activists are intent on holding the government to their election promise to “create a Malaysia that is inclusive, progressive, just and free from any forms of discrimination”.

The United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, said in May this year that more than 150,000 refugees and asylum seekers registered with the agency in Malaysia. Close to half are Rohingya refugees, like Hason, fleeing ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.

High hopes for the new government to tackle anti-LGBTI discrimination
It’s no secret that in a socially conservative, majority-Muslim country like Malaysia, the issue of sexual orientation is a prickly one. Perhaps that’s putting it mildly. The nation’s LGBT community has been the target of a systematic attack by the previous government, carried out through discriminatory laws and policies that have had a chilling effect on LGBT Malaysians, affecting their employment, housing, education and how the media portrays them.

Since 2012, there has been an increase in state-sponsored and state-funded anti-LGBT projects such as rehabilitation camps for transgender people and manuals, publications and videos promoting the notion idea that LGBT individuals can be “corrected”. This has created a fertile ground for the open expression of hostility towards LGBT.

LGBTI/Gender rights activist, Thilaga Sulathireh Video: Josef Benedict

But among LGBT activists like Thilaga Sulathireh, there are some signs inspiring hope that this government might finally take the lead on real strides towards inclusivity and acceptance of their community.

“[The election outcome] may allow for more space and more conversations,” said Sulathireh of Justice for Sisters, a network collective that works on gender and sexuality issues.

There are more pro-human rights elected representatives in the state assembly and parliament. This presents an opportunity to improve the standards of human rights issues in Malaysia in general, including standards for LGBT people

She is also cautious that hostility from right-wing groups, who now claim that the liberals have won power and believe that LGBT people will have their rights, will lead to heightened conservatism within the new government.

A case in point is the high-profile controversy around Numan Afifi, an LGBT activist and cabinet minister’s aide who was hounded out of his job in July by a vicious backlash and threats. Meanwhile, new Religious Affairs Minister Mujahid Yusof Rawa has been saying publicly that LGBT groups are not “allowed to practice the lifestyle in the country.” Recently the Minister ordered the portraits of LGBT activists taken down from an exhibition.

As sudden and dramatic as the political change was in Malaysia, few if any rights groups realistically expect to see that scale and pace of change in their struggles. But they all share a revived sense of optimism coupled with a steeled determination to keep up the pressure, as they’ve done for years, for positive political, legislative, economic and social progress.

Josef Benedict is a Kuala Lumpur-based civic space researcher with global civil society alliance, CIVICUS.