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  • 🇹🇭 Shock death of activist puts lese-majeste back in the spotlight

🇹🇭 Shock death of activist puts lese-majeste back in the spotlight

🇵🇭 The fisherfolk are coming

Hello friends!

Before we crack into three major stories, I wanted to quickly thank all of you premium readers for putting up with my erratic schedule this last week and a bit. 

I’m back in Canberra for the winter (freezing, silly idea) and working to get money up for other projects. And I’m loving the money, but not so much the working. It’s thrown me off a bit but I should be back to schedule next week. The plan will be free-for-all reads Mondays and Fridays and then two premium reads on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Which means I’ll be popping Singapore and Malaysia back in with the Philippines and Indonesia so cross your fingers that Malaysia stays cool for a bit and doesn’t blow those newsletters out to 3,000 words again. 

I really hope that suits, but if it doesn’t hit that reply and let me know what you think!

Tomorrow, I’ve got a really exciting newsletter after chatting with a big brain about the Funan Techo Canal so see you then!

Erin Cook

🇹🇭 A death in Thailand raises lese-majeste

Scrap Article 112, the lese-majeste clause

Awful news out of Thailand this week with the death of pro-democracy activist, Netiporn ‘Bung’ Sanesangkhom. Bung, just 28, died of apparent cardiac arrest in Thammasat University Hospital on Tuesday morning. She had been on a dry fast for over three months.

She had been jailed at the Central Women’s Correctional Institution at the end of January after bail was revoked. This is a common reality for those charged with violating the lese-majeste laws and a major focus of many of these protests. Bung allegedly violated the law when she answered a survey about royal motorcades in Feb. 2022, the Bangkok Post reports. Bung faced another count of lese-majeste, with a sentence of up to 15 years in prison for both. 

The BBC report here is interesting. There appears to be some confusion about the timeline of the fast, with media reporting Bung did eat at some stage last month. Her death has certainly struck a nerve. Beyond that many Thais believe she should never have been on the charges in the first place it comes, of course, amid fresh pressures and the possible dissolution of the wildly popular Move Forward Party — who won the election handily advocating for the scrapping, or at least reforming, of lese-majeste. 

Which isn’t to say the country is unified in outrage. Over at the Thai Enquirer Arun Saronchai is livid about comments made online that say Bung ‘deserved’ to die. Let it be a moment of galvanisation, they write: “When we scroll past news of an unjust death, when we fail to question laws that stifle freedom of expression, or when we dismiss the importance of advocating for human rights, we contribute to a culture that allows such tragedies to occur.”  

Just a day later, Panupong Jadnok, also 28, was sentenced to three years in prison over lese-majeste and the Computer Crimes Act. It all comes back to a Facebook post in November last year, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights told the Bangkok Post

🇵🇭 Hitting the waters and making a stand

A group of around 100 fisherfolk and activists set sail off Zambales this week, sailing wooden boats towards the Scarborough Shoal in a show of force against China’s movements in the waters. The Philipine coast guard sailed alongside to keep watch and deployed a light plane to monitor. 

The group is known as Atin Ito, or ‘this is ours’ for non-Tagalog readers (me), and some began chanting the slogan after spotting the Chinese coast guard, this excellent report from the AP notes

Organiser Emman Hizon told the outlet that the group spotted Chinese coast guards trailing the group, but stressed everyone is in high spirits and wouldn’t be turning back. “Our boats are exercising evasive maneuvers while the Philippine coast guard continues to maintain its close distance to the convoy to thwart any further attempt from Chinese coast guard vessels,” he said. 

The group is expected to reach the Shoal at some stage this morning. 

Rappler journalist Bea Cupin was on board a light plane yesterday and overheard a vessel identifying itself as Chinese Navy issue many warnings to the Philippine Coast Guard, as seen in this video she posted

In her report for the outlet, Bea notes that the group intends to drop off supplies for fisherfolk based in the area. It’s a bad look for China to get so snippy, notes Akbayan Party president and organiser Rafaela David. Deploying a “fleet of military vessels” to guard “against a group of wooden fishing boats manned by Filipino civilians” sends a hell of a message. 

“This civilian supply mission is not just about delivering supplies, it’s about reaffirming our presence and rights in our own waters. The world is watching, and the narrative of rightful ownership and peaceful assertion is clearly on our side,” Edicio Dela Torre, also an organiser and president of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement, told Rappler. 

This is the clearest example I’ve seen yet of the Philippines absolutely dominating the PR-war. Media embeds with the Filipino coast guard or the navy have certainly increased in recent months, producing excellent work that offsets the drier summits and Malacanang statements. Comparatively, the Global Times-type chest-thumping about American lapdog status and the bizarre ‘David vs. Goliath’ claims seem hysterical. But this returns the ‘debate’ to what it is at heart — less about geopolitics and the rise of a superpower, more about securing the rights and livelihoods of the ordinary Filipino. 

I’ll be watching closely today to see what happens when Atin Ito makes it there. 

🇻🇳 Is Moscow coming to Hanoi?

Since we’re on the topic of great powers (-ish), let’s check in with Vietnam where a possible meeting could underscore just how deeply Vietnam means it when they say: we’ll be friends with whoever we want and we’re picking no sides. 

The European Union was meant to sit down in Hanoi this week as part of a visit around the region. David O'Sullivan, the special envoy for the implementation of EU sanctions, planned to visit the capital earlier in the week but was fobbed off “as leaders were too busy to meet with him,” one diplomat told Reuters. Can you come back in July instead?

It’s all because of a possible visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin. No dates are set, but there does appear to be fears that a visit by the EU could see that “spoiled.” Vietnam has been vying for a visit, with repeated invitations in recent months. 

I would assume that delaying Brussels means this is certainly on the cards even if no one is telling us yet. 

Over at the Diplomat, Sebastian Strangio notes Putin’s visit to Beijing this week could include a side trip to Hanoi. Knowing my luck, by the time I send this we will have confirmation one way or the other, but certainly one to watch! 

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