Southeast Asia

Dateline Southeast Asia – October 19 to 25, 2020

Dateline Southeast Asia – October 19 to 25, 2020

BANGKOK PROTESTS. Pro-democracy protesters in Thailand hold up their mobile phones with lights as they listen to a speaker while occupying Victory Monument during an anti-government rally in Bangkok on October 18, 2020. Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP


That photo? No, it’s not a concert.

In Thailand, thousands of young protesters, including celebrities, step up their fight for democracy despite warnings from authorities.

Get to know more about the Thailand protests – and other developments in neighboring countries – on Dateline Southeast Asia, our dynamic wrap of the latest in the region each week.

Bookmark and refresh this page for updates and analyses of the latest news in Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.


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MALAYSIA: Anwar calls for COVID-19 relief in Sabah

Rain Matienzo

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, in a recent statement, called for COVID-19 relief in Sabah.

Anwar described Sabah’s conditions in a statement on Monday, October 19: its overwhelmed healthcare system, small businesses in need of support, and marginalized Sabahans further challenged by the Community Movement Control Order issued in the territory.

Anwar requested the Ministry of Health’s full disclosure of their strategies in containing the spread of the coronavirus. Strong political leadership, transparency, and financial assistance were Anwar’s strongest calls to action for the Malaysian government.

SINGAPORE: Contact tracing app mandated in cinemas, places with large crowds

Lara Batulan

Singapore’s Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO) announced that the TraceTogether-only SafeEntry (TT-only SE) contact tracing program will soon be used in more popular venues across Singapore as the country further reopens its economy and resumes large-scale activities.

The SNDGO has also imposed the mandatory use of TT-only SE from Tuesday, October 20, until mid-November, for places with a high level of human traffic. These venues include cinemas and places of worship with more than 100 people.

Having been tried in chosen areas since August, the TraceTogether program is both an app and a token that tracks recent contacts and help identify COVID-19 cases, especially at events or places with big crowds. 

SINGAPORE: 250 allowed at MMA show as fans return

Agence France-Presse, Agence France-Presse

Singapore will allow fans at a sports event for the first time in months when limited numbers attend a One Championship MMA fight card next week, organizers said on Friday, October 23.

Up to 250 mask-wearing fans will be allowed at next Friday’s One: Inside the Matrix after getting antigen tests for the coronavirus.

One: Inside the Matrix, featuring 6 fights, will be held at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, which holds up to 12,000 spectators. 

Singapore has recorded nearly 58,000 coronavirus cases and 28 deaths, but its outbreak has slowed markedly in recent weeks, allowing it to gradually ease curbs and travel restrictions.

MALAYSIA: Self-isolation recommended for low-risk COVID-19 patients in Sabah

Rain Matienzo

The government in Sabah said coronavirus patients who have “manageable” symptoms will be advised to stay at home even as the state copes with hospital beds that are already 99.5% full.

A Malay Mail report said hospitals are now conducting screenings to determine the severity of patients’ symptoms. The state’s priority for hospitalization are high-risk patients, while low risk patients are advised to self-isolate. The report said that as of Thursday, October 22, Sabah recorded a total of 9,868 coronavirus cases with 5,624 active cases.

Malaysia, meanwhile, has 24,514 confirmed cases as of Friday, October 23, with 8,416 active cases and 214 deaths, according to the Worldometers site.

SINGAPORE: People turn to new online chatbot for stress relief amid pandemic

Lara Batulan

A new online chatbot platform called Wysa has been made available to Singaporeans who are looking for ways to cope with stress or mental anguish during the coronavirus pandemic.

The latest version of the Wysa was released on Thursday, October 22, according to a report and is accessible at The chatbot does not require personal information for anonymity, and provides different types of aid for coping and stress management.

According to a Straits Times report in August, Singapore’s National Care psychological aid hotline has received over 26,000 calls since the hotline’s release in the earlier weeks of the pandemic in April, emphasizing the detrimental effect that the pandemic has on Singaporeans’ mental health.

As of Friday, October 23, Singapore has a total of 57,951 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 94 active cases and 28 deaths.

MALAYSIA: Goldman Sachs agrees to largest penalty ever in 1MDB scandal

Rappler World Desk

Global financial titan Goldman Sachs agreed to pay $2.9 billion in penalties to settle criminal charges in the 1MDB Malaysian bribery scandal, the largest US fine ever in a corruption case, the Justice Department announced Thursday, October 22.

Acting US Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt said Goldman “accepted responsibility” in the case that involved $1.6 billion in bribes, the largest ever recorded, and massive gains laundered through the US financial system. For details, go here.

THAILAND: Street food vendors first on scene to feed Bangkok protesters

Rappler World Desk

Thai street vendors are often first on the scene at “gurrilla” democracy protests in Bangkok, where they hawk sour pork and fishballs to a democracy-hungry crowd.

After a government crackdown last week, protest groups have begun keeping the venues for their demonstrations demanding the resignation of Premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha secret until the last minute, in a bid to outsmart authorities. 

But protesters have quickly noticed that they are often second on the scene, behind food vendors setting up their carts and readying themselves for a busy night of brisk sales. Read the story and watch the video here.

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THAILAND: Full statement of Forum Asia

Here in full is a statement of support from the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) of the people of Thailand. Forum-Asia is a regional network of 81 member organizations across 21 Asian countries. For a complete list of signatory-organizations, go here.

In solidarity with Thailand’s peaceful democracy movement

We, 60 organizations across Asia, stand in solidarity with the peaceful democracy movement in Thailand as it continues to push for fundamental freedoms and democratic reforms, in the midst of government repression.

The Government of Thailand should abide by its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to respect and protect the people’s rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

We assert that the ‘State of Severe Emergency,’ announced on 15 October 2020 violated international human rights standards, and failed to meet the principles of legality, necessity, proportionality.

We condemn the use of the ‘national security’ narrative to block these peaceful protests, as well as the attempts to portray the movement and its leaders as a threat to national security and to the stability of the nation.

We further condemn the use of police violence, including the use of water cannons on 16 October 2020 against peaceful protesters, which included high school and university students. This fails to meet OHCHR’s guidance which states that water cannons are advisable for use only for situations ‘of serious public order where there is a significant likelihood of loss of life, serious injury or the widespread destruction of property.’

The continuous arrests and the use of judicial harassment against human rights defenders are unjustifiable, and serve no other purpose than to instil fear and to promote reprisals against the movement. The arrested protesters and its leaders should be immediately unconditionally released

We likewise condemn the use of intimidation and reprisals against social media users who have ’checked-in’ at protests sites, taken selfies, or posted about the protests on social media. On 19 October 2020, the Minister of Digital Information announced that they will investigate more than 300,000 URLs of social media accounts that have allegedly violated the Emergency Decree.

We are also gravely concerned about efforts to have media organizations Prachatai, the Standard, The Reporters, and Voice TV investigated for their reporting of the protests, as well as efforts to prevent them from reporting these events. The role of journalism remains ever crucial in these times, and the government has the obligation to protect media freedom and independence. The right to access information is integral in the fulfillment of the people’s right to freedom of expression.

We recognize that these tactics are also being used by other governments in the region to stifle social movements. These tactics violate international human rights standards, and have no role in any fair and just society.

We call on the Government of Thailand to commit to the respect and protection of freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly. We urge the government to:

● Refrain from any further use or announcement of orders and policies including under the Emergency Decree to hinder people’s ability to exercise their fundamental rights;

● Immediately and unconditionally release all arrested Human Rights Defenders and protesters, drop all charges against them, and refrain from any further arrests, threats or intimidation;

● End the use of police violence against protesters;

● Respect the rights of children and youth to safely and peacefully express their opinions on issues that affect them;

● ️Review or repeal draconian offenses under the Criminal Code such as defamation and sedition, which have been used as tools of fear and reprisal;

● ️Respect and support media independence and freedom, including through allowing local and international journalists to operate, without any interference or reprisals; and

● ️Take genuine steps to address the structural violations being raised by the democracy movement.

We call on the international community to stand in solidarity with Thailand’s democracy movement, and all our social movements in Asia in our pursuit of government accountability and the protection of human rights.