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#57 - Cynical
Same old, same old
Sou Sdei and welcome to Campuccino, your fortnightly dispatch of key headlines in Cambodia with a dash of opinion.
To new subscribers, welcome!
I tuned out from the news for a bit last week due to stomach flu and migraine. Then, I purposely tuned them out some more as I spent my weekend across the Mekong River on Koh Dach at a boxing training camp with Kingdom Fight Gym (this is where I train for Kun Khmer regularly, and I love them). A quick glance at the news here and there throughout last week told me that way too much shit is hitting the fan. So, training myself to exhaustion with some amazing people was the big deep breath I needed before diving into this week’s newsletter.
In this issue: illegal logging, a prison sentence for a labour union leader, the declining real estate sector, a film festival, and more.
If I’m being honest, I do not know where to start because there is a lot of bad news. It’s suffocating. Maybe we can start with the commonly known bad news, aka illegal logging. Gerald Flynn wrote another banging piece on the topic connecting different dots. This time, the news article indicated that the logging operation happened out of a Cambodian prison in Koh Kong province. There, prisoners’ labour is used to craft luxury furniture from illegal logs. The labour is disguised as skills development. Definitely a sad, yet must-read story!
Next up, we have a convicted leader of the Labour Rights Supported Union (LRSU) of NagaWorld employees. Chhim Sithar was found guilty of “incitement to commit a felony or disturb social security” by Phnom Penh municipal court after having been imprisoned for the past two years. Read more details on this case on Amnesty International.
What can I say? It seems those with the power to make a difference have taken a side and that side is definitely not with the workers. Seeing injustice such as this, it is hard for me to keep my cynic self in check a lot of the time.
Speaking of incitement, did you know that it is a very popular charge in Cambodia? Chhim Sithar was far from the only individual being charged with such a vague charge. During this month, three individuals from the Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC) were arrested, questioned and charged with incitement, too. According to a report by Radio Free Asia, these guys allegedly “incited social unrest” and “conspiracy to commit treason” by discussing agricultural techniques and the constitutional rights of Cambodian citizens.
Confused? Baffled? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. That is just your typical Cambodian judicial system. Totally free, just, and fair. Anyway, the trio were released on bail after they appeared to have confessed their crimes and publicly apologised to the PM. All is well, I guess 🤷♀️
To give you a bit of a breather before we continue to more bad news, I’ll throw in a piece about the current situation of real estate in Cambodia. Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t good news either, except it is a more predictable supply and demand rise and fall kinda news that doesn’t really make you go “WTF” as much compared to other news.
If you follow Cambodia-related news, chances are you are aware of the booming real estate sector for the past decade. We are talking about Borey development, apartment buildings, condos, you name it. Now, after enjoying the growth over the past 10 years, this article by Kiripost indicates that the growth has reached the ceiling. The sector currently witnesses low demand and limited financing options. Bad news for developers. Okay, I am no expert and not going to pretend that I am. So, for more details, go read the article.
Another eyebrow-raising headline from last week is the Ministry of Environment picking a fight with youth activists. CamboJaNews reported that MoE threatened the Mother Nature Cambodia youth activists with legal actions after they submitted a petition requesting the government to “withdraw the licenses from private companies” in Kirirom National Park. A statement from MoE alleges that the action from the youth group is illegal and that they are affiliated with an organisation that is not officially recognised. The statement also goes as far as saying that “any activities carried out by the group affiliated with Mother Nature is deemed against the interests of Cambodian society”. At this point, I’m struggling to understand how my government defines interests of Cambodian society.
Because I talked about election-related news in the previous issue, I’m not going to spend time on the topic much this week because honestly, I’m tired of you know what…I know I can share my two cents saying I am deeply concerned blah blah but it goes without saying. Hence, I’m not going to say anything. If you want the latest round-up on the surroundings of the Cambodian election, check out Lights Out in Cambodia by Erin Cook in her amazing newsletter Dari Mulut ke Mulut, your portal to news and rich analysis from across the Southeast Asia region.
Arts & Culture
📽️ If you are in town this week, go check out some films being screened across Phnom Penh as part of the 12th Cambodia International Film Festival which is from 31 May to 4 June. You can find the program here.
📰 Anti-Archive is launching a Cambodia-based film magazine titled MARG1N today. The magazine is said to serve as a platform to gather the voices of critics, writers, and artists. If you’re interested to know more, check out their launch this evening at Cine Hub. I might go :)
The Danger of Microfinance by Abby Seiff and Sokummono Khan explores the struggles of some of the most vulnerable people in Cambodian society through the lens of their entanglement with microloans. I’ve read reports on microloan issues in Cambodia before, but what makes this one stand out to me is the zooming-in aspects of a few cases of people’s lives that the authors did very well. It humanises those stuck in debt and their battles to get out of it.
Campuccino is a fortnightly dispatch of key headlines in Cambodia, written by @DarathteyDin.
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