The DailyBrief

Tuesday October 3, 2017

Malaysia murder mystery: Two women accused of assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s estranged half-brother went on trial in the Southeast Asian country this week, Nile Bowie writes. Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, and Vietnamese national Doan Thi Huong, 28, are the only suspects in custody in a killing that South Korea alleges was an elaborate plot coordinated by Pyongyang. The two are charged with murdering Kim Jong-nam in Kuala Lumpur on February 13 by smearing his face with a highly toxic VX nerve agent. Both women maintain their innocence and say they were duped by North Korean handlers into believing they were carrying out a prank for a reality TV show. The suspects’ defense lawyers have already cast doubt on the fairness of the trial, saying that the judiciary is politicized and complaining that the authorities have already compromised the proceedings by allowing four North Korean suspects to leave the country.

Vietnam’s online revolution: Social media use has exploded in the Southeast Asian communist nation, breaking the regime’s control of news and placing it on a counter cyber-offensive, David Hutt writes. A government crackdown targeting pro-democracy and human rights proponents has particularly targeted social media users. Nguyen Chi Tuyen, a prominent human rights defender, says police are increasingly summoning internet users to police stations to “work with them” on what they have posted, as well as hacking accounts and blocking websites. New users, he said, might be afraid of the government’s revanchist threats and perturbed by the increasing difficulty of voicing their opinions online. “However, the defiant ones are not afraid of the government anymore… We find the solutions to overcome any difficulties caused by the government,” Tuyen said.

Kurdish independence movement: Three days before Iraqi Kurds went to the polls in a referendum over their own political future, elections for local Kurdish communes in northern Syria took place on September 22, Sami Moubayed writes. While the Iraq vote – in which an overwhelming 92% voted in favor of independence – sent shockwaves throughout the Middle East, the Syrian vote passed very smoothly, and Damascus did nothing of any consequence to prevent or obstruct it. Following elections in their communes, Syrian Kurds plan to vote for representatives to their local councils on November 3. Parliamentary elections for the three Kurdish districts of the Syrian north, which the Kurds are calling the Democratic Federal System of Northern Syria, are due to happen on January 19. These back-to-back developments in Syria and Iraq have undoubtedly raised the ambitions of 30 million Kurds throughout the region, whose unconditional support has flooded in.

Franco-Italian naval alliance: The scene is set for the creation of a giant defense contractor in Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region could soon become its favorite market, Emanuele Scimia writes. Under the aegis of their respective governments, Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri and its French competitor Naval Group have started discussing the terms of a possible alliance and their transformation into a single naval-defense company. This prospective integration gained momentum last week after Fincantieri secured operational control of French shipyard STX, in which Naval Group has a minority stake. Their cooperation could focus on the design, development and maintenance of frigates, submarines, helicopter carriers, fleet auxiliary tankers and surveillance patrol ships.

South Asia journalism: Along with the judicial, executive, and legislative branches of government, the media form the fourth important pillar in a democracy, Ehsan Sehgal writes. The media bring domestic issues and international events to the public. Freedom of speech and of the media are vital for the maintenance of human rights in democratic societies. Unfortunately, many Pakistani and Indian electronic and print media figures are too selective in their motives and stray from neutrality. Such failings lower their qualifications to be journalists; indeed, they themselves create the doubts people hold regarding journalistic values by not providing fair and correct information to the public.

Asia Times app: Asia Times has launched an app for both iOS- and Android-based devices that delivers the publication’s regular daily news, commentary, blogs and live coverage while also bringing readers added functionality. As we report here, the app, launched on July 25, includes content notification, share and save functions and is free to download from both the Apple Store and Google Play.