Thai women reject Songkran advice with ‘don’t tell me how to dress’ campaign

When a Thai government official told women to dress carefully to prevent harassment at the Songkran festival, it brought back painful memories for model Cindy Sirinya Bishop.

The Thai-American was just 17 when she was sexually harassed at the New Year celebrations. Dressed in a loose black t-shirt and three-quarter shorts, Ms Bishop found herself cornered by five men after she was separated from her friends.

“They surrounded me and tried touching me. I just ran and managed to get away from them. I haven’t been to Songkran since,” Ms Bishop told the BBC.

The three-day festival, which begins on Friday, is marked by the pouring of water to symbolise washing away misfortune from the previous year.

  • What is Songkran?

    Last month Sutthipong Chulcharoen, Thailand’s director general of the department of local administration, encouraged women to dress appropriately to prevent sex crimes during the water festival.

    In response, Ms Bishop posted some clips on Instagram – along with the hashtags #DontTellMeHowToDress and #TellMenToRespect – and found plenty of people shared her dismay.

    The 39-year-old said the hashtags were “targeting the idea that women are to blame for sexual harassment”.

    Skip Instagram post by cindysirinya

    ของขึ้น ขอระบาย 😡 Women have the right to dress however we choose, as long as it’s not illegal. Sexual assault and harassment is never the woman’s fault! Tell men to keep their hands to themselves! #rant #basichumanrights #donttellmehowtodress #tellmentobehave

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    It wasn’t long before other women began sharing their own stories.

    “I was out with a friend and a female cousin [during Songkran], wearing a turtle-necked top, sweat pants and a sweater because I get cold easily,” said one user on Twitter.

    After losing track of her friends, she quickly found herself surrounded by a group of boys.

    “They started to corner me… one of the guys grabbed my arm. I burst into tears. Thank god my cousin and friends came back so everything was alright. Since then, I’ve never gone out on Songkran.”

    • The hidden dangers in Thailand’s Songkran festival
    • Thailand tones down Songkran

      Other Thai women began to share their experiences from everyday life that led to harassment.

      “I once wore shorts to a 7-11 store near my house and a security guard looked at my legs and told his friend they were so appealing he wanted to touch them” said a Thai twitter user.

      “I was in junior high then. After that I’ve never worn shorts outside my house. Why do only women have to protect themselves? I’m sick of this.”

      What were you wearing?

      The act of washing away misfortune has seen Songkran evolve into one of the world’s biggest water fights.

      “Songkran is traditionally such a beautiful festival,” said Ms Bishop. “[But] for a lot of Thai women, it has become dangerous because they know they are going to be taken advantage of”.

      A 2016 survey conducted by Thailand’s Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation found over half the women in a group of 1,650 had experienced some form of sexual harassment during the festival.

      Ms Bishop, who said she “never expected” her posts to attract so much attention, hopes to keep the conversation going beyond Songkran.

      “A lot of times you hear people asking women what they were wearing when [sexual harassment occurs], not just during Songkran,” said Ms Bishop.

      “Across the globe, you have the feminist movement, the #MeToo movement, conversation on this topic is growing and in the same way, I hope in Thailand this movement continues beyond Songkran.”

The ‘good witch’ who wrote Japanese classic Kiki’s Delivery Service

Eiko Kadono’s playful tales about a young witch and her furry companion have entertained generations of Japanese readers, and have now earned her one of the highest honours in children’s literature.

Last month the 83-year-old was awarded the 2018 Hans Christian Andersen Award, sometimes called the Little Nobel Prize for Literature.

The jury described the “ineffable charm” of Ms Kadono’s picture books and novels, deeply rooted in Japan.

She was inspired to write her most famous series – Kiki’s Delivery Service or Majo no Takkyubin in Japanese – after her young daughter drew a picture of a witch with musical notes flying around it.

“I made Kiki around the same age as my daughter was at that time, just between childhood and adulthood,” Ms Kadono said, according to the Asahi Shimbun.

“It’s all about this kid getting to fly with her own magic.”

Late bloomer

Born in Tokyo, Ms Kadono was evacuated from her home at age ten and sent to northern Japan during World War Two.

After the war was over, she attended university in Japan before emigrating to Brazil for a few years.

Some of her works, including Forest of Tunnel and Brazil and My Friend Luizinho, were inspired by her wartime experiences and years in Brazil.

The author describes herself as a “late bloomer”, owing to the fact that she was 35 when her first book came out.

“I was more a reader than a writer. [But] after trial and error, I realised I loved writing,” she told Japanese media at a recent press conference.

“I decided to write throughout my life, even if my works would not be published.”

She has published close to 200 original works, including picture books, stories for young adults and essay anthologies. But her most famous work is undoubtedly Kiki’s Delivery Service.

Silver screen

Originally published in 1985, the story revolves around Kiki, a young witch who travels around on her broomstick with her black cat Jiji.

The series starts with 13-year-old Kiki as she sets out on a year-long apprenticeship for witches in training, and follows her as she tries to find her place in the world despite various setbacks and struggles.

The rest of the series chronicles Kiki as she grows into a young adult and eventually, a mother of two.

Nearly 1.7 million copies of the books have been sold in Japan alone, and the series has been translated into nine languages.

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    It was later adapted into a film by iconic director Hayao Miyazaki of Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli. The movie became one of Mr Miyazaki’s most popular films.

    But what is it about the book that has made it so loved?

    “Kiki’s Delivery Service makes children believe that everyone has [their] own magic,” Tomoko Honobe, Ms Kadono’s editor, told the BBC.

    “The raison d’etre of children’s literature is giving strength of confidence to children, [enabling them] to become mature.”

    And Ms Kadono seems to have some magic of her own.

    “She’s just like a good witch, who has all these charms. She is mischievous, chatty, energetic and young,” said Ms Honobe. “I have to work really hard to keep up with her energy.”

    ‘Words will be your strength’

    Last month Ms Kadono found out she had won the Hans Christian Andersen Award, given by the International Board on Books for Young People.

    The biennial award is presented to an author whose “complete works have made an important, lasting contribution to children’s literature.”

    “I had no idea I could have [such an award],” Ms Kadono said at the award reception.

    “It is such an honour… being read by many people, all over the world.”

    Yet the acclaimed author says her stories do not belong to her, but rather, her readers.

    “The significance of storytelling is, once it is handed to readers, it becomes theirs,” said Ms Kadono.

    “[And as] you read and read, you create your own dictionary in you. And those words will be your strength through your life.”

    Reporting by the BBC’s Sakiko Shiraishi and Yvette Tan

South Korean basketball is cutting foreign players down to size

After South Korea’s basketball league kicked out a foreign player for being too tall, news reports have since emerged of athletes desperately trying to shrink themselves.

A new height limit imposed on the sport has drawn both controversy and ridicule for its attempt to cut foreigners down to size.

What exactly happened?

The Korean Basketball League (KBL) recently angered fans when it announced a significant change in the rules.

Each team in South Korea can have only two foreign players. Starting with the 2018-19 season, one of these players must not be taller than 200cm (6ft 6in), while the other one cannot be taller than 186cm.

This meant that one of the country’s most popular foreign players – an American called David Simon – had to leave. At 202.1cm, he had missed the cut-off by just millimetres.

“I was a little upset,” Mr Simon recently told the BBC World Service’s OS programme.

“Just to be that close and not be able to make it, kind of stinks. Doesn’t look like I’ll be going back there to play unless they change the rule again.”

Simon, who had topped the KBL in the previous basketball season, had to head home to the US, much to fans’ chagrin. A petition was filed to the South Korean presidential office to abolish the KBL’s height rules, and bring back Simon, reported Yonhap news.

Fans then took to social media to bid farewell to departing players.

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We will miss ya 😭 #davidsimon #simon #데이비드사이먼 #사이먼 #180313 #안양kgc #kgc인삼공사 #안양실내체육관 #창원lg #창원lg세이커스 #프로농구 #KBL #농구 #농구선수 #basketball #basketballplayer

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Why has South Korea done this?

It’s not the first time this has happened. In fact, Korea has had a height limit for foreign players since 1997, but this is the shortest that has ever imposed.

The KBL has maintained that it has to protect local players who, on average, cannot match the heights of foreign players, mostly Americans.

The league has also said the height limit will lead to better games with higher scores and a faster pace.

“We believe this new height restriction will revive the popularity of pro basketball in the country,” KBL Secretary General Lee Sung-han told Yonhap.

Is South Korea alone in this?

The lack of extremely tall local players appears to be particularly acute in Asia, where for every Yao Ming (229cm) there are many more players of average height.

It’s one reason why the basketball league in the Philippines has had for decades a 200cm height limit for foreign players, as “permitting American 7-footers to play would wreak havoc”, reported Slate magazine.

The debate has long overshadowed the sport. Way back in 1957, Sports Illustrated magazine ran a discussion with both proponents and opponents arguing that either way, a height limit was discriminatory.

“There are advantages and disadvantages both to being taller and shorter,” Donyell Marshall, the men’s head coach of basketball at Central Connecticut State University’s Blue Devil Athletics, told the BBC.

“If you’re taller you can score around the rim better, you can block shots and you can rebound. But smaller players can usually shoot better. They are faster and better dribblers.”

So how do you shrink a basketball player?

It’s a shadowy science. Yonhap reported that the South Korean teams tried lifting weights and jogging before measurement, hoping that dehydration could knock off a few centimetres.

In the 1970s and 1980s, when bouffant hairstyles were popular, Philippine teams would shave their foreign players’ heads to battle height restrictions, reported Slate. Other methods employed over the years include doing shoulder presses and squats, with the idea that this could compress their bones.

If all else failed, some resorted to cheating – slouching, bending their knees ever so slightly, or leaning against the wall during measurement. But officials soon cottoned on – and simply measured the athletes while they lay flat on the ground.

Doctors say it’s almost impossible to shrink your body.

First of all, there hasn’t been much of a market for shrinkage, so there’s hardly been any medical innovations.

“It’s actually very rare… usually people want to grow taller and the technology has been there for that,” says Dr Tan Chyn Hong, an orthopaedic surgeon and a former Singapore national athlete.

“If you want to lose a lot, there is no reasonable way to do that – short of chopping your bones.”

But not all hope is lost.

“Non-surgically, there are things you can do to a very small degree,” says Dr Tan.

“The discs in your spine are composed of water amongst other things, so for example, if you dehydrate yourself, you could perhaps lose a bit of height from the shrinking of the accumulated discs.

“I would say from doing that, and maybe also slouching a bit, it’s possible to lose 1cm – but any more than that is very tough.”

Reporting by the BBC’s Andreas Illmer and Yvette Tan.

Samina Sindhu: Pregnant singer shot at celebration in Pakistan

Musicians have held protests in Pakistan to demand justice for a pregnant woman who was shot dead while singing at a family function on Tuesday evening.

It is not clear exactly what the circumstances were around the death of Samina Sindhu, 28.

A man was reported to have shot her because she would not stand up while singing, but he has said he shot her by accident while firing in the air.

She was eight months pregnant.

It happened at a circumcision celebration in a village called Kanga, near Larkana city in Sindh province.

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    The singer’s husband, Ashiq Sammoo, said in a police complaint that a man at the celebration had pointed a gun at his wife and “threateningly ordered her to stand up and sing”. When she said she was pregnant and could not stand, he said, the man shot her.

    One man has been arrested in connection with the death. Tariq Jatoi told journalists outside court that he had fired in the air in celebration and a bullet hit the singer by mistake. He was remanded in custody.

    Protesters have demanded that two men who were also present at the scene should be arrested as well.

    A video circulated on social media does not clearly show anyone threatening Ms Sindhu. It shows her sitting on a stage, accompanied by musicians, singing, when three men approach the stage and shower her with banknotes as is customary. She stands and keeps singing. Just as the men exit the frame, three shots are heard, and she falls.

    Ms Sindhu was a locally known singer. She had produced at least eight albums of Sindhi folk and Sufi music but her main source of livelihood was to sing at family functions, as is the case for many musicians across Pakistan.

    Results of her post-mortem examination and of a blood alcohol test on Mr Jatoi are expected to be examined in court. Drinking alcohol is prohibited for Muslims in Pakistan.

    Reporting by BBC Urdu’s Riaz Sohail

India Taj Mahal minarets damaged in storm

A storm has damaged two minarets located at different entry gates of the iconic Taj Mahal in the northern Indian city of Agra.

Officials told the BBC that winds blowing at 130kmh (80mph) caused the 12ft (4m) pillars to collapse.

The four longer minarets that surround the main structure remain intact.

The 17th Century mausoleum attracts about 12,000 visitors a day and is one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions.

One of the destroyed minarets was located at the royal gate where tourists often get their first glimpse of the monument.

The other was located at the southern gate.

Authorities said that work had begun to restore the damaged structures.

India’s official recorded history says that Mughal ruler Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal in memory of his queen, Mumtaj Mahal.

The monument’s complex structure of white marble domes and minarets inlaid with semi-precious stones and carvings is considered the finest example of Mughal art in India

But it has suffered damage due to pollution and construction activity in recent years.

The Archaeological Survey of India, the custodian of the country’s monuments, said in January that the Taj Mahal was at risk of losing its sheen and structure due to increased pollution levels in Agra.

Australian company Optus apologises for ‘Anglo-Saxon’ job ad

An Australian telecommunications company has apologised for posting a job advert that stated a preference for “Anglo-Saxon” candidates.

Optus, the nation’s second-biggest provider, had included the description in a posting about a vacant position in a Sydney store.

The advert was shared on social media, where it was criticised as racist.

Optus responded by removing the posting and saying it would investigate the “completely unacceptable” error.

“[We] will be investigating how this occurred with a view to taking disciplinary action against those involved,” spokesman Vaughan Paul said in a statement.

Skip Twitter post by @bomotweets

@optus seeks Anglo Saxon in Neutral Bay area… I can't even 🙈 What were they thinking! @seekjobs

— Catherine Snelson (@bomotweets) April 13, 2018


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Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane, also responded to the incident.

“Under the Racial Discrimination Act, it is unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of race in employment,” he tweeted.

South China Sea: Xi Jinping attends massive naval display

China’s leader Xi Jinping has attended a massive naval display in the disputed South China Sea.

Speaking from an undisclosed location, Mr Xi said the need for a strong navy had “never been more pressing”.

More than 10,000 naval officers, 76 fighter jets and a flotilla of 48 ships and submarines took part in the drill.

Several nations claim parts of the resource-rich South China Sea, but recent years have seen Beijing reasserting its claim.

The naval display, described by Chinese media as the largest of its kind, came ahead of planned live-fire military drills by China in the narrow strait separating it from Taiwan on 18 April.

Syria man ‘stranded at Malaysia airport for weeks’

A Syrian man says he has spent over a month stranded in the transit section of a Malaysian airport, partly as a consequence of his country’s civil war.

Hassan al-Kontar’s plight emerged when he began posting videos of himself at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2.

He says he was deported from the UAE to Malaysia in 2016, after losing his work permit when war broke out in Syria.

He says he is unable to enter Malaysia, and that his attempts to reach Cambodia and Ecuador were also in vain.

The airport and Malaysia’s Immigration Department did not immediately respond to journalists’ requests for comment.

Speaking on a call over WhatsApp, a worried and distressed Mr al-Kontar told the BBC that he has “lost count” over the number of days he has spent stuck in limbo.

“I’m desperate for help. I can’t live in this airport any longer, the uncertainty is driving me crazy. It feels like my life hit a new low,” he said, adding that he hadn’t had a proper shower and had run out of clean clothes.

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“I flew to the UAE to find work but because of the conflict, I lost both my work permit and my job there and have been on the run since.”

Mr al-Kontar said he was deported by the UAE to a holding centre in Malaysia in 2017 because “it is one of the very few countries in the world which offers visas upon arrival to Syrians like me”.

He was given a three-month tourist visa and he sought a better solution.

“I decided that I wanted to try to go to Ecuador so I saved up enough money to buy a plane ticket on Turkish Airways. But for some reason, they did not allow me on the flight and I found myself back at square one,” he said.

He says he also had to pay a fine for “overstaying” and has been “blacklisted” in Malaysia, and that he is now unable to leave the airport and re-enter the country.

At the risk of overstaying his welcome in Malaysia a second time, Mr al-Kontar travelled to Cambodia but was prohibited from entering. “I was deemed illegal in Malaysia so I chose to fly to Cambodia but they confiscated my passport upon arrival,” he explained.

Officials from Cambodian’s immigration ministry told the Phnom Penh Post that Syrians could get visas on arrival but would be turned back if they failed to meet government “requirements”.

“We need to check what their purpose [of their visit] is,” said director Sok Veasna.

Mr al-Kontar said he was sent back to Kuala Lumpur on 7 March, and has been stuck at the airport since.

At the time of writing, Mr al-Kontar told BBC News that airport customer service officials as well as local UN officials had been in touch.

“The authorities here are interviewing me and I have filled out some reports,” he said. But he remains unsure about what will come next.

“I don’t know what to do. I have no-one to advise me on where I can go. I really need help because I believe the worst is yet to come,” he sighed.

He says he originally left Syria in 2006 to avoid military service, going home once to see his family in 2008. He says he is still subject to an arrest warrant there.

“I am a human being and I don’t consider it right to participate in war. It was not my decision,” he said.

“I’m not a killing machine and I don’t want any part in destroying Syria. I don’t want blood on my hands. War is never the solution but unfortunately, even from where I am now, I am paying the price of its actions.”

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement that the refugee agency was “aware of this case” and had “reached out to the individual and the authorities”.

Additional reporting by Woon King Chai in Kuala Lumpur and the BBC’s Andreas Illmer in Singapore.

Pacific Dawn: Woman missing after fall from cruise ship

Australian authorities have called off a search for a Brisbane woman who fell overboard from a cruise ship in the Coral Sea.

The 47-year-old fell from the Pacific Dawn about 16:00 local time (06:00 GMT) on Thursday, about 300km (186 miles) west of New Caledonia.

The ship, bound for Brisbane, turned around immediately to search for the woman, operator P&O Cruises said.

Australian maritime authorities decided to end the search on Friday morning.

“The difficult decision to suspend the search was made only after expert advice that survival after this length of time in difficult sea conditions, and after a full night at sea, was not considered possible,” a P&O Cruises spokesman said.

“Pacific Dawn had searched throughout the night and into the morning after first light without success.”

Queensland police said they would meet the Pacific Dawn when it docked in Brisbane on Sunday, to investigate the incident.

“No suspicious circumstances have been identified at this time,” police said in a statement.

The Courier Mail newspaper reported the woman had appeared to be seasick before she fell from the vessel amid rough seas. P&O Cruises said it could not confirm any details.

Authorities in Australia and New Caledonia said they had issued a call for other vessels to assist in the search, but the ship was in remote waters.

The rescue effort was hampered by challenging conditions, including swells up to 4m (13ft) and high winds.

The ship left Australia last Saturday on a week-long cruise to Vanuatu and New Caledonia. It has now resumed its course for Brisbane.

Tibet group thanks Sweden in ‘Chinese spy’ case

A Tibetan leader says she hopes other countries will follow Sweden’s example by prosecuting alleged spies who give China information on exiled Tibetans.

On Wednesday, Sweden charged a Tibetan man, Dorjee Gyantsan, with espionage. China allegedly paid him for personal information about fellow Tibetans.

Tibetan community leader Jamyang Choedon said Sweden’s action could “be an example for other countries”.

Her associates in Sweden back the Dalai Lama’s struggle for Tibetan self-rule.

The Dalai Lama – the Tibetans’ exiled spiritual leader – is seen by China as a separatist threat. The Chinese Communist Party insists Tibet is an inseparable part of China.

Read more on China and Tibet:

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    Ms Choedon, speaking to the BBC from Stockholm, said her small community of about 140 Tibetans was “really shocked and a bit scared” by the case of Dorjee Gyantsan, who is 49. She said it was the first such case in Sweden.

    Mr Gyantsan has denied all the charges, his lawyer Mikael Soderberg told the BBC. Arrested in February 2017, he is currently free but not allowed to leave Sweden.

    “We know him, he was actively taking part in the community,” Ms Choedon said. “I never felt he was against the Dalai Lama. He has been in Sweden more than 10 years.”

    “We’re very thankful to the Swedish government that they are taking full steps; I hope all other countries do the same.”

    Trips to Poland

    The indictment accuses Mr Gyantsan of having spied on Tibetan community members in Sweden for “cash benefits” and says he met “a representative of the Chinese state repeatedly in Poland, in connection with this activity”. The espionage allegedly took place in 2015-2017.

    When he was arrested, on returning from Warsaw, he was found to be carrying $6,000 (£4,200) in cash.

    “The offence is considered gross because it was systematic, in progress for a long time and may have caused many people serious harm,” the indictment says.

    In Sweden the minimum jail term for spying is six months and the maximum four years.

    Commenting on the case, Daniel Stenling, an officer of Sweden’s Sapo intelligence service, said Sapo had worked with other European police authorities to monitor Mr Gyantsan’s activities.

    He called such spying “a very serious crime… as it prevents people who are already vulnerable, and have fled their countries, from exercising the rights and freedoms they should be enjoying under Sweden’s constitution”.