100 Days of Trump Gubberish


April 29, 2017

NY Times Editorial: 100 Days of Trump Gubberish

It was fitting that President Trump closed out his first 100 days in another bumbling attack on Obamacare, trying and failing to jam a bill through the House this week that had no chance of passing the Senate, just to create the illusion of action.

The sorry saga of health care under this president bears all the Trumpian hallmarks that Americans are learning to expect: the dishonest campaign promise (“health care for everyone”); the clownish attempts to write a bill; the miniaturization of Paul Ryan (remember that guy?); the rivalrous White House confederation of Bannonite anarchists and glittering cosmopolites; the dearth of nonwhites and nonmales at the table; the absence of any strategy and of any vision beyond “winning.”

All that’s needed to complete the Trump pattern is the insultingly obvious effort by the president’s kin to cash in. A health care summit meeting at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, maybe…

READ ON:

Sarawak Report: 1MDB Settlement CONFIRMS DOJ’s Case


April 26, 2017

1MDB Settlement CONFIRMS DOJ’s Case

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The Relentless  and Fearless Crusader–Sarawak Report Founder Clare Rewcastle Brown

The settlement between 1MDB and the Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Investment Corporation (IPIC) has derailed the US Department of Justice (DOJ) civil suit to seize more than US$1 billion in assets allegedly purchased using funds siphoned from 1MDB, said an Umno leader.“This arbitration settlement has weakened the US DOJ civil suit and claims that 1MDB’s funds were stolen,” said UMNO Supreme Council Member Mohd Puad Zakarshi in a statement today.

Mohd Puad is also the Director-General of the Information Ministry’s Special Affairs Division (Jasa).

The settlement announced yesterday will see 1MDB pay IPIC US$1.2 billion, as repayment after IPIC covered interest payments on 1MDB bonds in June 2015. The bonds, valued at US$3.5 billion, were issued in 2012 to finance 1MDB’s energy unit – 1MDB Energy (Langat) Limited and 1MDB Energy Limited. Both bonds are due by 2022.

MDB was supposed to pay IPIC US$3.5 billion for guaranteeing the bonds but IPIC said it never received payment. 1MDB said it had paid Aabar BVI, a British Virgin Island registered entity with an almost identical name as IPIC’s subsidiary. IPIC said it is not linked to Aabar BVI

Won’t touch taxpayer’s funds

This portion of the dispute will be further negotiated in “good faith” between the parties, IPIC said in its filing to the London Stock Exchange yesterday. “The parties have also agreed to enter into good faith discussions in relation to payments made by 1MDB Group to certain entities,” it said.

Meanwhile, Puad said the settlement shows that 1MDB will be able to pay its debts without touching taxpayers’ funds.This is through monetising the “investment units” redemeed from the Cayman Islands and held in a Singapore bank via 1MDB’s subsidiary Brazen Sky Limited, which is reported to be worth US$940 billion.

“These obligations will be met by 1MDB, primarily via monetisation of 1MDB-owned investment fund units. 1MDB is pleased to confirm that a first tranche monetisation of approximately US$50 million has been received, in cash,” 1MDB said yesterday.

The Prime Minister’s Office said 1MDB will cash out all of its “investment fund units”. Fuad said this shows that the “investment units” have value, and are not worthless as earlier claimed by the opposition.

Sarawak Report comments:

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 Mohd Puad Zakarshi

Whatever qualifications were achieved by Mohd Puad Zakarshi, they plainly did not demand logic. Because, the settlement by 1MDB doesn’t undermine the DOJ case, to the contrary it confirms it. Period.

If 1MDB had really paid $3.5 billion in ‘guarantee deposits’ to IPIC, as Najib continues to laughably claim, then Malaysia would never have lost the arbitration case and been forced to pay back the $1.2 billion that IPIC later bailed them out with.

Instead, the court would have pointed out that the bail out was just a third of the up-front deposit and IPIC would actually still have over $2 billion of 1MDB’s money left.

This is not what has happened.  The settlement involves an agreement by 1MDB to pay back the bail out money and to take over the responsibility for the remainder of its debts.

It is therefore a concrete admission by Malaysia that it could not prove its claims that it had deposited a single cent let alone billions with IPIC.And that means that the money trails supplied by the DOJ investigations, showing instead that all the money was siphoned off into a bogus BVI account to pay for Jho Low, Rosmah and Khadem Al Qubaisi’s fun and frolics, has been confirmed by the settlement and not weakened.

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Najib Razak and Bull Buddies

It is plain as daylight, yet this Minister of Disinformation is attempting to say the opposite. How stupid does he think people are in Malaysia? He is also asking people to believe that the payment is going to come from the ‘monetisation’ of non-existant ‘units’ that 1MDB also doesnt have, because all the PetroSaudi money was funnelled into another off-shore company (Good Star Limited) and stolen as well.

Puad says we should believe his story because the PM’s office said it (just like they said IPIC received money which it didn’t). So, who is going to believe this illogical and mendacious fellow when he goes on to say that Najib won’t be touching taxpayer’s funds to repay the debt? Is there a single voter who believes that?

Book Review: Scholarship and Engagement in SEA


April 26, 2017

BOOK REVIEW

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Oscar Salemink, editor, Scholarship and Engagement in Southeast Asia, (Chiang Mai: Silkworm Press, 2016)

Reviewed by Andrew Alan Johnson

http://www.newmandala.org/book-review/review-of-scholarship-and-engagement-in-mainland-southeast-asia/

Thailand, for all its political stops and starts — or perhaps because of this — has unparalleled publically-engaged academics. Nidthi Eoseewong, Charnvit Kasetsiri, Thanet Aphornsuvan and many others relate academia to public life, pushing forward public discussion in a way that is enviable from a country (the USA, in my case) where scholarship is too often treated like either a business serving students or as a collection of irrelevant exotica.

Image result for Scholarship and Engagement in Southeast AsiaAchan Chayan Vaddhanaphuti of Chiang Mai University

Of Thailand’s public intellectuals, Chayan Vaddhanaphuti of Chiang Mai University looms large. Over the course of his career, Achan Chayan has worked to advocate for minority rights (risking death threats and accusations of treason) as well as building networks across Southeast Asian academic institutions. He exemplifies the best qualities of a Thai public intellectual, and thus it is no surprise that the essays in the liber amicorum, Scholarship and Engagement in Mainland Southeast Asia, edited by Oscar Salemink, are ringing with fond memories and praise for Achan Chayan across generations of scholars. Indeed, it is telling that even non-Thai-speaking scholars refer to Chayan as “Achan,” the Thai term somehow capturing this sense of Chayan’s public role in ways that “Professor” nowadays fails to.

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My engagement with Achan Chayan came 10 years ago, when I was a graduate student doing field research in Chiang Mai. Like the best of mentors, Chayan, rather than imposing his own idea of what was important about my project, helped me think critically about my own work in multiple ways. As Michael Herzfeld remarks in his conclusion to Scholarship and Engagement, it was only later, after having completed my book, that I realised the depth of Chayan’s inspiration.

Overall, the volume is well put together, although a few essays ramble, and could have used another pass to refine and sharpen their general points. The book’s three sub-sections, too, are awkwardly titled. For example, “Politics, Activism, and Cross-Border Politics in the Greater Mekong Subregion” is the second, and “Scholarly Activism in the Greater Mekong Subregion” the third. These sections roughly correspond to an overview of Chayan’s work, its impact upon historical and anthropological work, and the thorny issues surrounding policy and minorities.

Charles Keyes opens the volume with the first section’s solo chapter: a brief biography of Chayan’s work and its impact upon Thailand and Thai studies. In an era when most work on ethnic minority issues was done by foreigners, and in the face of pressure from official state organs, Chayan pursued a principle of “speak[ing] truth to power” (p 17), pushing for a vision of Northern Thailand as a multi-ethnic and environmentally sustainable society with links across the region. It was a work that, as Keyes notes, was not without risk, and his chapter empahsises the personal commitment that Chayan gave to his causes.

In the second section, Olivier Evrard gives an example of socially-engaged history of the sort inspired by Chayan. Looking at French and Siamese records, Evrard charts the changing status of Khmu migrant labourers in the early 20th century. At first, these workers were governed by treaties between Luang Prabang and Chiang Mai, but as colonisation set in (external in the case of Laos, internal in the case of Siam), old relationships and networks became something else from the viewpoint of the central state: labor recruiters became traffickers, and migrant teak workers turned into a threat.

Evrard reminds us that migrants, as a category, are in fact created by state policy. This theme of the mismatch between detailed awareness of local situations and top-down policy returns in Christopher Joll’s chapter on Thai policy-makers’ essentialist understandings of the conflict in the South as compared with a multi-causal approach of the sort emphasised in Chayan’s work.

Shigeharu Tanabe’s chapter also deals with the issue of social engagement, looking at Northern Thai Buddhist meditation practices aimed at extinguishing the self that nonetheless provide a vehicle for addressing social problems and resisting political repression. It’s a welcome rebuttal to too-simplistic characterisations of Buddhist meditation as entirely inwardly-focused (Tanabe takes a well-placed jab at Deleuze here) and shows how practice, especially in the Northern kuba tradition, can be focused on social as well as personal transformation.

Katherine Bowie’s chapter takes a very different turn to more historically-focused studies, focusing instead upon her own experience of engaged scholarship in the 1970s. In an account reminiscent of classic anthropological fieldwork memoirs (see Powdermaker 1966; Levi-Strauss 1955,;Descola 1996), she describes a problematic introduction into a post-military coup Northern Thai field site and the tangled web of village politics that she encountered. As she attempted to assist in the organisation of a mat-weavers’ cooperative, class and other tensions within the community came to the fore in ways that were productive both for her scholarship as well as – eventually — the mat weavers themselves.

In the final major section, contributors address the thorny ground of development interventions, which too often avoid a deep engagement with local civil societies. Rosalia Sciortino, the former Regional Director for the Rockefeller Foundation (among others), effectively shows that theory is not divorced from practice even on the development side. This was particularly so during the 1990s when new technocratic interventions (the sort of thing dreamed up in TED Talks or Thomas Friedman columns) based around quick solutions and neoliberal integration came to replace civil society-based, locally-informed ones.

This philosophy of intervention oddly recalls those from the 1950s that fetishised the power of Western scientific knowledge to divine all of the solutions to the developing world’s problems. Similarly, in Ronald Renard’s contribution, we also see the fallout from a move in policy away from community-based solutions. He looks at the end of opium eradication projects in the isolated Wa region of Myanmar that emphasisedthe social origins of opium cultivation and addiction solutions focused on improving conditions for farmers, and the rise of a new, top-down approach that focuses upon law enforcement.

Building upon this connection between the assumptions of international (and national) organisations about local communities, Oscar Salemink’s own contribution to the volume examines the issues surrounding Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) in Vietnam. Salemink argues that the discourse of ICH in Vietnam creates certain possibilities and limits others, giving ethnic minorities a space within the state but limiting their role (and, interestingly, forcing the state to promote practices that they had just a few years before denounced).

But this also applies to scholars — in a state where open opposition is unproductive or impossible, Salemink argues that scholars are forced to work within the limits of state discourses. In Myanmar, however, Mandy Sadan shows how both state and resistant approaches carry their own risks. State discourses that present minority studies as “traditional” and (Kachin) minority studies dominated by the Baptist Church and ethnonationalism both fail. As a corrective, Sadan advocates for an as-yet unrealised middle ground along the lines of Chayan’s Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development (RCSD) for the highlands of Myanmar.

Overall, these essays are largely productive in looking at the history and potentiality of engaged scholarship on (for the most part) ethnic minority issues in mainland Southeast Asia, a note driven home by Michael Herzfeld’s excellently-written conclusion. Some essays (Evrard, Tanabe, Saelmink) are useful additions to the scholarly field in their own right. Others (Sciortino, Sadan) are interesting insights into the deeply hierarchical nature of national and international interventions, and some (Joll, Keyes, Bowie) reflect implicitly or directly upon Achan Chayan’s own profound impact on scholarship in Southeast Asia. In addition to the topical focus of each chapter, the book will be of use to those studying activism, development, or fieldwork ethics in the region and beyond.

Andrew Alan Johnson is Assistant Professor at Yale-NUS College

 

International Finance Ministers Discuss Growth Strategies at The George Washington University


April 26, 2017

International Finance Ministers Discuss Growth Strategies

GW-hosted event, “Growth Strategies in a De-Globalizing World,” brought finance ministers from Colombia, Indonesia and Paraguay.

Finance ministers Mauricio Cárdenas, Sri Mulyani Indrawati and Santiago Peña

Finance Ministers Mauricio Cárdenas, Sri Mulyani Indrawati and Santiago Peña discussed their countries’ growth strategies, including focusing domestically in an uncertain global market. (Logan Werlinger/GW Today)
April 20, 2017

 

https://gwtoday.gwu.edu/international-finance-ministers-discuss-growth-strategies

As the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Group spring meetings loomed, the George Washington University on Wednesday hosted international finance ministers and other experts to discuss the global economic landscape and implications for countries trying to grow in a “de-globalizing” world.

The event—hosted by GW’s Institute for International Economic Policy, GW School of Business and the Growth Dialogue—brought together the current finance ministers from Colombia, Indonesia and Paraguay and was moderated by Danny Leipziger, GW professor of practice of international business and managing director of the Growth Dialogue.

“The world is not in a good place,” Dr. Leipziger said in framing the discussion, adding many “warning signs” show countries’ difficulties with growing their economies, particularly at a time when others, including the U.S., are questioning globalization.

Does that mean that countries’ development strategies need to shift? And if so, how? Many agreed that looking inward is important during times of global uncertainty.

“We have to rely on domestic forces,” said Mauricio Cárdenas, Colombia’s minister of finance and public credit, adding infrastructure and brokering national peace and stability are important factors in growing his country’s economy.

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Sri Mulyani Indrawati of Indonesia

Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Indonesia’s Minister of Finance, added that while increasing revenues is important for a country, so is a good spending plan when every dollar counts. “How you spend it, and how you spend it better, is going to also be very critical,” she said.

Looking at trade inter-regionally could also be an important tactic if engaging with the broader globe is difficult, said Santiago Peña, Paraguay’s minister of finance. Many countries in Asia have been able to do this and have coped better with global changes, he said.

Panelists also said growth worries are compounded by uncertainty surrounding some of the rhetoric and policy actions of the Trump administration with respect to globalization and declarations that certain countries have a trade surplus with the United States.

“I hope that GW is also playing an important role in this location because you have a moral responsibility to continue pushing back the policy trend which is worrying for many countries in the world,” Ms. Indrawati said.

Adam Posen, president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, had some advice for the finance ministers with respect to engaging with the United States.

“One just has to assume for the next couple of years at a minimum that the U.S. is going to be, at best, a bad actor,” when it comes to trade and other international partnerships, he said.

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Malaysia’s 1MDB, Abu Dhabi State Investment Fund Reach Repayment Agreement


April 25, 2017

Malaysia’s 1MDB, Abu Dhabi State Investment Fund Reach Repayment AgreementPassing the Buck to Malaysian Taxpayers with more to come

Malaysian state investment fund to pay $1.2 billion to settle part of its dispute with Abu Dhabi sovereign fund

by Bradley Hope and Tom Wright

http://www.wsj.com

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State investment funds in Abu Dhabi and Malaysia struck an agreement to avoid potentially embarrassing arbitration proceedings related to billions of dollars that were allegedly misappropriated by a conspiracy of former executives and advisers to both funds, according to people with direct knowledge of the deal.

The agreement could ease tension between 1Malaysia Development Bhd., or 1MDB, and Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Investment Co., or IPIC, according to an agreement signed by the parties on Saturday, the people said.

The Malaysian fund agreed to pay $1.2 billion to IPIC, and both sides agreed to keep discussing a further $3.5 billion of disputed payments. A formal announcement on the London Stock Exchange, where IPIC bonds are listed, could come as early as Monday, the people added. News of the deal was earlier reported by the Straits Times in Singapore.

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Former IPIC Chairman Khadem Al Qubaisi, is now  is now in jailAbu Dhabi, but this Malaysian Chinese Arab is scot free because of his connections to Prime Minister Najib Razak

Malaysia and Abu Dhabi have been in a dispute since last year over who should foot the bill for billions of dollars that U.S. investigators allege was stolen from 1MDB. The money was allegedly funneled out with the help of former 1MDB executives and people close to the fund, as well as assistance from former senior executives of IPIC, U.S. prosecutors said in their filings.

The former chairman of IPIC, Khadem Al Qubaisi, is now in jail in Abu Dhabi, although he hasn’t been formally charged, while many of the alleged Malaysian conspirators are living overseas. They include Jho Low, a 35-year-old Malaysian who the U.S. Justice Department believes directed the fraud, and who has been living in Thailand and China.

Attempts to reach Messrs. Low and Al Qubaisi weren’t successful. Both have previously denied wrongdoing.

The Justice Department filed civil lawsuits last summer seeking to seize assets worth more than $1 billion—including mansions in Los Angeles and New York, as well as some of the rights to profits from the movie “The Wolf of Wall Street”—which it claims were financed with money from 1MDB. The department is building a criminal case against Mr. Low for alleged money laundering among other potential charges, according to people aware of the matter.

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This Man is  feeling the heat from Malaysian civil society–Tranquilizers could be keeping him from losing sleep or is it because he has a thick face?

Before the scandal was publicized in 2015, IPIC was a key business partner of 1MDB, helping guarantee $3.5 billion in bonds that Goldman Sachs Group Inc. sold for the Malaysian fund. Under the cover of these dealings, IPIC executives, including Mr. Al Qubaisi, helped Mr. Low and officials from 1MDB siphon billions of dollars from the fund, the Justice Department alleged. When a consortium led by Deutsche Bank AG pulled a loan to 1MDB over concerns about the collateral, IPIC stepped in with an emergency loan of $1 billion.

But as the scandal erupted, relations deteriorated between Malaysia and Abu Dhabi, and both sides began trading public accusations over who was to blame.

The agreement would repay the emergency loan that IPIC made to 1MDB, plus interest the Abu Dhabi fund paid when 1MDB was unable to service its bonds. Malaysia will pay IPIC about $600 million by the end of July and another $600 million by the end of December, the people said.

The agreement doesn’t resolve the $3.5 billion in funds 1MDB says it transferred to a shell company in the British Virgin Islands set up by Mr. Al Qubaisi and an associate. That shell company had a similar name to an IPIC subsidiary. Abu Dhabi says IPIC or the subsidiary never received the money; Malaysia claims the shell company was a de facto part of IPIC.

Hundreds of millions of dollars of 1MDB money also allegedly found their way into the accounts of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak via a chain of intermediaries, including the disputed shell company, according to court documents. Much of that money was returned to the web of offshore companies from where it came, records show. Mr. Najib has said the money was a donation from Saudi Arabia and that most of it was returned. The Malaysian attorney general has cleared him of any wrongdoing.

A company controlled by Mr. Najib’s stepson, Riza Aziz, also received hundreds of millions of dollars originating from 1MDB and transferred to him by intermediaries, the Justice Department said. He has denied wrongdoing.

Negotiations between IPIC, 1MDB and the Malaysian government broke down on several previous occasions, including in January. Abu Dhabi merged IPIC with another state fund called Mubadala Development Co. earlier this year. The new fund is called Mubadala Investment Co.

Write to Bradley Hope at bradley.hope@wsj.com and Tom Wright at tom.wright@wsj.com

 

Malaysia: Harassment of Critics intensified


April 24, 2017

Malaysia: Harassment of Critics intensified

by John Berthelsen@www.asiasentinel.com

http://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/new-round-repression-malaysia/

Image result for Najib Razak --Harassment of OpponentsSorry Dad, I messed up Felda and stole billions from the rakyat(people)

Malaysian authorities have increased the pace of their harassment of critics, according to human rights organizations in Kuala Lumpur, which political analysts view as a prelude to early elections.

Ominously, five people have been kidnapped or disappeared and people are being arrested over Facebook postings and held for three or four days, critics say. Opposition websites and independent news publications have been warned to mute their criticism or face being shut down. The Chinese-language newspaper Nanyang Siang Pau was warned over a cartoon satirizing the Speaker of Parliament as a monkey and told to suspend the staff involved.

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Hudud Monkees–Pandikar Amin (Tak) Mulia and PAS Hadi Awang

A general election must be held before August 23, 2018. However, Parliament is expected to be dissolved sometime in August or September of this year in preparation for the polls, to allow time for slippage in case unexpected events take place, such as the possible prosecution in the United States of the scandal-scarred Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is under investigation by the US Justice Department’s kleptocracy unit on suspicion that as much as US$1 billion from the Malaysian state-backed 1Malaysia Development Bhd. investment fund found its way into his personal accounts.

“They have been warning people, there have been many arrests over Facebook postings, things deemed to be critical, not only of government but of government leaders,” said Ambiga Sreenevasan, one of Malaysia’s most prominent lawyers and civil rights advocates. “There is a general feeling that the government is not going to tolerate dissent.”

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By all rights, the government should be confident of a landslide in the upcoming polls. The opposition’s most charismatic figure, Anwar Ibrahim, languishes in prison on what human rights organizations have criticized as trumped-up charges of sexual perversion. Other leaders have been threatened with sedition or criminal libel. The opposition, led by Anwar’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat, is in disarray with one wing – the rural-based Parti Islam se-Malaysia, or PAS, having collapsed into two organizations, neither of which has much remaining clout.  The conservative wing has largely aligned itself with the government over religious issues.

Najib Running Scared?

But, according to Ambiga and other sources, the reason Najib may be running scared is Mahathir Mohamad, the 91-year-old former Prime Minister, Najib’s most implacable critic, who with other dissidents established Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, and set to woo away ethnic Malays from the United Malays National Organization.

Image result for Mahathir takes on NajibThe Malaysian Kantoi All Party Team

From the start, it seemed a lost cause. Mahathir has been attempting to dump Najib since before the 2013 General Election, with little effect. His son Mukhriz has been fired by Najib as Menteri Besar (Chief Minister) of the state of Kedah. Muhyiddin Yassin, the former Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy President of UMNO, was kicked out of the party. Others have been neutralized or driven out, while the remainder of UMNO chieftains have been bribed/bought to support Najib.

But, according to a political analyst, the key is the Federal Land Development Authority, or FELDA, which was founded to handle the resettlement of the rural poor, most of them ethnic Malays.

The government listed FELDA on the Malaysian stock exchange in 2012 and allowed the thousands of settlers – whose territory covers 54 of UMNO’s 86 seats in parliament – to invest in the shares. Because of a variety of missteps, the shares have fallen  in value steeply, impoverishing the settlers who bought into them. FELDA Global Ventures as the public vehicle is now known, may be forced to delist.

Mahathir and PPBM, which he calls Parti Bersatu against the wishes of the government, have capitalized on the discontent to the point where political analysts believe he will pull away a number of those UMNO seats, perhaps 10 or 11 – two of which are held by Najib’s lieutenants.

FELDA in Revolt

“Bersatu isn’t really viable, but he’s making inroads into the Malay areas,” said one knowledgeable source. “Two ministers – Ismail Shabri Yaacob in Pahang and Ahmad Shabery Cheek in Terengganu – could lose their seats. If they lose two ministers, Najib’s position is dicey.”

If the other opposition parties, including the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party and Anwar’s PKR, plus the shards of PAC – can do well, especially in the face of brutal gerrymandering by the government – perhaps they could pull 100 seats in the 222-member parliament.

That would mean the East Malaysia states of Sabah and Sarawak, whose representation in Parliament is outsized compared to their population, and which have been demanding a bigger share of oil revenues now flowing to the central government from their own areas, plus increased development, would be in a position to blackmail the government for more spoils.

Scorched-Earth Policy

New Round of Repression in Malaysia

 FELDA Settlers in Revolt–Costly to Najib Razak

Accordingly, according to Ambiga and sources who prefer not to be named, the government has embarked on a scorched-earth program to suppress dissent. The most troubling is the kidnapping or disappearance of five social activists, including the well-organized kidnapping and disappearance of a Chinese Christian pastor, Raymond Koh Keng Joo on Feb. 13 in the middle of Petaling Jaya, a suburb of Kuala Lumpur, whose car was rammed and who was driven away in broad daylight. As Asia Sentinel reported, “His disappearance and the lack of any news or ransom demand suggest he has likely been killed and his body disposed of.”

The others who have disappeared are social activists Peter Chong, Joshua and Ruth Hilmy and Amri Che Mat.

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In addition, Nalini Elumalai, the Malaysia representative of Article 19, an international human rights organization with a Malaysia chapter, said that “recent arrests, investigations and charges under the Multimedia & Communications Act 1998 (MCA) are becoming more and more frequent. This is no longer just a crackdown on public figures (i.e. activists, human rights defenders, opposition politicians or journalists), but the targeting of ordinary social media users, in what appears to be an exercise in clamping down on criticism.”

Article 19 in particular identified one individual who was arrested last week for carrying a placard and wearing a yellow T-shirt identifying him as a member of the election reform organization Bersih. His phone and other articles were seized.

“The arrest and confiscations represent a violation of the individual’s right to privacy and freedom of expression, as it targets him for expressing his opinion on government corruption.

Article 19 also specified the cases of the graphic artist Fahmi Reza, Malaysian cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, known as Zunar, and Bersih Chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah under the Security Offences Special Measures Act (SOSMA), the organization said.

“There is grave concern about how SOSMA has been extended for another five years,” Ambiga said. “Maria [Chin’s] detention was a classic example of the abuse of security legislation. The detention under SOSMA of Maria was completely unacceptable. I anticipate a worsening situation for human rights in view of the elections. It’s going to be even dirtier than the last.”