A Damning Report on Malaysia’s New Autocrat by The Washington Post

November 30, 2015

Obama shakes hands with Najib

The New Autocrat shakes hands with The Democrat

A Damning Report on Malaysia’s New Autocrat by The Washington Post

by Anna Fifield


Online critics of the Malaysian government would be well advised not to spend too much money on cellphones. “Just lost number four,” Eric Paulsen, an outspoken civil liberties lawyer and compulsive tweeter, said Nov. 20 after nearly two hours of questioning at the main police station here over his latest sedition charge.

Paulsen went into the Police station with a shiny new Chinese handset, a Xiaomi, and came out without it. At least it was cheaper than the iPhone and two Samsung Galaxies that previously were confiscated from him this year, apparently because they are tools in his social-media activism.


MP Steven Sim Tze Tzin

His friend Steven Sim Tze Tzin, an opposition parliamentarian who also was questioned that day, still smarts over the iPhone 6 Plus that was taken from him this year. “Don’t they know how much that thing cost?” Sim said, laughing, after emerging from his own session with the Police.

Malaysia, ostensibly one of the United States’ democratic allies in Southeast Asia, is engaged in a broad crackdown on freedom of expression that detractors say is all about silencing critics of Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is embroiled in a corruption scandal. And the crackdown is particularly focused on online commentary, which is proving much harder to control than traditional media.

“The government has at least two intentions,” said Yin Shao Loong, who is Executive Director of the Institut Rakyat, a think tank, and is aligned with the opposition. “One is to stifle freedom of expression. The other is to harass the opposition and sap their energy and tie them up in court cases that could take years.”

Najib’s government has been making heavy use of the 1948 Sedition Act, a remnant of the British colonial period, which makes it an offense to “bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against any Ruler or against any Government.”

Azmi Sharom 3

University of Malaya’s Dr. Azmi Sharom

Among the three dozen or so who have been targeted so far this year are  Dr.Azmi Sharom, a law professor at the University of Malaya who gave his legal opinion on a 2009 political crisis, and Maria Chin Abdullah, the leader of the Bersih group, a civil-society organization that promotes electoral reform, who has been charged with illegal assembly and sedition for organizing huge anti-Najib rallies in August.

Numerous opposition parliamentarians also have been charged with sedition, most of them for criticizing a federal court’s decision in February upholding the conviction of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on charges of sodomy. That case is widely viewed as political.

S. Arutchelvan, a socialist politician, was charged in the past week with sedition for comments he made in February. The well-known cartoonist Zunar, who in September won an International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists, has been charged with nine counts of sedition for nine tweets criticizing the Anwar conviction.

Congrats Zunar

Award Winning Malaysian Cartoonist ZUNAR

And two newspapers deemed hostile to the government were suspended from publishing.“Prime Minister Najib Razak and the Malaysian government are making a mockery of their claim to be a rights-respecting democracy by prosecuting those who speak out on corruption or say anything even remotely critical of the government,” said Linda Lakhdhir of Human Rights Watch. The government, she added, should stop using “repressive laws to harass the media and intimidate its critics.”

The crackdown began after the ruling party fared poorly in 2013 elections, said Murray Hiebert, an expert on Southeast Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, but the repression has accelerated amid a corruption scandal that threatens Najib’s hold on power.

Investigators looking into the heavily indebted sovereign wealth fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB, found that almost $700 million (Malaysian ringgit 2.6 billion) had been deposited into Najib’s personal bank accounts, the Wall Street Journal has reported.

Najib, who founded 1MDB and heads its board of advisers, has strenuously denied any wrongdoing. Arif Shah, a spokesman for 1MDB, said the allegations against Najib were “old” and had been “comprehensively addressed” by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, which in August reported that no funds from 1MDB had been transferred to the Prime Minister’s personal bank accounts.

But amid investigations into the fund, Najib has replaced key officials with appointees deemed friendlier. The new Attorney-General, for example, has dismissed a recommendation from the central bank to begin criminal proceedings against 1MDB.

For Peace and Freedom

The Prime Minister’s Office did not respond directly to questions about Najib’s links to the fund, saying the investigation continues, but a spokesman strongly denied suggestions that opponents of the government were being targeted with legal action.

“The Sedition Act does not impinge on free speech or democratic principles,” said Dato’ Tengku Sariffuddin, the ‘Prime Minister’s press secretary. “Most, if not all, countries have legal safeguards on the printed and spoken word in order to maintain public order. It is reasonable for Malaysia to safeguard itself in the same manner.”

Pending amendments to the Sedition Act, he said, would serve “to better protect all religions and to prevent the incitement of racial or inter-ethnic conflict.”

The changes would remove a clause outlawing criticism of the government and judiciary. A provision would be added to outlaw incitement to religious hatred in the country, which is 60 percent Muslim. The amendments, once ratified, also would increase the term of imprisonment for sedition from three years to seven years and add a penalty of up to 20 years in prison for seditious activities that result in physical harm or destruction of property.

The spokesman said that Malaysia has “a thriving online space in which opposition voices and publications are given free rein” and that government critics “are more outspoken than in almost any other country in the region.” But critics of Najib describe an elaborate effort to silence them. The Malaysian government has long controlled newspapers and TV stations. Although the rising use of cellphones and social media has loosened the state’s grip on information, especially in rural regions, the government is trying to get a handle on the new technologies.

“There are lots of cybertroopers monitoring posts by opposition [members of Parliament], taking screen shots of them and then circulating them and tagging the Police Chief,” said the opposition parliamentarian Steven Sim, who is being charged for a tweet in which he mistakenly suggested that the former attorney general was manhandled out of office. Sim deleted the tweet when he realized that the photo included was an old one and said it was a genuine mistake. Too late.

“The cybertroopers wrote, ‘Arrest Sim. He’s giving the government a bad name,’ ” the legislator said. It is not clear whether these online monitors are hired by the government or are zealous volunteers. But they have been effective at alerting the authorities to criticism.

For Paulsen, 42, an ethnic Chinese lawyer who leads a human rights advocacy group called Lawyers for Liberty, problems began after the terrorist attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris in January.

A government official said such an attack could happen here, prompting Paulsen to send out a tweet about the Department of Islamic Advancement Malaysia, or JAKIM, which prescribes the sermons delivered during politically slanted Friday prayers.

“JAKIM is promoting extremism every Friday. Goverment needs to address that if serious about extremism in Malaysia,” Paulsen tweeted. The cybertroopers seized on it. The next day, Khalid Abu Bakar, the fawning Inspector General of Police, who also is active on Twitter, posted a photo of Paulsen and his tweet overlaid with the word “rude.”

Then came Paulsen’s first sedition charge. The second was filed after he tweeted that the most extreme forms of Islamic punishment, such as cutting off hands and stonings, were inhumane. The third run-in with the law was a criminal defamation charge after two tweets suggesting that Najib was trying to avoid questioning over the 1MDB affair.

Paulsen does not deny writing any of the tweets, but he does assert his innocence on the fourth allegation against him, which concerns a Facebook post showing a banner in a march that had been doctored to read, “Chinese pigs go home.”

“It was clearly fabricated to make it look like I had posted this,” he said, adding that it seemed designed to provoke racial divisions.

Paulsen said he thinks the efforts against him are part of a broader attempt to silence criticism of the government on social media. “If you’re from the opposition, are a dissident or are active in civil society, they’re going to come after you.”

But Lakhdhir of Human Rights Watch finds some cause for optimism. “A bright light for Malaysia is the strength of its civil society,” she said, “with many who are willing to speak out despite the risks.”

Anna Fifield is The Post’s bureau chief in Tokyo, focusing on Japan and the Koreas. She previously reported for the Financial Times from Washington DC, Seoul, Sydney, London and from across the Middle East.

Slain Malaysian Prosecutor Tied to Najib Probe

November 27, 2015

Slain Malaysian Prosecutor Tied to Najib Probe

Brother of victim found in oil drum contradicts AG’s claim the dead man had nothing to do with case.

 Dato’Anthony Kevin Morais

Morais apparently had been strangled although that is uncertain since his body was cremated before his brother, Charles Suresh Morais, an Atlanta, Georgia businessman, could order a second autopsy. The story involves an astonishing series of twists and turns, including possible links to the 2013 murder of a prominent banker in a Kuala Lumpur temple parking lot.

Morais’s body disappeared from a Kuala Lumpur hospital mortuary despite pleas by the brother, Charles, for a second autopsy. The body was claimed and cremated over Charles’ objections by

another brother, Richard, who has been in constant trouble with the law and who figured in the 2013 murder of the late Arab Malaysian Bank founder Hussain Najadi.  The bank is now known as AmBank.

Car rammed, prosecutor abducted

Surveillance footage from a CCTV camera the day the 55-year-old Kevin Morais disappeared showed his car being followed and rammed by another. He was reportedly abducted after the collision and was never seen alive again. One of the seven suspects arrested after the footage identified the car in the collision led investigators to a suburb near Kuala Lumpur where Morais’s body, encased in the oil drum, had been rolled into a river. 

Morais had been seconded from the Attorney-General’s Chambers to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, which was looking into financial irregularities involving the troubled 1Malaysia Development Bhd. state-backed investment fund and other issues.

In July, Najib fired the Attorney-Ggeneral, Abdul Gani Patail, one of a dramatic series of events that included forcing out the Deputy Prime Minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, transferring the deputy head of the police special branch intelligence division, neutralizing a special parliamentary committee seeking answers over corruption, questioning seven members of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission over leaks about the case, sending the head of the MACC “on vacation” and threatening any and all critics with sedition charges.   

Today, a source said, the commission investigators are terrified and believe they are in danger, followed by Special Branch police, over suspicions they had leaked details of the investigation to Clare Rewcastle Brown, the editor of the UK-based Sarawak Report, which has been deeply involved in investigating the 1MDB case and broken most of the important stories. The leaker, Charles Morais said, may have been his dead brother because anonymous emails to Rewcastle Brown were signed by “jibby@anonymousspeech.com.” “ Jibby,” Charles Morais said  was a nickname for a Morais family friend. However, it is also a derisory nickname used by many for Najib himself.

Najib crony Mohd Apandi Ali, the Attorney-General picked to replace Gani Patail – who is also a lawyer connected to the United Malays National Organization, which Najib heads,  had previously dismissed the alleged draft charge sheet as false. The office denied Kevin Morais was working on the Najib case, which appears to have disappeared.

berthelsen morais 112615-1

Although prosecutors said the mastermind was actually a military doctor who had been prosecuted by Morais recently in a graft case, Charles Morais called for the case to be revisited. 

A thumb drive of evidence

In a press conference in Kuala Lumpur on November 26, Charles Morais, who had flown back to Malaysia from the US, said he had received a mobile USB storage device from his brother shortly before his death, dealing with investigations he was looking into, as well as an alleged draft charge sheet against the prime minister which was released by Sarawak Report and carried the initials of his brother. Morais said that when he saw the alleged draft charge sheet, he recognized his brother’s initials. 

To a police demand that he turn over the USB device for investigation, Charles Morais said the device is in safekeeping in Atlanta, and that he didn’t trust the Police enough to give it to them.

berthelsen morais 112615-2

Charles Morais

“Two to three months before Kevin’s demise, he told me that he was working on a case involving the prime minister and his wife,” Charles Morais said in the sworn document. “He said the prime minister was a terrible guy but that his wife was worse. He actually used the words kolata ala. (Eds: These were Malayalam (a Dravidian dialect spoken in the Indian state of Kerala) and translated into English meaning ‘a person up to no good’. He told me his phone might be tapped and to be careful what I said. That is why half of our conversations were usually in Malayalam.”

Read the statutory declaration of Charles Morais here.

Dead man couriers possible evidence to brother

In mid-August, Morais said, his brother, who in frequent telephone calls said he was increasingly depressed and wanted to retire to London, emailed him telling him he would courier something to him and “to watch out for it as he wanted me to keep it in safe custody. This was the last call I received from Kevin and was about a week before he went missing.” 

Morais called Abdul Gani Patail, the cashiered Attorney-Ggeneral, twice in the attempt to find his brother.  On the second call, Gani Patail answered, saying: “Please remain calm, I am not working there any more. What I have been told is that the police are working relentlessly on the matter.”

Notified that his brother was dead, Charles Morais flew back to Malaysia and went to the mortuary to meet his two brothers, with Richard demanding to leave with Kevin’s body despite the fact that Kevin had broken with him 14 years before.

Connection to AmBank murder

Richard Morais has a checkered history. He has been in frequent trouble with the law in both Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong. Pascal Najadi, the son of the AmBank founder Hussain Najadi, who was assassinated in the car park of a Kuala Lumpur temple in 2013, has charged that no real investigation of the crime has taken place.  Najadi said Richard Morais had requested that his father go to the temple to attempt to settle business dispute that that the murderer was waiting for him.

Pascal Najadi, now a banking consultant in Moscow who says he fears for his own life and has employed bodyguards,  has raised questions over whether his father’s refusal to play along with UMNO financial irregularities led to his death.  On two occasions shortly before he was killed, Najadi said, his father complained about UMNO corruption.  Najadi has repeatedly called for the investigation of his father’s death to be reopened.

On the first occasion, during a lunch at the Shangri-La Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, he told his son he had been approached by unnamed high-ranking UMNO officials to orchestrate a multi-billion  ringgit property deal connected to the Kuala Lumpur City Center that Hussain characterized as clearly illegal and “told them to go fly a kite.” On the second occasion, he told his son that Najib was “lining his pockets with billions of ringgit with no consideration for the future of the country.”

The speculation is that the funds deposited with AmBank came from companies connected to the 1MDB, which has RM42 billion in liabilities, an unknown amount of that unfunded, and is struggling to meet its payments. 

Mastermind arrested, mysteriously freed

Police identified a Malacca nightclub owner, Lim Yuen Soo as the mastermind who paid to have Najadi shot. Lim disappeared for more than two years, with a red alert issued by Interpol at the behest of the Kuala Lumpur police although sources say he seemed to be in and out of Kuala Lumpur regularly. Police arrested him at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in late October, but turned him loose eight days later for lack of evidence, raising a multitude of questions over how he could have been identified as the mastermind for two years only to be freed almost immediately when he was caught.  Since the murder case involving Hussain Najadi was closed,  there are questions why it hasn’t been reopened to find another mastermind behind the killing. 

That has raised additional questions whether Lim – and Richard Morais — have friends in Malaysia’s high political circles. Despite his status –until recently – as a fugitive, Lim is the registered part owner of the Active Force Security Services Sdn Bhd. with the former Malacca Police Chief Mohd Khasni Mohd Nor.

Najib’s Political Mess

November 26, 2015

Najib’s Political Mess

by  Arnold Puyok, UNIMAS

Sale of 1MDB Power Assets to China

Najib’s Albatross and Rm2.6 billion Mystery

These are tiring times for Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. Najib has so far managed to stay in power despite the flurry of attacks on his leadership. Political debacles have almost cost Najib his primeirship and the popularity of the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN). Facing the prospect of losing the people’s mandate in the 2018 general election, Najib is racing against time to regain public trust and confidence.

Earlier in 2015, an expose revealed a controversial 2.6 billion ringgit (US$700 million) ‘donation’ into Najib’s personal account. This was initially attributed to Najib siphoning funds from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), Malaysia’s state-owned development company. Najib appeared on television to answer questions from critics and gave point-by-point rebuttals to the 1MDB controversy. But these have failed to assuage public dissatisfaction.

Some critics still believe that Najib siphoned public funds from the 1MDB — even though that allegation has not been proven in court or by independent audit firms. Najib is now left with the CEO of the 1MDB Arul Kanda to address the misconception toward the 1MDB and to implement a rationalisation plan in order to reduce its debt.

Moga Rosmah

Najib’s Waterloo

Najib’s problems do not end there. The 2.6 billion ringgit in his personal account has dented his reputation further, even though the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission has evidence that the money was from a donor, not the 1MDB. Critics are still unhappy as questions such as what the money was for, and whether there were any strings attached, have not been answered.

Mahathir the Architect

Malaysia’s Former Prime Minister with a Tattered Legacy

The person who has launched a major ‘crusade’ to end Najib’s political career is none other than Najib’s predecessor-turned-nemesis Mahathir Mohamad. Mahathir — the ‘PM slayer’, as one author has put it — is the single most potent force behind the campaign to oust Najib. The 90-year-old former premier’s allegations against Najib are not without defect, but many think that Mahathir is telling the truth.

After 22 years of entrenched rule in Malaysia, Mahathir is seen by some as the ‘knight in shining armour’ that could save Malaysia from Najib. Even though the prospect of Mahathir making a comeback is next to impossible, he still has influence in the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), Mahathir and Najib’s political party. Anti-Najib party members are supporting Mahathir either openly or secretly. While most UMNO divisional leaders are firmly behind Najib, this may change depending on the momentum of the anti-Najib movement in UMNO.

Although he is criticised and mocked on the home front, Najib has scored some brownie points on the international stage. In the aftermath of the MH17 crash in July 2014, Najib negotiated deftly with pro-Russian rebel leaders to allow rescuers to extract bodies and to secure crucial flight information from the crash site in eastern Ukraine.

Najib has to also play a tough balancing act dealing with China and the United States — the two major superpowers arguing over territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Najib has established good ties with both countries by allowing both American and Chinese naval ships to use Malaysian ports for transport or military training purposes.

So, can Najib and the BN survive the general election in 2018? The answer to this question depends on how Najib and the ruling party react to calls for reform. Before attempting to address Malaysia’s domestic impasse, it is important for Najib to exert a stronger and firmer hold on the government, especially the civil service. The civil servants are the key to the success of Najib’s ‘transformation agenda’. But some civil servants are bent on Najib’s downfall. Many sensitive government documents have been leaked on social media and opposition leaders have used them to attack the government.

The BN should learn from Singapore’s People’s Action Party (PAP), which won the 2015 Singapore general election. Its success taught a valuable lesson to incumbent governments around the world about securing electoral victory in the face of growing public disenchantment.

Lee Hsein Loong

Singapore’s Winning Captain–Integrity,Competency and Meritocracy

The key to winning is to boldly address public concerns by making tough policy decisions. In the 2011 election, the PAP won with a popular vote of only 60 per cent — the lowest it had ever recorded in its 60 years of history. It reacted proactively to public criticism, and changed many of its policy positions on issues such as affordable housing, immigration and economic stagnation. In September, the PAP won the election with 69.9 per cent of the popular vote.

The PAP’s major electoral victory in Singapore shows that a dominant party system is still alive in Southeast Asia. In Malaysia, the BN lost its two-thirds majority in 2008 and 2013. There is a real possibility that its popular support will dip further in the coming election. It is important for Najib and the BN to display some real leadership in addressing people-oriented issues.

Najib should push for good governance and take matters of public interest to heart. The goods and services tax has forced more people to dig deeper into their pockets despite rising prices of essential goods and housing. The most hit economically are young middle-income professionals and graduates. While the 2.6 billion ringgit donation, the 1MDB and Mahathir’s challenge are major headaches for Najib, they will not matter much in determining his and the BN’s future in Malaysian politics.

Arnold Puyok is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.

Defiant Tawfik Ismail: Use JAKIM funds to rehabilitate Mat Rempits and the Poor

November 25, 2015

Defiant Tawfik Ismail: Use JAKIM funds to rehabilitate Mat Rempits and the Poor

by Anisah Shukry


Jakim Budget

Despite a sedition probe into his remarks on the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM), Tawfik Ismail maintained his stance that the federal Islamic agency was problematic and needed to be accountable to taxpayers.

G25Tawfik Ismail

The son of former Deputy Prime Minister Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman and civil society activist said JAKIM’s budget was better used to uplift Muslims from poverty.

He said religious authorities, including the Minister and Deputy Minister in charge of religious affairs, as well as the Director-General of JAKIM, be redeployed to tackle problems ailing Muslims, such as urban poverty.

Anti-Najib UMNO Tsunami gathers momentum

November 24, 2015

Anti-Najib UMNO Tsunami gathers momentum

by Malaysia-Chronicle



Sale of 1MDB Power Assets to China

It looks like the much-anticipated UMNO uprising against corruption-tainted Prime Minister Najib Razak is gathering steam and may be unstoppable.

Hardly had the dust settled on shocking news that over 5,000 UMNO branches were planning to hold a mammoth rally to call for Najib’s resignation, not just an eruption of a rash of similar anti-Najib announcements.

Selangor UMNO members in particular are impatient to wait until next month to take part in the mega rally – ahead of the party’s annual assembly – and want to hold a ‘special meeting’ this Friday itself.


“In Selangor alone there are 22 divisions, at least 10 branches per division will be with us in this protest. Many heads of state branch of the collective agreement in the council,” Kampung Railway UMNO branch chairman Mohd Said Amidon was reported as telling Sinar Harian.

Over 200 UMNO branches are scheduled to attend and this will act as a ‘springboard’ for the December rally, added Mohd Said. He had held a press conference on Sunday along with 22 other UMNO branch leaders in Puchong to criticize the party’s top leadership.

“Do not misunderstand our actions as the party will worsen if we do not speak up. We do this because we love the party. We are not just members of UMNO, but UMNO people who are ready to face any action, we are not afraid,” said Mohd Said.

Paying the price of Muhyiddin’s sacking

Indeed, it requires substantial courage to go against the ‘all-powerful’ Najib, who took over the UMNO presidency and premiership of Malaysia in 2009.

Those who criticized his handling of the RM50 billion 1MDB corruption debacle have been sacked, including his Deputy Muhyiddin Yassin, Vice President Shafie Apdal and Attorney- General Gani Patail.


Apart from Johor, which is Muhyiddin’s home state, Najib’s critics in Selangor UMNO have so far been the most outspoken and this is surprising given that Najib had tasked himself with the special mission of regaining control of the state government from the Opposition.

“It suggests Najib’s political play and strategies including all the romancing with Hadi Awang and the PAS unity government are not what the Selangor people want.” a political source told Malaysia Chronicle.

“Selangor UMNO members are also among the most educated and advanced in the party and they are not satisfied with Najib’s explanations on 1MDB. Sacking Muhyiddin and Gani were bad moves that effectively confirms Najib’s guilt in the 1MDB scandal and it looks like he is now paying the price for that rash move.”

UMNO branches from 5 states – Negeri Sembilan, Selangor, Johor, Perak and Sabah – had gathered on Saturday to openly state their stand against Najib and to announce the December rally to get Najib to step down as UMNO President and Malaysia’s Prime Minister.

According to Mohd Isa, who was spokesman for the Saturday meeting of 34 branch chairmen, the anti-Najib movement growing and they already had the support of almost 5,000 branch leaders, which is about a quarter of UMNO’s 22,000-odd branches throughout the country.

If the revolt does indeed continue, such a number is sufficient  to rock UMNO and ensure that Najib is booted out.


“We think the leadership today does not bring profit to the people, but even make things worse. Therefore, we urge the Prime Minister to step down from his current position and provide an opportunity for other leaders to lead the country better,” said Mohd Said.

Other UMNO branch chiefs who attended the press conference with Mohd Said included Zahrul Hambali (Sri Tanjung), Hamidan Othman (Bandar Bukit Puchong), Mat Yusof Abd Latif (Puchong Indah I), Mohd Shukor Mustafa (Bandar Puteri) and Kamarudin Salim (Kg Tengah Baru).

They urged Najib to put the party’s interest and future ahead of his own, pointing to the general election which must be held by 2018.

“Do not forget it is us, the UMNO members, who put you at the top. Your position is not your option but in the hands of UMNO members. It is better for one person to sacrifice than for 30 million Malaysians to suffer,” warned Mohd Said. – Malaysia Chronicle

Defying the Islamic State–Congratulations to Malaysia’s Zunar

November 24, 2015

Defying the Islamic State--Congratulations to Malaysia’s Zunar and other Journalists in the front lines

November 23 at 2:59 PM

RECENTLY THE Islamic State in Raqqa sent an ominous message to an exiled Syrian journalist. Tell us who is filing covertly from the occupied city, the terrorists warned, or we will execute your father. The editor refused to name names. His father was shot to death.

We heard this story last week from AbdAlaziz Alhamza, who works for the same journalism collective as the grieving editor: Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently. With a dozen reporters still filing from Raqqa, risking their lives every day, Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently is one of the few sources of independent news from inside its terrorized land of lashings, slavery, beheadings and crucifixions.

The collective is one of four 2015 International Press Freedom awardees who will be honored by the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York City Tuesday. They reflect both the lengths dictators will go to silence free speech — and the creativity and almost unimaginable courage that journalists summon in response.


In addition to the online collective of mostly anonymous Syrian reporters, the honorees include a Malaysian cartoonist, Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, known by his pen name, Zunar, whose work appears only online because the government allows no newspaper to carry his work; the Zone 9 bloggers, an Ethio­pian collective that came together as their government decimated the independent press; and Cándido Figueredo Ruíz , a Paraguayan journalist who shines a light on drug cartels and the corruption they engender. A reporter for ABC Color, one of his country’s largest newspapers, Mr. Figueredo holds perhaps the most traditional job among the winners. But there is nothing conventional about his bravery: He has been shot at numerous times, and now lives under constant police guard, as does his wife.


Zunar with Nathaniel Tan and Steven Gan (Malaysiakini)

Mr. Zunar, 53, will return to Malaysia to face a December court date on charges of sedition that could lead to a prison sentence of 43 years. The Ethio­pian bloggers too have been imprisoned and still have judicial proceedings hanging over them. Why go back, we asked Mr. Zunar?

“We do it for reform,” he told us during a visit to The Post. “We have been governed by the same ruling party for 60 years. Corruption is huge. There are so many injustices. . . . I know it is an uphill battle. I’m not sure when it will end, or will I see the change in my lifetime. It’s like an endless marathon, but as long as I’m on the track I’m the winner.”

Anwar Ibrahim

Mr. Zunar shared with us the cartoon he planned to post later that day: a drawing of President Obama, who traveled to Malaysia on Friday, stretching his arm around a prison full of political dissidents to shake hands with the Malaysian leader he has praised and golfed with, Najib Razak. For those of us who can take our freedoms for granted, the cartoon held a useful message: We should never forget the political prisoners, like Malaysia’s opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, nor the journalists like Mr. Zunar and his co-winners who bravely take up the cause of freedom. “One of the great supports is to know I’m not alone,” Mr. Figueredo said.