In campaign to defend democracy, U.S. should start with Malaysia

Najib and ObamaThis Big Talker engages in Empty Rhetoric, and in Barack Obama he finds a willing Partner to hoodwink the Malaysian People

Najib wants to have his cake and eat it too. He serenades President Barack Obama and promises to be all sorts of moderation. Najib is manifestly dishonest in the press conference standing next to Obama when asked about the Anwar case. He talks about making Malaysia competitive in the 21st century in speeches to the Council on Foreign Relations and to business leaders around the world. But at home he’s doing the same old same old thing – persecuting political opponents, stifling debate on campus and suffocating academic freedom. He cannot have it both ways.He must stop the bull and get down serious business of governance.

While President Obama is unlikely and incapable of doing anything publicly, this type of negative press undermines countless man hours of Najib’s PR machine that has been at work since 2009. They will have to start working on another scope of work at the cost of 20 or 30 MM to repair the damage. Send the bill the the Rakyat! – Rusman

 From the Washington Post

AT THE United Nations in September, President Obama, citing “relentless crackdowns” around the world against dissent and civil society, promised“an even stronger campaign to defend democracy.”Even when it was “uncomfortable” or “causes friction,” he pledged, his administration would step up to defend persecuted activists and “oppose efforts by foreign governments to restrict freedoms of peaceful assembly and association and expression.” So far we haven’t seen much follow-up on that promise, but the opportunities to do so are abundant.

One of the most urgent lies in Malaysia, a U.S. ally (can we say a poodle!) that has launched an extraordinary crackdown on opposition leaders, academics and journalists. In the past two months, the government of Prime Minister Najib Razak has charged nearly two dozen activists under an outdated colonial-era sedition law, that mandates three years in prison for acts that “excite dissatisfaction” with the government. Mr. Najib promised as recently as 2012 to repeal the law; instead, the government is prosecuting critics merely for speaking out, publishing articles or uploading videos.

At the same time, the government has revived an odious criminal case against Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of the Opposition and one of the Muslim world’s foremost liberal democrats. Mr. Anwar was charged in 2008 with homosexual sodomy, which Malaysia shamefully still treats as a crime. Though he denied the charge and was acquitted in a 2012 trial, an appeals court this year reversed the verdict and handed him a five-year prison sentence. This week his final appeal is being heard by Malaysia’s highest court. If he loses, the 67-year-old Mr. Anwar will be imprisoned and banned from politics. Even if he wins, he, too, faces prosecution under the sedition law.

It’s not hard to guess why Mr. Najib might have broken his pledge to repeal the statute and reversed what was previously a cautious march toward greater freedom in his majority Muslim country. Last year, his ruling party for the first time lost the popular vote in a general election, to a coalition led by Mr. Anwar.

Gerrymandering preserved the government’s parliamentary majority, but the ruling establishment Mr. Najib leads appears to have set out to crush the opposition before the next election, due in 2017. The campaign is particularly destructive because Malaysia, unlike many other majority Muslim countries, does not currently face an internal terrorist challenge, though some Malaysians are known to have traveled to Syria to join the Islamic State. By eliminating peaceful means of opposition, Mr. Najib risks making extremist options more attractive.

Mr. Obama has made a point of cultivating Mr. Najib and his government as part of his policy of “rebalancing” toward Asia, and so far the administration has had little to say about the political crackdown. Perhaps, Obama wants to ensure that Malaysia sign the one sided and much criticised TPPA In March, it cautiously expressed concern about Mr. Anwar’s prosecution. But as Mr. Anwar has argued his appeal this week there’s been no sign of the “stronger campaign” Mr. Obama promised. The verdict is expected next week; if Mr. Obama is genuinely willing to incur “friction” with allies in defense of human rights, now is the time to do it in Malaysia.

Obama in Malaysia: A Strategic Partnership?

by Joshua Kurlantzick via Council on Foreign Relations
April 8, 2014

During his upcoming late April trip to Asia, President Obama will visit two nations in Southeast Asia, Malaysia and the Philippines, in addition to stops in Northeast Asia. The White House already has been briefing reporters on the overall messaging of the trip, and the specific themes the president plans to hit in Malaysia and the Philippines. In Malaysia, it appears from several news reports and from speaking with several administration officials, President Obama will add to the Malaysian government’s self-promotion that Kuala Lumpur is a successful and democratic nation, an example of other Muslim-majority countries, and a force for moderation in the world. The president apparently plans to hit these themes despite the regional anger at Malaysia’s handling of the Malaysia Airlines vanished plane, which exposed to the world many of the problems with Malaysia’s governance.

No matter, say some Southeast Asia experts. Some of Obama’s advisors, and many Southeast Asia experts, are urging the president to use the trip to cement a strategic partnership with Malaysia and establishing a roadmap for the kind of higher-level strategic cooperation that the United States already enjoys with Singapore and Thailand, among other countries in the region.

This approach to the Malaysia visit would mean downplaying – or simply not even discussing – serious regression in Malaysia’s domestic politics, including the recent sentencing of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to five years in jail for sodomy, the highly flawed 2013 national elections that barely kept Prime Minister Najib tun Razak in office, and the increasingly shrill, anti-Chinese and anti-Indian rhetoric and legislation of the Najib government, hardly the kind of sentiments a supposed leader of political moderation should be espousing. According to this logic, if President Obama were to bring up such unpleasant issues as the Malaysian government’s crackdown on opponents over the past year or its unwillingness to reform pro-Malay policies that have entrenched a culture of graft and self-dealing at many Malaysian companies, that would sink the visit.

Under Najib, Malaysia and the United States have, on a strategic level, moved beyond some of the acrimony of the Mahathir and Abdullah years, and have made progress on a wide range of military-military and diplomatic cooperation. Najib definitely deserves some credit for this rapprochement, though growing Malaysian fear about China’s South China Sea policies are probably the main driver behind closer strategic ties with Washington.

But simply ignoring the disastrous Najib policies on human rights, political freedoms, and economic liberalization would not be a wise move by Obama. For one, it would play into the narrative that Obama cares little about rights and democracy promotion, a narrative that has gained significant force not only in Washington but also among many Southeast Asian activists and young people in general. And ignoring Malaysia’s opposition politicians, who won the popular vote in the 2013 national elections and enjoy their strongest support among young Malaysians, would be alienating the biggest growing pool of Malaysian voters. As in other countries in the region, like Cambodia and Indonesia, these young voters are increasingly favoring opposition parties or new figures like Jakarta governor Joko Widodo, breaking from long-ruling, autocratic parties. The United States should be cultivating these young voters who will prove critical to the region’s democratization. This new generation will eventually power the Malaysian opposition, in some form, to the prime minister’s office. It would be a shame if the United States president had ignored them, and their party leaders, before then.

Tracking network interference around political content in Malaysia

May 4, 2013

Tracking Network Interference around political content in Malaysia

In the last week in April, users on select ISPs found they could not access certain websites critical of the ruling government. These ISPs include (but are not limited to) Unifi, TM, Celcom, Digi, and Maxis; however services offered by Time and YTL did not appear to be affected.

At the time, staff at one of the country’s most popular independent news sites, Malaysiakini, complained to the country’s media regulatory body, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), and interference ceased. But days later, users were experiencing new difficulties accessing select content, again on the same five ISPs: Unifi, TM, Celcom, Digi, and Maxis.

Unlike before, the second time around, filtering was far more specific. Initially entire domains (and therefore whole websites) were being blocked. This time around, the filtering seemed to target specific content, such as YouTube videos with political content that could be deemed embarrassing to the ruling government.

And instead of blocking content outright, the block was implemented in the traffic stream coming back from the content provider, such as YouTube. Users were able to open a connection to YouTube, but were not receiving any data back. Their connection would ‘hang,’ or fail to complete bidirectionally, in a manner that resembled a problem on the sending server side (YouTube), rather than outright blocking.

Evidence of Network Interference

Working with local partners, Access was able to determine that unencrypted communications seeking political content on those five ISPs, whether directly with YouTube, or via proxies to YouTube experienced this failure in the return data stream, including when a proxy was configured to use non-standard transmission ports, indicating that the interference was being triggered via either deep packet inspection (DPI) or on the HTTP path in the request to the server, rather than more ‘standard’ IP address and port blocking.

When Access’s partners attempted to use an encrypted tunnel out of Malaysia, YouTube returned data downstream per usual, further indicating the use of either DPI or HTTP path based interference, as neither the HTTP path nor packet content is available to the ISP when users transmit requests via an SSH encrypted tunnel.

Packet capture testing demonstrated that requests using proxies always dropped return packets between the proxy server and the end user, indicating that the interference was happening in the ‘near’ network, i.e., their local ISP, rather than in the ‘far’ network, near the YouTube server request.

Further experiments that appended some junk bytes to the URL path of a YouTube request resulted in the video being available via normal downstream provision, suggesting a transparent proxy or DPI device at the ISP level dropping return packets directed to the user, based on the trigger mechanism of HTTP Path.

Further testing also indicated that when the HTTP request was sent fragmented from the user, it defeated the interference mechanism, and the YouTube video was again streamed back as per normal to the user. This behavior points to the likely use of DPI or proxy devices at the ISP level, with custom (if poorly) written rules to first trigger off the HTTP path portion of the URL, and subsequently drop packets on the server to user return path.

There is evidence of content at both YouTube (e.g. hHTz22bTBRw and uVWxB4AWOxc) and specific pages on Facebook (e.g. /DAPMalaysia) being affected. Facebook content is available to users using encrypted channels, but unavailable using plaintext HTTP–which is consistent with other evidence of interference.

It is worth noting that as of yesterday, May 1st, the CitizenLab at University of Toronto’s Munk School released its latest report, For Their Eyes Only: The Commercialization of Digital Spying, which identified the presence of a sample of FinSpy, the surveillance software manufactured by UK-based Gamma Group, that “appears to be specifically targeting Malay language speakers, masquerading as a document discussing Malaysia’s upcoming 2013 General Elections.” This Malay-language sample presents “as Mozilla Firefox in both file properties and in manifest;” Mozilla, long an advocate for user rights, this week announced its intention to sue Gamma for “offensive” trademark violation.

This is not the only form of ‘network interference’ occurring in Malaysia in the lead-up to the elections this weekend. There is evidence of jamming of radio stations critical of the government, as well as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks and hacking attempts against independent media, blogs, and opposition party websites, and efforts to compromise social media accounts publishing content favorable to the political opposition.

Malaysia’s legally mandated Open Internet

Despite the interference currently in evidence on Malaysia’s networks, the country has a legal mandate to defend a free and open internet, as per the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Act of 1998. This mandate is overseen by the MCMC, an independent regulator tasked with oversight of mobile and internet providers.

Malaysiakini, the independent news site, filed another request with the MCMC, asking the agency to station it’s people at local ISPs to ensure uninterrupted access on Sunday’s polling day. The publication’s CEO and co-founder, Pramesh Chandran, emphasized the need for free and unfettered communications as a fundamental need in democratic practice, and expressed concern that if networks were to be restricted, the inability for citizens to access information about the electoral outcomes could be dangerously destabilizing.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has issued a statement condemning pre-election violence, as well as the online attacks. Access will continue to run network analysis and report on the data over the coming days.

To help keep the internet open in Malaysia, click here.

Aasil AhmadDisclosure: Access Fellow Aasil Ahmed (left) has worked on Human Rights and Democracy programs in Malaysia, including with Opposition candidate Anwar Ibrahim.

Georgetown University graduate Aasil was also the young man who got me started on blogging in 2007 when we both were part of the team in Anwar Ibrahim’s Office. He showed me how I could be an effective human rights, justice and democracy advocate via my own blog. He now resides in Washington DC.  I hope I have done justice to him and others around the world who are passionate about, and are putting their careers and lives on the line for, these great causes by having my own blog 

NPC Newsmaker Program: Turning Point in Malaysia: Will the Ruling Coalition Finally Lose Power?

From National Press Club

WASHINGTON, April 23, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — On May 5, Malaysians will vote in their 13(th) general election since gaining independence in 1957 — and for the first time, the outcome of the election is in doubt. Disenchantment with the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, the growing influence of online media and an explosion in the number of young voters (20 percent of the electorate is under 30 and eligible to vote for the first time) could propel the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition to victory.

At a National Press Club Newsmaker news conference on Wednesday, April 24, John Mallott, the former U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia and one of the foremost experts on Malaysian politics, will analyze the forces at play that could make this election an historic turning point for a significant U.S. trading partner and military ally.

While the opposition currently enjoys a slight lead in national polls and a dominant position in online media, the ruling coalition controls the mainstream media and has prevailed in all 12 previous elections. Concerns about electoral fraud are high — international observer delegations have routinely criticized Malaysia’s Election Commission for its handling of previous elections.

The ruling coalition has been plagued by a series of high-profile corruption cases and widespread criticism for poor handling of race relations, including requiring non-Muslims to abide by strict statutes of Muslim law. The opposition coalition controls five of Malaysia’s 14 states and territories and has established a record of building surplus budgets, attracting foreign investment, improving social services and promoting equal citizenship rights for all ethnic groups. But it has also been hampered by internal conflicts over application of Islamic law.

Some observers maintain that a change in government would be destabilizing for Malaysia, while others contend it’s crucial for bringing about the reforms necessary for Malaysia to function effectively as a pluralistic society in a globalized world.

This National Press Club Newsmaker news conference will take place on Wednesday, April 24 at 2 p.m. in the club’s Zenger Room on the 13(th) Floor of the National Press Building, 529 14(th) St., NW, Washington, D.C. 20045.

SOURCE National Press Club

Malaysian Government Critic Faces DDoS Attack

April 12, 2013

Malaysian Government Critic Faces DDoS Attack

Sarawak Report exposed an international propaganda campaign. The attack comes a few weeks before the election, from Buzzfeed

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak. Image by Bazuki Muhammad / Reuters

WASHINGTON — A website critical of the Malaysian government is down on Thursday in what its owner says is a denial-of-service attack.

Sarawak Report, run by British investigative journalist and Clare Rewcastle Brown, has been taken offline. So has Radio Free Sarawak, an AM radio program Brown founded.

Brown, whose brother-in-law is former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, wrote on Sarawak Report’s Twitter and Facebook that her sites had been the victims of a denial-of-service attack. She didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sarawak Report broke the story in 2011 of a London-based public relations and television production firm, FBC Media, being paid to produce propaganda for the Malaysian government, which was aired as editorial content on the BBC and other major international television networks. That effort was part of a covert propaganda campaign that also made its way into the onto American online outlets.

It’s unclear who carried out the attack, though the incident is taking place in a moment of heated political rhetoric: the Malaysian general elections are set to take place on May 5. The governing party led by current Prime Minister Najib Razak has been in power for 56 years, but faces a stiffer challenge this time around from the Opposition, led by Anwar Ibrahim — a main target of the propaganda campaign.

Najib Razak at London Indig02

May 10, 2012

Najib Razak at London Indig02

by  Guest writer

Sarawak Report broke this story a few days ago with their usual timeliness and excellent research.

Prime Minister Najib Razak is going to be in London this week where among other things he plans to host a “Evening with the Prime Minister” at the semi-luxurious 02 Dome. The 02Dome is a famous venue that frequently hosts events with music icons, entertainers, and now Prime Ministers of Asian countries seeking reelection.

Najib Razak at London Indig02

Some of the ironies here are that the Government of Malaysia is spending a lot of money to host the event, provide free food and entertainment, and also, according to Sarawak Report, arrange for free transportation to bus Malaysians into London from all over the UK including as far as Edinburgh in Scotland.

“The Coordinator for the entire event is the Malaysian High Commission in London. They are targeting 1000 Malaysians to join in the gathering.

Travel by Coach to London will be provided. Refreshments and a Dinner pack will be served on the Coach. All branches are asked to confirm attendee numbers so that we will know whether to book one of two Coaches. Please pass this message to your local groups(?) and other Malaysians. Get back to me with the total number.

Ideally, let me know by Tuesday 8th May so that i can submit the Budget and total number of attendees to the High Commission.

This is not a formal gathering – the PM will just say a few words and will then mingle with the crowd throughout the evening.

If anyone is interested , please pass me your name, phone number and University. Thanks [email to student organisers]

So all this money is being spent, presumably, to win support of overseas Malaysians in advance of the 13th General Election. However, the reality is most of these Malaysians won’t be able to vote anyways because the government or the Election Commission is unlikely to implement any sort of process for allowing overseas Malaysians to vote short of returning to Malaysia on election day…which is itself a small feat because of the shortness of the campaign period. Everyone knows that buying airline tickets at the last-minute can be a costly endeavor.

One student in the UK commented:

“Why is Najib spending this sort of money on a foreign PR event”? asked one bemused London student.  ”Does he think it plays back home, because hardly any Malaysians living in London are allowed to vote?  The only people who can vote are government workers and they are forced to vote BN anyway!

Furthermore, it’s a bit offensive, in my mind, to go courting students just two weeks after Malaysian embassies around the world issued a blatant threat cautioning students against attending the global BERSIH protests.

The email says “Please think and use your wisdom carefully before making any rash action that could adversely affect your own self, sponsoring department and nation in general.” Basically the Embassy is telling students to demonstrate at your own risk.  In countries premised on the notion of free speech, freedom of expression, the Malaysian government believes it is appropriate to extend the tentacles of its fascist policies across oceans. Yet, when the Prime Minister goes fishing for votes among overseas students everything is supposed to be OK. The message this sends is awful and my guess is it backfires.

So now the question is will people actually go to the event and will there be a protest organized by Malaysians outside the event…and how much coverage will any of this get in the media.  Another person that Sarawak Reports interviewed said:

“This is a party political electioneering event that will have cost millions to stage. It is not correct to spend public money on this sort of PR event and I don’t think people will be impressed that it is being held in Britain either.  Perhaps he just does not dare hold a rally in KL anymore after the turn out for BERSIH 3.0!”