"Within the country, it is an intimidating situation for journalists, civil rights activities, and opposition politicians—basically anyone who wants to speak the truth regarding 1MDB." The latest laws and arrests are aimed at shutting this story up, but it's not proving successful so far, she continued. "My site was banned for disseminating false information, but people still managed to access it, that's new media for you."
The Sarawak Report has been a key chronicler of graft in Malaysia. Together with the Wall Street Journal in 2015, it launched an alarming expose, built around documents and emails, that reportedly showed the PM receiving $681 million from state investment fund 1 Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB. Investigations into the entire affair are on-going in six countries, including the U.S. and Switzerland, and have "raised issues of governance, accountability and transparency in Malaysia," Societe Generale economists said in a recent note.
Rewcastle Brown and Abdallah have both faced the wrath of the government's aggressive crackdown on opponents, which have also included former attorney general Abdul Gani Patail and ex-deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. Political strategists widely believed both were removed from their respective posts for being too critical of Najib.
"Malaysia has asked Interpol to arrest and extradite me but again, but it's not getting much luck there," said London-based Rewcastle Brown. Abdallah, who spoke to CNBC on Friday before her arrest, said she had been receiving regular death threats.
But despite the administration's suppressive mechanisms, both believe Malaysians would continue to protest.
Najib's administration has claimed that Bersih rallies have only frustrated the country by producing a national political fatigue and while Abdallah did admit to some political weariness among the public, she said it did not curb people's enthusiasm to fight for a leadership change.
"If we keep quiet and don't do anything, the consequences will be worse. We have to continue telling our government that this, the abuse of power and laws to silence dissent, cannot carry on," she stated on Friday.
Najib his denied any wrongdoing and has been cleared by the country's new attorney general Mohamed Apandi Ali, who was appointed last year after his predecessor Patail was terminated. The 63-year old Najib has managed to weather the storm thus far thanks to the unflappable backing of elites who keep him in power but there is speculation he may call snap polls ahead of the June 2018 general election to retain his post.
Should he proceed to do so, it would only further reveal the government's hypocrisy, according to Rewcastle Brown.
"The parliamentary system that both Malaysia and Britain share enables the PM to call elections at any time, but it also behoves the PM to step down if his leadership stands under the kind of scrutiny that Najib faces now," she pointed out, noting that the British Prime Minister resigned following results of the U.K.'s Brexit referendum.
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