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Fundraising for Sarawak Report editor and two Malaysian publishers still falls short by US$24K

The Malaysian Freedom Fund 2.0 has raised RM307,804 (approximately US$65,553) for Sarawak Report editor Clare Rewcastle-Brown and two publishers, who are ordered to pay nearly US$90,000 to Sultanah of Terengganu in a defamation case. Malaysian NGO ENGAGE urges solidarity amid ongoing repercussions, with donations still 26.7% short of target.



MALAYSIA: Last month, Malaysian NGO ENGAGE, in collaboration with press and freedom advocacy groups, launched the Freedom Fund 2.0 to raise funds for British activist and Sarawak Report editor Clare Rewcastle-Brown, as well as two publishers, Gerakbudaya Enterprise and Vinlin Press.

They have been ordered to pay a total of RM300,000 (approximately US$63,468) in damages and RM120,000 (approximately US$25,387) in legal costs to the Sultanah of Terengganu, Sultanah Nur Zahirah.

This follows the Court of Appeal’s decision in December 2023, which overturned the High Court’s previous dismissal of the defamation suit in favour of Ms Rewcastle Brown and the two defendants.

The Freedom Fund was initially established in 2015 to provide financial assistance to individuals whose rights under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution have been infringed. This includes those who have been fined, jailed, sacked, or had their privileges withdrawn.

As per ENGAGE’s update on Friday (7 June), they have raised RM307,804 thus far, but are still short by 26.7% (RM112,196, or approximately US$23,895) of the target.

ENGAGE called upon Malaysian civil society and the international community to unite in solidarity with Clare and the two small Malaysian businesses. They expressed deep concern over the ongoing repercussions faced by these individuals for their courageous actions.

In a previous statement, ENGAGE emphasized the gratitude felt by Malaysians towards Ms Rewcastle Brown for her tireless endeavours in uncovering corruption in Malaysia, especially in relation to the 1MDB scandal.

Ms Rewcastle Brown’s ongoing legal challenge in Malaysia

Ms Rewcastle Brown’s legal challenge in Malaysia is still ongoing.

The alleged defamation arose from a mistaken identity in the first edition of Ms Rewcastle Brown’s book, “The Sarawak Report: The Inside Story of the 1MDB Exposé,” released on 8 September 2018.

The book mistakenly identified the Sultan’s sister as the Sultanah, the individual who introduced Jho Low to the Terengganu Investment Authority.

Although this error was corrected in subsequent versions, the legal action continued. On 21 November 2018, Sultanah Nur Zahirah initiated legal proceedings, alleging defamation by Rewcastle-Brown, Gerakbudaya Enterprise, and Vinlin Press.

She asserted that the statement implied her engagement in corruption and meddling in the Terengganu government’s administration.

On 27 September 2018, Sarawak Report published a statement on its website, saying it apologised if any misinterpretations in a passage of its book on the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) scandal upset the Sultanah.

However, according to Sultanah’s lawyer, Datuk Mohd Haaziq Pillay Abdullah, when Sultanah saw the statement posted on the Sarawak Report, she did not consider it to be an apology.

In December last year, A three-judge panel from the Court of Appeal, including Justices Datuk Hadhariah Syed Ismail, Mohamed Zaini Mazlan, and Datuk Azhahari Kamal Ramli, ruled that Ms Rewcastle Brown, along with Gerakbudaya Enterprise publisher Chong Ton Sin and the printer (Vinlin Press) were jointly responsible for the defamation to Sultanah of Terengganu.

On 7 February, Ms Rewcastle Brown was found guilty of defaming Sultanah Nur Zahirah, thus disrespecting the royal institutions.

In his reasons for the judgment dated 2 June, Magistrate Judge Nik Mohd Tarmizie Nik Mohd Shukri of the Kuala Terengganu Magistrate’s Court stated that Rewcastle Brown’s conduct had damaged the Sultanah’s reputation.

“Based on the evidence presented by the prosecution witnesses, the court is satisfied that the accusatory words against the Sultanah of Terengganu are slanderous, which can cause the good name and reputation of the Sultanah of Terengganu to be tarnished by such accusations.”

“The words of accusation have directly linked the Sultanah of Terengganu with an individual, namely Jho Low who is suspected of being involved in the 1MDB scandal and indirectly tarnished the good name of the Sultanah of Terengganu in the country’s biggest scandal,” he added.

Judge Nik Mohd Tarmizie noted that the court was satisfied with the efforts to bring the defendant to justice, allowing the trial to proceed in absentia due to her absence.

Rewcastle Brown has appealed the Magistrate’s Court decision. On 6 June, the prosecution requested the High Court to strike out her appeal against the conviction and two-year prison sentence in the defamation case.

The prosecutor argued that the appeal should be dismissed due to Rewcastle Brown’s continuous absence from all court proceedings, including prosecution, conviction, and appeal stages, suggesting her conduct was aimed at delaying the proceedings.

Rewcastle Brown’s lawyer, Guok Ngek Seong, requested to respond to the prosecution’s arguments. However, Judge Hassan advised addressing the matter at the next hearing on 21 July, as the appeal record from the Magistrates’ Court had not yet been received.

The judge also reiterated the order for the appellant to be present at the next proceeding.

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