Media Defence condemns today’s prison sentence imposed, in absentia, on Clare Rewcastle Brown, the founder and editor of the Sarawak Report – a media outlet reporting on environmental and corruption issues in Malaysia.
Rewcastle Brown, a British journalist renowned for her investigative reporting, has been sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for alleged defamation of Terengganu Sultanah Nur Zahirah. The Sarawak Report noted that the verdict by a Terengganu Magistrate came as a shock, as there was no prior notification of the hearing, summons, or information provided to Rewcastle Brown’s legal representatives.
Guok Ngek Seong, Sarawak Report’s lawyer, stated that these legal actions are clear violations of the criminal procedure code as there was no opportunity for Rewcastle Brown to present a defence. Moreover, under Malay law, a magistrate cannot impose a sentence of imprisonment in the absence of the accused. Guok has called “for the illegal and irregular decision of the court to be set aside”.
Additionally, Media Defence express concern over potential attempts to harass Rewcastle Brown through politically motivated charges, reminiscent of past actions against her by Malaysian authorities.
This pattern raises serious concerns that the legal actions against Rewcastle Brown are intended to silence the journalist – particularly considering her role in exposing corruption within Malaysia’s political elite. Such attempts to suppress free speech undermine democratic principles and can result in a major chilling effect.
Although press freedom is theoretically guaranteed in the region by article 10 of the constitution, which provides for free expression – the government applies significant political pressure to discourage media coverage of sensitive topics and to silence criticism of politicians and officials. Discussion or reporting critical of the monarchy is prohibited, with severe penalties imposed, fostering widespread self-censorship on the matter.
This baseless conviction and sentence are further examples of the type of harassment suffered by independent journalists in Malaysia. Media Defence call for its immediate and unconditional overturning.
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