Rights groups worry Malaysia will use Interpol to get Sarawak Report editor

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Clare Rewcastle Brown called the criminal defamation charge against her abuse of due process.

A group of international rights organisations has written to Interpol over concerns that Malaysia will again attempt to use the red notice mechanism to secure the arrest of Sarawak Report editor Clare Rewcastle Brown.

In a letter dated Sept 28 and addressed to Interpol secretary-general Jürgen Stock, they pointed out that Malaysia had in 2015 similarly sought a red notice against Rewcastle Brown on charges of “activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy”.

This was over the British journalist’s role in exposing the 1MDB scandal involving then prime minister Najib Abdul Razak, who is now standing trial, on her Sarawak Report portal.

“We have recently been contacted by Rewcastle Brown, who informed us that as of Sept 23, she is subject to a new arrest warrant in Malaysia.

“According to media reports, she is being sought to face criminal defamation charges brought by the wife of the Sultan of Terengganu regarding statements made about her in Rewcastle Brown’s 2018 book about the 1MDB scandal.

“We have serious concerns that the Malaysian national central bureau (NCB) has attempted or is in the process of attempting to use Interpol systems once again to seek her arrest,” they said in the letter.

Violation of Interpol rules

The letter was signed by Fair Trials legal director (UK and International) Bruno Min, Index on Censorship policy and campaign manager Jessica Ní Mhainín and Article 19 Europe and Central Asia head Sarah Clarke.

They said any extradition request against Rewcastle Brown would be in violation of Interpol rules.

“These accusations, like the ones she faced in 2015, are based solely on Rewcastle Brown’s activities as a journalist and a writer, and any attempt to use Interpol to curb the freedom of the media and harass members of the press should be viewed as a matter of grave concern,” they added.

They asked Interpol to clarify if any such requests have been made by Malaysia.

Interpol does not normally reveal red notice applications, but in 2015, it took the unusual step to clarify that Malaysia had sought a red notice against Rewcastle Brown but was rejected.

“Given the high level of public interest in Rewcastle Brown’s case, and the previous history of the Malaysian NCB’s attempt to use Interpol to seek her arrest, we strongly believe that it would be Interpol’s interests to respond to our letter publicly,” they said.

In a statement, 14 international rights groups also called on Interpol to clarify its role in the attempt to arrest Rewcastle Brown.

“If a red notice has been issued, Rewcastle Brown could be arrested when she travels to Spain later this week to visit an elderly relative who needs her support.

“There is also a risk that she could be held in detention and face extradition to Malaysia,” they said.

The statement was issued by Article 19, Blueprint for Free Speech, The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, English PEN, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, Fair Trials, IFEX, Index on Censorship, International Press Institute (IPI), Justice for Journalists Foundation, OBC Transeuropa, PEN International, Reporters Without Borders, and South East Europe Media Organisation.

“This latest act of legal intimidation by the Malaysian authorities against Rewcastle Brown is part of a pattern of serious judicial harassment against the journalist as a direct reprisal for her work in exposing massive corruption.

“Interpol must recognise this as a vexatious act of intimidation and ensure they are not complicit in the abuse of their system,” said Article 19’s Clarke.

Rewcastle Brown, who also provided comments for the statement, called the criminal defamation charge against her abuse of due process.

She noted that the criminal complaint was brought in 2018 but no charges were ever filed until recently.

She noted this coincided with Umno, Najib’s party, regaining the prime ministerial position.

“I am concerned that the same actors who tried to abuse Interpol by having me arrested as a terrorist in 2015 will, having returned to power, attempt to file another Interpol red notice alert with the aim of having me detained anywhere in the world…

“I could be thrown into jail at a border by officials who have no idea about the background to this case or the spurious nature of these charges and then face months of legal action fighting extradition charges to get back to Britain,” she said.

On Sept 23, Rewcastle Brown was charged in absentia in a Magistrate’s Court in Kuala Terengganu under Section 500 of the Penal Code for criminal defamation which provides a punishment of up to two years imprisonment or a fine or both.

This is over her book ‘The Sarawak Report – The inside story of 1MDB’ which mentioned the Terengganu sultanah.

Previously, Sultanah Nur Zahirah had also initiated defamation proceedings in the civil courts against Rewcastle Brown.

Sultanah Nur Zahirah who filed the suit on Nov 21, 2018, alleged Rewcastle Brown’s 438-page book inferred that she was involved in corrupt practice and had interfered in Terengganu’s administration.

Rewcastle Brown had argued that there was no imputation that the sultanah had committed graft or that she had influenced the Terengganu government.

She said the only suggestion was that businessperson Low Taek Jho had used his ties with the Terengganu royal family to obtain an advisory role at the Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA), the predecessor of 1MDB. – Malaysiakini