Clare Rewcastle-Brown: Malaysia will be global spectacle if it arrests me

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Under the law, a magistrate cannot impose a sentence of imprisonment in the absence of the accused.

Sarawak Report’s founding editor Clare Rewcastle-Brown has brushed off a Magistrates’ Court ruling sentencing her to two years’ jail for defaming Terengganu Sultanah Nur Zahirah in a book, saying that Malaysia would make a spectacle of itself if it attempted to arrest her.

She told Malaysiakini that she was not even aware of the case and that her lawyers had advised her that the action of the magistrate in failing to notify her or her lawyers was in contravention of the criminal procedure code.

She also claimed that the court action against her appeared to be politically motivated.

“I have enemies in Malaysia who have been encouraging this case and we are also involved in Hadi’s case,” she said referring to a suit involving PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang, who sued Rewcastle-Brown in London over a 2016 Sarawak Report article claiming that then prime minister Najib Abdul Razak channelled RM90 million to top PAS leaders in a bid for support ahead of the 14th general election.

On Feb 1, 2019, she claimed that the PAS president subsequently agreed to settle the suit with Sarawak Report with an RM1.4 million payment.

“I think people are gaining the impression that Malaysia is not a safe country when it comes to the rule of law,” she added.

Sarawak-born Rewcastle-Brown, who made a very public return to Malaysia soon after Najib lost the May 9, 2018, general election, said that she was now unsure if she would be returning to Malaysia as long as the threat of arrest and jail was looming.

“Perhaps Malaysia would like to engage in an international spectacle by arresting the journalist who exposed 1MDB on a ludicrous trumped-up charge the same week they drop the sentence for the world’s worst kleptocrat?” she said, alluding to the Pardons Board reducing Najib’s jail term from 12 years to six.

She added that Sarawak Report’s lawyers will also be seeking clarification as to whether once again authorities in Malaysia will be attempting to ask Interpol to arrest her based on “tenuous and politically motivated charges.”

This came after Rewcastle-Brown was sentenced to two years in jail yesterday after being found guilty of defaming Terengganu Sultanah Nur Zahirah in a passage in her book “The Sarawak Report – The Inside Story of the 1MDB Exposé”.

Magistrate Nik Mohd Tarmizie Nik Mohd Shukri made the ruling in absentia at the Terengganu Magistrates’ Court after she was charged with criminal defamation under Section 500 of the Penal Code, which provides a punishment of up to two years imprisonment, or a fine, or both.

The case involved a paragraph in Rewcastle-Brown’s initial edition of her book which mentioned the sultanah, although later editions removed the paragraph concerned.

Rewcastle-Brown was charged in absentia before the state’s lower court on Sept 23, 2021.

Last December, Rewcastle-Brown and two others were also ordered to pay RM300,000 in defamation damages to the sultanah and in a separate civil suit concerning the same portion of the book.

Rewcastle-Brown also drew attention to her claim that there was no notification of the hearing, no summons, and no information passed to her lawyer for the defendant.

“There was therefore no opportunity even to place a defence.

“This is, of course, in keeping with the original surprise hearing in September 2021 when the same Magistrates’ Court issued a warrant for her arrest owing to her non-appearance in Terengganu (during Covid-19 when she was living in the UK) having failed to notify her of the summons let alone of any charges, which to this day have never been pressed,” said a response on Sarawak Report.

Sarawak Report’s lawyer, Guok Ngek Seong, said that the action of the magistrate was in contravention of the criminal procedure code in failing to notify him or his client of the hearing and indeed failing to even press initial charges.

Under the law, a magistrate cannot impose a sentence of imprisonment in the absence of the accused.

Guok said that he would therefore call for the decision of the court to be set aside.

Sarawak Report also claimed that the original police complaint by the sultanah in 2018 had contained material errors, including an incorrect rendering of the passage complained about.

It said that she had given a full statement to the police, pointed out the inaccuracies, and was notified there would be no further action. However, three years later the government led by Umno’s Ismail Sabri Yaakob applied for a Red Notice to have her arrested based on the Terengganu warrant.

In addition to the criminal defamation case, Sarawak Report said that its lawyers had submitted their appeal against the reversal in the civil case to the Federal Court on Tuesday. – Malaysiakini

Earlier reports:

Feb 7, Clare Rewcastle-Brown appeals against conviction and jail sentence

Feb 7, Clare Rewcastle-Brown jailed two years for defaming Terengganu Sultanah