Malaysia’s Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) Issues Solidarity Statement For SR + Media Freedom

Malaysia’s Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) has issued a statement inviting others to join in expressing solidarity with the editor of this website over the two year jail sentence passed last month for purported ‘criminal defamation’.

The sentence was issued after a one day hearing by a magistrate’s court in Terengganu, with the news agency Bernama citing the words “the wife of the Sultan” as forming the ‘defamatory content’.

The defendant has never been formally charged, was not notified of the trial and was therefore not offered the opportunity of a defence, which is a clear violation of the Malaysian criminal process.

Although a Malaysian High Court judge ruled in an identical civil case that he could identify no defamatory content in the words complained of, the magistrate (from a courtroom in the plaintiff’s home state) nonetheless issued the maximum penalty allowed.

This was despite an immediate correction having made following the Sultanah’s complaint that it was not her but her royal sister in law who had introduced Jho Low to the TIA investment fund.

Interpol has made clear it will provide no cooperation with any requests by Malaysia to apprehend Clare Rewcastle Brown internationally. Nor is ‘criminal defamation’ a recognised crime in the UK where the book complained of was written (The Sarawak Report details her investigation and exposure of the 1MDB scandal) and where the author resides.

As the CIJ statement makes clear, the protest against this public prosecution of a foreign journalist is most fundamentally about the “grave threat” that this

egregious act of judicial overreach poses investigative journalism and media freedom in Malaysia by preserving the culture of fear for journalists and preventing these agents of democracy who serve to inform the public from carrying out their duties.”

In return,  the editor of Sarawak Report expresses full solidarity with Malaysian journalists over that same concern.


We Stand In Solidarity With Clare Rewcastle-Brown, Condemn Unjust Criminal Defamation Conviction

We, the undersigned organisations and individuals, unequivocally condemn the recent decision by the Malaysian authorities to sentence British journalist Clare Rewcastle Brown to two years in prison after a trial in absentia. This egregious act of judicial overreach poses a grave threat to investigative journalism and media freedom in Malaysia by preserving the culture of fear for journalists and preventing these agents of democracy who serve to inform the public from carrying out their duties. 

Clare Rewcastle Brown, renowned for her investigative work exposing the 1MDB scandal, has been unjustly targeted despite her fearless pursuit of truth and accountability. The decision to convict her of criminal defamation over her book, “The Sarawak Report—The Inside Story of the 1MDB Expose,” is abhorrent as the trial in absentia goes against basic principles of access to justice. Further, a trial in absentia is an imposition on natural justice – the right against bias and the right to a fair hearing – which is especially true as it was a one day trial. Brown was neither notified in advance nor given the opportunity to defend herself, thus reinforcing a clear violation of her fundamental right to equality before the law and her right to equal protection of the law as enshrined in Article 8(1) of the Federal Constitution. Given that Brown had corrected the error relating to this charge and had apologised for this, this also further adds to the lack of necessity, lack of expediency and disproportionality of this conviction, entirely contrary to international human rights standards.  

Additionally, more broadly for media freedom in Malaysia, this sentencing by the Kuala Terengganu Magistrates’ Court under Section 500 of the Penal Code for defamation sends a chilling message to journalists and media organisations worldwide. It continues to set a dangerous precedent where journalists risk imprisonment for fulfilling their duty to inform the public and hold those in power accountable. Criminalising defamation is another tool in the government’s arsenal to suppress the media by silencing critical voices and deterring journalists from uncovering corruption within Malaysia, further entrenching the culture of fear in Malaysia for journalists. This would allow unlawful and unscrupulous behaviour to flourish in Malaysia causing a great deal of detriment to the public. 

When journalists like Brown strive to place the public interest at the centre of the media landscape, the public needs to come together to defend media freedom in Malaysia, which ranks 73rd in the RSF Press Freedom Index 2023. Media needs to be preserved as the 4th pillar of democracy and those governing it need to be free from political and business expediency. It is only by doing this, can we eliminate corruption in Malaysia and truly achieve a democratic society. While it is important to operate ethically, journalists need to be provided the opportunity to seek information and inform the public in a timely manner as it pertains to them.  

As such, we demand the following:

  1. We call for Clare Rewcastle Brown’s sentence of two years in prison for criminal defamation to be overturned. This decision is unjust and follows a trial that did not respect the principles of a fair trial and access to justice.
  2. We call for a complete reform of the archaic and repressive laws that undermine media freedom in Malaysia, including placing an immediate moratorium on the use of repressive laws like Section 500 of the Penal Code as well as several other laws like the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) 1984, the Official Secrets Act (OSA) 1972, the Sedition Act 1948 and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998. Proceeding this, there should be an urgent review to either amend or repeal said laws. 
  3. We demand the adoption of international human rights standards when it comes to freedom of expression and media freedom, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other ethical standards of journalisms. This then provides the standards and established grounds for limitations and exceptions to freedom of opinion and expression, which are primarily the need to demonstrate legitimate aim, necessity and proportionality when restrictions are placed on media freedom. It would also provide a better framework of non-reprisal for journalists so they may continue to inform the public without fear while allowing them to operate ethically.
  4. To further bolster an ethical media landscape that adheres to democratic principles, we call for the immediate establishment of the Malaysian Media Council (MMC). This would bolster a system of non-reprisal as the MMC would set the standards and provide an independent resolution mechanism while allowing journalists to operate freely and without self-censorship within the media environment in Malaysia. The MMC should be an independent, multistakeholder institution free from government interference so that they may be the arbiters of media standards in Malaysia without political or business expediency as well as be representative of all practitioners in the media industry.

We stand in solidarity with Clare Rewcastle Brown and we urge Malaysian authorities to uphold the principles of press freedom and the rule of law by following through on our demands. As a united front we reiterate our support for journalists like Clare Rewcastle Brown, who courageously shine a light on corruption and injustice. 

Endorsed by:

  1. Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ)
  2. Engage
  3. KRYSS Network
  4. Wong Shiang Ngoh 
  5. Hadi Rahim
  6. Elill
  7. Abbie Nyim
  8. Ricky Chua
  9. Lyndon D’Oliveiro 
  10. Amierul Azim
  11. JX
  12. Daniel
  13. Abdullah ‘Ulwan bin Ammar 
  14. Kelvin Lee
  15. Chang Teck Peng
  16. MUDA
  17. KLSCAH Youth
  18. Jimmy Teo
  19. Topaz Lim Jing Tai 
  20. Chan Chu Rou 
  21. Fionaa 
  22. Jaylee Teng
  23. Lauralyn (Laura)
  24. Subateeswarran Looganaden 
  25. Hafsah
  26. Yunyu
  27. Joel Jeshurun
  28. Kamini Senthilathiban 
  29. Ilaiya Barathi Panneerselvam 
  30. Syed Jaymal Zahiid 
  31. Sures Raj
  32. Ooi Jean Yang
  33. Gerakan Media Merdeka (GERAMM)
  34. Haridas Nair

Add your name to the statement

Malaysia’s media community are now rightly demanding that this government should fulfil the pledges of previous manifestos by reforming the oppressive media laws that serve to intimidate journalists and suppress the publication of information that is in the public interest.

The editor of this site has termed the prosecution against her as politically motivated.  It was launched four years after the publication of the book by the unelected ‘backdoor government’ sympathetic to former prime minister Najib Razak who has been jailed thanks to the exposure of 1MDB.

Malaysia’s criminal justice system is littered with repressive and archaic laws that are designed to silence journalists seeking to expose corruption, wrong doing and abuses of power by those in positions of authority.

The result has been a flourishing of criminality in high places and an entrenchment of corruption from the top down in Malaysia’s institutions of which the $5 billion 1MDB theft  was just one example.

The fact that it took a foreign journalist and a foreign anti-money laundering investigation in the United States to expose this scandal involving the prime minister of the day, is surely the best possible illustration of why these laws must go, to allow journalists within Malaysia to do their job without living in fear of a prison sentence, such as has been meted out against the editor of Sarawak Report?

Your views are valuable to us, but Sarawak Report kindly requests that comments be deposited in suitable language and do not support racism or violence or we will be forced to withdraw them from the site.


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