Sarawak Report editor in UK, says Malaysia’s criminal defamation charge ‘intimidation’ that she won’t return to face

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When contacted by Malay Mail, Clare Rewcastle-Brown said that she had told Malaysian authorities recently that she does not intend to travel to Malaysia, and that the issuing of the arrest warrant was ‘disgraceful’ when she was not given any notice that she would be charged today specifically or that her court attendance was required today. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
When contacted by Malay Mail, Clare Rewcastle-Brown said that she had told Malaysian authorities recently that she does not intend to travel to Malaysia, and that the issuing of the arrest warrant was ‘disgraceful’ when she was not given any notice that she would be charged today specifically or that her court attendance was required today. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 23 — Sarawak Report editor Clare Rewcastle-Brown today confirmed that she is currently in the United Kingdom, and indicated that she has no intention of coming to Malaysia to face a charge of criminal defamation initiated in the courts today.

Earlier today, a criminal case against Rewcastle-Brown was brought to the Kuala Terengganu Magistrates’ Court in her absence, where she was accused of having defamed the Terengganu Sultanah over a line in her book on the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.

The court was reported to have issued a warrant of arrest against Rewcastle-Brown for failing to be present in court to face the charge.

When contacted by Malay Mail, Rewcastle-Brown said that she had told Malaysian authorities recently that she does not intend to travel to Malaysia, and that the issuing of the arrest warrant was “disgraceful” when she was not given any notice that she would be charged today specifically or that her court attendance was required today.

“The police did notify me some weeks ago they were instructed to charge me and enquired if I would be willing to come to KL to be prosecuted but I advised them that it would not be convenient and that I have no plans to travel to the current Covid world hotspot — which topic ought in my view to be the priority for all those in positions of power with the means to help address the suffering of Malaysians at this time. I am staggered that such a distraction should have become a focus for the authorities,” she told Malay Mail.

As for the warrant of arrest issued today, she said that no notification was given to her at all of the day they would be charging her, and that the first she had heard about today’s case was through the news today.

“I can absolutely confirm that I was given no notice whatsoever of this charge or court event,” she said, adding that she had already said she would not be in Malaysia when asked about two months ago if she intended to “cooperate”.

“I made clear at that time that I had no plans to be in Malaysia. However, no notification was made of the actual laying of charges or this date ... It is pretty disgraceful I have to say,” she said, later adding that she had not been sent a copy of the charge sheet or anything of that nature.

“If no one tells you that they want you to be in court on Friday to face a charge, how can you be arrested for not turning up? I had certainly advised I would not be anticipating being in KL,” she said.

Confirming that she is now in the UK, Rewcastle-Brown said the last time she was in Malaysia was “early in 2020 as the elected government was being overthrown”.

As for the criminal defamation case, she described it as attempted “intimidation” and did not give recognition to it as a crime.

“Criminal defamation does not exist as a crime in the UK so nobody is going to recognise this Malaysian case ... that includes me,” she said.

“I will be remaining in countries (i.e. most countries in the world) that do not recognise this ‘offence’ they seek to charge me under and so therefore will not be extraditing me to face them in KL,” she added.

Additionally, she said this case had in 2018 been categorised as “no further action” (NFA) in 2018 and described it as a “politically-motivated case”, further describing it as a “blatant abuse of power and influence within Malaysia” for this case to be revived.

“I have also made clear to your authorities that I have no reason to be in Malaysia for the foreseeable future and have no intention of subjecting myself to such attempts at intimidation.

“There is no such crime as ‘criminal defamation’ under British law, so if those behind this case are hoping to somehow extradite me they will meet with a fog of confusion as to why?” she said, suggesting that any request to extradite her from the UK for the criminal defamation case would likely be turned down.

She suggested that the abolition of the “outdated criminal defamation laws” in Malaysia was a reform needed to end the oppression of civil liberties and basic human rights in the country.

Rewcastle-Brown said she had during a visit to Malaysia in 2018 cooperated with the police enquiries on the police report in relation to this case, adding that she had clarified the meaning of the sentence — being complained about in the police report — was not the meaning alleged in the complaint and that no insult to the Terengganu Sultanah or her sister-in-law was implied as had been suggested.

Lawyer Datuk Mohd Haaziq Pillay speaks at a press conference on a lawsuit to be filed by the Terengganu Sultanah against Sarawak Report editor Clare Rewcastle-Brown, September 29, 2018. — Picture by Abdul Razak Ghazali
Lawyer Datuk Mohd Haaziq Pillay speaks at a press conference on a lawsuit to be filed by the Terengganu Sultanah against Sarawak Report editor Clare Rewcastle-Brown, September 29, 2018. — Picture by Abdul Razak Ghazali

As for the separate civil defamation lawsuit by the Terengganu Sultanah against her that is set to be heard in the High Court in Kuala Lumpur in December, Rewcastle-Brown agreed that she would be attending the court proceedings virtually.

“Yes — I have consented to address the Sultanah’s civil suit, which she ought to have presented in London given I have no ties to Malaysia and have no plans to be there,” she said, adding that lawyers in the UK would have said that there is no case to pursue as her sentence was allegedly not defamatory.

This December, four witnesses including the Terengganu Sultanah herself are expected to personally attend court proceedings to testify in the defamation lawsuit, as the Court of Appeal had this August decided that the trial should be decided based on a full hearing and not on points of law only.

“She will now be presenting her case personally to the judges in December and I will be explaining why she is sadly misinformed about the meaning and intention of the sentence in question,” Rewcastle-Brown also said of the civil defamation lawsuit.

The Terengganu Sultanah had previously on November 21, 2018 filed a defamation lawsuit in the High Court in Kuala Lumpur against Rewcastle-Brown, the latter’s book publisher Gerakbudaya Enterprise and printer, Vinlin Press Sdn Bhd over the same book The Sarawak Report — The Inside Story of 1MDB Exposé.

Suing over the contents in a paragraph of page three of the book, the Terengganu Sultanah had in that civil lawsuit claimed for RM100 million as compensation from each of the three defendants, and had also sought court orders for the book to be withdrawn and for its printing to cease.

Back in September 2018, Sarawak Report had issued a statement where it apologised if the Terengganu Sultanah had been “upset by any misinterpretations” of the book’s content and made clarifications that no allegation was made against anyone in the Terengganu royal family about the 1MDB affair.

But the Terengganu Sultanah’s lawyer had said such a statement did not amount to an apology and later issued a letter of demand, while Rewcastle-Brown’s lawyer confirmed in October 2018 that a reply was made to the letter of demand by stating that no defamation was made in the book’s content. The defamation lawsuit was eventually filed in November 2018.

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