CEO Morning Brief

Sarawak Report Editor's Leave to Appeal Against Sultanah's Defamation Action Set for September

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Publish date: Wed, 12 Jun 2024, 10:56 AM
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TheEdge CEO Morning Brief

KUALA LUMPUR (June 11): Sarawak Report editor Clare Rewcastle-Brown's leave to appeal Terengganu Sultanah Nur Zahirah's defamation action against her and two others will now be heard on Sept 10.

The Federal Court had started hearing the leave application online earlier on May 30 but it had to be cut short due to the internet issues faced by the editor's lawyer Americk Sidhu. The senior lawyer was attending proceedings from overseas.

The new date was set during case management on Tuesday, as confirmed by Haikaldin Mahyidin who appeared for the investigative journalist and Datuk Mohd Haziq Pillay who appeared for the sultanah.

In this civil action, Rewcastle-Brown is seeking leave (permission) to appeal the Court of Appeal's decision last December, which had decided in the sultanah's favour on her challenge to the High Court’s ruling in 2022.

A three-member COA panel unanimously ruled that a statement made in Rewcastle-Brown's book titled The Sarawak Report: The Inside Story of the 1MDB Exposé linking the sultanah to fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho (Jho Low) was defamatory.

The impugned statement reads: “Jho was also friendly with a key player in Terengganu, the wife of the sultan, whose acquiescence was needed to set up the fund, and he later cited her support as having been crucial to his obtaining the advisory position."

The COA awarded damages of RM300,000 which were to be paid jointly by all the defendants, which also include Gerakbudaya Enterprise publisher Chong Ton Sin and printer Vinlin Press Sdn Bhd.

In October 2022, the High Court ruled in favour of Rewcastle-Brown and the other defendants on the grounds that the statement in question was not defamatory, even though there was a case of mistaken identity where the editor had mistaken the sultanah for her sister-in-law, Tunku Datuk Rahimah Sultan Mahmud.

In her November 2018 suit, the sultanah alleged that Rewcastle-Brown made a disparaging statement about her in the book and that the statement could be taken to mean that she (the sultanah) was involved in corrupt practices and interfered with the state’s administration.

She also claimed that the statement in the book linked her as “friendly” with Jho Low and the statement construed her as having helped Jho Low become the adviser of the Terengganu Investment Authority (TIA), the predecessor of 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

The sultanah had sought, among others, general damages of RM100 million each from the defendants.

During the trial at the High Court, Rewcastle-Brown testified that she had made an “honest mistake” by naming the sultanah in the impugned passage, as she had mistaken the sultanah for her sister-in-law, Tunku Datuk Rahimah. She also testified that corrections were made to the passage in the book’s subsequent print runs.

Rewcastle-Brown, who is not in Malaysia, also has a pending criminal defamation case over the same issue in Terengganu.

Earlier in February this year, the Magistrate’s Court in Terengganu convicted the journalist for criminal defamation and imposed a two-year prison sentence in absentia. Rewcastle-Brown is appealing this decision.

Source: TheEdge - 12 Jun 2024

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