Power Of Engaging

The NGO Engage joined forces with press and freedom groups on Thursday to re-launch a fund to protect journalists and civil society campaigners from abusive and oppressive law suits designed to stifle public debate in Malaysia.

Thomas Fann, the chairperson of Engage, reminded that the fund was originally launched in 2015 to support those who had their Article 10 rights under the Federal Constitution withdrawn and were being fined or punished for exercising freedom of speech.

Following the removal of the BN government of Najib Razak the level of such persecution was seen to diminish in Malaysia, however in recent months the need for such support from the public has once again become apparent.

The initial fundraiser has been targeted to raise money to meet the civil costs of a case brought by the Terengganu royal household against the editor of Sarawak Report for the eponymous book published in 2018 about the 1MDB scandal exposed by this website.

Also caught up in the case have been the printer and distributor of the book in Malaysia under the highly oppressive Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, which those in the present government had long pledged to reform.

Alongside the civil case, which was initially dismissed in the High Court but over turned at appeal, the same plaintiffs are pursuing a criminal case which was taken up four years after the matter was originally dropped by the prosecution service on the grounds that the error complained of had been admitted and corrected.

A two year jail sentence was passed against Clare Rewcastle Brown in the Terengganu home magistrate’s court for writing the words “the wife of the Sultan” (which were corrected with the words “the sister of the Sultan” alongside an apology in 2018). The trial took place without notification and in her absence.

Earlier this week the Terengganu high court demanded that in order to hear her appeal against this ruling on the grounds of the several violations of criminal procedure involved in issuing a sentence in this manner, Clare Rewcastle Brown should present herself at the court, thereby surrendering to arrest and incarceration over the contested judgement.

The Engage fundraiser is intended to support Sarawak Report which is challenging the Appeal Court civil ruling to the Federal Court. The Appeal Court awarded RM300,000 in damages plus RM120,000 in costs to be paid to the Sultanah of Terengganu.

Should the defendants lose they will have to pay that money or else the printer (Violin) and distributor (Gerakbudaya) who are based in Malaysia will be forced into bankruptcy.

Sarawak Report has already raised RM128,000 in the UK towards the fund and Engage, working through Malaysiakini’s Sokong fundraiser site is seeking to raise the remaining RM292,000.

Should the defendants overturn the negative Appeal Court ruling the entire RM420,000 will be donated to the fund to assist other victims of oppressive legal actions under the criminal libel law, multi-media law and Press Printing and Publications Act, amongst others.

Sarawak Report has expressed thanks and solidarity with Engage for its support and commitment towards upholding the democratic right to freedom of speech in Malaysia and to prevent intimidation of the media in its vital role of holding the powerful to account in the public interest.

Supporters who want to donate can do so via https://sokong.org/donate/engage

Or bank in direct to the ENGAGE’s Freedom Fund 2.0 account at:
Account holder : Engage Citizen Network PLT
Bank : Public Bank Berhad
Account number : 323 866 9514
Reference : Clare

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