Criminal Law Abuse?

The Secretary General of INTERPOL, Jurgen Stock, has swiftly responded to the fourteen organisations who wrote to him on Wednesday asking whether the international police organisation has received any alert requests against the editor of this site following an arrest warrant issued in Malaysia last week.

According to Fair Trials, the NGO who has been leading on the matter, Stock replied informally but with unprecedented speed to say that so far the Malaysian authorities have not made such a request. This does not preclude a subsequent approach by Malaysia, however it does mean INTERPOL is now aware of yet another potential attempt to silence journalists by such means.

Back in 2015, which was the last time Malaysia’s then UMNO/BN government issued charges against Sarawak Report, they had applied for a Red Notice (terrorist) Alert to be circulated for an arrest anywhere in the world, owing to alleged “activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy’ following our exposure of the 1MDB scandal. This was publicly rejected by INTERPOL at the time.

The new charges relate to alleged ‘criminal defamation’ of the Sultanah of Terengganu who issued a civil libel action as well as a criminal complaint about a passage in the book “The Sarawak Report” when it was published back in 2018.

At the time the police decided on No Further Action regarding the complaint, presumably because their lawyers concluded the passage was not libellous. Sarawak Report has made the same defence in the civil case and pointed out that the meaning is not what the plaintiffs have alleged and is not libellous.

However, three years later and following UMNO’s return to power Sarawak Report was notified last month that the police had been ‘ordered’ to press charges after all. The charges were eventually laid in the local Terengganu Magistrates Court without prior notice being provided for the editor to attend. The warrant was issued on grounds of non-attendance.

Lawyers acting for Sarawak Report have now handed a letter to the public prosecution service demanding full details of the charges that have been laid against its editor. Attempts to extradite the UK citizen will face the considerable hurdle that ‘criminal libel’ does not exist as a crime on the statute books in the UK and that such attempts to silence journalists through the abuse of INTERPOL and country to country mutual assistance protocols have been widely condemned.

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