Sunday 14 Apr 2024
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KUALA LUMPUR (April 3): The Attorney General's Chambers (AGC) has once again rejected a letter of representation from Sarawak Report editor Clare Rewcastle-Brown, which sought to withdraw a defamation charge against her over allegedly making defamatory statements against Sultanah of Terengganu Sultanah Nur Zahirah in a book she wrote.

According to the AGC's letter of reply dated March 27 to Rewcastle-Brown's counsels at Guok Partnership, there was sufficient evidence to maintain the charge against the journalist.

"The letter of representation is rejected, and the charge is maintained," read the letter seen by The Edge. It further stated that the AGC's decision is final, and that any further representation would not be entertained unless there are new developments or circumstances which have not yet been considered that justify a review.

Rewcastle-Brown's representation — normally sent by lawyers asking for a reduction or withdrawal of a charge — was sent on March 8. This was her second representation, after her first representation was rejected in January.

Rewcastle-Brown's counsel Guok Ngek Seong confirmed the matter with The Edge when contacted.

On Sept 23, 2021, Rewcastle-Brown was charged in absentia for allegedly defaming Sultanah Nur Zahirah at a Magistrate's Court in Kuala Terengganu, via the publication of the book titled The Sarawak Report: The Inside Story of the 1MDB Exposé in September 2021.

The charge was made under Section 500 of the Penal Code, which states that whoever defames another can be jailed for up to two years, or fined, or both. An arrest warrant was also issued against her.

In response to the suit, Rewcastle-Brown has applied for her case to be transferred to the Kuala Lumpur High Court, claiming that a "fair and impartial" trial cannot be held in the Kuala Terengganu Magistrate's Court. She also made an application to refer two legal questions on the constitutionality of the criminal charge to the Federal Court.

In August last year, then High Court judge Mohamed Zaini Mazlan directed that her application to transfer her criminal defamation case be heard and disposed of first, saying her application to refer her legal questions to the Federal Court was "premature". He also said the court had not decided whether to allow the case against the applicant to be transferred and heard in the Kuala Lumpur High Court, saying the case was therefore "still in transit".

As such, the hearing of the case, which was supposed to proceed in the Kuala Terengganu Magistrate's Court in January this year, had been postponed pending the disposal of Rewcastle-Brown's transfer application. 

According to Guok, the transfer application will be heard on May 15 before judge K Muniandy instead of Mohamed Zaini, who has been elevated to the Court of Appeal.

Sultanah Nur Zahirah has also filed a RM100 million civil suit against Rewcastle-Brown over the same alleged offence, claiming she had been defamed in Rewcastle-Brown's book via this passage: “Jho (fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho, or Jho Low) 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 Sultanah alleged that Rewcastle-Brown's statement was disparaging to her, and that it could be taken to mean that she was involved in corrupt practices, and interfered with the state’s administration.

Apart from Rewcastle-Brown, the Sultanah also named the publisher and printer of the book — Gerakbudaya Enterprise publisher Chong Ton Sin and printer Vinlin Press Sdn Bhd — as defendants, and similarly sought general damages of RM100 million from each of them.

This civil suit was dismissed by the Kuala Lumpur High Court in October last year. 

Judicial commissioner Dr John Lee Kien How @ Mohd Johan Lee said the court did not find defamatory imputation from the statement made in the book, despite an obvious matter of mistaken identity, which Rewcastle-Brown admitted to and made corrections for in subsequent print runs of the book. She had mistakenly referenced the Sultanah instead of the Sultanah's sister-in-law, Tunku Datuk Rahimah Sultan Mahmud, in the disputed passage. 

The Sultanah is currently appealing against the High Court's decision.

Edited ByTan Choe Choe
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