A British investigative journalist has been sentenced in absentia to two years in prison by a Malaysian court for criminal defamation of the country's former queen Nur Zahirah in her book ‘The Sarawak Report – The Inside Story of the 1MDB Expose'.
Clare Rewcastle Brown accuses Malaysia of seeking “political revenge” over her damning report that exposed corruption at the country's highest echelons of power.
The 1MDB scandal toppled powerful former prime minister Najib Razak and led to his imprisonment, as well as corruption charges against Goldman Sachs executives.
In an interview with the BBC, Rewcastle Brown, 64, said: “I'm afraid this is malicious, politically motivated. And I see it as revenge for my public interest journalism.
“I think there are a lot of very powerful and rich people in Malaysia who are taking revenge that I exposed the corruption of their former prime minister [Najib Razak]who remains popular and powerful and rich.
“And I think it's no coincidence that just two or three days after [he] failed to obtain favor from him [Malaysian] King who would have released him from prison after a fraction of his sentence, that this sentence was then passed against me.'
He is appealing the sentence, which he says was a surprise after a one-day hearing. She says she was neither notified nor given an opportunity to defend herself.
Rewcastle Brown says it was targeted for its reporting on the multibillion-dollar scandal involving the theft of $4.5 billion from the Malaysian state treasury. Research by Rewcastle Brown – who is also the founder and editor of the site Sarawak Fair – led to the revelation of the 1MDB Development Fund scandal, revealing massive allegations of kleptocracy by the Malaysian Prime Minister. The scandal has also rocked the global financial world, thrown the offshore financial industry into turmoil and left many high-profile figures in Hollywood, Vegas and New York reeling, the Center for Investigative Journalism reports.
“I have become somewhat iconic in the eyes of those who are deeply outraged that Najib was found guilty and sentenced for this crime,” the journalist said.
“We can speculate, but I think it's hard to come to any other conclusion than that it's all connected to this 1MDB case.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists [CPJ] condemned the Malaysian court's decision and said it was a direct threat to press freedom and an attempt to silence investigative journalism, particularly on official corruption.
“Malaysia should repeal the outrageous prison sentence given to Clare Rewcastle-Brown and stop harassing the journalist for her critical reporting on the country's 1MDB scandal, recognized as one of the world's biggest corruption cases,” Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia correspondent. , he said on Friday. “The harsh decision will deter all journalists from investigating official corruption in Malaysia and represents a clear and present danger to press freedom in the country.”
The International Federation of Journalists [IFJ] also condemned the conviction of the journalist and called on the Malaysian authorities to immediately revoke this punitive decision.
In a statement, the IFJ said: “The punitive verdict in the criminal defamation case against Clare Rewcastle-Brown is a blatant attempt by the Malaysian authorities to suppress critical reporting and critical investigative journalism. Journalists should be allowed to report without repercussion on matters of public interest and this decision suggests a serious threat to press freedom. The IFJ calls for the immediate dropping of all charges against Rewcastle-Brown and calls on the Malaysian government to stop using harassment and intimidation tactics against journalists and whistleblowers.”
Rewcastle Brown said she remains determined to continue her work in journalism, upholding the right to report on matters of public interest. She said she hoped for support from the UK government and international organizations to challenge her conviction.
The independent has arrived at Sarawak Fair for comment.