Canadian correspondent freed in Kuala Lumpur

October 12, 1999 — Murray Hiebert, the Far Eastern Economic Reviewcorrespondent imprisoned in Kuala Lumpur on September 11, was released yesterday morning, according to a spokesman for Reviewpublisher Dow Jones.

“My spirits are in good shape and I managed to come out in one piece,” Hiebert told Canadian TV from Hong Kong (as quoted by Reuters).

Hiebert’s lawyers, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah and Stuart Karle, and Canadian diplomat Peter Girling greeted him upon his release from the Sungai Buloh prison. They drove him to a hotel and then to the Canadian High Commission where a party was held in his honor, according to Richard Toefl, Vice President of Corporate Communications at Dow Jones.

Hiebert flew to Hong Kong earlier today, and will fly to Washington D.C. on Friday, where he will join his wife and children.

“Apart from a swelling in the second toe of his left foot, for which he had received treatment at the Seremban Hospital, he is in fine condition,” said Muhammad Shafee, who was quoted in The New Straits Times.

Hiebert, 50, served four weeks in prison for what the Malaysian Court of Appeals deemed contempt of court stemming from “See You in Court,” his September 1997 Far East Economic Reviewarticle about litigiousness in Malaysian society. One lawsuit highlighted in the piece was brought against the Kuala Lumpur International School by Chandra Sri Ram, the wife of a prominent judge, after the school booted her son off the debating team. Hiebert wrote that the case had moved rapidly through the court system and noted that the student’s father, Gopal Sri Ram, was a prominent judge. Chandra later brought the contempt suit against Hiebert, despite the fact that the original suit was settled out of court.

On September 11, a three-judge panel upheld an earlier high court conviction and ordered Hiebert to be jailed for six weeks, later reducing his term to four weeks for good behavior.

CPJ protested Hiebert’s imprisonment in a September 13 letter to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir (click here to read the letter), expressing outrage at the court’s blatant disregard for freedom of the press. Hiebert’s sentencing made Malaysia the only Commonwealth country to have imprisoned a journalist on contempt charges in half a century, according to his lawyers.

Hiebert has been unable to leave Malaysia since 1997 because his passport was confiscated when legal proceedings began.

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