British journalist Clare Rewcastle Brown during an interview in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on May 20, 2018.
British journalist Clare Rewcastle Brown during an interview in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on May 20, 2018. She faces jail for her reporting on one of the world's biggest corruption cases, which helped topple the government. (Photo: AFP/Mohd Rasfan)

Malaysia hands 2-year prison sentence to UK journalist Clare Rewcastle Brown

Bangkok, February 9, 2024—The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Malaysian authorities to reverse the decision to sentence British anti-corruption reporter Clare Rewcastle Brown to two years in prison in absentia for criminal defamation over her investigation into a major financial corruption scandal.

“Malaysia should scrap the outrageous prison sentence given to Clare Rewcastle Brown and stop harassing the journalist over her crucial reporting on the country’s 1MDB scandal, recognized as one of the world’s biggest-ever corruption cases,” Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative, said on Friday. “The harsh ruling will deter all reporters from investigating official corruption in Malaysia and represents a clear and present danger to press freedom in the country.”    

The Kuala Terengganu Magistrates’ Court ruled in a one-day hearing on Wednesday that Rewcastle Brown criminally defamed Terengganu Sultanah Nur Zahirah, a Malaysian royal, in her book “The Sarawak Report—The Inside Story of the 1MDB Expose.” The ruling was made under Section 500 of the Penal Code, the reports said.

Malaysian and U.S. investigators estimate that US$4.5 billion was stolen from 1MDB, a sovereign fund founded by former Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was jailed in 2022 for his role in the corruption scandal. The Pardons Board reduced Razak’s 12-year sentence by half earlier this month.

Rewcastle Brown’s reporting in Sarawak Report, an online news outlet she founded and edits, is widely credited with first exposing the scandal.

Rewcastle Brown, who is currently resident in the United Kingdom but was born in Sarawak, Malaysia, told CPJ by email that she was not notified in advance of the hearing and was not given the opportunity to defend herself in court.

She said her lawyers had applied for the legal order to be set aside and were inquiring whether Malaysian authorities would use the ruling to request law enforcement worldwide to provisionally arrest her pending extradition under an Interpol Red Notice.

Rewcastle Brown told CPJ that Malaysian law enforcement officials have twice previously applied for an Interpol Red Notice in order to imprison and try her in Malaysia on charges related to her 1MDB reporting. Interpol denied the previous two applications, she said.

The Kuala Terengganu Magistrates’ Court did not immediately reply to CPJ’s emailed request for comment on the ruling and whether it would pursue an Interpol Red Notice for Rewcastle Brown’s arrest.