Journalist in Malaysia given jail term of three years for critical story

Sunday, October 5, 1997

Journalist given jail term for article which raised questions about Malaysian judicial system

(Canadian Committee to Protect Journalists, 5 September 1997)

Murray Hiebert, the Canadian-born Malaysian bureau chief of the Hong-Kong based Far Eastern Economic Review was sentenced on 4 September 1997 to three months in jail because of a 23 January story he wrote which examined details of a civil suit brought by Datin Chandra Sri Ram, the wife of Appeals Court Judge Sri Ram Gopal.

Chandra sued the International School of Kuala Lumpur because it dropped her son from its debating team. On 10 March, the school apologised and the suit was withdrawn.

Before that point, however, Hiebert had written about the litigation in an article entitled "See You in Court" which examined an apparent growth in litigation in Malaysia and noted in part that Chandra's husband is a Court of Appeals judge and that the case appeared to move through the judicial system with unusual speed.

On the basis of these two statements, Chandra brought a suit against Hiebert alleging contempt of the Malaysian judicial system. Hiebert was found guilty on 30 May by Judge Low Hop Bing. In his decision Low stated that "it is high time our judiciary shows its abhorrence toward such contemptuous conduct as is illustrated by the facts of this case."

Hiebert's lawyer said the decision will be appealed and his client has been released on bail set at USD 50 000, which is in addition to USD 33 300 already provided in bail.

RECOMMENDED ACTION:
Send appeals to authorities:
-stating that the decision undermines freedom of expression and press freedom in Malaysia
-noting that the sentence is extremely harsh and out of proportion with the purportedly offensive content of the article
-urging that steps be immediately taken to ensure that press freedom is protected and promoted in Malaysia

APPEALS TO:
Dato' Seri Dr Mahatir bin Mohamad
Prime Minister
Jalan Dato' Onn Malaysia
50502 Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia
Fax: +603 298 4172
e-mail: marsineh@smpke.jpm.my

Click here to see a sample letter prepared by the CCPJ