Canadian journalist on trial in Malaysia

Monday, May 17, 1999

Canadian journalist on trial
in Malaysia

17 May 1999

On 17 May 1999, the Malaysian Court of Appeals began hearing the appeal of the convictions against Canadian journalist Murray Hiebert. The judges hearing the case are Court of Appeal President Tan Sri Lamin Yunus, Datuk Ahmad Rairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim and Denis Ong. Hiebert's bail has been set at RM250,000 (approx. US$65,790). His lawyers presented preliminary motions and the hearing is scheduled to continue on 25 and 26 May.

Hiebert was found guilty on 30 May 1997 and later sentenced on 4 September 1997 to three months in jail because of a 23 January 1997 story he had written which examined details of a civil suit brought by Datin Chandra Sri Ram, the wife of Appeals Court Judge Sri Ram Gopal. The article, which appeared in the "Far Eastern Economic Review", also examined the apparent increase in litigation in Malaysia, noting that the suit by Chandra appeared to move through the judicial system with unusual speed. Chandra consequently brought a suit against Hiebert, alleging contempt of the Malaysian judicial system (see IFEX alerts). At the time, Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF) noted that it had been the first time since 1949 that a journalist in Malaysia had been sentenced to a jail term for contempt of court.

In October 1997, Hiebert had his request for the return of his passport refused pending an appeal of his conviction for contempt of court. Hiebert's conviction for contempt was based on his authorship of an article entitled "See You in Court" published in the "Far Eastern Economic Review", dated 23 January 1997. The court decided that the article read as a whole scandalised the court, was calculated to excite prejudice against the plaintiff and was designed to exert pressure on the court.

According to CJFE's information, scandalising the court is no longer a type of contempt in Britain and nobody has been jailed in Britain for scandalising the court since the year 1900.

In agreement with the defendant's wishes, CJFE is requesting that no appeals be sent at this time.

For previous information on the case, please refer to the CJFE protest letter of 8 September 1997 and the action alert of 5 September 1997.

The information contained in this alert update is the sole responsibility of CJFE. In citing this material for broadcast or publication, please credit CJFE.