Use of SLAPP against women human rights defenders in M’sia condemned

SOME 25 groups, organisations and trade unions stood up against the use of strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) on two Malaysian activists, namely Malaysian Natural Resources Protection Organisation president Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil and journalist Lalitha Kunaratnam.

Shariffa Sabrina who spoke about logging activities, environment impact assessment (EIA) and the protection of forests, recently received a legal notice which claimed that her statements had subjected the Pahang state government to public criticism and damage of its reputation.

As such, the Pahang state government has reportedly issued a letter of demand, seeking an apology and RM1 mil in damages from Shariffa Sabrina for allegedly making slanderous statements on logging activities in the state.

She was asked to issue an unconditional apology to the state government through all sharing platforms, including Facebook and Instagram. Should she fail to heed the notice within 14 days of receiving the letter, the state government would file a claim with the courts without referring to her as well as seek other damages.

“Governments, including state governments and their ministries, agencies and officers, more so in a democratic state, should never threaten or commence legal suits against people who raise or highlight objections and/or concerns about issues of human rights, justice and/or the environment,” the group of 25 pointed out in a joint statement.

“If the stated statements/views are incorrect, then a democratic state must simply take the necessary steps to clarify the misunderstanding by the presentation of material facts that sometimes may only be easily accessible to state governments.”

Meanwhile, Lalitha was sued by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) chief commissioner Tan Sri Azam Baki for RM10 mil for her two-part investigative story entitled “Business Ties among MACC Leadership: How Deep Does It Go?” which were published in October 2021 by the Independent News Service.

Both articles, which are still available online, allegedly exposed possible conflicts of interest and wrongdoings of anti-corruption officers within the graft buster agency.

Against such backdrop, the group of 25 makes the following call:

  • For Malaysia to do the needful to immediately end the harassment against women human rights defenders Shariffa Sabrina and Lalitha Kunaratnam, one by a state government, and the other by a public officer and the MACC;
  • For Malaysia to abolish the use of SLAPPs against human rights defenders which also includes the media;
  • For Malaysia to respect and protect all human rights defenders and also the freedom of public participation, freedom of expression/opinion and freedom of peaceful assembly; and
  • For the Government to enact needed laws that will prevent state and/or its public officers from retaliating ever again against human rights defenders and/or whistleblowers. – Feb 14, 2022


Editor’s note: The group of 25 non-governmental organisations (NGOs), organisations and trade unions comprised ALIRAN; All Women’s Action Society (AWAM); MADPET (Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture); Black Women for Wages For Housework; Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC); Citizens Against Enforced Disappearances (CAGED); Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP); Haiti Action Committee; KRYSS Network; Network of Action for Migrants in Malaysia (NAMM); North South Initiative; Payday Men’s Network (UK/US); Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM); Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (SADIA); Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM); Teoh Beng Hock Trust for Democracy; The William Gomes Podcast (UK); Womens Criminal Justice Network; Workers Hub For Change (WH4C); Women of Color/Global Women’s Strike; Workers Assistance Center Inc (The Philippines); Persatuan Komuniti Prihatin Selangor dan Kuala Lumpur; SUARAM; Greenpeace Malaysia; and Japan Innocence and Death Penalty Information Centre.

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