(BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA) Next week, Swiss human rights and environmental NGO, Bruno Manser Fonds (BMF), will face a powerful Malaysian heiress in a defamation lawsuit. Jamilah Taib Murray, daughter of the Governor of Sarawak, Malaysia, her husband Sean Murray, and her corporation Sakto Group, are suing BMF in the Civil Court of Basel-Stadt, Switzerland for their advocacy against corruption. Yesterday, 75 organizations have sent a letter of solidarity to the Sakto Group and their Swiss lawyers, Vischer, asking them to withdraw the suit.
The Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE) has identified the suit as a Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation (SLAPP). SLAPPs are abusive lawsuits designed to silence NGOs, journalists, and other advocates. They drive defendants to financial ruin with costly legal fees. SLAPPs exploit the fundamental power imbalance between wealthy individuals or corporations and grassroots activists. The letter condemns the Taib-Murrays and Sakto Group for filing the lawsuit, and the Vischer law firm for having agreed to represent the case.
The SLAPP against BMF is highly relevant in the Malaysian context, where much of their advocacy work takes place. The Malaysian Centre for Independent Journalism wrote in their latest analysis that "SLAPP is on the rise in Malaysia,” particularly related to environment and corruption issues, and that activists and journalists are the biggest targets.
While some U.S. states have long known anti-SLAPP legislation and the EU has proposed legislation in April 2022, Switzerland lacks such legislation, which makes Swiss NGOs prone to silencing attempts by corporations. The defamation case by the Taib-Murrays against BMF will be heard on August 16th in the Basel Civil Court, the day after the organization plans to call its own witnesses in a “Rainforest Tribunal”.
(Press Release of The Borneo Project, 10 August 2023)