LONDON: The founder of alternative news site Sarawak Report Clare Rewcastle Brown describes an arrest warrant put out for her as an "irrational" move on the Malaysian government's part, done entirely for "domestic consumption".
Malaysian police announced the arrest warrant on Tuesday (Aug 4), on the basis that Ms Brown is involved in "activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy" and for the dissemination of false reports which is an offence under the Malaysian penal code.
Ms Brown, the sister-in-law of former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said she does not think Malaysian authorities have a chance of extraditing her.
The Sarawak Report website was recently blocked in Malaysia, for posing a "threat to national stability", following reports that claimed Prime Minister Najib Razak had up to US$700 milllion deposited into his personal accounts from state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). A Special Task Force probe concluded that the money deposited in Mr Najib's accounts was from donations and not from 1MDB.
Below is Channel NewsAsia's interview with Ms Brown.
Q: What was your reaction to hearing of the arrest warrant?
Ms Brown: Somewhat surprised. It seems very irrational and counterproductive to issue these sorts of threats that can’t be carried through.
Q: Why do you say that they can’t be carried through?
Ms Brown: Well, because I don’t think that they would ever get this petition through a court in a normal democracy like the UK, which is where I am. They are trying to arrest me for some kind of action against democracy, which is ironic given that it is the Malaysian government which has been taking actions against democracy by silencing free media and closing down my blog and indeed several newspapers and arresting a number of people who have done nothing more than raise some perfectly valid issues.
I don’t think they have got a chance in hell of extraditing me from the UK.
Q: What is your response in terms of actions - will you be taking any actions in response to this warrant being issued? Will you need to talk to UK authorities? What do you do next?
Ms Brown: I’m besieged by media interviews at the moment, so I am going to be talking about Najib Razak on a very wide platform - so in a way, he could not have done anything more counter-productive than to provide me with that platform to discuss some of the issues that are causing considerable alarm at the moment in Malaysia.
I am just the latest victim in an extraordinary series of recent events in Malaysia - the Prime Minister sacked his deputy, sacked his Attorney-General, closed down the Public Accounts Committee; he has gone round arresting a whole lot of senior law enforcers investigating a very very concerning financial scandal in Malaysia and really everybody in Malaysia is asking: "Why?"
Well I am not sure if he is accusing me of forging documents or having criminally obtained documents, because obviously he can’t accuse me of both. I have been accused of both by him and his supporters but really they have to decide which they are going to charge me of, and Malaysians are left scratching their heads.
Q: The Special Task Force concluded that these monies transferred into the PM’s account were donations. What did you make of those conclusions?
A month on, and one might say several arrests, sacking and dismissals on, the Prime Minister has now finally had it announced through the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission that that was not anything to do with 1MDB money, which actually certainly I and I don’t know of any investigative reporters who said it was, he is saying that was just a donation, an anonymous donation and really Malaysians are asking: "Who donated and where did the money go? Is it correct that the Prime Minister should have been secretly donated US$700 million?"
Q: Do you recognise that it is easier for you to do this job here now than it would be in Malaysia?
Ms Brown: I have been accused of interfering in Malaysia and one of the reasons I have felt justified in concentrating on so many of the subjects around Malaysia that I have done is because so many Malaysian journalists and other Malaysians have said: "Thank goodness you’re able to print this because we can’t."
There is maybe an illusion that there is a free media in Malaysia. There is not a free media in Malaysia, and I think what you’re seeing at the moment - the closure of respected business publications who have also been covering this enormous scandal, missing billions from the public development fund, just shows how little freedom of the press there is in Malaysia so that is partially why I’m doing it.
Q: With this warrant having been issued, will you ever be able to go back to Malaysia?
Ms Brown: I’m sure as long as Najib Razak is Prime Minister, I would be ill-advised.
Q: And how does that make you feel?
Ms Brown: I’ll live. I’ll continue to write about Malaysian issues and I’ll continue to interest myself in these matters - but you know, there are plenty of people in Malaysia who are suffering far worse than me as a result of these undemocratic actions that have been taken by the government at the moment. There are people in jail, there are people who have been arrested and not given their rightful access to legal representation. I’m not going to start feeling sorry for myself that I’m not allowed to be there too.
Q: And to return to where we started on the warrant itself being issued - how do you believe that reflects on the government of Malaysia?
Ms Brown: I think it is going to show the government of Malaysia up as being perhaps not quite under control at the moment actually. It’s such an irrational action, the rest of the international community is going to ask what is it that I’ve done that is detrimental to democracy, that’s the charge I’m facing. It’s an Orwellian charge, it is not a crime that exists in real democratic countries.
I think the Prime Minister has given up worrying what the rest of the world thinks about this action. I think this is purely for domestic consumption. I have had a lot of Malaysians ring up and say: "Clare, are you scared?" And I say, "I’m not scared, this isn’t about intimidating me, this is about intimidating his own domestic population.