Swiss Court to hear Jamilah Taib’s lawsuit against BMF

(BASEL, SWITZERLAND) On Wednesday, Jamilah Taib Murray, daughter of Sarawak Governor Abdul Taib Mahmud, will face Swiss human rights and environment NGO, Bruno Manser Fonds (BMF), in the Civil Court of Basel-Stadt, Switzerland. Taib Murray, her husband Sean Murray, and her Canada-based real estate corporation Sakto Group have sued BMF and its director Lukas Straumann for defamation based on statements linking Taib Murray and her real estate investments to corruption related to the Sarawak logging industry. Sarawak is a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo. The defamation case has been classified as a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) by CASE, the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe. 

CASE defines a SLAPP as “an abusive lawsuit filed by a private party with the purpose of silencing critical speech.” A 2022 report by the Centre for Independent Journalism noted that SLAPPs are also “on the rise” in Malaysia and most targets of SLAPPs are activists and journalists, while most perpetrators are corporations and high-ranking public servants. Recently, the United Nations Special Rapporteurs for Human Rights Defenders and on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples expressed their concern that a lawsuit by timber giant Samling against Sarawak-based NGO SAVE Rivers may be classified as a SLAPP.

Last week, more than 70 organizations released an international solidarity declaration, including Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM), SAVE Rivers, and Penan NGO Keruan, calling on Taib Murray to withdraw her lawsuit. The suit calls for the deletion of 249 publications of BMF, and the injunction of any further statements connecting Taib Murray and her corporation to alleged wrongdoing. 

As the court hearing will call no witnesses, BMF will hold a Rainforest Tribunal the day before the trial, during which Indigenous activists and international experts will testify informally as witnesses to rainforest destruction in Sarawak. Borneo Project founder Joe Lamb will serve on the Jury. The event will be live-streamed.