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Article

4 Jul 2022

Author:
Fiona Kelliher, Southeast Asia Globe

Malaysia: Sarawak leaders sued by Samling call on Timber Certification Council to safeguard against increasing SLAPPs in the Global South

"Company tries to SLAPP away Malaysian forest advocates", 4 July 2022

Things seemed to be looking up in May 2021 for 36 indigenous communities fighting logging concessions in Malaysia’s Sarawak state.

Subsidiaries of Samling Group, a Malaysian conglomerate, were certified to log forest areas across more than 2,500 square kilometres (965 square miles) in Sarawak, located on the island of Borneo. The Penan, Kenyah and Jamok communities native to the area argued the concessions were granted without their informed consent and lodged a complaint with the Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC)... A month later, Samling filed a defamation lawsuit in excess of $1 million against SAVE Rivers, a nonprofit organisation supporting the communities and publicising the conflict. Since then, community groups said, the lawsuit has effectively stalled the complaint.

The lawsuit fits a pattern becoming increasingly common in the Global South, according to advocates. Referred to as “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation” (SLAPP), the cases involve powerful corporate actors levying defamation or slander charges against communities, activists or journalists with far less resources...

In a letter to the MTCC, Sarawak leaders and support organisations declared the lawsuit to be a SLAPP and called on the council to safeguard against similar litigation...

SLAPPs, in the Global South ... have tended to be in the agriculture and mining industries...

Samling did not respond to a request for comment on the case. In the past, the company has denied the allegations...

Educating court systems to recognise SLAPPs helps shorten the litigation process and discourage other companies from filing them in the future. Countries also should strengthen legislation and enforcement of protections for free speech and public participation...

Explore our database of attacks on HRDs and SLAPPs