Malaysia: Plaintiff withdraws SLAPP against human rights lawyer Charles Hector | Welcome Developments

On 14 April 2021, LRWC welcomed news that two corporations withdrew contempt of court charges they had filed against Malaysian human rights lawyer Charles Hector and eight environmental rights defenders represented by Mr. Hector. Two logging contractors, Beijing Million SDN BHD and Rosah Timber Trading SDN BHD, had brought application to begin contempt of court proceedings against Mr. Hector and his clients, the eight defendants in the case.

For years the environmental defenders have been protesting plans to log a Forest Reserve in the vicinity of their community. They were concerned about negative impacts of logging on community livelihoods and on the environment.

In November 2020 the logging corporations obtained an ex parte interlocutory injunction to prevent the defendants from accessing a contested 202.61-hectare area in the Forest Reserve. The defendants’ lawyer, Charles Hector, has been preparing for a full trial of the injunction application. In preparation for the trial, Mr. Hector wrote a letter to a Forestry Officer to seek clarification of relevant correspondence. The corporations learned about the letter and claimed that by writing to the official Mr. Hector and the eight defendants had violated the ex parte interlocutory injunction, which prohibited the defendants, “their agents, representatives, servants and/or any party connected with them” from “1.4 Interfering with department or approval given to the Plaintiffs on 15 September 2019 by the District Forest Office… 1.5 Cause nuisance to the work of the Plaintiffs in any manner whatsoever including physically, online or by communication with the authorities…” (underline added). The corporations engaged in Strategic Litigation against Public Participation (SLAPP), manipulating the overbroad wording of this order in an illegitimate attempt to interfere with the defendants’ legitimate pursuit of a court remedy to challenge the validity of the interlocutory injunction.

On 24 March 2021, LRWC wrote a letter to authorities in Malaysia expressing concern that the contempt proceedings appeared to be a spurious attempt by the corporations to obstruct the court’s determination of the defendants’ rights, including their right to legal representation by Mr. Hector. LRWC was among dozens of human rights organizations advocating for Mr. Hector in this matter.