Malaysia: Bersih and three others withdraw defamation suit after NST apology

The New Straits Times today apologised to electoral reforms coalition Bersih 2.0, human rights watchdog Suaram, the Centre for Independent Journalism and the Merdeka Centre over the publication of a report about them in September last year.

The four non-governmental organisations had sued the newspaper for defamation as the report linked them to an alleged plot to destabilise the government.

The NGOs agreed to withdraw the suit following the apology by NST, which was read out in court.

The paper also agreed to reproduce the apology in its pages and pick up the legal costs of the lawsuit.

Suaram denied the claim that the organisations were involved in destabilising or overthrowing the government “through any means or to disrupt the national economy”.

“Our struggle has and continues to be about the struggle of the Malaysian people in bringing about real political change through clean, free and fair elections, transparency and accountability. Today’s settlement with the NST is a vindication of our position and a victory for the Malaysian people,” the group said.

It said one of the fundamental features of the four NGOs has always been to support the Federal Constitution, by honouring the spirit of its provisions.

Suaram however warned that the fight would not be over until the changes which they were struggling for were fully implemented.

The NST report, published on its front page on September 21, 2012, accused Suaram as a tool for foreign hands to destabilise the government, and alleged that the US-based National Endowment for Democracy funnelled up to US$20 million (RM66 million) in funds.

The report headlined “Plot to destabilise govt”, alleged that the US$20 million had been distributed among Suaram, Lawyers for Liberty, the Centre for Independent Journalism and the Merdeka Centre.

However, the daily did not specify how the NGOs planned to overthrow the Barisan Nasional-led government with the donated funds, and also failed to substantiate how the NED wished to destabilise the government.