UN Special Rapporteur reprimands Switzerland over Malaysian lawsuit against Bruno Manser Fonds

UN Special Rapporteur on Environmental Defenders Michel Forst criticises Switzerland for not protecting NGO Bruno Manser Fonds from a lawsuit by Sarawak Governor Taib Mahmud's daughter.

(Geneva, Switzerland) The UN Special Rapporteur on Environmental Defenders Michel Forst expressed his deep concern about the legal harassment of Basel-based environmental NGO Bruno Manser Fonds and its director. In 2018, Jamilah Taib Murray, the daughter of a high-ranking Malaysian politician, and her Canadian real estate company Sakto filed a mammoth lawsuit against BMF for defamation: «I express my grave concern at the apparent use of court proceedings, the lodging of criminal complaints and the PR campaign by Sakto, and its Swiss-based agents, to silence Bruno Manser Fonds and Dr. Straumann and prevent them from exercising their rights under the Aarhus Convention.»

Mr. Forst contacted Switzerland in August and asked it to comment on its protective measures against abusive SLAPPs (Strategic lawsuits against public participation). SLAPPs aim to silence unwelcome criticism by using massive financial and legal means. The Aarhus Convention is a European environmental convention. As a signatory state, Switzerland is obliged to protect environmentalists from unjustified persecution, punishment and harassment, but currently does not have legal protection measures in place. The lawsuit against BMF was classified as a SLAPP by CASE, the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe earlier this year.

Specifically, the UN Special Rapporteur expressed the fear that Switzerland could violate its obligations under Article 3(8) of the Aarhus Convention if the Swiss court in Basel does not immediately dismiss the pending civil action brought by Jamilah Taib Murray and Sakto against the Bruno Manser Fonds and its director Lukas Straumann.

Mr. Forst called on the Government of Switzerland to «take great care that nothing is done that could put Dr. Straumann and Bruno Manser Fonds at risk of further persecution, penalization or harassment»

The Government of Switzerland has so far left the UN Special Rapporteur's request unanswered, but announced that they would answer it soon.

Letter from UN Special Rapporteur Michel Forst to Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis dated 8 August 2023.

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