Groups call for timber company to withdraw suit against Save Rivers

Desmond Davidson

Timber company Samling is seeking RM5 million in damages from nature group Save Rivers, saying its business was harmed by the group's allegedly defamatory remarks. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, April 18, 2023.

PROMINENT environment groups are among 160 global civil society organisations that sent a letter of solidarity to timber company Samling, demanding it withdraw its suit against Sarawak green pact Save Rivers.

The groups, including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Rainforest Action Network, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Netherlands, sent the letter yesterday as it marks one month before the May 15 trial begins at the Miri High Court.

Samling is suing Save Rivers and four of its leaders for allegedly defamatory statements linked to consultations with local communities over a certification process under the Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme MTCS, endorsed by PEFC International.

Samling is seeking an apology, an injunction to stop Save Rivers from reporting community claims, and RM5 million in damages.

That amount, the Switzerland-based Bruno Manser Funds (BMF) said, is 45 times Save Rivers’ annual budget.

In an earlier court filing, Samling said its business was harmed by web posts in which Save Rivers alleges the company failed to properly secure free, prior and informed consent of indigenous communities in and around forest concessions.

To add further bite to its drive to pressure the timber company, an international email petition was launched to collect signatures.

“Organisations that signed on to the solidarity letter included many international leaders on climate justice and the environment,” BMF said.

“They included prominent national human rights and conservation organisations such as Suaram, RimbaWatch, Freedom Film Network and Teoh Beng Hock Trust for Democracy.”

BMF said the Gerenai Community Rights Action Committee united communities within Samling’s Gerenai forest management unit and sent a separate letter of solidarity.

“The letter recognises that most of the allegedly impugned articles Samling deems defamatory were the result of (Save Rivers’) pursuit for inclusivity, due information, and clarity.”

BMF, which issued the joint statement, said the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre have recognised this suit may be classified as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (Slapp).

Save Rivers’ counsel, Simon Siah, said the group’s defence will be that Samling’s suit is a Slapp.

A Slapp is “regularly used around the world to silence and bankrupt civil society organisations”, said The Borneo Project executive director Jettie Word. 

“This show of support from around the world demonstrates Sarawak civil society is not alone in this struggle,” he said. – April 18, 2023.

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