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Western journalist released from Malaysian jail

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    NMU         MALAYSIA         Press at Home & Abroad         Oct 14, 1999    

Western journalist released from Malaysian jail

  • The Malaysian bureau chief for a Dow Jones publication recently was released from prison, after serving a month for contempt of court.

Murray Hiebert, the Malaysian bureau chief for Far Eastern Economic Review, walked out of jail on the morning of Oct. 11, after serving a month for contempt of court.

“I have rediscovered freedom,” Hiebert told Reuters in a telephone call from Hong Kong, where he stayed on Tuesday after spending the day in Kuala Lumpur.

“I still think freedom is marvelous. I believed in freedom of the press before. I believe in it even more strongly now.”

Hiebert, 50, is set to arrive in Washington, D.C. on Friday for a reunion with his family. He begins his new assignment as Washington bureau chief the following week, said Dow Jones Inc. spokesman Dick Tofel.

Hiebert told a Dow Jones reporter that his imprisonment taught him several lessons about “the absolute value of freedom and the preciousness of the right to speak freely.”

“Initially, I was scared out of my wits, racing through town in a prison van with no idea of what would happen or what people were going to do to me,” he told the reporter in a story that appears on The Pouch, the Dow Jones internal web site.

“But I found my fellow prisoners very friendly and the guards treated me with as much dignity and respect as they could treat a prisoner.”

The Canadian-born journalist was convicted on contempt charges in 1997 after writing a story about the increasing number of lawsuits filed in Malaysia. The story highlighted a civil lawsuit filed against the International School. The suit, which sought $2.4 million, was filed by the wife of a popular appeals court judge on behalf of the couple’s 17-year-old son and alleged that the school unfairly dropped the son from the school’s debate team.

The judges complained that Hiebert’s article, which included a quote from an attorney questioning the speed at which the case had moved through the system, “scandalized” the court by insinuating that the it had “fast tracked” the case.

Saying they were tired of media attacks on the judiciary, the judges made an example of Hiebert, who was the first journalist to have served time in prison in the history of the Commonwealth.

Hiebert initially was sentenced to three months in jail, but in mid-September, an appeals court reduced Hiebert’s sentence to six weeks. He was released early for good behavior.

The case attracted international attention, but court officials rejected appeals from President Bill Clinton and the Canadian government to release Hiebert.

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© 1999 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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