Raub Australian Gold Mining Sdn. BHD v. Hue Shieh Lee (21 October 2016)
Malaysia Court of Appeal
Hue Shieh Lee is a resident of Bukit Koman and Vice President of a community organization formed to look after the health and welfare of residents impacted by a gold-processing facility operated by Raub Australian Gold Mining (Raub).
Raub filed a defamation claim against Hue Shieh Lee for statements she made about the company in two published news articles.
In the first article, Hue Shieh Lee commented on the results of a household survey conducted by her organization, which revealed that many residents reported incidents of skin and eye irritation (and other physical ailments) and noted strong cyanide odors from the time Raub began operation of its processing facility in 2009. Raub asserted these statements were defamatory because they suggested, among other things, that the company was allowing sodium cyanide to escape its facility, and that the company was directly responsible for causing health impacts to community members living near the facility. The Court of Appeal disagreed, stating that Hue Shieh Lee “was only stating a finding of the survey and expressing her concern for the health of the residents. By expressing her concern for the residents, she was only exercising her rights as an activist to bring the attention of the relevant authorities to allay the residents’ fear.” Para. 15. Although authorities investigated the health complaints and found nothing abnormal, the Court of Appeal nevertheless commended Hue Shieh Lee for doing her social duty. Id. The Court also called attention to the role of activist groups generally, noting “the existence of activists group[s] is very much a part of today’s society, so much so that it is undeniable that they have contributed much to the general well-being of the society at large. . . . We now live in a much more liberal society where the concept of transparency and accountability are very much part and parcel of our lives. Hence the freedom of speech entrenched in our Constitution must be construed in that context.” Para. 16.
In the second article identified by Raub as allegedly defamatory, statements were made concerning the company’s failure to employ more than a handful of community members at the gold processing facility. The Court of Appeal agreed with the lower court that Raub failed to prove publication of such statements. Para. 24. The Court also declared that the statements were not defamatory and Raub was simply putting words into the mouth of the defendant. Para. 26.
The Court also awarded costs to Hue Shieh Lee. Para. 28.