On 13 January Malaysia’s Federal Court reserved judgment after hearing arguments in an unprecedented contempt of court case against online news portal Malaysiakini.com and its Editor-in-Chief Steven Gan for readers posting comments on the site. It is not known when the court will deliver its decision.
The prosecution is seeking a jail term for Mr Gan to accompany any financial penalty that the court may order. The case was fast-tracked to the highest court, the Federal Court of Malaysia, so there is no right of appeal.
The proceedings relate to comments posted on the site, in which readers criticised the acquittal of previous chief ministers and the effectiveness of the courts and judiciary. Malaysiakini removed the comments as soon as they were brought to their attention.
On 15 June, Attorney General Idrus Harun filed criminal contempt proceedings against Malaysiakini and Mr Gan. Ten days later, the Federal Court dismissed Malaysiakini’s application to set aside the order. The court made an order to parties not to comment on the case to avoid sub-judice.
The prosecution has been condemned by international freedom of expression groups, digital rights experts and former presidents of the Malaysian Bar.
Malaysiakini has been the country’s leading independent political news site for 20 years and played an important role covering the 2018 general election that ousted the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) government after 60 years in power. The prosecution of Malaysiakini follows a reorientation of the government back towards UMNO earlier this year.
- Reuters https://www.reuters.com/article/us-malaysia-media-court-idUSKCN24E0WW
- IFJ https://www.ifj.org/media-centre/news/detail/category/press-releases/article/malaysia-judgement-in-malaysiakini-case-deferred.html
- New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/12/business/media/freedom-digital-news-sites-autocrats.html
- Article 19 https://www.article19.org/resources/malaysia-malaysiakini-should-not-be-liable-for-users-comments/
- Malay Mail https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2020/07/02/media-groups-contempt-case-against-malaysiakini-a-form-of-intimidation-to-i/1880787
- Malaysiakini https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/532703
- IFJ https://www.ifj.org/media-centre/news/detail/category/press-releases/article/malaysia-malaysiakini-contempt-case-will-set-a-dangerous-precedent-for-democracy.html
Condemnation of prosecution
- HRW https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/07/08/malaysia-stop-treating-criticism-crime
- WAN-IFRA https://www.wan-ifra.org/articles/2020/07/07/worlds-press-condemns-contempt-of-court-charges-against-malaysiakini
- Mozilla https://blog.mozilla.org/netpolicy/2020/07/08/criminal-proceedings-against-malaysiakini-will-harm-free-expression-in-malaysia/
- CPJ https://cpj.org/2020/07/malaysian-editor-steven-gan-charged-with-contempt-of-court-over-reader-comments/
- RSF https://rsf.org/en/news/website-accused-contempt-another-sign-decline-malaysia
- IPI https://ipi.media/malaysiakini-should-not-be-held-liable-for-user-comments/
Malaysiakini’s role in 2018 election