Malaysian media outlet Malaysiakini and its editor-in-chief Steven Gan are facing a contempt of court charge over comments left by readers on one of its articles.
The charge was filed by Malaysian Attorney-General Tan Sri Idrus Harun and has received consent from the Federal Court bench, New Strait Times reported.
Idrus initiated the contempt proceedings over five readers’ comments to an article titled “CJ orders all courts to be fully operational from July 1”, published by Malaysiakini on June 8.
He alleged that the comments had “clearly meant that the judiciary committed wrongdoings, is involved in corruption, does not uphold justice and compromised its integrity.”
“These comments threaten public confidence in the judiciary and are clearly aimed at tarnishing the administration of justice by the judiciary,” Idrus said as quoted by Malaysia Today.
Senior federal counsel Alice Loke Yee Ching, who appeared for Idrus, said Malaysiakini had allowed the “derisive” and “embarrassing” comments to be posted on the comment section of its site.
Loke argued that, according to Section 114A of the Malaysian Evidence Act, a person who facilitates to publish or republish the publication is presumed to have published or re-published the contents.
“I am mortified to even read the statements. It is embarrassing and there is only one conclusion to it which is derisive, an indirect attack to the Chief Justice, judge and the judiciary as a whole and it would result in eroding public confidence in the judiciary.” Loke said as quoted by New Strait Times.
“The statements are also very personal, scurrilous, an unwarranted attack and embarrasses the judiciary that exposes the judiciary to public scandal and contempt,” she said, adding that it was irrelevant for the respondents to say they had no intention or lack knowledge on that matter.
After the incident, Malaysiakini has disabled the comment sections on its site.
Steven Gan said that the case was currently being investigated under the Communications and Multimedia Act of 1998 as well as the Penal Code.
The hearing for the case is set to take place on July 2.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has condemned the Federal Court decision.
“IFJ condemns the filing of application by the Attorney General to bring the case to the court and the decision of the Federal Court. IFJ urges authorities to drop the case and respect press freedom and freedom of speech,” IFJ said in a statement.