Malaysia: Court hears contempt case against Malaysiakini and Steven Gan

Contempt proceedings against Malaysiakini, a leading Malaysian independent media outlet, and its editor-in-chief Steven Gan will be heard today at the Federal Court in Putrajaya. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) says the contempt of court case sets a dangerous precedent and urges authorities not to undermine press freedom.

Steven Gan. Credit: Malaysiakini

Attorney-General Idrus Harun initiated contempt proceedings against Malaysiakini and Gan on June 16 over several readers’ comments. Harun said the accused had facilitated the publication of readers' comments, which were “demeaning attacks” on the judiciary. The five allegedly offending comments appeared in a June 9 article, 'CJ orders all courts to be fully operational from July 1'.

At today’s proceedings, the Federal Court is expected to hear an application filed by Malaysiakini to set aside the court ruling granting leave to the attorney-general to commence contempt proceedings against the online news portal. If this application is denied, then the court will hear the contempt case and a sentence may be handed down later in the day.

The offending reader comments were removed by Malaysiakini once the editors were made aware of them. Gan rightly points out that the case will have a disturbing and lasting impact, not just on Malaysiakini but also on other media organisations, tech companies and millions of Malaysians who use social media.

Malaysiakini is an IFJ and National Union of Journalists Malaysia (NUJM) project partner on a major European Union-funded Malaysian media reform project, Strengthening Malaysia’s Media for Change. The IFJ is one of a number of media rights organisations watching the hearing, with Malaysian lawyer New Sin Yew acting as the IFJ’s independent observer. Malaysiakini is represented by lawyers Malik Imtiaz Sarwar and Surendra Ananth.

The IFJ said: “The IFJ is deeply disappointed by the contempt case against Malaysiakini and Steven Gan over readers’ comments published on the online news website. Malaysiakini promptly removed the offending comments once it was brought to their attention in an entirely reasonable and proportionate response and the news outlet should not be penalised. The Federal Court proceedings will set a dangerous precedent stifling press freedom if the case is not set aside.” 

Update on July 2, 2020: The court dismissed Malaysiakini's application to set aside the order granting leave to commence contempt proceedings. On July 13, the court will hear the substantive arguments in the contempt case against Malaysiakini

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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