Malaysiakini discovered responsible, fined, over readers’ feedback | Censorship Information
The online newspaper with the highest court regulations in the country takes full responsibility for its website and fines it with a fine of $ 124,000 for publication.
The Malaysian Supreme Court on Friday found Malaysiakini, the country’s most popular online newspaper, guilty of contempt for the court’s disdain for comments from readers deemed offensive to the judiciary on media freedom in the Southeast Asian nation.
Last year, Malaysiakini’s Attorney General took action against Malaysiakini and Chief Editor Steven Gan over five comments posted by readers on its website that undermine public confidence in the judiciary.
In a six-to-one ruling on Friday, the federal court ruled that Malaysiakini was fully responsible for its website, including any comments from readers. They said the case was a “reminder” to the public not to use online commentary to attack the judiciary and that the fine reflected the gravity of the crime.
“The statements that were challenged had gone far … the content was false and objectionable, and the content contained allegations of corruption that were not proven and untrue,” said Judge Rohana Yusuf, chairwoman of the jury.
Gan, who was found not guilty, said he was disappointed with the decision.
“What crime has Malaysiakini committed that we are forced to pay 500,000 ringgit when there are individuals accused of abuse of power for millions and billions running free,” he said.
The English-language online newspaper messed up the country’s tightly controlled media landscape when it launched in 1999, taking advantage of the freedom of the internet that then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had promised not to censor. His fearless reporting quickly built an audience and attracted government attention and was subjected to regular police raids.
Amnesty International Malaysia said it was “deeply alarmed” by the court’s decision to convict and punish Malaysiakini.
“The conviction and fine is a serious blow to freedom of expression in the country,” said Katrina Jorene Maliamauv, executive director of Amnesty International Malaysia, in a statement. “The use of the contempt of court law to censor online debates and silence independent media is another example of the shrinking space in which people in the country can express themselves freely.”
Malaysia’s Supreme Court ruled that Malaysiakini is responsible for the readers’ comments that appear on its website and fined the online newspaper 500,000 ringgits. It launched a crowdfunding campaign to pay [File: John Geddie/Reuters]Malaysiakini has until February 24 to pay the fine, which was more than double the amount requested by prosecutors. The publication immediately started a fundraiser.
“We hope the Malaysians will contribute to our fund,” said Gan. “The openness to critical views is a sign of a strong and healthy institution. For 21 years, Malaysiakini has relied on the generosity of the public to continue its mission. We call on the Malaysians again to help us. “
Concerns about media freedom
The Malaysian Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ), which has been following the case, said it was with Malaysiakini.
CIJ “strongly condemns efforts by the state to intimidate and threaten the freedom and independence of the media,” it said on Twitter.
Malaysiakini is unlikely to be able to appeal the decision as the case has been tried in the Malaysian Supreme Court.
Malaysiakini and Gan argued they could not be held responsible for the offensive comments, which were removed immediately after being contacted by police.
The UK and Canada said they were concerned about the ruling.
“Freedom of the media is fundamental to the security, prosperity and well-being of all societies,” said British High Commissioner Charles Hay and Canadian High Commissioner Esther Van Nes in a joint statement. “People must be able to freely discuss and debate topics.”
In January, Gan said reporters should not “give up” on what he called “harassment” the government of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who took office almost a year ago after a government-initiated takeover within the ruling coalition and a political realignment that brought the once dominant United Malays National Organization (UMNO) back into government.
Malaysia has moved up the World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders in recent years, but the country is only rated “partially free” by the US nonprofit Freedom House.
Earlier this month, the government suspended parliament in a “state of emergency” that will last until August, blaming the coronavirus pandemic.