Court reverses three-month ban on The Edge

Asmabi ruled that the Home Ministry acted irrationally and illegally by issuing the suspension order. — File pic
Asmabi ruled that the Home Ministry acted irrationally and illegally by issuing the suspension order. — File pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 21 — The Edge Communications Sdn Bhd today successfully contested Putrajaya’s three-month suspension of its two publications, after the High Court here quashed the Home Ministry order issued over reports on 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

High Court Judge Datuk Asmabi Mohamad ruled that the Home Ministry acted irrationally and illegally by issuing the suspension order, also ruling that the latter had breached procedural fairness when issuing a show-cause letter.

Asmabi ruled that the ministry's suspension order be quashed and said damages will be awarded to The Edge after assessment.

"The conclusion, on totality of evidence before the court and relevant law and as discussed earlier, I am satisfied that the decision of the respondent in this case had suffered or is tainted with illegality," she said when delivering her decision at the Kuala Lumpur High Court.

Asmabi said the Home Ministry's suspension was made ultra vires or beyond the powers granted under Section 7(1) of the Printing Presses Publications Act (PPPA).

Asmabi had listed down the facts of the case, highlighting that the Home Ministry had issued a show-cause letter on June 29 to the publisher and made a "blanket allegation" without specifying the articles that were alleged to be undesirable publications.

She pointed out that The Edge was put in a "difficult position" as it had published 300 articles since 2009 on 1MDB and could not give a specific response to the general claim in the show-cause letter, noting that the ministry failed to respond to the publisher's request to specify the articles.

"Bearing in mind that what is being affected here is quite a large thing such as revenue, livelihood of personnel under the applicant, the respondents should have been more careful in preparing a show-cause letter in a better manner to notify the applicant which are the relevant articles said to be undesirable or had infringed provisions or guidelines," the judge said, later saying that natural justice was breached as The Edge was not given an opportunity to be heard in relation to Section 7(1).

Asmabi pointed out that the relevant guidelines and Section 7(1) was not mentioned in the show-cause letter, but that the ministry had used this provision to issue the suspension order against The Edge by claiming the latter had violated Section 7(1) and had published undesirable publications.

She said that Section 7(1) only grants powers to the Home Minister to gazette orders against publications, and is not an offence provision that allows action to be taken against The Edge when no gazette was made in this case.

Among other things, Asmabi said that Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was himself "in doubt" on whether The Edge had published its articles by relying on allegedly unverified information on online news portals, especially Sarawak Report.

Asmabi noted the July 23 notice to the suspension order was issued just a day after the Home Ministry gave a three-hour notice for a meeting lasting 30 minutes with The Edge's representative, where the ministry's officials asked the publisher for the source of its articles.

Before delivering her decision, Asmabi had said: "The decision is also made solely based on facts presented before me unaffected by any surrounding circumstances around 1MDB."

Asmabi ordered costs of RM15,000 to be paid to The Edge Communications, who was represented by its lead counsel Darryl Goon today.

Alice Loke, the lead counsel acting for the Home Minister and the Home Ministry's secretary-general, told Malay Mail Online that she will have to seek instructions on whether an appeal will be filed.

The Home Ministry had in July suspended the printing permits of The Edge Financial Daily and The Edge Weekly for three months over their reports on 1MDB.

The three-month printing suspension was set to end on October 27.

The suspension order came three weeks after Home Minister Ahmad Zahid announced on July 1 that a show-cause letter had been issued to The Edge for publishing what the government deemed to be unverified news on debt-laden 1MDB.

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