KUALA LUMPUR, April 24 — A group of lawyers and NGOs have demanded the Parliament today to review and abolish laws against scandalising the court, in light of yesterday’s conviction against fellow lawyer Arun Kasi for two of his articles.
In a press statement, the group argued that the offence of scandalising the court is an “antiquated” form of contempt and whether or not there was merit to the publication, the public must have freedom of expression without the threat of incarceration.
“By prosecuting and punishing Arun Kasi in this manner, the Attorney General and the Federal Court have unwittingly given Arun Kasi a wider audience than he would otherwise have had,” said the joint press statement.
“In fact, the offence of scandalising the court has been found to be incompatible with the freedom of speech in many jurisdictions such as England, Canada and the United States.
“Further, the attempt to defend the judiciary through this outmoded offence only provokes further ridicule from the public,” they added.
Arun Kasi was convicted of scandalising the court through two articles titled: “How a dissenting judgment sparked a major judicial crisis” and “Tommy Thomas must look into arbitration centre that sparked judicial crisis”.
The articles insinuated that the Federal Court Judges who heard the Leap Modulation case were corrupt, warranting an investigation by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).
Attorney General Tommy Thomas then initiated contempt proceedings against him in relation to the two articles, accusing it of lowering the court’s authorities in the eyes of the public.
The group consisting of organisations such as Bersih 2.0, Centre for Independent Journalism, Tenaganita, Suaram and individual lawyers Siti Kassim, Sukhindarpal Singh and Andrew Khoo among others added that misconducts and injustices had been exposed through freedom of speech.
“Public criticism and debate, though it may be rude or offensive or even incorrect, must be allowed to take place with freedom of speech as its cornerstone.
“An enforced silence through an offence of scandalising the court may foster discontent, suspicion and contempt among the public much more than it would enhance confidence in the judiciary,” said the statement.
They also claimed that the sentence of 30 days imprisonment and a fine of RM40,000 was also disproportionate to Arun’s offence as it does not endanger national security, public order or mroality.
The statement pointed out that if the judiciary already enjoys high public confidence, it can easily shrug of any criticisms, including unfounded ones.
“The irony is that more damage seems to have been caused by the Attorney General and the Federal Court by the conviction and sentence of Arun Kasi.
“In light of this, Parliament must now take necessary steps to review the common law on scandalising the court with a provisional view to abolish the same to prevent future incidents such as this,” said the statement.