KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 5 — The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has appealed to the government to withdraw charges against a veteran journalist accused of causing public alarm over the ongoing Wuhan virus outbreak.

Its secretary-general Chin Sung Chew said taking court action against the media in a democratic country like Malaysia for expressing free speech will be perceived as a regression in the eyes of the public, as well as internationally.

“We have no objection if the authorities wanted to investigate in combating fake news, but journalists are bound by parameters of ethical journalism and the rule of law,” he said in a statement.

Chin said the NUJ executive council is deeply concerned with the indictment of Wan Noor Hayati Wan Alias, adding that she has the right as a journalist to voice her concerns publicly.

“This is due to the anxiety which was deeply felt and who are mainly not well-informed by the government over the situation of the coronavirus outbreak,” he said.

In a separate statement, NUJ interim president Farah Marshita Abd Pahat said the union will step forward to assist Wan Noor Hayati in paying her bail set at RM12,000.

However, she added that the union itself was short of funds and appealed to other journalists to donate to Wan Noor Hayati’s bail, noting that the latter is a single mother of one.

“We as journalists have an ingrained understanding that the freedom of speech we enjoy as Malaysians as well as the media are bound to parameters of ethical journalism and the rule of law.

“But every person charged is also deemed equal in the eyes of the law and Noor Hayati has the natural right to pursue her case and what she believes in Court,” she said.

Wan Noor Hayati, 41, is currently working under the New Straits Times Press Berhad and was earlier today charged at the Magistrate’s Court here under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code which handles statements conducing to public mischief, with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public.

She claimed trial to three separate postings on January 26, which included a supposedly offensive post aimed as a warning against 1,000 Chinese nationals who arrived in Penang amid the outbreak.

If found guilty, she can be punished with up to two years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both.