Federal Court postpones verdict on Malaysiakini’s contempt of court case due to MCO

A general view of the Federal Court in Putrajaya December 14, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
A general view of the Federal Court in Putrajaya December 14, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 14 — The Federal Court has postponed its scheduled decision on a contempt of court charge against news portal Malaysiakini over its readers’ comments, allegedly in contempt of the judiciary.

The news portal reported its counsel Surendra Ananth confirming the matter, adding that it was due to the recently announced movement control order (MCO) which came into effect yesterday.

The decision has been postponed to a later date, yet to be fixed. The decision was initially due tomorrow.

“The decision has been adjourned to a date to be announced,” Surendra reportedly said.

Previously the nation's top court was to have announced the decision on November 10. However, this was postponed owing to the extension of the conditional movement control order (CMCO).

The case was presided over by a seven-member panel led by Court of Appeal president Tan Sri Rohana Yusuf.

In July, Rohana ruled that there was prima facie evidence to proceed.  

On June 16, Attorney General Tan Sri Idrus Harun was reported to have filed an application dated June 15 to initiate the contempt of court proceedings against Mkini Dot Com Sdn Bhd and Malaysiakini’s “Ketua Editor”, over five comments left by its readers on the news portal’s comment section under a June 9 news report titled “CJ orders all courts to be fully operational from July 1”.

Malaysiakini previously said, however, it removed the comments within 12 minutes after it was alerted to these on June 12.

In court papers, the attorney general said that the readers’ comments contained words which Malaysiakini and its “Ketua Editor” should have known were an insult to the judiciary in general and to the chief justice specifically, threatened public confidence towards the judiciary, insulted and tarnished the dignity and integrity of the judiciary.

In his affidavit, the attorney general claimed that the readers’ comments allegedly carried the meaning that the judiciary had “committed wrongdoings, is involved in corruption, does not uphold justice and compromised its integrity”.

The attorney general claimed that Malaysiakini was considered to have published the comments by facilitating their publication, arguing that this amounted to contempt of court due to the comments’ content and meaning, as well as the comments exceeding the limits of making sincere criticism and allegedly being a demeaning and unwarranted attack on the judiciary.

On June 17, the Federal Court granted leave to the attorney general to start the contempt of court proceedings against Malaysiakini and its chief editor.

Contempt of court can be punished by imprisonment or fine or both, with Malaysiakini having previously noted that there were no legal limits to the imprisonment period or the amount of the fine.

Malaysiakini and its editor-in-chief Steven Gan were represented by lawyers Surendra Ananth, Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, Khoo Suk Chyi, while the attorney-general was represented by senior federal counsels Suzana Atan and S. Narkunavathy.

Malaysiakini said this is the first time it was charged with the offence since it began operating.

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