KUALA LUMPUR, March 1 — Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin filed a defamation lawsuit today against Umno supreme council member Datuk Mohd Puad Zarkashi, seeking compensation and an apology over a Facebook post.
Along with the lawsuit filed at the High Court here this morning, Muhyiddin’s lawyers also today filed a certificate of urgency for an ex-parte application for an interim injunction or temporary injunction to stop Puad from publishing the alleged defamatory Facebook post or contents similar to the Facebook post.
Rosli Dahlan, one of Muhyiddin’s lawyers, told Malay Mail that High Court judge Datuk Seri Mohd Firuz Jaffril granted the interim injunction against Puad, with this court order to be in place until the court decides the application with both parties present.
“The grounds of the application have all been fulfilled and the affidavits show all the facts. The court is satisfied that the defendant must be restrained until the final disposal of the inter-parte hearing,” Rosli said when explaining the reasons for the High Court’s granting of the temporary injunction against Puad.
The other lawyers who represented Muhyiddin in the court hearing this afternoon for the interim injunction through the ex-parte application were Datuk DP Naban and Louis Liaw.
In Muhyiddin’s ex-parte application for the interim injunction against Puad sighted by Malay Mail, he sought for the High Court to order for the temporary injunction to stop Puad or his associates and representatives from publishing, posting, sharing or resharing the alleged defamatory Facebook post or similar and related statements to the Facebook post’s contents.
In the ex-parte interim injunction application, Muhyiddin had asked the court to state that it is “contempt of court” for anyone who breaches or causes the breaching of the injunction despite knowing of such an injunction, and that an inter-parte hearing of the interim injunction be heard within 14 days from the granting of the ex-parte interim injunction.
In arguing why the interim injunction application should be allowed, Muhyiddin’s lawyers said in the written application that there was urgency in the matter as Puad’s Facebook post and the alleged defamatory statements would continue to hurt Muhyiddin’s reputation until they are removed, having noted that the Facebook post was widely read and was reported by news agencies.
Muhyiddin’s lawyers also said Puad’s alleged defamatory Facebook post can be accessed by internet users globally, with over 1,200 reactions, 215 comments and 182 shares on Facebook to the posting by the time this lawsuit was filed.
Among other things, Muhyiddin’s lawyers argued that the damage to Muhyiddin’s reputation — while waiting for the defamation lawsuit to be heard and decided on — cannot be adequately compensated even if Muhyiddin eventually wins the lawsuit, if such an interim injunction is not given.
Muhyiddin’s lawyers also said that there is a real risk that Puad would continue to share the alleged defamatory Facebook post or similar remarks unless there is an interim injunction, and that it was necessary to file the application first as an ex-parte matter instead of inter-parte where Puad would be notified of the interim injunction bid as there is a “real risk” that Puad would “sensationalise” the matter to cause the Facebook post to be shared further by himself, his associates or the public.
Arguing that there are serious issues to be heard by the High Court including whether the Facebook post is defamatory, Muhyiddin’s lawyers also said the interim injunction is necessary to preserve the status quo, namely his reputation before the Facebook post was posted by Puad.
The defamation lawsuit
The defamation lawsuit filed by Muhyiddin today is over Puad’s February 9 posting titled “Kuarantin Pun Ada Dua Darjat” on his Facebook page “DrPuad Zarkashi”, with Muhyiddin’s lawyers saying that the Facebook post and its contents are untrue and baseless.
While Muhyiddin is the prime minister of Malaysia, his lawyers made it clear in the court papers that he had filed the defamation lawsuit in his “personal capacity as a private citizen”.
In Muhyiddin’s statement of claim that was filed in court today and sighted by Malay Mail, his lawyers said Puad’s Facebook post had carried the meaning that Muhyiddin and his delegation had allegedly refused to be quarantined for 10 days upon their return from an official visit to Indonesia and that this was purportedly why the health minister had issued a new order that the Cabinet could be quarantined for only three days after official overseas visits, and that the Cabinet was allegedly given preferential treatment and that Muhyiddin had purportedly abused his power for a shorter quarantine period for the Cabinet, among other things.
Muhyiddin’s lawyers said, however, that all such allegations in Puad’s Facebook post are false, noting that Muhyiddin had returned from Indonesia on February 5, 2021, while the health minister’s exemption order only applies to Cabinet members from February 9, 2021 to August 1, 2021, and that the health minister had in a February 10, 2021 interview with local daily The Star clarified that the exemption order or fast-track quarantine process was a Cabinet decision to enable Cabinet ministers to travel overseas to address Malaysia’s investment woes.
“Therefore, it is not a blanket, arbitrary, and/or discriminatory exemption that has a wide application as the defendant misrepresents it to be,” Muhyiddin’s lawyers said.
Also in the same court document, Muhyiddin’s lawyers provided a chronology of events, including how the Foreign Ministry had issued a press statement on February 3 regarding his brief official visit from February 4 to February 5 to last less than 24 hours and of the mandatory quarantine upon the Malaysian delegation upon their return.
His lawyers said Health Director-General Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah had on February 4 issued a letter prior to the official visit to inform Muhyiddin that he would be quarantined at home for seven days upon return with a surveillance bracelet or wristband, adding that Muhyiddin was given a swab test at the airport in Subang Jaya immediately upon return to Malaysia on February 5.
Muhyiddin’s lawyers also said that an officer from the Health Ministry had at that time told Muhyiddin that he did not need to be quarantined or to wear the surveillance bracelet in deference to his position as prime minister, but said Muhyiddin had chose to wear the surveillance bracelet in line with the health director-general’s letter and as he saw that all members of his delegation were also fitted with the wristband.
According to Muhyiddin’s lawyers, the Health Ministry officer then suggested that Muhyiddin would only need to be quarantined for three days if he wished to undergo quarantine, and that Muhyiddin had disagreed and asked to undergo quarantine for seven days like the rest of his delegation and in line with the director-general’s letter.
Muhyiddin’s lawyers said he was then fitted with the wristband and served with a home quarantine order from February 5 to February 11 which he served, before being released from quarantine on February 11 after testing negative for Covid-19 in several tests.
“Thus, while the plaintiff (Muhyiddin) was offered to not be fitted with a surveillance bracelet and to not observe home quarantine, he rejected those offers and insisted to be treated equally as the rest of the delegation; the plaintiff had also in fact, underwent home quarantine from 5.2.2021 to 11.2.2021,” his lawyers said, adding that Muhyiddin was ready at all times to wear the wristband and to undergo the home quarantine and that there was no commotion at the Subang airport.
Muhyiddin’s lawyers said Puad had failed to verify the contents of his February 9 Facebook post before publishing it, and that Puad had failed to publish an apology after the Prime Minister’s Office had in a February 9 statement asked for such an apology while clarifying that Muhyiddin was under home quarantine with the wristband.
Muhyiddin’s lawyers said it had on February 16 sent a letter of demand to Puad to demand for matters such as compensation and apology, but noted that Puad had on February 19 posted yet another Facebook post titled “Saman RM10 juta oleh perdana menteri” to confirm that he had received the letter of demand while saying he would not remove or apologise over the alleged defamatory posting on February 9.
Noting that Puad had on February 21 and February 23 posted two further Facebook posts, Muhyiddin’s lawyers claimed that this showed that Puad had continued to rally support for himself through the Facebook posts.
Muhyiddin’s lawyers said the law firm Shahrul Hamidi and Haziq representing Puad had on February 23 replied to the letter of demand by denying wrongdoing by Puad, but Muhyiddin’s lawyers rejected the contents of the reply.
Muhyiddin’s lawyers claimed that Puad’s February 9 Facebook post was for cheap publicity and to gain political mileage, also claiming that Puad knew that such a Facebook post would damage Muhyiddin’s personal reputation and damage Muhyiddin’s party Bersatu to the benefit of Puad and his alleged faction in Umno that was critical of Umno’s cooperation with Bersatu.
In the defamation lawsuit against Puad, Muhyiddin is seeking compensation in the form of general damages, exemplary damages, and aggravated damages with the amount to be assessed and determined by the court.
Muhyiddin is also seeking an injunction to restrain Puad or his associates or representatives from publishing, posting, sharing the February 9 Facebook post or continuing to do so, as well as an injunction to stop such actions in relation to statements similar or related to the Facebook post.
The prime minister is also seeking a court order for Puad to immediately, prominently and permanently publish an unequivocal public apology on Puad’s Facebook page “DrPuad Zarkashi” in terms to be dictated by Muhyiddin, as well as a court order for Puad to cause all the news portal and social media — that will be identified by Muhyiddin — that had published the alleged defamatory remarks in his Facebook post to also immediately and prominently publish an apology.