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KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 19 — Following the Federal Court’s majority decision today that found Malaysiakini to be in contempt of court and fined RM500,000, members of the Opposition have rallied to defend press freedom in Malaysia.
DAP’s Klang MP Charles Santiago criticised the judgment and exorbitant fine, saying that every reader has the right to express their opinions and views without being penalised for it.
“This fine is not punitive but vindictive.
“It raises questions about the independence of the judiciary and also wags a warning finger at us, to not speak out.
“This ruling is beyond appalling and takes a whack at media freedom and the freedom of expression,” he said in a statement today.
Charles also said Malaysiakini has been instrumental in shifting the country’s media landscape in a positive direction.
Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s still unregistered party, Parti Pejuang Tanah Air, also shared the same sentiment by stating that media freedom is a pillar of democracy.
Its information chief Ulya Aqamah Husamudin said the party hopes today’s court decision will not set a precedent for similar cases in the future as it could lead to a further erosion of press freedom in the country.
“Free media means being able to provide accurate, true and fair information to society to check and balance the government.
“During the last administration (led by Dr Mahathir), media freedom improved and was considered a priority.
“Hopefully, this decision will not be a precedent as it can threaten media freedom in this beloved country,” he said in a statement today.
The Federal Court today sentenced Malaysiakini’s operator Mkini Dot Com Sdn Bhd to a fine of RM500,000 for contempt over its facilitation of five readers’ remarks against the judiciary on the news portal’s website.
Court of Appeal president Tan Sri Rohana Yusuf delivered the decision by the panel of seven judges for the fine of RM500,000 to be paid within three days from Monday.
However, Malaysiakini’s editor-in-chief Steven Gan — who is the second defendant was not found responsible and are not imposed with any punishments.
On June 17, 2020, the Federal Court allowed the attorney general to start contempt of court proceedings against Malaysiakini’s operator Mkini Dot Com Sdn Bhd and Malaysiakini’s “Ketua Editor.”
The five comments were posted under a June 9 news report titled “CJ orders all courts to be fully operational from July 1”, with Malaysiakini having previously said that it was alerted at 12.45pm on June 12 about these comments when police contacted them to notify about investigations regarding these comments.
In court documents, Malaysiakini previously said it was not aware of the five offensive comments previously as no readers had reported these comments and as the comments did not carry any of the “suspected words” that Malaysiakini’s filter could detect, further noting that the editorial team had immediately reviewed the comments upon being alerted by the police and removed the comments at 12.57pm the same day.