Online news portal Malaysiakini was found guilty of contempt on Friday by the Federal Court of Malaysia on charges related to incendiary comments posted by readers which criticized several cordon sanitaire decisions by Malaysian judges.
The charges were initiated by Attorney General Idrus Harun. His rationale behind the application was that the comments implied that the judicial branch has been engaging in corruption. Under the Malaysian Evidence Act 1950, Malaysiakini is responsible as a platform for facilitating the comments to its publications. Idrus stated that “these comments threaten public confidence in the judiciary and are clearly aimed at tarnishing the administration of justice by the judiciary.”
The majority opinion stated that while the decision could potentially create a chilling effect on media freedom, contempt of court is a serious charge that could undermine the justice system. The lone dissenting judge, on the other hand, opined that Malaysiakini’s actions fell short of the legal tests proposed under the Communication and Multimedia Act 1998. Malaysiakini was fined 500,000 ringgit (approximately $123,793 USD), double what the prosecution had sought. Its founder and editor-in-chief Steve Gan, who had also been charged, was acquitted of any liability.
Several rights groups have raised concerns over increasing media scrutiny in the country. Amnesty Malaysia described “policing online comments via criminal prosecution” as unprecedented and said it would open new legal implications for social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter.