News portal Malaysiakini was today found guilty of contempt of court over reader comments on its site and fined a hefty RM500,000 (US$124,000).
Judge Rohana Yusuf said that those comments, one of which specifically mentioned the chief justice, had implicated the judiciary as a whole. She also did not accept MalaysiaKini’s argument that they were initially unaware of those comments, citing its sizable editorial team, while chief editor Steven Gan was spared from being convicted.
“The first respondent (Malaysiakini) is found guilty of contempt of court, the second respondent (Gan) in our view cannot be held guilty for facilitating the publication,” Rohana said. She led a seven-member panel in the court of appeal.
Malaysiakini was ordered to pay the fine by Wednesday. A public fund to raise that amount has been set up by the news site.
“We were not punished for our journalism. We were punished for comments posted by our readers,” Gan said in his appeal for public donations.
The British High Commission also voiced press freedom concerns over the judges’ verdict.
“Media freedom is of fundamental importance to the security, prosperity, and wellbeing of all societies. People must be allowed to discuss and debate issues freely,” it said hours after the judges’ ruling.
— U.S. Embassy KL (@usembassykl) February 19, 2021
Senior federal counsel Suzana Atan had sought a RM200,000 (US$50,000) fine while legal counsel Malik Imtiaz Sarwar pleaded for a lower amount – between RM20,000 (US$5,000) and RM30,000 – given that it was the first time that MalaysiaKini was found guilty of contempt in its 21-year history.
The comments were accusing the domestic courts of corruption and failure to uphold justice and were posted on June 8 under the article CJ orders all courts to be fully operational from July 1.
According to court documents, the news organization previously said it was unaware of the offensive comments since nobody flagged them, but removed them minutes after they were alerted by the police.
MalaysiaKini handed over the names and email addresses of those readers to the authorities that month and banned them from subscribing to the website. Those names were never mentioned in court.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with MalaysiaKini’s crowdfunding efforts and a response from the British High Commission.
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