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Malaysiakini has to pay RM500,000 fine for contempt of court by Wednesday

PUTRAJAYA (Feb 19): Malaysiakini, which was found guilty by the Federal Court of contempt of court for comments posted by its readers that were deemed to have attacked the judiciary, has until Wednesday to pay a RM500,000 fine.

The fine was imposed by a seven-member apex court bench led by Court of Appeal President Tan Sri Rohana Yusuf, who said the bench took into account the written and oral apology that has been extended by Malaysiakini's chief executive officer Premesh Chandran and the fact that the respondents had cooperated with the police and the courts.

“Having said that, it is our public duty to bear in mind the seriousness of the contemptuous act today which will ultimately undermine the system of justice in this country.

“The impugned statements had gone both far and wide both locally and internationally and the contents published are spurious and reprehensible in nature and it also involves allegations of corruption (of the judiciary) which are all false and untrue.

“We are of the view that a fine in the sum of RM500,000 would be appropriate, so hereby order for the fine by the first respondent to be paid within three days from Monday,” she said in imposing the fine.

Earlier, she read the majority six-to-one judgement which found Mkini Dotcom Sdn Bhd, the operator of the news portal, guilty of contempt but freed chief editor Steven Gan of the charge.

Meanwhile, Gan in response expressed disappointment with the sentence owing to the fact that the Attorney-General's representatives had only requested RM200,000 while Malaysiakini's lawyers, led by Datuk Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, suggested RM20,000 to RM30,000.

“We are disappointed that with the development of a changing new media landscape, this will have a chilling impact on discussion of issues of public interests and is a body blow to our campaign to fight corruption.

“The CJ (Chief Justice Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat) in her speech said the judiciary could not be blamed for the dropping of the charges. That is the background involved (with the readers' comments) as it involved the dropping of charges against individuals charged.

“She said the public prosecutor was responsible for dropping the charges. The readers were upset by the dropping of charges to individuals facing court today. The readers may have gone overboard and attacked the wrong target,” he added.

The situation now, he added, is that everyone has a megaphone and it is imperative that the public is illuminated and educated, instead of punishing media organisations.

“This is a hefty fine that has been put against us and is an attempt to punish but also to possibly shut us down. What crime that Malaysiakini committed to pay the fine when there are individuals charged with millions or billions in money laundering but walk free,” he said, adding they would ask their supporters and readers for support to raise money to pay the fine.

Gan added that today's decision will affect media organisations and social media, and is a chilling impact on freedom of expression.

“We will try our best to pay the fine. I was even prepared that there is a chance I may go for prison for this,” he added.

Premesh reiterated that this would not be the end of Malaysiakini.

“We would not reduce work in terms of reporting in what we do, and continue in bringing professionalism to journalism,” he added.

Malik told reporters on the sidelines that this case is not about journalists who are doing the write-up but third parties who are readers making comments.

“This is an important decision over how the press or any organisation post third party comments. We have cited an Indian Supreme court case where a lawyer tweeted a comment and contempt was moved against the person and Twitter, and the court exonerated Twitter. But the apex court ruled today this is distinguishable in facts,” he said.

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