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Federal Court says Malaysiakini readers’ comments were ‘scurrilous and irreprehensible’

PUTRAJAYA (March 3): The Federal Court, which today released its written judgement on Malaysiakini’s contempt of court case over comments posted by readers, said the comments were “simply scurrilous and irreprehensible”.

Court of Appeal president Justice Tan Sri Rohana Yusuf said the unwarranted attack was incendiary and exposed the judiciary to embarrassment, public scandal, contempt and to the point of belittling it.

“Not only that, it had tarnished the judiciary as being guilty of corrupt activity and had compromised its integrity in carrying out judicial functions. As submitted by the Attorney General’s Chambers representatives, the comments were not made within the limit of reasonable courtesy or decency and far from good faith.

“Such impugned comments if allowed to continue would undermine public confidence in the judiciary. It will ridicule, scandalise and offend the integrity of this institution,” she said.

In a six-to-one decision, the apex court had on Feb 19 found Malaysiakini to be responsible for publishing five readers' comments that "undermined the system of justice in the country" and fined the news portal RM500,000.

Justice Rohana, who wrote the majority judgment, stressed the importance of public interest when considering the sentence.

“It may deter others from the temptation to commit such crime where the punishment is negligible, or it may deter that particular criminal from repeating the same crime. Not only regarding each crime, but in regard to each criminal the court always has the right and duty to decide whether to be lenient or severe,” she said.

The apex court contrasted this case with other contempt cases, including AG vs Datuk See Teow Chuan and others (better known as the Kian Joo Can Factory Bhd case) involving lawyer Datuk VK Lingam where a RM100,000 fine (in default of eight months' jail) was imposed.

It also referred to a case involving an imam named Hoslan Hussin, who threw his shoe at the apex court bench and was sentenced to one year's jail.

Justice Rohana said the gravity of the contempt committed by the news portal was much more severe than those cases as it included baseless allegations of corruption.

“The language used and the allegation made is beyond any bound of decency. It was targeted at the judiciary as a whole and the wild suggestion of the chief justice (Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat) being corrupt.

“The impugned comments which were facilitated to be published by Mkini Dotcom Sdn Bhd have besmirched the good name of the judiciary as a whole and have subverted the course of administration of justice, undermined public confidence, offended the dignity, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary,” she said.

After having weighed the mitigating factors and the seriousness of the offence committed, it is only right that the sentence must not be too lenient, said Justice Rohana.

“Public interest demands a deterrent sentence be meted out against the first respondent (the company). We therefore hold, a fine of RM500, 000 is appropriate,” she said.

Malaysiakini paid the fine on Feb 23.

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