The National Human Rights Society (Hakam) is deeply concerned by the apex court’s ruling against Malaysiakini (owned by Mkini Dotcom Sdn Bhd), an independent online news portal, for contempt of court over readers’ comments.
Hakam is further perturbed by the hefty fine of RM500,000 imposed on Malaysiakini, despite the fine requested by the Attorney General’s Chambers being merely RM200,000, whilst Malaysiakini’s counsel pleaded for a maximum fine of RM30,000 on the other hand.
While Hakam acknowledges that contempt of court is a serious offence, and the dignity and integrity of the judiciary must be protected in all circumstances, it ought to be remembered at this juncture, that the media plays a vital role as the fourth pillar of democracy. In fact, it serves as a check and balance on the legislature, executive and judiciary at certain critical points of time, and enables a balanced and progressive population to engage in public discourse.
Hakam views that Malaysiakini’s conviction of contempt of court and the grave sentence imposed on it would cause fear to public discussion and comments in respect of concerned issues on online news portals. This would effectively cause a chilling effect on freedom of expression and media freedom.
Hakam is also concerned that the presumption of fact in publication by Section 114A of the Evidence Act 1950 was invoked to presume Malaysiakini as the publisher of the impugned comments. The impact of Section 114A is far reaching, as it tends to impose the burden on a person to prove his innocence as opposed to the prosecution to prove his guilt.
Hakam reiterates its call to abolish repressive and oppressive legislations which would curtail fundamental liberties as enshrined in the Federal Constitution. – Hakam