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Contempt hearing against Mkini, top editor begins in Federal Court

(Editor's note: In view of the Federal Court's order for everyone to avoid commenting on this case, the commenting function for this article has been disabled.)

Contempt proceedings against Malaysiakini and its editor-in-chief, Steven Gan, over readers’ comments on the judiciary began at the Federal Court this morning.

The hearing presided by a panel of seven judges commenced at 9.30am with the court hearing an application from the respondents to set aside the proceedings that were initiated by Attorney-General Idrus Harun.

Today's proceedings are presided over by Court of Appeal president Judge Rohana Yusuf; Chief Judge of the High Court of Malaya Azahar Mohamed; Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Abang Iskandar Abang Hashim; and Federal Court judges Mohd Zawawi Salleh, Nallini Pathmanathan, Vernon Ong Lam Kiat and Abdul Rahman Sebli.

Malaysiakini and Gan are represented by counsel Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, A Surendra Ananth and Khoo Suk Chyi, while Idrus is represented by senior federal counsel Suzana Atan and S Narkunavathy.

Also present are lawyers on watching briefs on behalf of the Bar Council, International Federation of Journalists, National Union of Journalists Malaysia, Centre for Independent Journalism and Media Merdeka.

Meanwhile, when met before the proceedings started this morning, Gan (above) told reporters that they are hoping to be able to set aside the proceedings.

According to the veteran journalist, Malaysiakini should not be held responsible for comments posted by its readers.

The portal had also removed the comments cited by the AG long before the latter filed the application to cite Malaysiakini for contempt, Gan added.

"The speed of the action against Malaysiakini in this contempt of court case is so fast that we have to prepare for the worst. We hope that good sense will prevail.

"Whatever decisions they are going to make will have a tremendous impact, not just on Malaysiakini, but also on media organisations and millions of Malaysians who are users of social media.

"This is because they are not only responsible for the content that they run on their Facebook page, they could be liable for whatever comments that have been put (there) by their readers - even after the comments have been taken down," he said.

"Media companies, depending on the decision, will have to respond appropriately. If the court decides that media organisations and whatever platforms that we are on are responsible for the comments section, then that will be really, really bad. 

"We have to ensure that there is a law for social media users and media organisations like us who provide a platform for readers to make comments - that they (the media organisations) shouldn't be liable for the comments," said Gan.

He said that the company's lawyers would be arguing that taking the case directly to the Federal Court has the potential impact of reducing Malaysiakini's ability to appeal any decision.

On June 17, a three-member panel of the Federal Court allowed for the contempt proceedings against Malaysiakini and Gan, having ruled that the applicant (Idrus) had managed to establish a prima facie case for the application.

Idrus filed an ex-parte application on June 15 to initiate the contempt of court proceedings over comments from readers in an article dated June 9 titled “CJ orders all courts to be fully operational from July 1”.

He cited five comments in his affidavit and alleged that these “clearly meant that the judiciary committed wrongdoings, is involved in corruption, does not uphold justice and compromised its integrity.

“These comments threaten public confidence in the judiciary and are clearly aimed at tarnishing the administration of justice by the judiciary.”

Idrus alleged that Malaysiakini had erred in facilitating the publication of these comments which were “unwarranted" and "demeaning” attacks on the judiciary.

A 20-year independent news organisation, this is Malaysiakini's first time being cited for contempt of court.

Federal Court disallows Mkini application, sets July 13 for contempt hearing

Defence: Law does not require websites to pre-moderate comments