Malaysian court finds portal guilty over readers’ comments

PUTRAJAYA, MALAYSIA (AP) – Malaysia’s top court ruled yesterday that a popular online news portal was guilty of contempt for publishing readers’ comments that criticised the judiciary, a landmark case slammed by media groups as a clampdown on press freedom.

Attorney General Idrus Harun filed the charges against Malaysiakini and its Editor-in-Chief Steven Gan over comments made by five readers on the portal last year that he said undermined public confidence in the judiciary.

Malaysiakini’s editor-in-chief Steven Gan leaves after speaking to the media at the Federal Court in in Putrajaya, Malaysia, Friday. AP

A seven-member panel in the Federal Court ruled 6-1 that Malaysiakini was liable for third-party comments but exonerated Gan. It fined Malaysiakini RM500,000. Gan warned the ruling could restrict discussion of issues of public interest.

“It will affect not just Malaysiakini. The decision will place an undue burden on media organisations, companies and millions of social media users… it has a chilling affect on freedom of expression in Malaysia,” he told reporters.

“In an environment where we have a vibrant social media today, it is imperative we explain, we illuminate, we educate … instead of trying to punish media organisations like Malaysiakini,” he said.