The Judges Judged

Malaysiakini has exceeded its RM500,000 fundraising target in under five hours.

The fundraiser was to help the news portal pay for a RM500,000 fine after the Federal Court found Malaysiakini liable for contemptuous comments by its readers.

Hence, the fundraising has been ended. All donations will be accounted for and Malaysiakini will be transparent.

Our comment

Malaysia’s judiciary have their highest officers to thank for laying them open to popular judgement in possibly the most exquisite piece of justice ever delivered – against themselves.

The judiciary pleaded not guilty. The public said rubbish.

Not without reason a huge number of people consider that the law is used as a political weapon in the country, based on experiences ranging from police harassment, all encompassing catch-all laws against dissent, vindictive prosecutions and, unfortunately, a slew of bizarre judgements over the years favouring establishment privileges against the public interest.

And that is before one considers the highly unfortunate but documented record of corruption, some of which has been referred to in a recent best seller by the former AG himself, Tommy Thomas.

Reputations are earned, not bludgeoned out of people. However, it appears that this lesson has not been learned by the very people who are supposed to sit in judgment on matters such as libel.

After all, when one of their own most senior figures a sitting Appeal Court judge, recently called for a Commission of Enquiry into judicial corruption how did they react? He has been censured and permanently suspended from his job for seeking to reassure the public that accountability exists where it most matters.

Anyone who suggests the law has been abused in Malaysia is attacked for contempt of court. Judges might not all be perfect, but they must be said to be perfect. It is an ideal shield to hide harassment of wider critics also.

No surprise therefore that within days of the new PN backdoor government taking power the newly appointed AG had ‘gone after’ one of the biggest threats to an illegitimate regime – namely the non-compliant independent media.

Malaysiakini is a leading light in that respect, hugely instrumental in the exposes that led to the fall of the previous corrupt BN government, which comprises the majority of PN.

So, by prosecuting Malaysiakini over readers’ comments that suggested a level of mistrust in certain elements of the judiciary in an unrelated article (anger had been provoked by cases such as the treatment of Justice Hamid) the entire country saw the move for what it was. A blatant act of intimidation with the purpose of silencing media critics.

The fact that the government law officer’s move was dealt with by the Federal Court like greased lightening for the swiftest possible judgement likewise resonated with every person in Malaysia.

After all, this is the most trivial and tenuous case. The alleged insult came from a comment that had slipped past the monitors at the paper and was immediately removed (after just 12 minutes) and apologised for when the news team were alerted.

This when major issues such as the appeal by the convicted gross kleptocrat  Najib Razak (who still sits in Parliament, were Parliament allowed to sit) are moving at a snails pace yet to be resolved.

No prizes for guessing therefore that the speed was indeed with a purpose to convict or that the ensuing punishment was blatantly designed to cripple one of the world’s most lauded, awarded and respected independent media operations. A rare jewel in a country that comes pitifully low in world media freedom indexes.

Contrast and compare. Individuals wrongly convicted and imprisoned under oppressive sedition laws have been compensated a mere RM1.00 by the Malaysian courts.

However, Malaysiakini, which had not originated the alleged insult and who had apologised and removed it once alerted to it, was fined RM500,000.00 – MORE than DOUBLE what even the prosecutors had dared asked for (a mere RM200,000).


Were the judiciary pleased when the paper immediately announced that it would likely fold as a result?  Has the reputation of the Malaysian courts been strengthened and secured? Were politicians in the shadows likewise delighted at a lesson well delivered?

In which case they should have thought harder and longer before effectively inviting the people of Malaysia to pass their own judgement on the situation by imposing such a monstrous fine.

After all this regime has understood its popularity levels well enough to call a bogus State of Emergency for the very purpose of avoiding an election and the likely verdict that would bring.

Within FOUR HOURS of this attempt to murder media freedom the citizens of the country, at perhaps the most cash-strapped juncture in their modern history, had nonetheless dug deep into their pockets to meet the entire half million ringgit and more!

This is possibly amongst the swiftest  and largest responses ever achieved to support a cause and it clearly demonstrates two things. First, it shows the value that people place on their free media and on freedom of expression – a rebuke to repressive regimes everywhere (see the Human Rights Watch statement on the Malaysian court judgement and the BBC report).

And second, it shows the utter disdain in which the public plainly holds this judgement and by implication those who made it.

There is nothing the judiciary can do about this now. They invited the people to show their opinion and they did so – by putting hand in pocket to help out yet another victim of a system that has not earned the reputation it desires.

The people have spoken and Malaysiakini have ended by not paying a single ringgit after all.

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