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Malaysiakini seeks help to pay $100,000 fine for comments posted by readers

Online news site Malaysiakini sought help from the public to pay a hefty 500,000-ringgit fine ($123,762) after the Malaysian Federal Court convicted the site for contempt of court on Friday, February 19.

Last year, Malaysia’s attorney-general filed an application to cite Malaysiakini and editor-in-chief Steven Gan for contempt of court over 5 comments posted by readers on its website that the government said undermined public confidence in the judiciary.

In a 6-1 decision, Malaysia's highest court found Malaysiakini fully responsible for publishing the readers' comments that "undermined the system of justice in the country" and imposed the said fine.

"The impugned statements had gone far and wide…. The content was spurious and reprehensible in nature and the content involved allegations of corruption which were unproven and untrue," said judge Rohana Yusuf, who chaired the panel.

The fine was more than double the 200,000 ringgit prosecutors had sought, though the court cleared Gan of any offense.

Press freedom vs the courts

Gan said the decision would have a chilling effect.

"The decision flies in the face of the fast-changing new media landscape in this country," he said in a statement following the decision.

"It will have a tremendous chilling impact on discussions of issues of public interest and it delivers a body blow to our continual campaign to fight corruption, among others."

How you can help Malaysiakini

You can contribute to the "Defend Malaysiakini Fund" through the following bank account:

Account name: Mkini Dotcom Sdn Bhd
Account no: 5142 5351 6714 (Maybank)
Swift Code: MBBEMYKL
Branch address: Dataran Maybank, Level 1 Tower A, Dataran Maybank, 59000 Kuala Lumpur

At past 5 pm Friday, Malaysiakini reported it had ended its fundraising after exceeding the 500,000-ringgit target "in under 5 hours."

"All donations will be accounted for and Malaysiakini will be transparent. Malaysiakini is still deliberating on where to channel the excess funds," the news portal said in a statement.

The decision is yet another instance in Southeast Asia of the press getting attacked through legal battles.

As of February 4, 2021, for instance, there were at least 8 active cases being tried in court against Rappler, its CEO Maria Ressa, a reporter, and a former researcher. Three of these cases are for libel, while the rest are tax-related.

Rappler believes the cases set a dangerous precedent not just for journalists, but for all citizens, as these weaken the ability of people to hold power to account.

Gan echoed the sentiment in his Friday speech.

"I think the decision made against us and the hefty fine that has been put against us is perhaps an attempt to not only punish us but shut us down," he said.

"I am terribly disappointed. What crime has Malaysiakini committed that we are forced to pay 500,000 ringgit when there are individuals charged with abuse of power for millions and billions who are walking free?" – with reports from Lian Buan and Reuters/Rappler.com

Marguerite de Leon

Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon heads Rappler’s Opinion section, and is (happily) wrangled into voice over and hosting work. She has been with Rappler since 2013, and also served as its social media producer for 6 years. She is also a fictionist.

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