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A Malaysian News Outlet is Facing a Contempt of Court Case Over ‘Scurrilous’ Reader Comments

A Malaysian court on Thursday dismissed a motion to set aside a case against Malaysiakini, a local news portal, setting a date for contempt proceedings against the outlet and its editor in chief stemming from a controversy over comments posted by users on the outlet’s website.

On June 9, five comments were posted under a story about the country’s courts reopening. While the exact nature of the contents is unclear, Malaysia’s attorney-general’s office deemed they had “scandalized” the judiciary, with federal counsel characterizing them as “very personal, scurrilous, [and] an unwarranted attack,” the New Straits Times reported at the time.

The attorney-general’s representative alleged that Malaysiakini and its editor in chief, Steven Gan, were in contempt of court by virtue of having allowed the comments to be posted.

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However, in a hearing on a motion to set aside the case on Thursday, defense counsel Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, said that given the sheer volume of reader comments posted to Malaysiakini—on average some 2,000 every day—the company relies on its readers to report offensive comments, which will then be “subjected to a moderation process,” rather than pre-moderating them itself.

“Neither of the respondents were involved in posting the comments. And neither of the respondents were aware” the comments were posted until later, Malik said according to a Malaysiakini report on the proceedings. Malik also argued that the attorney-general needed to prove his clients “knowingly published” the comments to hold them in contempt.

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The defendants, meanwhile, removed the offending comments within minutes of being warned by the police, Malik added.

Malik also took issue with the decision to bring the trial in the Federal Court, rather than a lower court, arguing it would deny Malaysiakini and Gan the ability to appeal if convicted. they were deemed guilty.

Senior federal counsel Suzana Atan, however, argued that the defendants should have removed the comments immediately, rather than days later, adding that the outlet could have employed a moderator to screen reader comments.

On Thursday afternoon, a seven-person Federal Court panel rejected the application by Mkini Dotcom Sdn Bhd, the company that owns Malaysiakini, to set aside the case. They also shrugged off Malik’s concerns over the venue, saying that as the comments had allegedly maligned the courts as a whole, as well as the chief justice, the choice to bring the case in Federal Court was appropriate.

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Proceedings in the contempt of court case will begin on July 13.

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