KUALA LUMPUR: Attorney General Tommy Thomas (pic) is challenging the gag order banning the media from discussing the merits of Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s case, saying that it goes against the right of free speech.
The top prosecutor’s objection will be fully heard on Aug 8. Pending that date, High Court judge Justice Mohd Sofian Abd Razak had granted an interim gag order.
“Our position is that we are totally against it in principle, jurisdictionally and constitutionally because that is the right of free speech,” Thomas told reporters at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex here.
He, however, said the prosecution was uncertain about how wide the scope of the gag order was.
“The interim gag is only for SRC (International) and the four charges.
“So, take the four charges and consult good lawyers for independent legal advice and let them tell you your rights. As for today’s proceedings, of course you can report on it,” Thomas told the media.
Earlier in a court proceeding, the High Court granted an interim gag order against the media from discussing merits of the case after defence counsel Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah made the request.
He claimed his client had been facing a trial by media since he was ousted as prime minister, adding: “He (Najib) has the right to a fair trial.”
Thomas objected to the request, citing freedom of expression and speech.
“What is the point of issuing a gag order when the whole world will talk about it?” he said.
Thomas gave the example of the Sarawak Report, saying that the website was read globally.
“The defence will have to put in an official application for the gag order, which we will be vigorously objecting to,” he added.
Thomas also told Muhammad Shafee to specify whom the gag order applied to, to which the latter replied: “The media, both digital and newspaper.”
When approached later, Muhammad Shafee said the gag order was primarily aimed at stopping anyone from making statements that would get published in the media.
“Our Constitution guarantees a fair trial like most other civilised countries.
“One of the fundamentals of a fair trial is that you cannot discuss and issue statements commenting on the merits of the case in a prejudicial way, but if you’re reporting court proceedings, there is nothing wrong with it,” he said.
However, in a statement issued later, lawyer Syahredzan Johan said gag orders in principle were against freedom of expression.
He said Malaysia does not practise the jury system, therefore media reports on this case – whether on the merits or otherwise – cannot sway the judge.
“I am convinced that Najib will be dealt with fairly by the court based on the statements submitted, rather than be influenced by media reports.”
Syahredzan, who is also political secretary to DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang, said the case is high profile and would inevitably gain worldwide attention regardless of a gag order.
Therefore, a gag order will only end up punishing local media because the court has limited jurisdiction (and will find it hard to punish foreign media).
Constitutional lawyer Surendra Ananth was cited in an online portal that the gag order is “draconian in nature”, and that only Parliament has the right to bar such discussions.
Moreover, he added, the case is being discussed globally and it's crucial that the public be kept informed about what happens in the trial since the case involves public funds.