PUTRAJAYA: The Federal Court here has imposed a stunning fine of half a million ringgit on news portal Malaysiakini after finding it guilty of contempt of court over readers’ comments that criticised the judiciary on an article it posted last year.
In a 6-1 majority decision, the court held that the online portal had failed to cast reasonable doubt on the allegation and failed on the balance of probabilities in the case against it.
The apex court, however, found that its editor-in-chief Steven Gan (pic) was not liable of contempt.
Court of Appeal president Justice Rohana Yusuf, who chaired the seven-man panel, said Malaysiakini had contended that it was not possible to moderate all comments due to the high volume on its website.
“The first respondent (Malaysiakini) had said that it was not aware of the comment until it was alerted by the police, ” she said, in reading the majority decision here on Friday (Feb 19).
“It is not enough for Malaysiakini to leave it free and easy to online subscribers to say it cannot edit a comment once they are published.
“Ultimately, Malaysiakini is the owner of the portal. It has full control over what it has published.
"We are therefore satisfied that a case of contempt had been made against Malaysiakini," Justice Rohana said.
On the second respondent, Gan, the court found him not guilty of contempt on grounds that he did not facilitate the publishing of the offensive comments.
Other judges on the bench were Chief Judge of Malaya Justice Azahar Mohamed; Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Justice Abang Iskandar Abang Hashim; and Federal Court judges Justice Mohd Zawawi Salleh, Vernon Ong Lam Kiat and Abdul Rahman Sebli.
The dissenting judge was Federal Court judge Justice Nallini Pathmanathan.
During mitigation, counsel Datuk Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, who acted for the respondents, said his clients had cooperated with the police and the courts from the beginning.
"We ask for a nominal fine of between RM20,000 and RM30,000. This is the first case of its kind," he said.
Senior Federal Counsel Suzana Atan said the case will be a reminder not to just the respondents but to other portals as well.
"We propose a RM200,000 fine as an appropriate sentence," she said.
The court then went into a short recess to deliberate on the sentence.
During sentencing, Justice Rohana said the court had taken into account the apology made by both respondents in writing and orally to the court and their cooperation with the police.
"Having said that, the impugned statements had gone far and wide locally and internationally, the content was spurious and reprehensible in nature and the content involved allegations of corruption which were unproven and untrue.
"We are of the view that the fine of the sum of RM500,000 is appropriate and we ask for the fine to paid within two days from Monday (Feb 22)," she said.
On June 17,2020, a Federal Court three-member bench allowed Attorney General Tan Sri Idrus Harun's ex parte application for leave to commence committal proceedings against Mkini Dotcom - which runs news portal Malaysiakini - and Gan.
The bench allowed the leave application on grounds that a prima facie case for contempt was established.
The application was in relation to five comments on an article published by Malaysiakini on June 9,2020, entitled "CJ orders all courts to be fully operational from July 1".
Malaysiakini then filed to set aside the leave order obtained by the AG, but it was dismissed by a seven-man panel.
The case was heard on July 13, last year, where the apex court heard submissions from the legal teams of both parties on the merits of the committal action.
It then went on to reserve its judgment until the decision was delivered on Friday.