LAW ON CONTEMPT OF COURT NEEDS REVISIT, PARLIAMENT AND SELECT COMMITTEES MUST BE ALLOWED TO MEET
21 Feb 2021
The United Progressive Kinabalu Organisation (UPKO) expresses our utmost concern about the Federal Court verdict against Malaysiakini – including the hefty fine of RM 500,000.00 imposed on the news portal.
The verdict gives a severe chilling effect by inhibiting freedom of expression via media space that is constituted as one of the essential foundations of a democratic society and one of the basic conditions for its progress. This is a precedent set that will deter both media and individuals from exercising expressive rights with fear of retributive justice.
Here, paragraph 9 of the Press Summary of the Majority Decision is particularly alarming:
“… Ultimately, Malaysiakini is the owner of its website, publishes articles of public importance, allows subscribers to post comments to generate discussions. It designs its online platform for such purpose and decides to filter usage of foul words and relies on all the three measures it has taken. In other words, the First Respondent designs and controls its online platform in the way it chooses. It has full control of what is publishable and what is not. In doing so it must carry with it, the risks that follow from allowing the way its platform operates. …”
To avoid a similar fate like Malaysiakini, are internet portals pushed to close their comment sessions or to have highly restrictive filter software? While this might protect the judiciary from any undesired comments, it would also restrict citizens from expressing their views, having their views examined by each other and learning from public exchange like adults in democratic countries do?
Does our Judiciary need such extreme measures to maintain public confidence? Are there no less costly alternatives?
If the ruling is the inevitable consequence of interpreting our laws, then UPKO calls upon the Parliamentarians for urgent scrutiny of related laws. The Section 114A of the Evidence Act, safeguard provided by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Content Code, maximum fine provided for contempt of court to the continued presence of contempt of court as an offence, all these should be thoroughly re-examined and deliberated.
This crisis for freedom of expression underlines the need why the Parliament and its select committees must not be suspended under the Emergency, if at all the Emergence should continue. Deputy Speaker Dato’ Sri Azalina Othman Said has eloquently made the case against suspension of parliamentary functions. We urge Attorney General Tan Sri Idrus bin Harun to advice for the repeal of Section 14 on parliamentary sitting in the Emergency (Essential Powers) Ordinance 2021.
Even before the Parliament may resume its functions, UPKO calls upon members of the Parliamentary Special Select Committee (PSSC) on Fundamental Liberties and Constitutional Rights to hold an unofficial meeting. All other concerned MPs also invited for the extended group to function like an unofficial cross-party caucus. UPKO is pleased to notice UMNO leaders have voiced their concern on Malaysiakini verdict. It is time for UMNO parliamentarians to join force if the opposition MPs to defend freedom of expression.
The unofficial meeting initiated by the PSSC or a new caucus can start the ground work to review legal provisions related to online expression and contempt of court, in preparation for law reform in this aspect when the suspension of the Parliament is lifted. Media practitioners, members of the three Bar associations, academics and relevant civil society groups can and should be fully involved by providing their professional views on the matters.
UPKO believes that the parliamentarians can continue to function through deliberation, hearing and research in finding institutional, legal and policy solutions even when their constitutional capability is suppressed.
DATUK WILFRED MADIUS TANGAU
MP for Tuaran
DATUK DONALD MOJUNTIN
Senator for Sabah
UPKO Deputy President
DATUK EWON BENEDICK
Assemblyperson for Kadamaian
UPKO Vice President