Last month, Malaysiakini operator Mkini Dot Com Sdn Bhd was ordered by the Federal Court to pay a fine of RM500,000 for committing contempt of court. The charge was brought against the news publication for five comments made by readers, which were shared on an article dated 9 June 2020 on the Malaysiakini portal. Now, the Federal Court has released the full grounds for the majority decision (6/7), along with the grounds for the minority judgement (1/7).
According to Court of Appeal President Tan Sri Rohana Yusuf, who was part of the seven-judge panel, the court acknowledged that Malaysiakini‘s legal team requested a fine of RM30,000 taking into account the portal’s cooperation with the authorities during the investigation, while the Attorney General’s Chambers suggested a fine of RM200,000. Ultimately, a fine of nearly double that—RM500,000—was handed out by the court, with Tan Sri Rohana explaining that it is the prerogative of the court to decide on an appropriate sentence.
It’s also worth noting that there is no maximum or minimum sentence for a charge of contempt of court, according to the Federal Court judge. “Public interest” is the deciding factor here, and as such, the RM500,000 fine is also seen as a deterrent to others from committing a similar case of contempt.
“In our view an appropriate sentence serves public interest in two ways. It may deter others from the temptation to commit such crime where the punishment is negligible, or it may deter that particular criminal from repeating the same crime.
“Not only regarding each crime, but in regard to each criminal the court always has the right and duty to decide whether to be lenient or severe.”– Tan Sri Rohana Yusuf
The comments, according to the Federal Court, tarnished the judiciary with allegations of corruption, which would have compromised its integrity in performing its judicial functions. This would have undermined the public confidence in the judiciary. As such, taking into account the seriousness of the offence committed—which caused “embarrassment, public scandal, contempt and to the point of belittling the judiciary”—the Court used its discretion in deciding on the sentence.
Other cases of contempt of court were also mentioned, although the Court noted the severity of Malaysiakini’s case in comparison—the precedents referred to did not involve fines that were as high as RM500,000, although defendants were served with jail-time as part of the sentence. Meanwhile, Malaysiakini Editor-in-Chief Steven Gan was acquitted of a personal charge of contempt, with all seven finding him not guilty of the charge.
After the fine was handed down, the news publication issued a call for help to raise funds for the fine, and the numbered target was exceeded within four hours. To read the full document from the court, click here. Meanwhile, you can also scroll down to the related reading section below to read our full coverage of the Malaysiakini court case.