RSF condemns gag-suit against Malaysian journalist
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate withdrawal of the unjustified lawsuit that the head of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has brought against a journalist whose investigative reporting cast doubt on his honesty.
The journalist, Lalitha Kunaratnam, finds herself in the grotesque situation in which an anti-corruption agency is now trying to silence her for exposing possible corruption within this agency.
MACC chief commissioner Azam Baki brought a suit against her before the high court in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, on 12 January seeking 10 million ringgits (2.1 million euros) in damages for a two-part investigative story published in October by Independent News Service, a Malaysian website, in which she exposed conflicts of interest within the agency including the acquisition of publicly-listed shares by Baki worth more than the permitting ceiling for government officials.
A week before the suit was filed, Kunaratnam received a letter from Baki in which he threatened her with legal reprisals if she did not immediately withdraw the two articles from the website.
“The legal action brought against Lalitha Kunaratnam clearly constitutes a gag suit with the sole aim of silencing any public debate and threatening this journalist with disproportionate legal costs,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “We call on Azam Baki to immediately withdraw his lawsuit, which manifestly violates the mandate of the MACC, an agency that is itself supposed to investigate corruption cases. The rule of law in Malaysia is at stake.”
Ever since Muhyiddin Yassin became prime minister in March 2020, the environment for journalists, as measured by RSF’s World Press Freedom Index, has deteriorated sharply and has encouraged a return to self-censorship. Several journalists have told RSF that Yassin’s replacement by Ismail Sabri Yaakob as prime minister in August 2021 has so far had no significant impact on the working environment for media professionals.
Malaysia is now ranked 119th out of 180 countries in the index, 18 places lower than in 2020.