RSF decries Malaysia appeal court ruling against independent website
A crippling damages award against Malaysia’s leading independent news website, Malaysiakini, has reinforced the concern of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) about government pressure on independent media outlets in the run-up to elections in six months’ time.
In a 12 January ruling that overturned a high court decision in favour of Malaysiakini, the Malaysia appeal court ordered the website to pay 350,000 RM (90,000 USD) in damages and legal costs for allegedly defaming a gold mine based in the central state of Pahang.
The high court had rightly dismissed the gold mine’s government-backed claim that it was defamed by Malaysiakini’s decision to attend a press conference organized by the inhabitants of an area near the mine to draw attention to the health dangers of using sodium cyanide to extract gold.
“It is completely unacceptable and disproportionate that journalists should be the target of judicial proceedings just for attending a press conference serving the public interest,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“In recent months, the Malaysia appeal court has repeatedly overturned previous court decisions in favour of media outlets. The number and nature of the appeal court’s rulings raise doubts about its impartiality. The Malaysian authorities must stop using this court with the sole aim of gagging overly curious journalists.”
The leading shareholder in the company that effectively owns the gold mine is an ally of Malaysia’s ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional. Observers suggest that Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government was behind the appeal court’s decision and that it was designed to intimidate independent media in the run-up to the parliamentary elections that are due to be held in August.
Malaysia is ranked 144th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.