The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) statement in relation to the charges filed against Malaysiakini for violations of the Communications and Multimedia Act.
The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) urges Malaysia’s Attorney General (AG) to stop the prosecution of Malaysiakini‘s sister company KiniTV and editor Steven Gan, who is scheduled to appear in court Thursday (24 November 2016) on charges under the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) of 1998.
We believe such charges pose a direct threat to press freedom in Malaysia as it undermines the media’s role to report on public interest issues and hold public officials accountable for their actions. This is a farcical act to harass the online news media outlet and suppress independent reporting in the country.
We find it peculiar that the AG initiated charges only against Malaysiakini, which merely reported a press conference. Clearly, this is a case of targeting the messenger and aims to threaten the media in general not to report any news critical of the government or public officials.
The charges are the latest development from the 8 November 2016 raid by Malaysia Communications and Multimedia Commission officers, who confiscated two computers in connection to the AG video allegation.
SEAPA notes, this is the first time that the CMA is being used against an online news portal. If convicted, the company and Gan stand to face a fine of up to RM 50,000 (~US$ 11,0000), a one-year jail term, or both.
The law itself is too broad and can be abused by any public official to criminalize any online posting including legitimate news reports.
This ongoing criminal prosecution is a grave violation of press freedom. Media and journalists in Malaysia should be able to practice their profession without fear of retaliation. We call on the concerned authorities to drop the charges against KiniTV and Gan.
The current charges stemmed from a video published in the news portal’s KiniTV website on 27 July 2016 showing a press conference called by former Umno leader Khairuddin Abu Hassan after he lodged a report with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to reopen its investigation into high-level corruption involving the Malaysia state fund 1MDB.
At the press conference, Khairuddin criticized the Malaysia Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi Ali for failing to prosecute in the 1MDB case, describing the latter as “worse than useless.”
According to Malaysiakini, KiniTV and Gan face four charges under Section 233(1)(a) and Section 244(1) of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 in the Kuala Lumpur Sessions (Cyber) Court on the morning of 18 November 2016. The Act “criminalizes the deliberate and improper use of network facilities for communications that are deemed offensive, false or obscene, among others.”