Malaysian news site faces contempt of court case

Kuala Lumpur (AFP) –


A Malaysian news site's chief editor was taken to court for alleged contempt Monday over readers' comments on the portal, with his lawyer warning the case could have a "chilling effect".

The case against Malaysiakini, an independent portal that has made a name for itself by reporting on the misdeeds of the ruling elite, and editor-in-chief Steven Gan was brought by the attorney general.

It relates to five readers' comments posted under an article that were critical of the judiciary, with the attorney general saying they had eroded public confidence in the courts.

Proceedings began Monday at the country's top court, with prosecutors arguing that Malaysiakini had facilitated publication of the remarks.

But lawyers for the site said it had not intended to publish them, and they were removed quickly once police notified the portal.

Malaysiakini's lawyer Malik Imtiaz told the Federal Court that Gan "had nothing to do with" publishing the comments.

"There is nothing to show (Malaysiakini) wilfully turned a blind eye to the publication," he said, adding the case could have a "chilling effect".

The court said it would hand down a ruling at a later date.

Gan, who co-founded Malaysiakini in 1999, could be jailed if judges rule against the site.

Since a scandal-mired party seized power in Malaysia earlier this year, criminal probes have been launched into journalists, activists and opposition figures, in what critics say is a sweeping effort to silence dissent.

Last week police began an investigation into a group of Al Jazeera journalists, including five Australians, over a documentary about the plight of migrants in the country that had angered the government.

Malaysiakini is one of the country's leading current-affairs websites and has long reported on corruption scandals linked to officials, in contrast to the traditionally pro-government mainstream media.