In Malaysia, TrialWatch is documenting the authorities’ alarming use of the justice system to stifle freedom of expression. In particular, TrialWatch has monitored two trials in which vague and over-broad legal authorities, such as the ‘offensive communication’ prohibition in the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) and the courts’ undefined contempt power, have been weaponized to target independent journalists and curb dissent.
Dian Abdullah, an independent blogger who ran the “Malaysia FlipFlop” site, was charged with making statements “with intent to cause, or that may cause, fear or unrest to the public” and “offensive communication” after she published posts critical of the King and Prime Minister of Malaysia. For instance, saying that “[t]hanks to [the King] we have the most dangerous man” as Prime Minister and suggesting that the Prime Minister was allowing “the rise in food cost and mask[s]” to be used as “an excuse to make money out of the [people] in this period of crisis.” A report on the proceedings by CFJ’s partner, the American Bar Association Center for Human Rights, which monitored the proceedings as part of TrialWatch, concluded that the proceedings violated Abdullah’s freedom of expression and that the prosecution “[appeared to be] aimed not at serving permissible public interest objectives but at stifling criticism of the [ruling party’s] policies.” After the release of the report, the prosecution and Abdullah reached an agreement to settle the case for a fine.
Independent news outlet Malaysiakini and its editor-in-chief Steve Gan were prosecuted for contempt of court because their readers posted unmoderated comments criticizing the judiciary on their site. Though Gan was ultimately acquitted, the news site was convicted and subjected to a hefty fine, despite the fact that Malaysiakini took down the posts within twelve minutes of being notified of them by the police, with the court holding that Malaysiakini was responsible for the third-party comments whether or not it actually knew about them. Gan was also investigated for sedition after criticizing the decision. The Fairness Report on the case gave the trial a grade of ‘D,’ stating that the prosecution “represents a shot across the bow to independent media outlets in Malaysia,” with a likely chilling effect on freedom of expression in the country.
From July 2020 to February 2021, the Clooney Foundation for Justice monitored contempt of court proceedings against the news outlet Malaysiakini and its editor-in-chief Steven Gan. Malaysiakini’s prosecution represents a shot across the bow to independent media outlets in Malaysia.See the Fairness Report