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Malaysian court finds portal guilty of reader comments

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A seven-member panel in the Federal Court ruled 6-1 that the Malaysian was responsible for third-party comments, but acquitted Gan. She fined the Malaysian 500,000 ringgit ($ 123,685).

Gan warned that the ruling could limit the discussion of issues of public interest.

This will affect not only Malaysians. The decision will place an excessive burden on media organizations, companies and millions of social media users … it has a shocking impact on freedom of expression in Malaysia, he told reporters.

In an environment where we have a vibrant social media today, it is imperative to explain, enlighten, educate … rather than try to punish media organizations like Malaysians, he said.

Gan also said the hefty fine, more than double what prosecutors demanded, was unfair and an attempt to perhaps not only punish us but shut us down.

Prosecutors have said the portal should be held accountable for publishing comments. But defense attorneys argued that there was no malicious intent, as the portal was unaware of the comments and removed them immediately after being notified by police.

The Center for Independent Journalism, a media observer, wrote on Twitter on Friday that it stands in solidarity with the Malaysian and strongly condemns the state’s efforts to intimidate and threaten media freedom and independence.

Amnesty International Malaysia said it was deeply alarmed by the unprecedented decision.

Using contempt of court laws to censor online debate and the silence of independent media is another example of the shrinking space for people to express themselves freely in the country, said Amnesty Malaysia Director Katrina Jorene Maliamauv.

He also called for the repeal of the section under the Evidence Act, which was used to convict the Malaysian and which gives the government unlimited powers to censor online discussions.

The Malaysian launched in 1999 as the first online news portal. It quickly became known for its vague reporting between the government’s strong control over the mainstream media and the requirement that they apply for annual publishing permits.

Online media have expanded and played a role that led to the first change of government in Malaysia since independence in the 2018 elections.

Last March, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin came to power after joining parties in the former government tainted by corruption. Under his watch, rights groups have expressed concern about a crackdown on the media, activists and others.

Last year police gathered staff from Al Jazeera news broadcaster over a documentary on the treatment of undocumented immigrants that officials said was unfair and biased. An activist was also questioned in connection with a post on social media alleging mistreatment of refugees in detention centers.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, transmitted, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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