PETALING JAYA: Article 19 has hit out at charges against Malaysiakini’s CEO and editor-in-chief over a video the news portal had carried criticising Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi Ali for clearing the prime minister of corruption allegations.
Article 19 called on the government to immediately drop the charges against Premesh Chandran, Steven Gan and KiniTV, which had aired the video in question.
The NGO said the charges, which were made under the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA), underscored why the “vague and sweeping” legislation needed “urgent reform”.
“The increasing use of this law to target independent media and any online criticism of the government is seriously concerning, and also a clear violation of international human rights law on freedom of expression,” director of programmes David Diaz-Jogeix said in a statement today.
On April 15, the Kuala Lumpur Cyber Court charged Premesh over the video, which featured a press conference held by former Batu Kawan Umno division vice-chief Khairuddin Abu Hassan.
The video was titled “Khairuddin: Apandi Ali is not fit to be AG and he should quit immediately”. It was uploaded in English and Bahasa Malaysia on July 27, 2016.
The charge against Premesh came about six months after he and Gan were charged last November over the video.
The duo face charges under Section 244(1) of the CMA, which relates to their using their positions as directors of KiniTV to upload the videos online.
They face a fine up to RM50,000, or one year in jail, or both if convicted.
Noting that Section 244(1) of the CMA was rarely invoked, Article 19 said Section 10(a) of the Federal Constitution requires the government to protect the right to freedom of expression.
“International human rights law is clear that this must encompass guarantees for independent media, including to report on matters of public interest that may be embarrassing to the authorities.
“The prosecutions against Malaysiakini clearly violate the right to freedom of expression.”
It added that the charges followed Prime Minister Najib Razak’s recent claim that freedom of expression and press freedom is “thriving” in Malaysia.
“However, since 2015, the Malaysian government has arrested, investigated and charged media personnel, whistleblowers, opposition politicians, artists, students, civil society and social media users for voicing their concerns over the 1MDB scandal.”
The government had also relied on the Sedition Act 1948, the Official Secrets Act 1972, the Penal Code and the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma), it said.
The NGO said CMA must be reviewed to more precisely define what constitutes “improper use of network facilities or services”.
“The use of this provision in conjunction with Section 244(1) to target an independent online news portal is a worrying development, and will likely have a chilling effect on media and other independent voices in Malaysia.”