NSTP to apologise to Guan Eng over fatwa article

DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng.

GEORGE TOWN: A newspaper company has agreed to publish an apology and pay DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng RM200,000 over an article quoting a PAS leader who accused Lim of meddling in Penang’s fatwa affairs during his time as chief minister.

In the consent judgment reached between Lim and the New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd (NSTP) at the High Court today, NSTP agreed to publish the apology on page three of the New Sunday Times.

The apology will include an admission that the article in question was defamatory to Lim, who is currently the finance minister.

The judgment was recorded before justice Rosilah Yop.

According to Lim’s statement of claim, the article titled “Political intervention was real, says PAS”, published in NSTP’s New Straits Times’ (NST) weekend paper, the New Sunday Times, on Feb 5 last year, was wholly defamatory.

The article quoted Penang PAS Youth chief Afnan Hamimi Taib Azamudden as claiming that former state mufti Hassan Ahmad’s contract was not renewed after expiry in June 2014 as Lim had “a hand” in the matter.

Lim said the article was “devoid of truth and substance” and made him look like he had interfered with Islamic affairs as chief minister at the time and was instrumental in renewing the contracts of a mufti.

He said the New Sunday Times article also made it appear as if there was discord in the opinions and views between him and the former mufti, which led to the non-renewal of the contract.

Lim said he had never interfered in Islamic matters in the state, including the hiring or firing of muftis. He said the article had created hatred and contempt against him among the public, as it made him appear to be a “schemer, manipulator” and someone who was “dictatorial”.

He said NST’s journalistic ethics were also in question, as the paper had failed to contact any state Islamic officials to verify the claims made by Afnan. Lim also said there was no attempt to obtain his comments.

NSTP, in its statement of defence, said the article contained “comment or expression of opinion” and fair comment on a matter of public interest.

NSTP said Lim had demanded that the state Islamic affairs executive councillor direct that all fatwas be brought to the state executive council first, before being sent to the king for assent.

It said the former mufti had objected to the move which was why his 17-year tenure was not renewed upon expiry on June 2014.

NSTP said Afnan had seen this as a form of political intervention and was further convinced of the matter as in December 2014 after a new mufti was installed, non-Muslims in Penang were allowed to use the word “Allah”.

It said it had published the comments of Lim and his Cabinet members denying any meddling in fatwa issues in different articles.

In January this year, NSTP applied to strike out the case, saying Lim had no right to sue in his capacity as Penang chief minister and an elected representative, on the basis of the Derbyshire principle where the government cannot sue others for defamation.

It said Lim must be amenable to criticism or expression of opinion against him.

In a March 23 ruling, Rosilah said NSTP’s argument only applied to government agencies, not individuals who hold public office.

She said Lim was entitled to sue for defamation to vindicate himself from defamatory, libellous statements made. She also ordered NSTP to pay RM5,000 in costs.

Lim was represented K Simon Murali while NSTP was represented by Rueben Mathiavaranam.