Respond to allegations with proof, not defamation suits, Bar tells Putrajaya

Koh Tat Meng and his wife Diong Mei Li at the Magistrate’s Court in Petaling Jaya last year.

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Bar has urged Putrajaya to formulate a policy to end the use of defamation suits by any form of government after the Subang Jaya Municipal Council (MPSJ) decided to sue a man who attempted to intervene in the capture of a dog.

The suit was initiated against Koh Tat Meng after he had filed a civil suit against the council in December.

Bar president Abdul Fareed Abdul Gafoor said he was dismayed by MPSJ’s decision, stressing that the government should instead take responsibility for the actions of its officers while making attempts to explain them.

He added that it was necessary for the powers and responsibilities of the government to be put under constant scrutiny and vigilance, “to maintain the scales of power”.

“This is especially so in situations such as this, where there is an allegation of abuse of authority and force.

“The solution lies not in initiating a countersuit for defamation, but in replying to or rebutting such allegations, with appropriate evidence, during the trial.

“The government, as a public body, cannot take offence in the same manner that a private individual may,” he said in a statement today.

On Feb 12, the Federal Court upheld a legal principle established two years ago that federal and state governments can sue individuals for defamation, in a case involving Sarawak opposition leader Chong Chieng Jen and the Sarawak state government.

While acknowledging that MPSJ’s suit is acceptable in light of this decision, Fareed warned that this could discourage public discourse by enabling governments to suppress views and “restrict democratic space” by threatening defamation suits.

He added that public funds are better off spent on serving the public instead of pursuing prolonged litigation.

“The Malaysian Bar, therefore, calls on the government to promulgate a policy that forbids the utilisation of defamation suits by any government in this country.

“And it reaffirms its call to immediately introduce legislation in the coming session of Parliament to undo the effects of the Federal Court decision, to ensure once and for all that no government in this country will be able to resort to such legal action.”