Public Officials Should Refrain from Using Defamation Law – Prime Minister Should Drop Suit Against Malaysiakini

Suaram expresses grave concerns on the defamation suit of the prime minister, Najib Razak against Malaysiakini for merely publishing readers’ comments, which are unfortunately deemed by the prime minister as defamatory.

As a politician holding public position as the prime minister, Najib Razak is answerable to the people and he is bound to subject to public criticism and scrutiny. He should have exercised his right to reply against the criticism from the readers of Malaysiakini, rather than slapping Malaysiakini with a legal suit. By providing his side of story, the prime minister would be able to counter his critics and defend himself. This would also allow the public members to compare and judge for themselves who is speaking the truth.

Suaram is convinced that Malaysiakini would publish the article of the prime minister, should he chose to exercise his right to reply, as this has been the long standing policy of Malaysiakini, in fact a fundamental policy for any media outlet that claim themselves to be independent and commit to press freedom.

Besides that, the prime minister also has a lot of mainstream media, which are under the absolute control of the government and the ruling parties, at his disposal to exercise his right to reply.

By resorting to the defamation suit against Malaysiakini, it seems the prime minister is more interested to silence public criticism against him rather than engaging in public debates on to defend his policies and decisions.

The legal suit is going to have a chilling effect on press freedom as well as freedom of expression of the general public in debating issues of public interest. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Frank La Rue also opined that public officials should refrain from using defamation law in the interest of monitoring public officials.

The action of the prime minister himself is in stark contradiction of his own statement back in 2012 when he proposed to reform the Printing Presses and Publication Act, in which he claimed that his government was “committed to fostering a free and open media environment, capable of meeting the standards Malaysian demand and expect.”

Suaram calls on the prime minister to drop the defamation suit against Malaysiakini immediately and refrain from using defamation law if his government is truly committed to promoting press freedom and freedom of expression.

The prime minister should set the example for his government.

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