Statements condemning the government's move to charge the media company for online video content that is allegedly offensive, poured in after Malaysiakinieditor-in-chief Steven Gan was charged in court today.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has labeled Gan's charging under Section 233(1)(a) of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, in new cyber court today, an "act worthy of a dictatorial regime".
"These charges against Malaysiakini are a serious violation of the freedom of press and show the increasingly dictatorial side of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and his government.
"By using rights abusing laws, ludicrous arguments, and special cyber courts, Malaysia appears to be aiming at shutting down the vibrant and diverse online news environment that has grown up because of the government's control and censorship of the mainline print and TV media," said HRW deputy Asia director Phil Robertson in a statement.
Earlier today, Gan claimed trial at the Kuala Lumpur Sessions (Cyber) Court to two charges of airing an allegedly offensive videos on Malaysiakini's sister-online broadcaster KiniTV's website, which was viewed by the public.
The videos are of a press conference held by Khairuddin Abu Hassan titled 'Khairuddin: Apandi Ali is not fit to be AG and he should quit immediately', uploaded on the English and Bahasa Malaysia website of KiniTV on July 27.
Gan also faces two separate charges of being a director of KiniTV, which aired the videos of the press conference in BM and English. He was released on personal bond pending trial.
Meanwhile, in an immediate reaction, media rights watchdog Gerakan Media Merdeka (Geramm) expressed regret at the charges against Gan for publishing allegedly hurtful comments by a politician.
"We note with concern that the charges also comes after KiniTV had agreed to remove the allegedly offensive word from the video, as this signals a highly repressive move by authorities involved.
"We therefore hope that all parties will be able to protect and help defend the freedom of press and responsible reporting, in a healthy democratic setting," said the group in a statement.
Gov't practicing double standards
Weighing in on the matter, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng asked if the BN-led federal government is practicing double standards, for while Malaysiakini was charged for allegedly offensive content, BN-controlled media like TV3 can freely do the same to him and state officials in their broadcasts, for example.
"Charging Malaysiakini would appear to be treating criticisms personally when the Attorney-General should realise that he is not above such criticism in carrying out his public duties.
"If that is the case then everyone should be charged under the CMA, not only for annoying the AG but also annoying political leaders. Our society would rapidly descend and spiral downwards to George Orwell’s 1984," said Lim in a statement.
He added that BN should let good sense, rationality and reason to prevail by immediately withdrawing such unjustified charges, adding that defamation suits can be filed in courts for such offensive or insulting remarks and there was no need for criminal proceedings.
And since no criminal charges were brought against BN-controlled media when they air content that Penang state officials find offensive, Lim pledged support to redress the double standards.