KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 21 ― The Malaysian Bar has called upon the government to form a policy forbidding authorities from filing defamation suits against individuals, and to begin the legislative work in the coming session of Parliament.
In a press statement today, its president Datuk Abdul Fareed Abdul Gafoor cited the case of Subang Jaya Municipal Council’s (MPSJ) defamation suit against animal activist Koh Tat Meng.
“The decision to sue for defamation (against Koh) would appear to be acceptable in light of the Federal Court decision in Chong Chieng Jen v Government of State of Sarawak, where the apex court held that a public authority has the right to bring a civil suit against an individual for defamation.
“However, the Malaysian Bar has grave reservations about this ruling, which creates a chilling effect on public discourse by effectively enabling the government to repress views, curtail expression and news reporting, and restrict democratic space, through the threat of defamation suits.
“When the government is the subject of a suit, it should make all efforts to explain and be responsible for the decisions and actions of its officers,” said Abdul Fareed.
It was reported that the suit was initiated against Koh pursuant to him filing a civil suit against MPSJ in December last year.
The 47-year-old print shop owner was also charged at the Magistrate’s Court in Petaling Jaya under Section 186 of the Penal Code for obstructing public servants from discharging their duty.
A video of Koh attempting to persuade MPSJ officers not to use force while trying to catch a stray dog hiding under a car had recently gone viral.
In the video, one of the officers can be seen hurling the animal into their van, where it remained motionless.
Due to a verbal misunderstanding where Koh tried to tell the officers, all of whom were Muslims, that Islam does not condone violence towards animals, he was then pinned against a vehicle and angrily told not to speak any further on the religion.
In his statement, Abdul Fareed reminded the authorities that the role, responsibilities and vast powers held by the government necessitate continuous scrutiny and constant vigilance in order 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 counter suit 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.
“Further, the public purse should be better utilised in service of the public as opposed to pursuing protracted litigation. This decision by the MPSJ does not bode well for the present government’s efforts in opening up the democratic space and in fostering public trust and confidence,” he said.
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