Trial judge says media free to report coverage of Syed Saddiq case after prosecution complains about leaked audio transcripts, advises against going overboard

·5-min read
Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, July 21 – Media organisations are free to report on Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman's ongoing corruption trial without prejudice, the High Court ruled today.

Judicial Commissioner Azhar Abdul Hamid made the decision after the prosecution sought to cite two news companies, Sinar Harian and Astro Awani, for legal action after they published transcripts from yesterday’s court proceedings that had yet to be formally tendered as evidence.

Azhar, who is the sitting judge in Syed Saddiq’s trial, said freedom of expression is a fundamental right, adding that the High Court does not have the power to stop the public from commenting on the case.

But he stressed that comments should not go overboard.

“As far as comments or updates on the case go, we cannot stop the public from making comments.

“I think it's enshrined under the Constitution but maybe it's a good reminder that comments must be within the permissible perimeters.

“Let's not go overboard over the whole thing,” he said this afternoon.

Earlier this morning, Deputy Public Prosecutor Datuk Wan Shaharuddin Wan Ladin told the court that Sinar Harian and Astro Awani had published purportedly leaked transcripts of yesterday's court proceedings.

He claimed that the two companies did not have their representatives covering the court proceedings yesterday.

Wan Shaharuddin wanted Azhar to admonish the editors from both organisations and summon them to court tomorrow so they could explain how they obtained the transcripts.

The DPP added that a police report had been lodged early this morning on the leaked transcripts.

The transcripts are said to be of an audio recording between Syed Saddiq and a Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) officer called Mohd Ishan Sapuan.

In the audio clip, a man identified as Ihsan could be heard telling Syed Saddiq to support Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin as prime minister.

The same voice was also heard saying the MACC is always used by the government as a tool to intimidate the Opposition.

The audio clip has been played in court yesterday during the trial.

Wan Shaharuddin also told the court today that he was not happy with a man called Farhan Iqbal who identified himself as the communications lead for Syed Saddiq.

Farhan has been tweeting the court proceedings and yesterday tweeted the transcripts on this twitter account .

Wan Shaharuddin argued that Farhan’s tweets were sub judice and would influence public opinion of the trial.

He demanded the man who was present in court today explain his actions.

“The person who leaked these transcripts is present here today but I also want the editors of Sinar Harian and Astro Awani to explain themselves as well. We want Farhan to explain himself as well before we carry on,” Wan Shaharuddin said

“Despite repeated warnings we still see these sort of idiotic, naive and immature actions which I feel is subjudice to this trial,” he added.

But Syed Saddiq’s defence counsel Gobind Singh Deo objected to the prosecution’s demands, going as far as saying it was akin to intimidation.

Gobind said he wasn't aware of what was tweeted but said the police report was made by the person in question, Ihsan, which could be viewed as trying to silence the a member of the public from making comments.

“The report was lodged by someone who is going to be a witness on this trial. Can he lodge the report and ask for action to be taken?

“He can come to court and deny or agree during questioning but to lodge a report of contempt? Let the press cover what they want as the audio clip was played in an open court for all to hear,” he said.

Defence co-counsel Datuk Ambiga Sreenivasan said she was concerned with Wan Shaharuddin's request as it encroached on the right to speech and other fundamental freedoms.

“These are public proceedings and they are entitled to comment on it. It is about protecting freedom of speech.

“This is a very slippery slope. Whenever they are upset they lodge a police report. This is intimidation. Are they saying that no one, even the public, can comment on this case outside of court? Will they threaten this young man and insist he be hauled up; where is this taking us?” she asked.

When he made his ruling, Azhar said he disagreed with Wan Shaharuddin’s views about the media.

“As far as I am concerned the media has every right to write what's in open court. So I think there is nothing that needs to be said about that. But as far as Farhan's comments, I don't know if the court can stop the public from making comments?" he asked.

“There's a very thin line separating them so I need some time to think on this," he said before the court took a break for lunch.

Syed Saddiq is accused of abetting Armada's former assistant treasurer Rafiq Hakim Razali to withdraw RM1 million in funds belonging to the Bersatu Youth wing.

He is alleged to have committed the offence at CIMB Bank Bhd, Menara CIMB KL Sentral, Jalan Stesen Sentral 2, here on March 6, 2020, He is also charged with misusing property for himself, namely RM120,000 from the Maybank Islamic Bhd account belonging to Armada Bumi Bersatu Enterprise by causing Rafiq to dispose of the money at Malayan Banking Berhad, Jalan Pandan 3/6A, Taman Pandan Jaya here between April 8 and 21, 2018.

He also faces two counts of engaging in money laundering activities, namely two transactions of RM50,000, believed to be proceeds of unlawful activities, from his Maybank Islamic Bhd account into his Amanah Saham Bumiputera account, on June 16 and 19, 2018.

Rafiq had previously testified that he was told by Syed Saddiq to withdraw the money from the bank as the money belonged to him from his efforts to raise funds for campaigning in his Muar constituency.

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