Hornbill Unleashed

March 2, 2011

Taib vs Malaysiakini: Decision on March 17

Regina Lee

Long-serving Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud’s defamation suit against Malaysiakini will be decided in less than three weeks.

After hearing submissions by counsel for both sides, High Court judge John Louis O’Hara ruled that he would decide on Malaysiakini‘s striking-out application on March 17.

k shanmugaIn the defendant’s final submission, counsel K Shanmuga (left) said that the plaintiff lacks a cause of action against them.

The claim is also an abuse of the court process, said the lawyer.

“This is because there has been no law made by Parliament enabling a restriction on the defendant’s fundamental liberty to freedom of expression by the creation of a tort of libel which enables a government official, like the plaintiff, to sue a journalist and news organisation like the defendants for libel,” he told the Kuala Lumpur civil court this morning.

“The right to free speech and expression is not confined to speech which is merely favourable or inoffensive but extends to those which offend,” he said.

However, Abdul Taib’s counsel, Yee Mei Ken, argued that whether there was a restricted or liberal interpretation to the Defamation Act, it does not change the fact that the law of libel still exists in Malaysia.

“It is apparent… That the right of a person to bring (a) libel claim against a defamer is enshrined in common law and is fully recognised in Malaysia without question,” he said.

Defamation suit in 2007

Taib had sued Malaysiakini in 2007 for defamation when the online news portal ran a series of reports quoting Japanese newspapers.

These highlighted investigations by the Japanese tax authorities of members of a shipping cartel that transported logs from Sarawak.

taib mahmud and japan japanese timber controversyThe cartel members had allegedly paid RM32 million in kickbacks to Regent Star, a Hong Kong-based paper manufacturing company reportedly linked to Taib and his family.

The issue was picked up by numerous news organisations in Japan and elsewhere.

Malaysiakini had followed up with its own report a week later, and subsequently produced its own special issue on the matter, ‘RM32 mil kickbacks – tip of the iceberg‘.

In the meantime, the plaintiff is still appealing to the Federal Court to overturn the Court of Appeal’s decision to throw out their application to remove three crucial parts from Malaysiakini‘s defence.

The hearing for the leave application will be on May 9.


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