KEY ISSUES:

  1. Is Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in contempt of court by commenting specifically on the bloggers’ defamation suits?
  2. Is Abdullah Ahmad Badawi using Executive power to influence the judiciary on the outcome of the bloggers’ suits?

A practitioner in Common Law has alerted the Clerk-of-Works that Prime Minister/Umno president Abdullah Ahmad Badawi can be cited for contempt of court and for using Executive power to influence the Judiciary over NSTP’s defamation suit against Jeff Ooi and Rocky.

Abdullah’s offending statements were widely carried by Malaysia’s national news agency, Bernama, and the country’s largest circulation newspaper, The Star, on January 24.

In Bernama, Abdullah was quoted as saying:

“We do not censor the Internet and that’s our policy, but they (bloggers) must understand that there are also laws on defamation and sedition.

“These laws are enforced. They should bear in mind that they cannot hide and they cannot take advantage of doing something against the law,” he told Malaysian reporters here in his first comment on the country’s growing number of online bloggers of late.

He was responding to a question on the legal suits for alleged defamation filed by the New Straits Times newspaper and four of its senior executives against two popular blogs, Screenshots and Rocky’s Bru.

“The law is the law. They cannot hide and hope to be protected under some kind of a cover or whatever they think that they have,” the Prime Minister said.

Abdullah said it was obvious that for bloggers and for journalists of other media, duty and responsibility must go together.

“And if you want freedom, what is freedom without responsibility?” he asked. “I don’t agree with freedom without responsibility. Freedom without responsibility is anarchy. Actually, it is being irresponsible,” he added.

In The Star, the prime minister was quoted as saying:

Bloggers must be responsible for what they write on the Internet as there are laws on defamation and sedition, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said.

The Prime Minister said these laws were enforceable and bloggers must bear in mind that they could not hide or take advantage of the Internet to do something that was against the law.

“They cannot hope to cover themselves or hide from the laws,” he told Malaysian journalists at the end of his three-day working visit here yesterday.

He said bloggers, just like newspaper journalists, must be responsible for what they wrote or risk facing legal action from others.

Abdullah was commenting on the legal action against bloggers Jeff Ooi and Ahirudin Attan by the New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd (NSTP), its deputy chairman Datuk Kali-mullah Masheerul Hassan, Group Editor in Chief Datuk Hishamuddin Aun and former Group Editor Brenden John Pereira.

He raised the question of “what was freedom without responsibility,” saying that laws must be respected.

The Common law practitioner said Abdullah is an interested party in the defamation suits filed against the two bloggers, and their cases are pending. As such, Abdullah should have refrained from invoking defamation and sedition to incriminate the subject of his comments, and to subtly coerce the Judiciary to prosecute the defendants whose suits are still at their early stage.

The law practitioner also highlighted that Abdullah is the president of Umno, the political party which ultimately owns The NSTP group, which practically employs/employed the four plaintiffs, namely editorial adviser Kalimullah Masheerul Hassan, Group Editor-in-Chied Hishamuddin Aun, former Group Editor Brenden John a/l John Pereira and CEO Syed Faisal Albar.

Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who commands the power to appoint the Group Editor-in-Chief of The NSTP, is regarded as the de facto political master for the four individual plaintiffs, a claim which has been affirmed by previous Group Editors-in-Chief of the newspaper group.

Common Law is the British legal system that Malaysia inherits and practises today.

The question now is: Who should file for a court order to cite Abdullah for contempt, and for using Executive power to coerce the Judiciary?

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