Madani government using threats of defamation suits as a tool to silence critics

Censorship of public scrutiny by stealth

Murray Hunter

For many years, Pakatan Harapan had wanted to reform Malaysia’s defamation laws, because many PH politicians have been silenced over the years. However, the government has steered away from using criminal defamation, and used Government linked corporations (GLCs), as a means to silence critics.

Prime minister Anwar Ibrahim spoke at the National Journalists’ Day celebration, and said the “media in the country must have total freedom’. By using GLC’s as vehicles to launch persecutory letters of demand to journalists and bloggers, as an alternative to controlling the press directly, Malaysia stands to rise in ‘freedom of the press’ rankings.

Critics of government business ventures and contracts with corporations, are best stopped and silenced by hitting them with ambit defamation claims, that would both intimidate and drain critic’s emotional state and financial resources.

Over the last few months, Projects like the Selangor Maritime Waterway and Shah Alam Stadium have come under scrutiny and criticism by local groups like the Green Party. The critical Green Party secretary general Abdul Razak Ismail, was served with a letter of demand by the CLG, MRCB, alleging defamation against the company. MRCB also served letters of demand on a number of online news portals in a bid to suppress criticism of their pending letter of appointment to undertake the demolition of the Shah Alam stadium, and redevelopment with a smaller stadium to make room for a commercial and retail complex.

This appears to be the modus operandi of the Madani government. Agencies like the Malaysian Medical Council, are using their status as an incorporated entity to make ambit claims of defamation to harass critics in front of some forthcoming court cases which may embarrass them.

Consequently, the ability of journalists to undertake true investigative journalism to uncover unscrupulous business dealings and practices within government, and those entities that deal with government is now the tool of favour for the Madani government. This is in stark contrast to what the prime minister said that fighting corruption would be his government’s top priority.

Malaysia’s draconian defamation laws, once used against Pakatan politicians is now a powerful weapon used towards their critics. Together with the new online censorship role of JAKIM and the MCMC, and political use of the MACC to persecute the Madani government’s political opponents, the Madani government has attacked freedom of speech by stealth. With a Royal Commission being set up to investigate a book written by former attorney general Tommy Thomas, by the law minister Azalina Othman, freedom of speech in Malaysia is being quickly stripped away.

The unfortunate thing is that corrupt practices within the Madani government are no different than any administration before it. However, the Madani government has learnt the lesson from Najib Razak, Silence any critics so any potential scandals are hidden from the public is a key priority.

There is a growing industry of defamation lawyers under the Madani government. The word ‘defamation’ is being abused by overly eager lawyers just too willing to act as lackies of GLCs and government agencies.