Defamation & the Malaysian Blogger

Local newspapers report a little bump in Muhammad Shafee Abdullah's defamation proceedings against Raja Petra Kamaruddin (RPK), when the High Court today ordered Shafee to appoint a lawyer. RPK's lawyer, Manjeet Singh, had pointed out that Shafee may not represent himself in a case in which he has reason to believe that he will be called on as a witness in the hearing.

Yet, this is a tiny delay in the overall defamation highway along Malaysia's cyber plains. In 2008 alone, three high profile defamation cases have hit the headlines, two of which involve RPK, the other involving Ahmad Lufty Othman of detikdaily.

RPK is no stranger to defamation. In March 2008, RPK was ordered to pay RM4 mill (about US$1.1 mill) for publishing defamatory statements, published two years ago on Malaysia Today, against Universiti Utara Malaysia and also its Vice-Chancellor, Dr Nordin Kardi.

This most recent defamation case concerns a report on RPK's  news portal, Malaysia Today, which apparently stated that Shafee was the mastermind behind the sodomy allegations against Anwar Ibrahim. Aside from the sensationalism behind this case, Shafee and RPK's personalities have clashed, especially when RPK refused to be served the papers while in court.

Lawyer Shafee Abdullah

Malaysian bloggers have rallied behind RPK, especially in light of the Shafee's obtaining a court order requiring RPK to reveal the identities of those who left comments on the offending post. Shafee says that he intends to take the commenters to court as well.

The last order is apparently a legal milestone, although it has been granted by the courts in England and the USA. Lawyers have been quoted as saying that getting the order was one thing, but executing it was another. Shafee (picwas reported to have said that RPK does not have a website which allows open debate, as he (RPK) moderates the comments. By implication, Shafee seems to be saying that RPK knows the identities of the offending commenters on the articles, “Shafee Abdullah: Sodomologist Extraordinaire”; “Money, Power and Sex: What Motivates Man”; and “The Real Dalang Behind the Anwar Sodomy Allegation.” Shafee also has an injunction to require RPK to remove these offending articles from Malaysia Today.

An interesting aside, considering that Malaysia Today has now been blocked, is their removal necessary or required?

Other than defamation, Malaysian netizens have two criminal offences, looking much like defamation, to contend with, namely sedition and criminal defamation (see s. 499 & 500 of the Penal Code, under which Sharifah Aini, popular singer was charged (and discharged). The alleged defamatory statements were made against Siti Nurhaliza, another popular singer, in an email to Sharifah's brother in 2005).

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