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Prime minister threatens legal action against Malaysiakini news site

Steven Gan, editor of, at his office in Kuala Lumpur, 5 February 2001
Steven Gan, editor of, at his office in Kuala Lumpur, 5 February 2001


Prime Minister Najib Razak, leader of the ruling United Malay National Organization, threatened on 15 May 2014 to sue the Malaysiakini news site over publication of user comments.

The comments concerned the party's involvement in a political crisis in the state of Terengganu. Razak alleged that the comments could be categorized as defamatory and seditious, thereby damaging his image and that of his party.

In a letter to Malaysiakini, the law firm of Hafarizam Wan & Aisha Mubarak demanded an unconditional apology, the retraction of articles deemed defamatory, as well as a promise to never again publish comments that contain what the lawyers called "generally empty accusation and ill-intentioned allegations."

If the site does not bend to these demands, the law firm said it had "strict instructions" to file a lawsuit.

"The threat of legal action against news media on behalf of a serving Prime Minister constitutes a potential threat to freedom of information," said Benjamin Ismaïl, head of the Asia Pacific desk for Reporters Without Borders.
"As a public figure, Najib Razak must learn to accept criticism. He has other ways to make his views known and to express disagreement, in particular using his right of reply."

Razak's action was highly unusual. "I think this is first time in Malaysia that a sitting PM is planning to sue a media organization," Malaysiakini editor Steven Gan told Reporters Without Borders.

The political crisis underlying the legal threat began on 12 May, when three members of parliament quit the ruling party in response to the sudden replacement of Ahmad Said as chief minister of the Terengganu government. Members of the parliamentary majority were then threatened, until the politicians rejoined the party following mutual apologies by Razak and Said, who attributed the events to a "misunderstanding."

Also on 15 May, Abdul Rahman Dahlan, minister of Urban Well-being, Housing and Local Government demanded that Malaysiakini be held responsible for "malicious articles." He said that the site hid its own opinions behind those of its readers.

Malaysia ranks 147th of 180 in the Reporters Without Borders 2014 World Press Freedom Index.

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