A leading Malaysian news site was fined $120,000 Friday after being convicted of contempt over readers' comments that criticised the judiciary, sparking international condemnation and concerns about worsening press freedom.

Malaysian news site hit with fine as fears grow over press freedom

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by M. Jegathesan

A leading Malaysian news site was fined $120,000 Friday after being convicted of contempt over readers’ comments that criticised the judiciary, sparking international condemnation and concerns about worsening press freedom.

Fears have grown that independent media outlets are under attack in the Southeast Asian nation since a scandal-plagued coalition seized power without an election last year following the collapse of a reformist government.

Malaysiakini, a popular portal that has made a name for itself by reporting on the misdeeds of the ruling elite, and its editor-in-chief Steven Gan were accused of contempt of court in a case brought by the attorney general.

The case related to five readers’ comments posted under an article that were critical of the judiciary, which authorities say eroded public confidence in the courts.

A panel of judges at the country’s top court ruled that Malaysiakini was guilty and ordered the site to pay a 500,000 ringgit ($120,000) fine — more than double the amount sought by prosecutors.

Gan — who could have faced a jail term if convicted — was cleared, but he criticised the decision as “uncalled for”.

“The hefty fine against us is really an attempt not to just shut us up — but to shut us down,” he told reporters at the Federal Court in the administrative capital Putrajaya.

The portal immediately called on Malaysians to donate to help cover the penalty, and raised more than the 500,000 ringgit needed within five hours.

The site has faced continual attacks since it was founded in 1999, ranging from police raids to criminal prosecutions, and has so far managed to survive every challenge.

– ‘Blatant violation’ –

Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director, Phil Robertson, said the ruling was “a blatant violation of freedom of expression and media freedom, and should be quashed”.

The US embassy in Kuala Lumpur said it was worried about the decision and “the impact it will have on press freedom in Malaysia”, while British and Canadian envoys also expressed concern.

Judge Rohana Yusuf, delivering the verdict, said freedom of expression must remain “within the bounds permissible by law”.

She said the comments on the site were “reprehensible” and involved “allegations of corruption which were unproven and untrue”.

It was a split decision, with one of the seven judges dissenting.

During the case, prosecutors argued Malaysiakini had facilitated publication of the remarks, but lawyers for the site said they had not intended to publish them and that they were removed quickly once police notified the portal.

Malaysiakini is one of the country’s leading current affairs websites and has long reported on corruption scandals linked to officials, an area usually off limits for the traditionally pro-government mainstream media.

It reported widely on the scandal surrounding sovereign wealth fund 1MDB when Najib Razak was still prime minister, unlike most mainstream outlets.

Najib’s government lost power in 2018 largely due to his involvement in the fraud, and he has since been convicted and handed a 12-year jail term.

Since the change of government, broadcaster Al Jazeera has also faced a police probe over a documentary on migrants that angered the government, while investigations have been launched into activists and opposition figures. Agence France-Presse

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Twitter to boot users who persist with Covid-19 lies

Twitter said Monday it will start labeling misleading tweets about Covid-19 vaccines and boot users who persist in spreading such misinformation.

The one-to-many messaging service introduced a “strike system” that will gradually escalate to a permanent ban after the fifth offending tweet.

“We believe the strike system will help to educate the public on our policies and further reduce the spread of potentially harmful and misleading information on Twitter,” the San Francisco-based company said in a blog post.

“Particularly for repeated moderate and high-severity violations of our rules.”

Twitter users will be notified when a tweet is labeled as misleading or needs to be removed for breaking the platform’s rules, earning a strike, according to the company.

The second and third strikes will each result in the violating account being blocked for 12 hours.

With a fourth violation, an account will be sidelined for seven days. A fifth strike will get accounts permanently suspended, Twitter said.

Twitter late last year began calling on users to remove dangerously misleading Covid-19 claims, including suggestions that vaccines are used to harm or control people.

The service also targeted baseless claims about adverse effects of vaccines or questioning the reality of the pandemic.

Since then, Twitter has removed more than 8,400 tweets and notified some 11.5 million accounts worldwide about violations of its Covid-19 information rules.

The strike system is similar to what Twitter applies to election-related misinformation, which led to former US president Donald Trump being permanently banned for repeated violations, including language that the platform said could incite violence and questioning the integrity of the voting process.

Covid-19 vaccination campaigns are taking place in many countries in an effort to keep people healthy and return to pre-pandemic lifestyles.

YouTube and Facebook are among the online platforms that have taken steps to fight the spread of lies about the pandemic and vaccines.

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© Agence France-Presse

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Tokyo asks China to end Covid-19 anal swabs for Japanese

Japan has asked China to avoid using anal swabs to test its citizens for coronavirus, saying the method prompted complaints of “psychological distress”.

Tokyo’s intervention comes after reports that US diplomatic personnel in China had complained of being subjected to the intrusive tests — a claim Beijing denied.

China, which has largely brought the virus under control domestically, said last month that anal swabs can be more effective than normal throat and nose tests as the virus can linger longer in the digestive system.

But Japanese government spokesman Katsunobu Kato said late Monday that Tokyo had made a formal request through its embassy in Beijing that people arriving from the country be exempted.

“Our embassy requested Japanese citizens be excluded from anal PCR tests, as some Japanese expatriates… expressed the opinion that the tests produce significant psychological distress,” Kato said.

“At this point we have not received a response that they change this… We will continue pressing the issue,” he added, noting that there was no information that any other country was using the method.

Asked about the complaint, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Beijing’s testing methods were “science-based” and “in accordance with the changes in the epidemic situation as well as relevant laws and regulations”.

Last month, US media said State Department personnel in China had complained about the method, but Beijing rebuffed the reports, saying it had “never requested US diplomatic personnel in China to undergo anal swabs”.

Officials in China have used anal swabs to test people it considers at high-risk of contracting Covid-19, including residents of neighbourhoods with confirmed cases as well as some international travellers.

But they have acknowledged it would be hard to use anal swabs as widely as the other methods, which have been used to test millions in mass campaigns, as the technique was “not convenient”. Agence France-Presse

Philippines fires diplomat whose maid attacks were caught on film

The Philippines has sacked its former ambassador to Brazil, after she was caught on camera attacking a domestic worker at her official residence in Brasilia.

Marichu Mauro was recalled to Manila late last year after Brazil’s GloboNews channel broadcast security camera footage filmed over eight months showing her repeatedly assaulting a member of her household staff.

The career diplomat has now been dismissed from the foreign service, President Rodrigo Duterte told a television audience on Monday.

“There are rules to be followed. If you disobey, you take the risk. If something goes wrong, it’s gonna hit you,” Duterte said.

Mauro’s firing means she will lose her pension. She is also barred from standing for public office.

According to GloboNews, the Filipino worker was employed at the ambassador’s official residence, a large gated compound in Brazil’s capital.

Footage of the abuse — dated between March and October 2020 — was used as evidence in a complaint lodged with the Philippine government against Mauro, it said.

Mauro was posted to Brazil in 2018, from where she oversaw the missions to Colombia, Guyana, Suriname and Venezuela.

Mauro has not responded to AFP’s request for comment on her dismissal.

Millions of Filipinos escape low wages, unemployment and limited opportunities at home by going overseas, including as to become domestic workers. Their remittances are vital to the local economy.

But many of these workers face difficult or dangerous conditions, and reports of physical or psychological abuse are not uncommon, though most instances involve foreign employers. Agence France-Presse

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