I welcome and fully support Federal Court decision to stop award for mega damages for defamation although my RM250 million libel suit against Utusan Malaysia is pending
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): The Kuala Lumpur High Court yesterday postponed the hearing of my RM250 million libel suit against newspaper publisher Utusan Melayu Malaysia Bhd. as my lead counsel Karpal Singh could not be present in court because of kidney ailment. The case has been postponed to August 28 for case management.
On Monday, the Federal Court confirmed the decision to stop awarding mega damages for defamation suits when a three-judge panel made up of Chief Judge of Malaya Justice Haidar Mohd Noor, Federal Court judge Justice Abdul Malek Ahmad and Court of Appeal judge Justice Abdul Hamid Mohamad rejected an application for leave by three lawyers to appeal against the reduction of mega damages awarded to them by a High Court after they had won in a defamation suit – from RM1 million to RM100,000.
Although my pending RM250 million defamation suit against Utusan Melayu would be affected, I welcome and fully support the Federal Court decision to stop the award for mega damages for defamation as I had always held that mega multi-million ringgit defamation awards would have a “chilling” effect on freedom of speech and a free press.
In fact, this was a major indictment of the damning report on Malaysia in 1999 issued by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Abid Hussein, who said such mega damages “need to be curbed”. DAP had given full and unconditional support for this finding by the UN Special Rapporteur when he issued the report, which I debated in Parliament in 1999.
When I filed the RM250 million defamation suit against Utusan Malaysia in February 1999, it was a “Use poison to counter poison” strategy to seek an end to the dangerous trend of mega awards for defamation. My mega defamation suit had multiple purposes, as apart from redeeming my honour, integrity and reputation from the defamatory attack by Utusan Malaysia and to nip in the bud the campaign of dirty media tactics against the Opposition by the Barisan Nasional-owned and controlled mass media, it was also aimed at making the “whole nation sit up and decide whether Malaysia wants to score another dubious world’s first – the world’s highest defamation damages” when such mega defamation suits could also be filed against the Barisan Nasional people.
I had in 1999 decided on suing Utusan Malaysia for RM250 million for defamation because of two mega defamation suits at the time – one by the son of the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, Mirzan Mahathir, who sued the printers of Asian Wall Street Journal for RM150 million for an article and the other by Berjaya Group chairman and chief executive Tan Sri Vincent Tan who sued Star Papyrus for RM200 million for another Asian Wall Street Journal article.
I had sued Utusan Melayu Malaysia Bhd. for a Utusan Malaysia report entitled “Kit Siang tidak patriotic” dated 13th February 1999, arising from my statements about the prison conditions pertaining to former DAP MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Guan Eng when serving his jail sentence in Kajang Prison after being convicted of sedition – which I described as not complying with minimum international standards, including the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
While the new Federal Court decision will affect my pending mega defamation suit against Utusan Melayu in terms of quantum of damages, it is a step in the right direction which should applauded by all Malaysians concerned about freedom of speech and a free press, as it has also proven right the “use poison to counter poison” strategy by turning the “chilling effects” of the mega defamation suits against the establishment personalities and forces.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman