Court dismisses Najib's gag-order application (Updated)

KUALA LUMPUR: High Court judge Justice Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali has dismissed a gag order application on the media for discussing the merits of the case involving his three criminal breach of trust, three money laundering and one abuse of power charge against former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak.

Nazlan said that greater emphasis should be given on freedom of speech in this case as provided for by the constitution.

"The motion is unsustainable and violates freedom of speech. Hence the application is dismissed," he added.

He also said that the gag order, in this case, would be contravening the constitution.

"The gag order applied for in this case if granted would represent a major incursion into the constitutional right of freedom of expression and speech under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution as well as an unjustified departure from the open justice principle of Section 15 Courts of Judicature Act 1964," he said.

He said that the existing laws on contempt and defamation already provides safeguards and can be pursued if there is any wrongdoing.

"This is with apart from the technical floor that the scope of the proposed gag order stated in the notice of motion is inconsistent and under this circumstances does not in my view promote the objective of the law as an instrument of justice. In view of the foregoing broad reason," he said.

Najib's lawyer Tan Seri Shafee Abdullah told the judge that they would file an appeal on Monday with regards to the gag order.

Nazlan since said there have been no juries in criminal trials in Malaysia since 1995, it would be hard to prove that publications would undermine the judicial system.

On July 4, high court judge Mohd Sofian Abdul Razak had approved Najib's request for an interim gag order to stop discussions over the charges filed against the former prime minister. That order expired today.

Earlier, deputy public prosecutor Mohd Hanafiah Zakaria told the court that much of the commentary on the matter was already in the internet domain long before Najib was charged with multiple criminal charges for allegedly taking RM42 million out of SRC International.

He added that it would be impossible to enforce a gag order on news organisations based outside Malaysia.

He said such an order would in effect muzzle the local press, violating Article 10 of the federal constitution which guarantees freedom of speech.

"Even if it is political dynamite, it can be published freely," Hanafiah said.

Najib's lawyer Harvinderjit Singh, meanwhile, argued that the court should not face any hurdles in issuing contempt orders should the gag order be lifted.

"The court should inform members of the public that they should not make any words or comments that infer that Najib is guilty.

"We are trying to convince your lordship to reinstate the sub judice rule because that's what's going on.

"Tweets are going out by the second. We are trying to stop people from saying what shouldn't be said in the first place."