‘Black hole’ case: Chong files appeal to challenge decision that could curtail individual’s rights to criticise govt

Chong (right) showing the notice of appeal during the press conference. Also seen is Yong.

By Karen Bong

KUCHING, Sept 22: After losing a defamation case launched by the Sarawak government and the State Financial Authority (SFA) and being ordered to pay RM150,000 in damages and costs of RM50,000, Democratic Action Party (DAP) chairman Chong Chieng Jen has filed an appeal to overturn the decision of the Kuching High Court which ruled that the government has the right to sue an individual for defamation.

Chong pointed out that the implication of the High Court’s decision in this case, over his RM11 billion ‘black hole’ remark, is very far-reaching, especially in curtailing the freedom of speech of an individual and the rights to criticise the government.

“It has never been the law in any Commonwealth country, which Malaysia is under, that a government can sue an individual for defamation.

“This case has set the precedent for the government to have cause of action and defamation against an individual,” he told a press conference at DAP headquarters here today.

Pending assemblywoman Violet Yong was also present.

Giving an example, Chong, who is also a Padungan assemblyman, said an individual giving simple comments like “this government is useless” will be liable for defamation.

This, he emphasised, goes against any principle of law set before in a Commonwealth country or under the Common Law system or even in the United States and other legal systems.

“The second far-reaching implication is that it has an impact on the transparency and accountability of the government in the management of government’s business.

“If the rights of citizens to criticise the government have been curtailed, then the extent of transparency and accountability of the government is lessened. There is a direct consequence of such a decision,” he added.

Putting aside the damages and costs awarded, Chong as a member of law viewed that this is a wrong decision and therefore, appealed against the High Court’s judgement.

Chong’s team of lawyers filed the notice of appeal as well as stay of execution of the judgement on Sept 12, 2022, so that the damages and costs need not be paid until the final determination of the case by the Court of Appeal.

“But I believe this case will go all the way up to the Federal Court because it is something of great importance and affects the progress of democracy,” he added.

On Aug 30 this year, the Kuching High Court ordered Chong to pay for damages and costs to the Sarawak government and SFA after ruling that the plaintiff had proved their case and found the impugned words or statements defamatory.

The defamation case stemmed from news reports over Chong’s remarks using the term ‘black hole’ to hint that RM11 billion had gone missing from the State coffers. — DayakDaily