By Dorcas Ting
KUCHING, Sept 24: The High Court here has fixed January 4 to 8, 2021 to hear the defamation suit between the Sarawak Government, State Financial Authority (SFA) and Sarawak DAP chairman Chong Chieng Jen over his “black hole” remark made in 2013.
The trial dates were initially fixed Oct 12 to 16. However, the Court of Appeal’s three-man bench unanimously allowed the application of Chong’s application to amend his defence regarding his defamation suit with the Sarawak Government and SFA.
Therefore, the High Judge Alexander Siew How Wai fixed the new trial dates to January 2021 for both parties time to settle the amendment and file in additional documents if necessary.
The plaintiff will call six witnesses and the defendant will call three witnesses during the trial to testify.
Chong represented himself at the High Court here today together with his other counsels, Chong Siew Chiang and Michael Kong. Whereas the Sarawak Government and the SFA was represented by Counsel Mohd Azdrul Azlan and Oliver Chua.
On April 3, 2013, the Sarawak Government and SFA sued Chong in Kuching High Court for defamation for publishing “the State budget for the past 7 years…. a sum of RM10 billion mysteriously disappear into this black hole…. and the State does not have money because state money going somewhere else” which had objectionable words in the media on January 3, 2013.
On June 29, Judicial Commissioner Christopher Chin Soo Yin found that the defendant had cogent reasons which reasonably explained the 7-year delay in seeking to amend the defence, therefore, denied the application of Chong to amend his defence dated April 26, 2013.
Chong applied to Kuching High Court to amend his defence dated April 26, 2013, following his bid to review the apex court’s decision which allows the government to sue for defamation was dismissed by the Federal Court.
The Federal Court had in 2018 upheld a majority decision of the Court of Appeal that words – “the State budget for the past 7 years…. a sum of RM10 billion mysteriously disappear into this black hole…. and the State does not have money because state money going somewhere else” published by Chong by some media houses, were capable of a defamatory meaning. Therefore, the Government of Sarawak and the State Financial Authority could sue Chong for defamation.
Chong was dissatisfied with the judgement of the Federal Court, and applied for a review of that judgement by Federal Court on the ground that the judgement violated Article 10 of the Federal Constitution which guaranteed freedom of speech if the Government could sue its citizens for defamation.
However, the Sarawak Government argued that the application for review was a guise to appeal against the earlier judgement of the Federal Court on the ground that its earlier decision was wrong. The Federal Court had no power to hear appeals against its own decision.
On February 12, the Federal Court sitting in Putrajaya unanimously ruled that there was no merit in the application and that the Federal Court could not review its own decision.
The application by Chong was dismissed with costs of RM100,000.00 to be paid to the Sarawak Government and the State Financial Authority. — DayakDaily