- First Cyber Court commenced on Sept 1, 2016
- Civil litigation on Facebook thrived in 2016
With the cyber world having made itself at home in almost every part of our lives, it comes as no surprise that crimes and transgressions of the law would also follow suit. Society has embraced this new realm with tremendous enthusiasm and people now share almost every aspect of their lives on social media or through blogs and websites. The anonymity offered by this virtual world has also allowed individuals to loudly voice opinions and thoughts they might previously not have been able to or would have been afraid to. In this first of two articles Foong Cheng Leong looks at some of the cases arising through the use of Facebook, Twitter and blogs.
SEPT 1, 2016 marks the commencement of Malaysia’s first Cyber Court. Consequently, pending cases relating to cybercrime such as PP v Mohd Zaid bin Ibrahim (for a charge under s. 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 for allegedly making an offensive statement while calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Razak) was transferred to the newly established Cyber Court before Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court Judge Tuan Zaman Mohd Noor. Practice Direction No. 5 Year 2016 was subsequently introduced to give a special category for cyber cases for both civil and criminal cases.
2016 saw a drop in civil litigation relating to publications on blogs, Twitter and online forums but civil litigation on Facebook thrived. Facebook became the top platform causing disputes between parties in Malaysia. However, Twitter is still a popular platform for criminal investigations as our Inspector General of Police a.k.a @KBAB51 frequently orders investigations against netizens on Twitter.
There is still no shortage of cases relating to disputes on blogs. In Khairulazwan Bin Harun v Mohd Rafizi Bin Ramli (Kuala Lumpur High Court Civil Suit No: 23NCVC-55-07 /2015), the Plaintiff, Deputy Leader of UMNO Youth Wing, filed an application for leave to initiate a contempt proceeding against the Defendant, Vice-President and Secretary-General of the People's Justice Party (PKR), for sub judice.
The Defendant had apparently published an article in his blog issues which are pending in the Court. According to the Plaintiff, the contents of the article are such that they interfere with the due administration of justice and attacked the merits of the ongoing suit and cast aspersions on the independence and integrity of the judiciary and judicial process and therefore be an act of contempt.
The learned High Court Judge dismissed the application holding that there is no sub judice. The learned High Court Judge held that the general rule is that the law of contempt cannot be used to curtail public discussion of matters of public importance and public interest albeit that these matters may already be the subject of a court action.
In a case relating to a defamation action by a lawyer against the Defendant who is allegedly the infamous blogger, Papagomo, the High Court had rejected the Plaintiff's action because he had failed to prove that the Defendant is Papagomo notwithstanding that the Plaintiff had called numerous witnesses to prove the same.
The Plaintiff even called a blogger who had allegedly met Papagomo in an event and had positively identified the Defendant as Papagomo, and also another blogger who had testified that Papagomo is the Defendant. The Court of Appeal ((Dato' Sukri Bin Haji Mohamed v Wan Muhammad Azri bin Wan Deris (Court of Appeal Civil Appeal No. D-02(NCVC)(W)-783-05/2014)) overruled the High Court on this point and held:-
In our view it is reasonable to infer that in the world of bloggers it is highly probable that a blogger knows the other blogger next to him or her. This probability is real because blogs are circulated in virtual space and they are widely read. It is not something that is unusual or unthinkable that sometimes bloggers do engage in virtual debate or argument and respond to each other over issues which attract public interest such as corruption and misuse of power or position by public officials or public figures
In the same case, it is interesting to note that a witness from the Forensic Legal Department of the Multimedia Commission testified that the Commission monitors blogs and articles published through them; and would investigate any offence under the Communication and Multimedia Act 1998 relating to ‘blog-blog lucah, jelek, mengancam dan sebagainya’ when it received complaint from internet users. He also testified that the Commission has data and information for each blog.
In Maricel Cabangon Peralta Perimaloo v Riccardo Rovati & 3 Ors (Kuala Lumpur High Court Suit No. 23VCVC-18-03/2015), the Plaintiff, a former maid of the 1st and 2nd Defendants, sued the Defendants for defamation. The Plaintiff left the employment of the 1st and 2nd Defendants and filed a complaint with the Labour Office at Kuala Lumpur.
The Plaintiff alleged that, among others, the 2nd and 4th Defendant had published defamatory statements on Facebook. However, on the application of the Defendants, the High Court struck out the Plaintiff's claim against the Defendants on the ground that the statements made were honest, based on facts and raised during a proceeding at the Labour Office at Kuala Lumpur and thus it is protected by absolute privilege and immune from an action for defamation.
In Chan Fei Yu & Yang Lain lwn. Siow Rong Jeing & Yang Lain (Kuala Lumpur High Court Suit No. 23NCVC-12-03/2015), the Plaintiffs sued the Defendants for publishing certain statements on Facebook that allegedly had defamed the Plaintiffs.
The 1st and 3rd Defendant had apparently published the 3rd Defendant's allegation that the Plaintiffs had been negligent in grooming the former's dog until it suffered injury. Further in this case, the Plaintiffs initiated contempt proceeding against the 3rd Defendant for allegedly providing fake residential addresses in his affidavits filed in Court.
The 3rd Defendant explained that one of the addresses was his former addresses whereas the other address is his mother's residence. Fortunately for the 3rd Defendant, the Court accepted his explanation and held that the 3rd Defendant did not provide fake residential addresses to avoid service of the legal papers and interfere with or impede the administration of justice.
In Wedding Galore Sdn Bhd v. Rasidah Ahmad  6 CLJ 621, the High Court affirmed the Sessions Court's decision in granting a public apology on Facebook and general damages of RM10,000 after the Defendant had taken the Plaintiff's photographs from her Facebook account and published them in sales brochures for use at a wedding carnival without permission.
In Lim Yun Min & 7 Ors v Ng Han Seng & Anor (Shah Alam Sessions Court Suit No. B53F-7-03/2016), the Plaintiffs sued the Defendants for allegedly defaming them on Facebook. The Defendants applied to strike out the Plaintiffs' claim for failing to:-
(1) state the Facebook URL address where the statements were published;
(2) state the exact time of publication of the statements; and
(3) identify or name the parties whom the Defendants are alleged to have published the statements and the Plaintiffs did not give the particulars of those parties who have read the alleged Impugned Statement.
The Plaintiffs have also failed to plead the statements in original language i.e Chinese.
The Sessions Court held that the Plaintiffs have failed to provide complete the Facebook web addresses and the identity of the parties that have read the statements. Instead of striking out the case, the Court used its discretion to order the Plaintiffs to amend their pleadings with cost payable to the Defendants.
In GGC v CCC & Anor (Kuala Lumpur High Court Divorce Petition No: 33-1415-08/2013), the Petitioner Wife (PW) sought damages from a lady (CoR) for allegedly committed adultery with her husband (RH). To prove adultery, PW relied on CoR's Facebook postings to prove that RH and CoR had gone for a trip to various places. The Court stated:-
 The PW alluded to the CoR's Facebook comments, status and photos uploaded by Co-R Pangkor Laut Resort, Maxim Hotel stay. However, there is no name or image of RH that appeared in any of these photos referred by PW. It was only by inference from some of the comments made by CoR's friend that PW alleged RH was in those photos with the CoR. Nevertheless, none of these people who commented on the Facebook had been called by PW as witness. These comments or observation by public are therefore merely hearsay and cannot constitute evidence that this Court may rely on with respect to its truth.
 It is also in keeping with the times. In this day and age where with increased mobility, both physical and electronic and the easy access to new-fangled means of communication via the Internet, Wechat, WhatsApp, Skype, Blogs, Twitter and the like, there has been ushered in a whole new world of unlimited opportunities to communicate with anyone anywhere at anytime. With certain communication between the sexes, chemistry develops and opportunities to meet abound. While private investigators may be hired to track and collect evidence of a spouse's infidelity, logistical costs have become prohibitive for many who have every reason to suspect a spouse is cheating on him or her but always a challenge to prove adultery. The time is both right and ripe for a realignment of the standard of proof even in adultery in a divorce petition to that of on a balance of probabilities.
Last year, I reported in Rina Simanjuntak v PP (Criminal Appeal No: P-05-256-09/2014), a Yahoo Messenger Chat log saved the life of Rina Simanjuntak who had been sentenced to death by the High Court for drug trafficking. In 2016, Facebook chat messages saved the life of a German by the name of Rudolf Tschernezow who was charged with drug trafficking. The High Court in PP v. Rudolf Tschernezow  1 LNS 654 held the Accused managed to prove that he is an innocent carrier using those messages.
Foong Cheng Leong is a blogger pretending to be a lawyer, and a lawyer pretending to be a blogger. He blogs at foongchengleong.com, and tweets at @FCLCo. Valley.
Look out for part 2 on March 2: Electronic evidence, news portals and legislation
Malaysia’s first cyber court signals deepening of digital economy
Why Malaysia should review its ‘no censorship’ Internet policy
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