Kit Siang sues NSTP over ‘Umno kafir’ report

By Hafiz Yatim
Nov 8, 2010

DAP advisor Lim Kit Siang has filed a defamation suit against New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd over a report published by its Malay-language daily Berita Harian on Tuesday.

The suit was filed by senior lawyer Karpal Singh.

The Ipoh Timor MP, in his statement of claim, alleged that the report was malicious and false in claiming that he had branded Umno as kafir (infidels), particularly in light of ongoing campaigning then for the Galas by-election.

Claiming that the respondent had failed to verify the facts, Lim said the report claimed that he had given a speech at Kesedar Sungai Terah, when he had not.

The report, he said, could be construed to mean that he had interfered in Islamic affairs and that he was guilty of sedition in making the alleged remark.

Another possible meaning was that he intended to sow hatred in a plural society and that he was an irresponsible politician.

In his statement of claim, Lim said the report was directed to lower his self-esteem and position.

For this, he is seeking general and aggravated damages for libel, as well as interest and costs of the action.

He also said a ralat (correction) published by Berita Harian on Thursday could be used as admission.

Karpal later said he would file a notice of action against Malacca Chief Minister Mohd Ali Rustam to verify whether or not he had commented on the matter, as quoted by Berita Harian.

This will be sent to Mohd Ali tomorrow, giving him seven days to reply.

“We will consider our next course of action following Ali’s reply – whether he apologises or denies making such a statement,” added Karpal.

‘Investigate the reports’

Lim later said the newspaper had shown lack of sensitivity and carelessness in what it published.

“This goes beyond Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s 1Malaysia concept (which requires) being sensitive to all races, as we live in a multi-religious society,” he said.

Karpal also renewed calls for new Inspector-General of Police Ismail Omar to quickly investigate the matter as several reports have been lodged.

“There is not only civil liability but also sedition and criminal defamation,” he claimed.

“DAP will not sit back (if there are any more similar incidents), let’s make this clear.”

Last Tuesday, Berita Harian had quoted Ali as saying that the DAP and Lim have become braver by asserting that Umno members are kafir.

The daily issued a correction two days later.

  1. #1 by boh-liao on Monday, 8 November 2010 - 6:05 pm

    Goodie, goodie, best of luck (U r up against d entire dark force of UmnoB n its mah chais)

  2. #2 by waterfrontcoolie on Monday, 8 November 2010 - 11:24 pm

    Even if YB loses the case, it will tell the whole world what we have left with our once GREAT Judiciary! Let them tell the world what their reasons are and in the process, many fence sitters can decide the direction we should take!

  3. #3 by Bigjoe on Monday, 8 November 2010 - 11:30 pm


    I actually thought this issue does not have much leg. Its not the first time the BN papers defame others and especially opposition leaders and LKS. But it appears this issue is getting more leg..

    Do I sense people losing tolerance for BN paper lying? We have lived with it for so long. What is different today? Is there a level of frustration and desperation that has been miscalculated somewhere?

  4. #4 by born in Malaya on Tuesday, 9 November 2010 - 12:21 am

    Just last Saturday’s Star paper, I read under the business section that MCA buys 42% stake in Star for rm1.28 billion. Imagine all papers like NST, Berita Harian , Star and bla-bla all own by political parties in BN.
    What kind of news do you expect to hear from the arrogant BN.
    Do you expect BN to print news that favour the oppositions.
    These papers are only use as brain wash medium, what an unfair political tools they have.
    How can a political party controls almost all papers in a country?????.What kind of truth can you read from papers nowadays???.

  5. #5 by Cinapek on Tuesday, 9 November 2010 - 1:13 am

    I would not be surprised one bit if YB Kit fail to receive the judgement he expects given the tainted judiciary we have and the fact that Berita Harian is UMNO owned.

    Even if BH is found guilty at best they will just receive a slap on the wrist just like the two racist principals and the BTN official. The reason Nazri gave to justify the light punishment was they had apologised and so do not deserve severe punishment. The judge in this case against BH would also cite the reason that BH has apologised and so should be let off lightly. Contrast this type of punishment with the Sin Chew reporter who was arrested by police with huge fanfare and jailed under ISA just for reporting a fact that an UMNO leader had called non Malays “pendatangs”.

    So YB, don’t expect too much in this nation of double standards.

  6. #6 by Comrade on Tuesday, 9 November 2010 - 5:27 am

    BN/UMNO is getting desperate by the day
    Making slanderous remarks another way
    To tarnish DAP and uncle Lim’s image
    To try to gain political advantage

    To power UMNO is desperate to cling
    Can this be their final fling?
    Lets make this to come true
    At GE13 vote in the PR crew

    With God do not ‘play play’
    We all must trust and obey
    Repent and stop your evil way
    Or meet God’s wrath one day

    BN’s double by-election wins is at most
    For the PR team just a battle lost
    Be ready with good preparation
    To win the war the 13th general election

  7. #7 by Jeffrey on Tuesday, 9 November 2010 - 9:14 am

    This is not a simple case of YB Kit’s reputation being injured and he seeks legal redress to restore it. I don’t think his chances in the courts are good at all.

    “Kafir” is an Islamic doctrinal concept in reference to unbelievers within an Islamic theocratic state. The label is derogatory in the Malaysian context. In the 1980s there’s much kafir mengafir exchanged between UMNO and PAS politicians with each side accusing the other as being un-Islamic. That’s between believers of Islamic faith. But if a Non Muslim were to use the term “kafir”- especially on a muslim – it is not only an inappropriate usage but one that is also insensitive and provocative in a pluralistic society. Kit’s position is that to impute falsely to him such a remark does great damage to his reputation as a responsible senior politician aware of sensitivities of a plural society.

    Why I say Kit’s chances in court are not good, even if assuming courts were independent, is because no real damage to his reputation is done when Berita Harian made a one-paragraph correction that the ‘Kafir’ was incorrectly attributed to him. Besides in political contestation ala Malaysian context these accusations of kafir mengafir have been used umpteenth times before between Muslims and occasionally even by Muslims of Non Muslims of different sides of the political divide with serious legal implications and suits based on criminal defamation.

    However if there were no real personal damage to reputation provable, the political damage might already have been done in Galas on polling eve with such a false imputation! One would never find out how many Malay/Muslim votes were lost to PAS’s candidate when this false imputation gave the wrong impression to Malay Muslim voters that PAS required assistance from – and its supporters cheered – a Non Muslim like Kit who allegedly irresponsibly abused an Islamic doctrinal concept like “Kafir” against a political opponent like UMNO, which is also Islamic.

    So Kit/Karpal is using this wrong attribution as a means to solve more complex political problem or challenge than purely a legal address for alleged damage to his reputation, which is difficult to succeed in light of Berita Harian’s public correction. Besides arguably it was PAS’s reputation that suffered more from this false accusation than Kit’s!

    The nature of the complex political problem or challenge is this: some UMNO politician makes a false accusation; it is published by mainstream pro government media; it hits its mark, voters get influenced, vote for BN’s candidate against PR’s candidate; by election is won; the people who made the false accusations with impunity to score political brownie points come out with a retraction; the media comes out with a correction – and issue settled???

    It is a political strategy that is low cost to BN but it reaps maximum political returns at expense of the Opposition. Kit & Karpal probably think this got to be stopped and better way is to use the legal process and its publicity to expose the dishonesty of this strategy to voters in the coming by elections or general elections.

  8. #8 by Jeffrey on Tuesday, 9 November 2010 - 10:10 am

    Continuing: Whether such a legal means, with no high hopes of success, could be efficiently exploited to counteract a political challenge of the nature above delineated remains to be tested but at least there are two downsides to be factored into consideration and managed here:

    Firstly, Kit and Karpal have to consider the implications of such a suit, if successful, on the principle of freedom of Expression/Speech in this country, the upholding of which is an important arsenal for the Opposition in publicly exposing the foibles and misdemeanors or even crimes of the ruling politicians.

    Here Berita Harian/NST did not say that Kit made the ‘Kafir’ remark. The media merely reported what the Melaka Chief Minister Mohd Ali Rustam said. Of course one could say in hindsight that the media could have exercised more due care but seriously when reporting what Mohd Ali Rustam said, does one reasonably expect the reporter to ask Mohd Ali Rustam, “are you sure that’s what Kit said” and then immediately proceed to Sungai Terah, trace and interview attendees of that ceramah whether Kit was present and said those words?

    In normal circumstances, considering humans – and reporters – do make mistakes the question is whether upon the mistake being known what does the newspaper do to rectify the mistake and mitigate the damage? Here Berita Harian immediately made a one paragraph correction, which should suffice, so why sue the media – in addition to the maker of the false imputation Melaka Chief Minister? Karpal was reported to have said, “If they want trouble they have come to the right place”. Yes if you were successful in the suit – which I don’t you would- the trouble set by such a precedent is not only caused to as UMNO linked Media Prima Berhad Media Group but also the alternative media like Malaysiakini or the Malaysian Chronicle (and who knows maybe one day even TheMalaysianInsider) whose reporters have one time or another (even in good faith and in keeping with the strictest journalist traditions) made mistakes of false attributions and have averted legal defamation suits by quickly making a public correction of the mistakes with some words of contrition. In initiating such a suit and contemplating its consequences in an unlikely case of success what’s the implications on Freedom of Speech and in particular Freedom of the Press if reporters were allowed no margin of errors that they could not rectify and have to face financially costly suits? Karpal may do it for free for Kit or DAP but what are the potential financial consequences on the alternative media if such a precedent were set?

  9. #9 by Jeffrey on Tuesday, 9 November 2010 - 10:17 am

    Continuing: It makes practical sense that one should wherever possible avoid making the tiff with media ‘personal’ (even if we know its skewed in favour of the ruling coalition for whatever reasons, whether shareholding, editorial appointments or the Printing Press Publication Act).

    This is because the media has firstly, financial resources to take on any case for however long (Ask Jeff Ooi & Rocky, they know how energy sapping it is to fight NST); secondly it has reach in terms of readership to influence public opinion and thirdly it has a team of investigators and reporters to ferret out everything about its target for attack carried out in an uneven playing field. (Ask TT Durai of S’pore’s NKF saga. Durai/NKF sued Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) (Straits Times) and its reporter Suan Long for defamation. The press took it personal and went all out for Durai/NKF exposing everything from false declarations on NKF’s reserves to installation of a golden tap in Durai’s private office suite, his salary, use of company cars and first-class air travel etc until Duari was forced to resign and eventually charged in court that patronage from Mdm Tan Choo Leng, wife of Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, also could not save him).

    I am not attempting here to draw any parallel between Kit/Karpal or DAP on one hand and Durai/NKF on the other in terms of vulnerabilities to exposure by Press but merely highlighting the power of the Press if it wants to turn nasty and vindictive if dispute turns from professional to personal.

    So is bringing a suit against Berita Harian/NST worth the hassle and helpful to achieve the political objective as against the minimal chances of success in our courts, the implications on Alternative Media even if such a suit were successful, taking on and fighting the full resources and weight of the Media if it embarks on personal vendetta??? These are issues -pros and cons- to be weighed.

  10. #10 by Jeffrey on Tuesday, 9 November 2010 - 10:24 am

    Correction per #7 – “…..Besides in political contestation ala Malaysian context these accusations of kafir mengafir have been used umpteenth times before between Muslims and occasionally even by Muslims of Non Muslims of different sides of the political divide WITHOUT serious legal implications and suits based on criminal defamation.

  11. #11 by sirrganass on Wednesday, 10 November 2010 - 6:01 pm

    Jeffery: ““Kafir” is an Islamic doctrinal concept in reference to unbelievers within an Islamic theocratic state. ” – NOT necessarily “STATE”. Kafir is simply non-believers or non-Muslim, or “NOT PRACTICING Islamic way of life”.

    In Malaysia, normally Non-Muslim will not interfere on how a Muslim should believe in & must behave like. But a good Muslim should have a firm faith and doesn’t worry about what non-Muslim has to say. A bad Muslim, however, should be punished, not only in this world, but very definately in the hereafter.

    How good is good and how bad is bad – most of you will rely on a certain acceptable moral code – but a good Muslim refers to what is laid down in Alquran.

    NST or BH has done a bad thing to LK SIANG, and will be responsible for it. Simply accusing other Muslim and equally accusing other non-Muslim, is punishable and not permissible by Quran. Go ahead with suing. That is your right. Thanks.

  12. #12 by Jeffrey on Wednesday, 10 November 2010 - 8:56 pm

    ///NST or BH has done a bad thing to LK SIANG, and will be responsible for it. Simply accusing other Muslim and equally accusing other non-Muslim, is punishable and not permissible by Quran. Go ahead with suing. That is your right./// by sirrganass

    Thanks for the observation “NOT necessarily “STATE”.

    The problem here is that whilst (wrongly) accusing other Muslim and other non-Muslim is bad and punishable and not permissible by Quran, that is sharia, and Kit is proceeding sue on secular law of defamation and hence must satisfy secular legal requirements whether a wrong attribution, quickly corrected by BH, will provide a legal recourse ny secular law. Other considerations to weigh suggested by me are also based on practical and secular implications without regard to dictates of what by Islamic /Sharia laws or norms, is morally or legally culpable.

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