By The Rakyat Post | Human Rights In ASEAN
Can the firm of a human rights lawyer represent a politician in a suit against a press organisation?
This is the topic of a heated discussion which took place today, mostly on Twitter, between Malaysia’s legal eagles after the firm of Edmund Bon filed a suit against The Malaysian Insider on behalf of Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim.
“People mixed it up by saying he is being a professional, he is being a lawyer. Nobody is disputing that.
“We’re not questioning the right of Bon to defend Abdul Khalid or the right of Abdul Khalid to have a lawyer. That’s not the issue.
“The issue is if you are going to sue The Malaysian Insider and at the same time pretend to be a human rights lawyer. That is a problem,” argued human rights lawyer Latheefa Koya, adding that this should be looked at in the context of Malaysia.
“You can’t give lectures on defamation law in the context of Malaysia. Everybody knows how Malaysia’s freedom of press is. We don’t have that much freedom. What we have is only media online.
“If you want to sue in that context, you can’t talk about defamation law. He cannot pretend not to know the situation here,” she said, adding that if Bon continued with the suit, he would no longer be regarded as a human rights lawyer.
She then pointed out to The Rakyat Post that Bon was a founder of LoyarBurok, which she said speaks and fights for freedom, including freedom of press.
She also argued that Abdul Khalid had been given the opportunity to reply to The Malaysian Insider.
“This is not a situation where Abdul Khalid had no right of reply or freedom of speech. This is not a situation where Khalid is being attacked by Utusan, for example, where the reply would not be published. You cannot equate it.
“If you look at The Malaysian Insider‘s version, it made many attempts to seek an interview with Abdul Khalid.
“Instead of granting an interview, you sue them. The Malaysian Insider is a free press. You cannot say it is an anti-Khalid blog,” she said.
Fellow lawyer Michelle Yesudas said she had always believed that Bon was a comrade-in-arms.
“I always believed we were all on the same side of freeing the media, and suing alternative media on defaming a state figure dilutes our campaign,” she said to The Rakyat Post.
However, referring to her Twitter posts on the matter, Michelle had also pointed out that Bon did not deserve to be disrespected for his apparent inconsistency.
“We can disagree and tegur (criticise), but no malice needed,” read one of her posts.
In contextualising objections to the suit, Yesudas said the fight for free press is a fight that should not be diluted by suing alternative media and is a declaration that they will always be on the side of the press that does not endorse the authoritarian state.
She also posted that freeing the media created a network of support for news organisations like The Malaysian Insider, Malaysiakini, and The Rakyat Post, and that a lawsuit against The Malaysian Insider was akin to defending a policeman in a police brutality case.
“Not legally wrong. Just inconsistent,” she wrote, adding that the matter would have been different if it was a lawyer other than Bon.
When contacted, Bon referred to his own Twitter posts on the matter.
He had largely shared posts arguing in his defence, among two of which were from user Andrew Yong.
“Some people seem to think lawyers can abandon longstanding clients and refuse to work for them because of political reasons.
“What kind of legal system would we have if lawyers could refuse to represent clients because it was unpopular or unfashionable,” read the retweets on Bon’s timeline.
However, Bon did ask that his detractors do their research.
“Since many are sidetracked by critique re lawyers, pls read the Basic Principles of Role of Lawyers,” he said, linking to a document entitled “Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Havana”.