KUALA LUMPUR: The Federal Court held that the RM500,000 fine imposed on Mkini Dotcom Sdn Bhd, which operates news portal Malaysiakini, for contempt over readers' comments was the appropriate sentence to serve public interest.

In the full grounds of the court's majority decision, Court of Appeal president Tan Sri Rohana Yusuf, who chaired a seven-member panel, said the sentence would deter others from committing such a crime.

"It may deter others from the temptation to commit such a crime where the punishment is negligible, or it may deter that particular criminal from repeating the same crime.

"Not only regarding each crime, but in regard to each criminal, the court always has the right and duty to decide whether to be lenient or severe," she said in her 76-page grounds of judgment uploaded today on the judiciary's website.

Justice Rohana said the gravity of contempt committed in Mkini Dotcom's case, which involved baseless allegations of corruption, was much more severe than in various other contempt cases which she referred to in her grounds of judgment, including the case of lawyer V.K. Lingam who was sentenced to six months’ jail for contempt.

Justice Rohana said the language used and the allegations made were beyond any bound of decency, targeting the judiciary as a whole and the wild suggestion of the Chief Justice being corrupt.

She said the comments which were facilitated to be published by Mkini Dotcom had besmirched the good name of the judiciary as a whole and had subverted the course of administration of justice, undermined public confidence, and offended the dignity, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

"Having weighed the mitigating factors as submitted by the respondents (Mkini Dotcom and Malaysiakini editor-in-chief Steven Gan) against the seriousness of the offence committed, it was only right that the sentence must not be too lenient.

"Public interest demands a deterrent sentence be meted out against the first respondent (Mkini Dotcom). We therefore hold, a fine of RM500,000 is appropriate," she said.

On Feb 19, the Federal Court ordered Mkini Dotcom to pay a RM500,000 fine after finding the company guilty of contempt of court for facilitating in the publication of five readers' comments. The court, however, found Gan not guilty of contempt.

The court gave Mkini Dotcom three days from Monday (Feb 22, this year) to settle the fine. The company paid the fine on Feb 23.

Finding Mkini Dotcom guilty of contempt was a 6-1 majority decision by Justice Rohana; Chief Judge of Malaya, Tan Sri Azahar Mohamed; Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak; Datuk Abang Iskandar Abang Hashim and Federal Court judges Datuk Seri Mohd Zawawi Salleh, Datuk Vernon Ong Lam Kiat and Datuk Abdul Rahman Sebli.

Federal Court judge Datuk Nallini Pathmanathan, who dissented, found that Mkini Dotcom and Gan were not liable for contempt. The 67-page minority judgment by Justice Nallini was also uploaded in the judiciary's website.

On June 17, last year, the Federal Court allowed the Attorney-General's ex-parte application for leave to commence committal proceedings against Mkini Dotcom and Gan in relation to readers' comments on an article published by Malaysiakini on June 9 entitled, “CJ orders all courts to be fully operational from July 1", which were deemed offensive.

On July 2, last year, Mkini Dotcom and Gan failed to set aside the leave obtained by the AG to commence committal proceedings against them.