Najib’s lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah says media must not behave like “estate people”.
Former premier Datuk Seri Najib Razak was spotted toying with his selfie camera while he was in the dock in the Kuala Lumpur High Court during his trial.
This happened when his defence counsel Muhammad Shafee Abdullah was cross-examining Maybank officer Halijah Abdul Wahab.
Reporters sitting near Najib could see that the selfie camera was turned on and his face appeared on the screen.
According to a report by The Edge, he took a selfie with a sad expression and also a photo of the courtroom.
A report by Utusan Malaysia said Najib pinched the screen to zoom in on the lawyers and the bench before taking a photograph.
According to the open court etiquette, one is not allowed to take recordings either audio or visual, including photographs, while proceedings are ongoing, in order to preserve privacy.
This is also why courtroom sketches are used in publications by the media instead of actual photos of the proceedings.
The High Court had previously barred any uploading of court recordings on social media, after video clips of the trial were uploaded by Najib’s ex-aide Isham Jalil on his Facebook page.
Isham is now under police investigation.
On March 15, Najib slipped out of court for a toilet break without notifying the court during his lawyer’s oral submission.
On March 18, he appeared to have dozed off in court and had to be woken up by a policeman.
Najib denied that he fell asleep and said he was merely “closing my eyes”.
Just before the start of the afternoon session of Najib’s trial, news of the alleged selfie reached the court.
Ad hoc prosecutor V Sithambaram told the court that he received WhatsApp messages pointing to reports of Najib taking a selfie, which is a violation of court rules.
“It’s not good for the integrity of the proceedings,” he said, asking the judge to address the matter of using mobile phones to take pictures in court.
Najib’s lead counsel, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, then singled out a reporter from The Edge who sat at the public gallery behind Najib.
“He seems to be able to sit behind Najib and see him (Najib) take a picture of himself from there. And from behind, he is able to say how Najib looks like. He seems to have superhuman powers.”
Shafee added that he questioned Najib about the matter, and the latter denied taking photos using his mobile phone.
“Perhaps the reporter was bored. This is the sort of reporting that is not welcome. This is not newsworthy. We kept quiet the first few times,” said the lawyer.
“He (Najib) was looking at himself because he felt something sharp in his eye.
“That is the reason why I need to complain about such reporting. If they want to be treated as the fourth estate, they can’t behave like estate people.”
The fourth estate is the press. The first estate is the clergy, the second estate the nobility, and the third estate the commoners.
Sithambaram, in his reply, said the issue before the court was whether a selfie was indeed taken.
High Court judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali then asked Najib whether he “did or did not take selfie in open court”.
“Your Honour, I used it as a mirror to check my personal appearance, that’s all,” Najib replied.
Nazlan accepted the explanation but proceeded to issue a general reminder that photography during court proceedings bordered on contempt.
“I accept the explanation but I think I shall make the reminder, although Tan Sri (Shafee) said his client did not take selfie, but as a general reminder as this issue arises now and again.
“The court prohibits any form of photography in the courtroom; actually, it’s known to most people.
“Because if it were true, if a selfie were taken just now – accused (said) did not do it – otherwise it would be in my view, in open court, bordering as being in contempt, especially if during court proceedings.
“Because anyone who is caught taking photos in open court, if it ever happens in the future, will have to be dealt with severely, including for instance surrendering the mobile device to the police during court proceedings,” the judge added.
“The sanctity and integrity of proceedings must always be respected,” he said.
Shafee then requested the court to issue a “reminder” to reporters not to write articles that were of “zero value and in fact untrue”.
Nazlan said this was unnecessary because reporters are bound by their own code of ethics.
“I’m sure (it was) not (done) with malice. The way the phone (was) used as a mirror gives the impression (that) selfies were taken.
“I will leave it at that,” said the judge.
For the record, Malaysiakini, The Edge and Utusan Malaysia all published slightly varied accounts of Najib taking photos with his selfie camera.