KUALA LUMPUR – February 13, 2020: A gun was placed on the table in front of journalist Wan Noor Hayati Wan Alias when she went undercover to expose a cartel selling fake Malaysian identity cards back in 2015.
She was nervous at that moment but managed to stay calm so as to not blow her cover.
However, during her interview with The Mole, her voice cracked and her eyes glistened with tears as she spoke about her 10 years-old son’s future following the criminal charges against her for alleged fearmongering on Facebook.
“I’m a single mother. If anything, untoward was to happen to me…I don’t know what will happen to my son. I hope that Malaysians and my friends in the media would pray for me,” said Noor Hayati.
The Berita Harian journalist with 11 years of experience has won over 20 awards including the prestigious Anugerah Kajai from the Malaysian Press Institute for a report on corruption among immigration officers.
Her “fake news” legal tangle began last Wednesday when she was charged with three counts of causing public fear under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code in which those guilty of, may be imprisoned for up to two years, or fine, or both.
“It is a shocking and daunting experience for me. I have been writing about the people’s plights for years. I didn’t foresee this would happen to me,” lamented the soft-spoken investigative journalist.
Her supposedly law-violating Facebook posts, on Jan 26, were regarding the Covid-19 outbreak, specifically on the government’s “peculiar” actions at that point of time.
The first post was that of a critical inquiry on the government’s seemingly insufficient preventive actions in handling the outbreak.
In her second posting, Noor Hayati shared the confession of a nurse in China who claimed that the Chinese government was concealing the true scale of the outbreak.
It was, however, her third entry that really shoved Noor Hayati into notoriety.
She questioned the government’s decision to allow the entry of over 1,000 Chinese tourists into Penang despite the mounting infection tallies in Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea, United States and Singapore.
“This morning there was a news saying that 1,000 people from China have arrived in Penang…maybe if LGE (Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng) gets infected will an emergency be declared?,” was Noor Hayati’s controversial posting.
Her current predicament was also a double whammy as she will be jobless next month due to the downsizing exercise of all titles under the New Straits Times Press (Malaysia) Berhad which owns Berita Harian, New Straits Times and Harian Metro.
“Losing my source of income and having to face this case while raising my child at the same is truly a heavy burden…but I want to remain positive about all of this. Maybe there’s a silver lining, maybe miracles will happen along the way,” was her hopeful remark.
Trying times for Malaysian journalists?
Noor Hayati was the third journalists facing legal problems with the government ever since Pakatan Harapan came to power on May 9, 2018.
The first two were Malaysiakini’s M. Krishnamoorthy and The Star’s M. Veera Pandiyan who were taken to court in April and July last year, respectively, over allegations of unlawful participation and personal enrichment linked to a trip organised by a government outfit.
Ultimately, Krishnamoorthy’s suit was withdrawn and Veera won his case.
A seeming siege by politicians on journalists, particularly those covering politics, have also became common occurrences .
A case in point was the recent labelling of The Star columnist Joceline Tan and Sin Chew Daily deputy executive editor Tay Tian Yan as purveyors of fake news by DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng.
The harsh remark from Lim, who is also the Finance Minister was triggered by the duo’s commentaries on the possibility of a new coalition of political parties being formed to take over the government from Pakatan Harapan.