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    Module 5: Defamation

    The use of meritless defamation proceedings is a notorious method of stifling freedom of expression and dissent, particularly of journalists.  While defamation laws aim to provide individuals with a remedy for public statements that harm their reputation, they inevitably come into conflict with the right to freedom of expression.  Correctly balancing the protection of freedom of expression and the public’s right to information with protecting individuals’ reputations is central to the appropriateness or otherwise of defamation laws and claims.

    The impact of the internet, and particularly social media networks, has meant that it is easier than ever to publish content to a wide audience.  As a result, defamation proceedings have become a commonly used instrument wielded against the authors of statements published online, whether justifiably so or not, while also contributing to a significant increase in defamatory statements.

    The ability to freely post information on social media and the internet without the same degree of thought and review as traditional media, combined with a lack of awareness about defamation laws and the fact that many countries have adopted vague legal rules governing online defamation has led to an increase in online defamation cases and some ambiguity in how defamation applies online.(1)

    Dealing with online defamation cases is particularly challenging for many reasons. The online environment can make it more difficult to identify or trace authors, and victims may want to consider whether to pursue the author or the system operator, since some legal systems consider anyone who participates in distributing defamatory statements to be equally liable.  In addition, deciding the jurisdiction of the court to hear the matter can be difficult as messages posted online are available all over the world, and the parties to a dispute may come from and be located in different jurisdictions.

    This module provides an overview of defamation laws in the context of South and Southeast Asia and how courts have attempted to strike a balance between various rights in recent jurisprudence, with a particular focus on online defamation cases.


    1. [1] On the use of overbroad defamation provisions to target online speech, see International Commission of Jurists, Dictating the Internet: Curtailing Free Expression, Opinion and Information Online in Southeast Asia(2019) (accessible at: Back