Malaysia threatens ten years in jail for spreading fake news

Rights groups and members of the opposition have said the Bill would stifle government critics and press freedom. Source Shutterstock

Rights groups and members of the opposition have said the Bill would stifle government critics and press freedom. Source Shutterstock

Those found guilty of circulating fake news can be fined or jailed, or subjected to both penalties.

The bill was tabled today in the Malaysian parliament, where a vote within the next few weeks "should not pose any hurdles" to it becoming law, says the Strait Times.

Citing analysis by the Malaysian Communications Multimedia Commission (MCMC), he said that the spread of fake news is "closely linked" to the use of fake accounts.

Prime Minister Najib Razak is now facing questions about billions of dollars missing from a state investment fund. Among the proposals are to not restrict the offences to Malaysia, which demonstrates the government's seriousness in addressing the issue of fake news spread by those outside Malaysia. However, according to the Journal, the bill is expected to pass in time for August elections.

Given the government's track record of misusing the Sedition Act 1948, the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, the Penal Code and the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 to prosecute the opposition and dissidents, it would be foolish to imagine any bona fide intent behind this bill, all the more so, with the general election just around the corner.

It criminalises "fake news" as defined in the bill to include any content "which is or are wholly or partly false". However, the term was soon co-opted by groups across the political divide and is now used by millions around the world to describe news that is deceptive or not entirely truthful.

"Clause 8 (3) states a removal order by the government against a publication that is possibly prejudicial to public order or national security can not be applied to be set aside".

In fact, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, the government has successfully implemented the legal transformation such as by way of the abolition of the Internal Security Act 1960 or ISA and introduced the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 which nourishes the people's right to expression in the country.

The U.S. and several other countries are investigating allegations of cross-border embezzlement and money laundering at 1MDB, which was set up and previously led by Najib to promote economic development, but which accumulated billions in debt.

Najib, who denies any wrongdoing, has fired critics in his government and muzzled the media since the corruption scandal erupted three years ago.

A coalition of human rights and other organizations have expressed concern that the government was pushing the legislation through too quickly. "We are already seeing how the government is closing the space for public debate ahead of the polls". Pete Musto adapted it for VOA Learning English. Worse, it will become yet another sledgehammer in the government's arsenal with which to harass and attack the opposition and dissidents or anybody that refutes the government's version of the truth. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.

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