Malaysia’s “extreme punitive measures” to criminalize “fake news”

This statement was originally published on on 11 March 2021.

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is deeply shocked and appalled by the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government’s decision to criminalise “fake news” under a new emergency ordinance and calls on the State to stop using the emergency proclamation to stifle any criticism of the current administration.

Without the necessary parliamentary checks and balances, the unfettered powers given to the current administration under the Emergency Proclamation and the Emergency (Essential Powers) (No. 2) Ordinance 2021, which comes into operation tomorrow, 12 March 2021, foretells the continued attempts by this government to use any means possible to undermine our fundamental rights and freedoms.

The ordinance, among others, provides for an RM100,000 fine, three-year imprisonment term or both, for the publication and distribution of “fake news” relating to COVID-19 or the Emergency Proclamation. It also gives anyone found to have published “fake news” a 24-hour notice to take down said post or be liable to an RM100,000 fine, allows for the police (subject to a court order) to take “necessary measures” to take down “fake news”, and allows the police access to computerised data, including passwords and encryption codes, and [defendants] risk a fine, jail term or both.

What is equally alarming is the opportunistic nature of the current government, under the guise of an emergency, to re-introduce specific elements of the Anti-Fake News Act 2018, which was repealed by the previous Pakatan Harapan (PH) government.

“Fake news” is not clearly defined in the law, opening the real possibilities of abuse through arbitrary arrests, investigations and punitive actions being taken against the alleged offender. We anticipate further surveillances and invasions of our privacy, arbitrary censorships of critical and dissenting media reports, and thus, attacks on media freedom, and disproportionate crackdowns on legitimate speech such as dissent and misinformation.

The arbitrary use of this ordinance will go against the fundamental norms of freedom of expression and speech as enshrined in our Federal Constitution and international standards, which clearly stipulate that the public has the right to know, seek and receive, as well as to impart ideas and information of all kinds. As such, the government must immediately withdraw the Emergency (Essential Powers) (No. 2) Ordinance 2021.

11 March 2021

Ms. Wathshlah G. Naidu
CIJ Executive Director

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Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) is a network of human rights journalists in Uganda working towards enhancing the promotion, protection and respect of human rights through defending and building the capacities of journalists, to effectively exercise their constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms for collective campaigning through the media.

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