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Malaysia's new government urged to abolish "Anti-Fake News" act

Commuters wait for the train in front of a government advertisement about 'fake news', at a station in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 26 March 2018
Commuters wait for the train in front of a government advertisement about 'fake news', at a station in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 26 March 2018

MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images

This statement was originally published on seapa.org on 14 May 2018.

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is alarmed and deeply concerned at Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's statement reported in several news media on 12 May 2018 that fake news laws will be given clear definitions.

This appears directly in contradiction to statements that were made by Dr Mahathir in his first press conference after taking office on 10 May 2018, where review of the Anti-Fake News Act 2018 as well as the National Security Council Act 2016 were specifically mentioned. This is also in direct contradiction to Pakatan Harapan's manifesto that pledges to abolish other laws that repress media freedom and freedom of expression as a whole. This includes the Anti-Fake News Act 2018, Sedition Act 1948, the Prevention of Crime Act 1959, the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 and the National Security Council Act 2016.

CIJ calls on the Pakatan Harapan government to comply with their manifesto pledges and take immediate steps to repeal the Anti-Fake News Act 2018 (AFNA) that was passed by the previous government. AFNA is a blatant attempt to stifle dissent and create a chilling effect amongst the public. It imposes draconian penalties with jail terms of up to ten years and fines of up to RM500,000. CIJ is of the view that this hastily passed law cannot be rehabilitated in any way and must be completely repealed. It is an affront to the principles of freedom of expression enshrined in Article 10 of our Federal Constitution and one of the most oppressive legacies of Datuk Seri Najib Razak's administration.

CIJ notes that Tun Dr Mahathir stated that action would be taken against those who published news that seeks to instigate violence or chaos. CIJ states that there is no need for any fake news law to deal with such instances, as the Penal Code already has adequate provisions to deal with these matters.

This government should not be focusing its efforts in coming up with a clear definition of what is "fake news". The term is vague and unhelpful; and is open to abuse and used as a tool to stifle criticism and dissent. The government should be focusing on fulfilling its election pledges - to abolish AFNA and to respect media independence by abolishing the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.

Freedom of expression and media freedom in Malaysia has been under threat for too long. This is not the time to prop up the relics of the previous administration that were used to silence its critics and to create a climate of fear. This is the time for the government to demonstrate its respect for the rule of law and the fundamental liberties enshrined in our Federal Constitution.

Centre for Independent Journalism, Malaysia
12 May 2018

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