Kuala Lumpur, March 28 (IANS) A group of parliamentarians from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) said on Wednesday that a proposed bill regulating fake news in Malaysia violates freedom of expression and called for its withdrawal.
A large protest was held outside Parliament in Kuala Lumpur calling for MPs to reject the bill, Efe news agency reported.
Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said in a statement that the proposal “would impose unjust restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression and further empower the government to arbitrarily go after critics”.
“This so-called ‘fake news’ bill is an affront to fundamental freedoms and poses a debilitating threat to journalism, activism, and informed civic discourse,” said APHR board member and a member of the Philippines House of Representatives, Teddy Baguilat.
The Director of Amnesty International for Southeast Asia, James Gomez, said on Tuesday that it was no coincidence that Malaysia had decided to table this law with the general elections just around the corner, to limit any public debate on the issue.
“With both Singapore and the Philippines considering their own ‘fake news’ legislation, we call on all countries in the region to refrain from following this dangerous trend,” Gomez said.
The bill proposed maximum penalties of up to 10 years imprisonment and fines of $129,000 for anyone who knowingly creates or shares “fake news”.
The proposal also stipulated that the penalties will be imposed on individuals irrespective of their nationality, citizenship, or location when the fake news affects Malaysia or its citizens.
The measure was proposed a few months ahead of the next general elections in which Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak will seek another term amid criticism for his alleged involvement in a graft scandal.
An investigation by The Wall Street Journal and the Sarawak Report portal revealed some $700 million had been siphoned off the public investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhard (1MDB) into the Prime Minister’s personal account.
Najib and 1MDB denied having committed any crime and an investigation by the Malaysian Prosecutor’s Office exonerated the former in January 2016. The polls in Malaysia must take place before August 24.