Civil society groups protest Malaysia’s use of emergency powers on ‘fake news’

Protestors outside the House of Parliament. Photo: Centre For Independent Journalism
Protestors outside the House of Parliament. Photo: Centre For Independent Journalism

Activists stood under the hot sun outside Malaysia’s parliament building on Sunday afternoon to protest the reenactment of a so-called anti-fake news law that has been widely seen as a threat to freedom of speech and the press. 

Fifteen people, including famed political artist Fahmi Reza, were seen carrying posters that said “fight fake news with facts, not acts,” “democracy is not an iron fist,” and “Muhyiddin out,” while marching a kilometer along Jalan Parlimen to the entrance of the house. The event took place days after the government reenacted the Emergency (Essential Powers) (No. 2) Ordinance 2020 on Thursday that has been heavily criticized as draconian, targeting misinformation related to COVID-19 and the ongoing state of emergency. 

“This Emergency Ordinance foretells the continued attempts by this government to use any means possible to undermine our fundamental rights and freedom,” a statement jointly issued by civil society groups said yesterday. They call themselves the Freedom of Expression Cluster. 

“We fear the possible potential for the executive to use this law to silent dissent or any form of discourse that might threaten the sitting government,” it added. “It is relevant to highlight the potential danger of such gazettements, cautioning the government that it is embarking on a very slippery slope.”

Under the law, anyone found guilty of publicizing fake news faces a RM100,000 (US$24,000) fine and three years imprisonment. First introduced by Najib Razak’s administration before it was scrapped by Mahathir Mohamad, the law also empowers authorities to request for access to website data and passwords.

The Freedom of Expression Cluster also described the law as one that provides for “heavy-handed measures and circumvents due process for a fair trial.” It also denies whistleblower protection and threatens critical enquiry, it added.  

“It creates a menacing environment for good journalism and open exchange of critical information and assessment about matters that affect every single person in this country,” the statement said. 

Ever since Malaysia declared a state of emergency that is expected to last till August, the country has not been able to hold parliamentary debates or call for snap elections. Protestors yesterday also urged that parliament “reconvene as soon as possible.” 

Other stories to check out:

Christians in Malaysia can now use the Arabic word ‘Allah’ in religious publications

Malaysians mark a year of Muhyiddin’s rule with ‘traitor’s day’ tweets

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