Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, currently embroiled in an epic corruption scandal, is proposing a law that would impose stiff fines and jail sentences on those who publish what it deems fake news. The proposed law is a warning of the danger when
governments decide what is true and what is not.
Najib, seeking reelection to a third term, is being investigated by several countries, including the United States, on allegations that he and close associates diverted $4.5 billion from a Malaysian
government investment fund for their own use. An inevitable outcome of the law, should it be passed, would be to chill media discussion of the corruption scandal.
The legislation would define as fake news any news, information, data and reports
which are wholly or partly false, whether in the form of features, visuals or audio recordings or in any other form capable of suggesting words or ideas. It would cover those who create, offer, circulate, print or publish fake news or publications
containing fake news, and impose a 10-year jail term, a fine of up to $128,000, or both, at the whim of the government. The law would apply to those overseas as well as inside Malaysia.
Reporters Without Borders welcomes a Kuala Lumpur appeal court decision rejecting an appeal by the government and interior ministry against a court ruling in favour of allowing the Malaysiakini news website to publish a print version:
Yesterday's ruling is encouraging for freedom of information in Malaysia.
The government's behaviour is clearly indicative of a desire to control the media, while the judicial system seems opposed to this. But
caution is needed. The government will probably challenge this latest decision and Malaysiakini has yet to obtain a licence to print, which only the interior ministry can issue.
As we pointed out in an open letter to the prime
minister in May 2012, real progress is still needed for freedom of information in Malaysia. We offer our full support for independent media and Malaysiakini in their efforts to resist government harassment.
The Malaysian government has suspended the publication of a main opposition newspaper in a move political rivals criticised as a crackdown on dissent.
Suara Keadilan, run by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's Keadilan party, ran into trouble after
the authorities said it violated publishing laws with a report this month which claimed a government agency is bankrupt.
The Home Ministry, which oversees Malaysia's newspapers, said it will not renew Suara Keadilan's permit as it was not
satisfied with the paper's explanation for the allegedly inaccurate report.
A letter will be issued to inform the printer that it is not allowed to print until a decision is made on the renewal of its permit, the ministry said in a
A fourth newspaper has been forced to close in Kuala Lumpur following the government's crackdown on publishing licenses. The suspension of Hakhah's printing office follows the closure of the newspapers Suara Keadilan, Kabar Era Pakatan and Rocket on
Suara Keadilan, a leading critical voice in Malaysia, is reported to have been shut down for publishing false news that could incite public unrest. Local activists claim that Prime Minister Najib Razak's government is attempting to
silence critical publications ahead of national elections.
The Centre for Independent Journalism strongly disagrees with calls to suspend Malay daily Utusan Malaysia for publishing commentary with racial undertone and to penalise its author, who writes under the pseudonym Awang Selamat, with the
On 3 June, the Malaysian Indian Congress president, S. Samy Vellu urged the authorities to charge Awang Selamat, under the Sedition Act. This followed the publication of an article Malays betrayed? published in the
daily's column on 31 May, in which non-Malays were said to have over demanded their rights.
Open and civil discussions on race and religion are instrumental for nation-building. Through such discussion, the norms and mores of free
expression, such as the ethical boundaries would evolve. But to ban certain views, especially by giving absolute powers to the state to censor, is a grave violation of freedom of expression for the individual and the community.
We call on all
political leaders and opinion leaders to emphasize the importance of dialogue and debates and refrain from demanding for the use of undemocratic laws. We also urge the editors of Utusan Malaysia to create spaces in the newspaper for those with
differing views and opinions on the issue and show that it is interested in constructive engagement.
Malaysia's government has imposed a ban on two main opposition newspapers, ahead of key political developments.
Harakah and Suara Keadilan have been told they cannot publish for the next three months, with immediate effect.
It comes a week before the expected designation of a new and controversial prime minister, Najib Razak, and two weeks before important by-elections.
Analysts say the government, which has faced strong opposition challenges, is increasingly intolerant of criticism.
This latest suppression underscores the insecurity and fear that Najib and his supporters feel about their political
situation, Tian Chua, a spokesman for Suara Keadilan , is quoted by AFP news agency as saying: We fear that this action by the government is a prelude to a general clampdown on press freedom in Malaysia .