KUALA LUMPUR, March 23 — The federal government should discontinue its proposed new law against “fake news”, said 14 citizens groups concerned that its broad definition could hurt freedom of speech and expression.
With the law expected to be tabled next week, the groups said there were already an abundance of allegedly repressive laws that curb Malaysians’ and press freedoms.
“We urge the government to drop the proposed Bill, which we believe is yet another attempt to stifle debate and criminalise those who speak out against corruption and human rights violations,” the groups said in a statement today.
With the general election just months away, they expressed concern that the law would be used as a “dragnet” to criminalise reporting on alleged government misconduct and critical opinions as well as hobble Opposition campaigns.
They also questioned the need for such a law as well as pledges that it would not harm civil liberties.
“Laws presented as attempts to protect the public from misinformation can often act as tools for governments to restrict the presentation of dissenting views or ideas, and ultimately violate the right to freedom of expression,” the groups said.
The groups pointed out a deputy minister’s remark that information on 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) from sources other than the Malaysian government would be considered “fake news”, saying this gave the government the last word on what constituted the truth.
The 14 groups also expressed concern over the government’s alleged lack of transparency over the proposed new law, saying that key stakeholders from civil society and the human rights community had been excluded from consultations and with the proposed law not published.
They then urged the government to prioritise reviewing existing laws to bring them in line with international human rights standards.
The statement was signed by Article 19, Aliran Kesedaran Negara (Aliran), Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4), Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Diversity Malaysia, GERAK (Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia), Justice for Sisters, PELANGI - Campaign for Equality and Human Rights Initiative, Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor, Projek Dialog, Pusat KOMAS, Sinar Project and Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram).