AG vows action against fake news on coronavirus, to wield Penal Code instead of Communications Act

Attorney General Tan Sri Tommy Thomas at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex February 4, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Attorney General Tan Sri Tommy Thomas at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex February 4, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 5 — The Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) today issued a stern warning against those found disseminating false information on the coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak, saying freedom of speech does not allow propagating lies.

Attorney General Tan Sri Tommy Thomas also said that the prosecution will rely on a Penal Code law against fear-mongering rather than the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 as the latter does not fit the situation.

“The Police and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission are working closely with officers in this Chambers. Charges will be made against the individuals concerned in the coming days,” he said in a statement.

“Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 is one option. However, the elements required to be satisfied by Prosecution before a person can be convicted by a Court under that provision do not fit into the category of offences that have been committed in recent times.

“Accordingly, the individuals concerned will be charged under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code which governs statements relating to public mischief. The key elements in this provision, which has been part of our criminal laws for decades, are the making or circulation of any statement or rumour which may cause fear or alarm resulting in anyone being induced to commit an offence against public tranquillity,” he said

Section 505(b) of the Penal Code penalises those who make such remarks “with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquility.”

If found guilty, the accused may face prison up to two years, or with fine, or both.

Thomas said government authorities are determined to prevent the spread of false statements concerning the coronavirus.

“Our health authorities must be allowed to deal with the problem in a calm and measured manner, without having to cope with extraneous matters,” he stressed.  

Thomas said when an epidemic or pandemic crisis occurs in any society, it is critical that truthful and honest statements are issued by health authorities on a regular and prompt basis so that the millions of individuals who make up a society can themselves make informed decisions relating to their own health and safety, and that of their loved ones.

“When epidemics occur, panic must be prevented among the citizenry. Instead, calmness and firmness of authority should guide the people on the origins, scale and magnitude of the epidemic.

“Lies about the origins, scale and magnitude of the disease must not be permitted because they endanger public safety,” he added.

Deputy Inspector General of Police Datuk Mazlan Mansor said earlier that a total of 13 investigation papers were opened over the spread of fake news involving the outbreak.

This morning, journalist Wan Noor Hayati Wan Alias was charged with three counts under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code in a Magistrate’s Court, believed to be over her social media posts on the coronavirus outbreak.


 

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