Warning against creating ‘climate of fear’, legal group urges govt to repeal new Emergency law against Covid ‘fake news’

The Emergency (Essential Powers) (No. 2) Ordinance 2021 heavily penalises anyone who spreads ‘fake news’ about Covid-19 and will come into force today. — Reuters pic
The Emergency (Essential Powers) (No. 2) Ordinance 2021 heavily penalises anyone who spreads ‘fake news’ about Covid-19 and will come into force today. — Reuters pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, March 12 ― Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) wants the government to repeal the Emergency (Essential Powers) (No. 2) Ordinance 2021 that heavily penalises anyone who spreads “fake news” about Covid-19 and which comes into force today.

The non-governmental group said the new law is vague and repressive and will have adverse effects on democracy in Malaysia.

“This Ordinance entirely disregards the right to privacy by allowing enforcement authorities to search any electronic device that they deem ‘necessary’ to complete their investigation.

“It will create a climate of fear,” LFL said in a statement today.

It pointed out that there were other laws that sufficiently criminalise offensive speech, and cited the Penal Code and the Communications and Multimedia Act as examples.

It said the current state of Emergency should not be abused to create arbitrary laws, and reminded the government that Article 150 (2B) of the Federal Constitution limits the enactment of any legislation to only those that are absolutely necessary.

“Though the scope of this Ordinance is limited to ‘fake news' relating to Covid-19 and the Emergency proclamations, this does not diminish the adverse impact it will have on our democratic system,” LFL said.

It added that the Ordinance does not define the term “Emergency proclamation” and its vagueness will likely lead to inconsistency and abuse in enforcement.

LFL claimed the Ordinance is also an attempt to bypass the due process in law by allowing derogations from the application of the Evidence Act 1950.

“Considering the enormity of the fines and imprisonment stipulated, these derogations are unjustified and clearly contradicts with sacrosanct principles of a fair and impartial trial and may lead to unjust convictions,” it said.

The newly gazetted Ordinance states that individuals who create, publish, or circulate fake news on Covid-19 or the Emergency proclamation now face a fine of up to RM100,000 and imprisonment up to three years, or both.

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