Malaysian Bar mulling lawsuit to challenge ‘fake news’ Ordinance, Emergency Proclamation and others

Newly elected Malaysian Bar president AG Kalidas (left) and his Vice President Surindar Singh  during a press conference at Malaysia Bar Council building in Kuala Lumpur March 13,2021. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Newly elected Malaysian Bar president AG Kalidas (left) and his Vice President Surindar Singh during a press conference at Malaysia Bar Council building in Kuala Lumpur March 13,2021. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

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KUALA LUMPUR, March 13 — The Malaysian Bar is looking to file a lawsuit to challenge the Emergency (Essential Powers) (No. 2) Ordinance 2021, together with the Emergency Proclamation and other Ordinances, its new president AG Kalidas said today.

In a press conference this evening after being elected as president for the 2021/2022 term, Kalidas said that this was also the will of  Malaysian Bar members.

“As the motion which has been carried today, insofar as the Proclamation is concerned and also the respective Ordinances, the Malaysian Bar has mandated us to initiate suits relating to the matter, or do what is necessary.

“So our stand is, we will be taking this up in the right channel. Most probably, I mean very likely, there will be a suit initiated by the Malaysian Bar.

“I’m not touching on the second Ordinance, we will call it Ordinance number two. Not touching on that alone, basically, the Malaysian Bar believes in freedom of speech. Of course, there are boundaries to freedom of speech and we also believe in that. You cannot be alleging something which is not true. So we know the boundaries but we believe that people must be allowed to speak,” Kalidas added.

The newly-gazetted Emergency (Essential Powers) (No. 2) Ordinance 2021 criminalises the creation and publishing of fake news.

According to the new Ordinance that took effect on March 12, individuals found guilty of creating or publishing fake news on Covid-19 or the Emergency proclamation could now face a fine of up to RM100,000 and imprisonment.

Media groups and Opposition lawmakers have since expressed concern over the provision; that it may be used as an arbitrary weapon to silence critics of the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government.

DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang had earlier today also urged the Attorney-General to provide clarity on the move to prosecute any individuals who claim that the Emergency Ordinance called by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was done to save his skin.

He questioned the law and its execution and asked why it was not gazetted by the Cabinet.

Lim said a period of time should have been given for public feedback before enacting the law.

The MP for Iskandar Puteri was commenting on de facto Law Minister Datuk Seri Takiyuddin Hassan’s remarks yesterday that it was a criminal offence under the Ordinance, for anyone to allege that Muhyiddin had called for the Emergency because he lost the majority in Parliament and that they can be fined RM100,000, jailed for up to three years or both.

He asserted that Takiyuddin is not part of the judiciary and questioned the legitimacy of his claim.

Takiyuddin had in a press conference yesterday, assured Malaysians that the new Emergency (Essential Powers) (No. 2) Ordinance 2021 gazetted to curb the spreading of ‘fake news’ will not be used once the nationwide state of Emergency is lifted.

He stressed that this is stated very clearly at the end of the document that the Ordinance will only last as long as the state of Emergency is in effect.

The Emergency Proclamation meanwhile, came into effect in January.

The gazettement is dated January 14, but takes retrospective effect from January 11, the day Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah issued his proclamation of Emergency under Article 150 (1) of the Federal Constitution to safeguard the country from the economic threat posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Last month, a group of seven non-governmental organisations joined a growing number of court challengers against the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government’s recourse to a nationwide state of Emergency, arguing that parliamentary consent is required to do so.

The group comprises Bersih 2.0, Suara Rakyat Malaysia, the Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ) , Aliran, the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall, Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia, and Save Rivers.

Their suit was filed by the legal firm AmerBON Advocates at the High Court.

The group’s action follows two initial lawsuits challenging the validity of the Emergency proclamation, most notably by Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Datuk Seri Khairuddin Abu Hassan, a politician known to be aligned to former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Anwar’s suit filed on January 26, challenged Muhyiddin’s advice to the Agong to declare Emergency, the suspension of Parliament, and the postponement of elections for the duration of the Emergency.

Khairuddin’s suit filed last January 29, similarly claims that Muhyiddin did not have the parliamentary legitimacy to advise the King to declare an Emergency on grounds that the Pagoh MP no longer commanded the majority in the Dewan Rakyat at that time.

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