Malaysia parliament scraps law criminalising fake news

Law passed by previous government which critics said was designed to stifle dissent repealed at second attempt.

Malaysia fake news
Malaysia has repealed a controversial anti-fake news law passed shortly before the May 2018 election. [File: Stringer/Reuters]

Malaysia has scrapped a law making “fake news” a crime, a year after an initial attempt to repeal the legislation was blocked by the opposition-controlled senate.

The Anti-Fake News Act 2018 was passed by the government of former Prime Minister Najib Razak in a move critics said was designed to stifle dissent, just weeks before he lost the May 2018 election.

Under the law those found guilty of spreading what authorities deemed “fake news” could be sent to jail for six years and fined as much as 500,000 ringgit ($120,000).

The repeal was passed in the lower house of parliament on Wednesday with a simple majority. The upper house can only block a bill once.

Rights groups had denounced the law as repressive and accused Najib of using it to cover up allegations of corruption  and mismanagement.

“The repeal of the anti-fake news law is welcome news that is long overdue,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in an email to Al Jazeera.

The lower house voted to abolish the law in August 2018, but the repeal was rejected by the upper house, or senate, which is dominated by Najib’s defeated Barisan Nasional coalition.

Malaysia was among the first countries in the world to introduce anti-fake news legislation.

Neighbouring Singapore has passed similar legislation, which came into effect this month despite objections from opposition politicians. Thailand is planning to open a “fake news” centre to monitor online content in November.

“Such anti-fake news laws are just a a rebranding of government censorship in a more appealing form, designed to fool people while enabling officials to shut down criticism they don’t like,” Robertson said. 

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies