The Korea Times

Malaysia approves law banning fake news ahead of elections


— Malaysia’s government Monday pushed a law through parliament that makes “fake news” punishable by a maximum six-year jail term despite an outcry from critics worried it will be used to stifle dissent before elections.

The law targets foreign as well as local media, and is seen in part as an effort to silence criticism of the scandal surroundin­g sovereign wealth fund 1MDB that has rocked the administra­tion of Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The election is expected within weeks and Najib is battling to win a third term at the head of the coalition that has led Malaysia for over six decades.

The current parliament is dominated by the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.

The law originally proposed a maximum prison sentence of 10 years and a fine of 500,000 ringgit ($130,000) for publishing what authoritie­s deem to be fake news, but the government lowered the jail term to six years following a storm of criticism.

“This law is not intended to restrict the freedom of speech but to restrict the disseminat­ion of fake news,” said minister Azalina Othman Said.

But opposition legislator­s were not convinced, criticizin­g the law’s heavy penalties and its potential to limit free speech.

“This bill... is a weapon to close the truth so that what is false can be upheld as true, and what is true can be reversed as false,” said Lim Guan Eng of the Democratic Action Party.

“This is something very dangerous for our country.”

The law must still be debated in the senate but is expected to be passed.

More than half of the senate is filled with Barisan Nasional members.

After this it needs royal assent before taking effect.

The new law has sparked widespread anger from activists, press freedom groups and the opposition, who believe it is aimed at cracking down on dissenting voices rather than safeguardi­ng the public from false informatio­n.

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