Malaysia imposes stringent emergency law to clamp down on coronavirus fake news

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Malaysia on Thursday brought in a law to tackle fake news related to COVID-19 and the state of emergency imposed nationwide since January, with the threat of hefty fines and jail terms of up to six years.

The ordinance, which takes effect on Friday, will make it an offence to publish or reproduce any “wholly or partly false” content related to the pandemic or the emergency declaration, which was seen by critics as a move to shore up Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s position.

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The emergency law does not need parliamentary approval.

The jurisdiction of the ordinance will extend to any individual who commits an offence regarding Malaysia’s handling of the pandemic outside of Malaysia, regardless of nationality or citizenship, according to the order published in the government’s federal gazette.

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Those found guilty face a fine of up to 100,000 ringgit ($24,360), up to three years in jail, or both.

The ordinance prescribes a heavier penalty for individuals found guilty of funding acts of publishing fake news, with a fine of up to 500,000 ringgit, a maximum of six years imprisonment, or both.

Provisions under the ordinance mirror those in a Anti-Fake News Act that was repealed in 2019 during the tenure of Muhyiddin’s predecessor, Mahathir Mohamad.

In January, King Al-Sultan Abdullah declared a nationwide state of emergency to curb the spread of COVID-19, a move that the opposition decried as an attempt by the prime minister to retain control amid a power struggle.

Health officials have said the rate of infections has begun slowing, after seeing daily cases breach the 5,000 mark over several days in January.

Malaysia has reported over 319,000 total cases as of Thursday with 1,200 deaths, the third highest caseload in the region behind Indonesia and the Philippines.

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