Danish man first to be convicted under Malaysia 'fake news' law

He is fined for inaccurate criticism of police after posting video claiming they were slow to respond to shooting

KUALA LUMPUR • A Malaysian court convicted a Danish citizen yesterday of inaccurate criticism of police on social media, the first person to be prosecuted under a new law against "fake news".

Salah Salem Saleh Sulaiman, 46, was charged with spreading false news after he posted a video on YouTube accusing police of taking 50 minutes to respond to distress calls following the shooting of a Palestinian lecturer on April 21.

Police said they took eight minutes to respond to the shooting in the capital Kuala Lumpur. The charge against Salah said he had, "with ill intent, published fake news through a video on YouTube".

A Danish citizen of Yemeni descent, Salah, who was unrepresented at the court hearing, pleaded guilty but said the video was posted in a "moment of anger" and he did not mean any harm.

A clip of the video played in court, which lasted almost two minutes, showed him speaking in Arabic and complaining about what he claimed was the slow response of the police and ambulance service after the shooting.

"I agreed I made a mistake... I seriously apologise to everybody in Malaysia, not just to the Malaysian police," said Salah.

Malaysia is among the first few countries to legislate policing of fake news.

Salah Salem Saleh Sulaiman accused police of taking 50 minutes to respond to the KL shooting of a Palestinian lecturer on April 21, but they said a patrol car arrived on the scene eight minutes after a distress call was received.
Salah Salem Saleh Sulaiman accused police of taking 50 minutes to respond to the KL shooting of a Palestinian lecturer on April 21, but they said a patrol car arrived on the scene eight minutes after a distress call was received. PHOTO: SINCHEW PUBLICATION

Critics say the law, which came into force on April 11, is aimed at curbing dissent and free speech ahead of Malaysia's May 9 General Election.

Offenders could be fined up to RM500,000 (S$169,000) and face a maximum of six years in jail.

The judge fined Salah RM10,000 but he opted to spend a month in jail because he could not pay.

The Danish national, who had been on a 10-day visit to Malaysia when the crime was committed, said he was not aware the country had such a law.

Palestinian lecturer Fadi al-Batsh was shot dead by two assailants on a motorcycle on April 21. Police have yet to identify the suspects, but believe they are still in the country. Dr Batsh, a member of Palestinian militant group Hamas, was said to be a rocket-making expert. His family has blamed the killing on Israel's spy agency, but the Jewish state has denied it was behind the murder.

Malaysia's national police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun said a day after the shooting that their records showed a distress call was received at 6.41am and a patrol car arrived on the scene eight minutes later.

The Anti-Fake News Act defines fake news as "news, information, data and reports which is or are wholly or partly false" and includes features, visuals and audio recordings.

The law covers digital publications and social media, and also applies to offenders outside Malaysia, including foreigners, if Malaysia or a Malaysian citizen are affected.

Leading independent news portal Malaysiakini last week mounted the first legal challenge against the legislation, arguing it breaches constitutional guarantees to freedom of speech.

Governments elsewhere in South-east Asia, including Singapore and the Philippines, have also proposed laws aimed at clamping down on the spread of fake news.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 01, 2018, with the headline 'Danish man first to be convicted under Malaysia 'fake news' law'. Print Edition | Subscribe