Malaysian Parliament votes again to scrap fake news law

The repeal of the Anti-Fake News Act was one of Pakatan Harapan's verbal promises to voters.
The repeal of the Anti-Fake News Act was one of Pakatan Harapan's verbal promises to voters.PHOTO: ST FILE

The Malaysian Parliament yesterday voted to repeal the Anti-Fake News Act (AFNA), the second time the Lower House has done so in just 14 months.

The Lower House, which is controlled by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, had attempted to repeal the controversial AFNA - which makes "fake news" a crime - last year.

But Malaysia's Upper House, or the Senate, which is controlled by the opposition Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, had blocked the Bill.

PH had to wait for a year - the cooling-off period - before it could table the Bill to scrap the AFNA again.

This time, PH has the guarantee of abolishing it within the year, as the Senate cannot block what has been approved by MPs for the second time.

The Bill will go through the Senate again, but can thereafter be automatically passed to the Malaysian King for assent even if it gets blocked by the Senate again.

The King, Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin of Pahang, has 30 days to consent to the new Bill, failing which it would automatically become law at the end of the 30-day period.

The repeal of AFNA was one of PH's verbal promises to voters.

The Act, bulldozed through by the previous BN government just before the general election in May last year, was widely criticised for its speedy introduction, lack of proper consultation and vague definition of "fake news", which critics said would leave room for abuse and misinterpretation.

 
 
 

"PH needs to shore up its core supporters who have drifted away in recent months," said Mr Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. "To repeal an Act which is much despised by the liberals who are mostly erstwhile PH supporters would hopefully help in doing so."

Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said: "Revoking this law was really the only way forward to protect freedom of expression in Malaysia."

"Such anti-fake news laws are just a rebranding of government censorship in a more appealing form designed to fool people, while enabling officials to shut down criticisms they don't like," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2019, with the headline 'Malaysian Parliament votes again to scrap fake news law'. Print Edition | Subscribe