Malaysia's human rights commission against anti-fake news Bill

An advertisement reading "sharing a lie makes you a liar" at a train station in downtown Kuala Lumpur on March 26, 2018.
An advertisement reading "sharing a lie makes you a liar" at a train station in downtown Kuala Lumpur on March 26, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) is not backing the anti-fake news Bill, saying it can be used to exert government control over the media.

Its chairman Tan Sri Razali Ismail said the implications of the proposed law could be enormous and "inspire an authoritarian form of government".

"The government's track record in utilising laws for reasons other than its intended purpose is arguably questionable," he said in a statement on Wednesday (March 28).

He said the Bill also failed to specify which body was responsible in verifying whether a piece of news or information was fake.

Razali said the definition of fake news in the Bill was unclear as it did not offer a distinction between news generated by malicious intent or otherwise.

"Not only has there been very limited consultation with the public, the dissolution of Parliament being imminent means that debates on the Bill, for it to become law, will be rushed. This practice is not in the national interest," said Razali.

He added that although Suhakam was legally mandated to advise and assist the government in formulating legislation, Suhakam was only invited to the final consultation without having sight of the Bill.

Razali also brought up Clause 8(3) of the intended law, saying that the Bill was unclear in its definition of what can be "prejudicial or likely to be prejudicial to public order or national security".

"Suhakam cannot agree on this clause as it ousts the jurisdiction of the courts, further taking away judicial powers and denying the right to seek relief from the courts, which is an affront to the rule of law in a democratic form of government," said Razali.

He said this was not in line with the intended spirit of the principles of freedom of expression in the Federal Constitution and Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Meanwhile, the Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) has called on parliamentarians in Malaysia to reject the Bill in its entirety, saying such a law would impose unjust restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression.

APHR board member Teddy Baguilat said the Bill posed a "debilitating threat to journalism, activism and informed civic discourse".

Malaysian lawmakers are expected to vote on Thursday to push through the anti-fake news Bill.