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Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Draconian fake news ordinance brings dead law back from grave - group

 


London-based human rights organisation Article 19 has called on the government to repeal the fake news ordinance enacted in March.

This came after its analysis found the law brought back elements from the 2018 Anti-Fake News Act which was repealed in October 2019.

“Article 19 finds that the Fake News Ordinance is a problematic governmental measure because it not only revives the draconian provisions of the 2018 Act, but also takes some of them further into areas that are irrelevant to public health or the Covid-19 pandemic,” the organisation said in a statement today.

It said the ordinance, which went into law without parliamentary approval, threatens the freedom of expression in the country, at a time when information and scrutiny by media and civil society are highly important.

“During a public health emergency, open and transparent media can save lives.

“In practice, the ordinance will operate to prevent any criticism of the government’s Covid-19 response.

“It provides no legal recourse and virtual immunity for the government in using the ordinance to silence dissent or suppress freedom of expression," it added.

Article 19 pointed out that the ordinance resurrects elements of the anti-fake news law that was pushed through by former premier Najib Abdul Razak's government in what was viewed as a measure to clamp down on reporting about the 1MDB financial scandal.

That law was successfully repealed by the Pakatan Harapan administration.

In the summary of its legal analysis, Article 19 said the ordinance criminalises “a broad swath of speech”, which it claimed included some that were protected by the freedom of expression rights.

The group, which works on human rights issues across countries, said the ordinance also creates criminal liability for the media and other organisations that host such content on their platform.

“It grants police officers broad powers to arrest individuals under the law without a warrant (and) allows the police and government officers to cause takedowns of content without meaningful due process or allowing an opportunity for the respondents to defend themselves,” it added. 

Arguing it incorporates a presumption of guilt and limits the accused’s rights, Article 19 also deemed the ordinance superseded fundamental laws of evidence and raises many data privacy concerns.

“It raises alarming data privacy concerns, allowing the government to compel any host to decrypt user information, as well as to store and disclose personal user data, without any notice to the user, opportunity for appeal, or judicial oversight,” it said.

The group added that provisions in the ordinance are not well-defined in law, and thus “fail the test of legality under international law”.

“The ordinance is neither necessary to pursue legitimate aims, proportionate to achieving those aims, nor the least intrusive instrument amongst measures which might achieve the desired result."

The federal government gazetted the Emergency (Essential Powers) (No 2) Ordinance 2021 on March 11 supposedly to combat “fake news” relating to Covid-19 or the emergency proclamation, but in reality, it gives Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s government sweeping powers to control freedom of the press and expressions in the country. - Mkini

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