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Malaysia passes sweeping ‘fake news’ law despite outcry

Malaysia's lawmakers approved an anti-fake news law yesterday despite protests from opposition MPs and civil society groups that it would be misused to muffle dissent ahead of a general election expected within weeks.

The legislation, which carries punishments of up to six years in prison and a maximum fine of RM500,000 (S$170,000), was passed in Parliament with 123 votes for and 64 votes against after its second reading.

"This law is not intended to restrict freedom of speech but to restrict the dissemination of fake news," said de facto Law Minister Azalina Othman Said, who is overseeing the Bill's path into legislation.

The Bill will next be debated in the Senate and is expected to be passed before the current Parliament session ends on Thursday. Once it passes both Houses, it will be gazetted into law after receiving the King's assent.

The law - which makes it a crime for someone to maliciously create fake news - could be implemented within days.

GERRYMANDERING

"Activists fear the fake news Bill could be used against critics of gerrymandering or other elements of the electoral process," Mr Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said.

The law's broad coverage allows charges to be brought against other nationalities outside Malaysia, so long as the fake news involves Malaysia or a Malaysian citizen. - ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY NADIRAH H. RODZI

WORLD