THE US State Department has warned that Malaysia’s newly-approved law which imposes up to six years imprisonment for creating or spreading “fake news” has a potential impact on freedom of expression in the Southeast Asian country.
A department official said the Bill approved by Malaysia’s parliament also had a global reach “which could impact US citizens and companies”.
In a statement, the department expressed concern that the Bill had moved “rapidly through Parliament without meaningful public consultation and debate”. It also urged The Malaysian government to consult the business community and other stakeholders before taking further action with the bill.
“We urge the Government of Malaysia to ensure that all its laws, existing and future, fully respect freedom of expression,” the State Department spokesperson said, as quoted by Reuters.
On Monday, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government secured a simple majority in parliament to pass the bill, which sets out fines of up to RM500,000 (US$123,000) and a maximum six years in jail.
US President Donald Trump often uses the term fake news to condemn news reports or organizations whose findings he disputes or that are critical of him. The term has also quickly become part of the standard repertoire of leaders in authoritarian countries.
Malaysia, where a general election could be imminent, is among the first countries to introduce such a law.
Other Southeast Asian countries, including Singapore and the Philippines, are considering how to tackle fake news. Rights activists worry that anti-fake news laws could be used to stifle free speech.
The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, had earlier on Monday urged the government not to rush the legislation through parliament.
“I urge the government to reconsider the bill and open it up to regular and genuine public scrutiny before taking any further steps,” David Kaye said in a Twitter post.