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Rights Advocacy Groups Express Concern Over Tighter ‘Fake News’ Laws in Southeast Asia

2 min read
KLCC Park Seen From Pertama

KLCC Park Seen From Pertama. Photo: Adiput.


Rights groups are raising alarms over a series of legal moves across Southeast Asia, where legislators are expanding existing regulations by invoking the proliferation of fake news online to introduce stricter laws that, critics say, could potentially stifle free speech.

In Malaysia, lawmakers are debating an anti-fake news bill that was introduced in parliament on Monday and expected to be approved next week ahead of elections where Prime Minister Najib Razak’s links to a multi-million dollar investment scandal is among key issues.

Lawmakers in Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines are also preparing legislation to counter fake news, which the Malaysian bill defines as any news, information, data or report that is “wholly or partially false.”

Critics say the new laws could be used by authoritarian leaders to punish legitimate news outlets that often criticize their administrations.

“Most of the time, the definition of what is fake news is very vague, so it leads to tremendous potential for governments to abuse,” Steve Butler, Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, told BenarNews in a phone interview on Thursday.

“For journalists, it poses tremendous hazards. Are people going to be put in jail as a result of making occasional errors that almost every journalist makes?”

Azalina Othman, Malaysia’s minister in charge of law, told the parliament in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday that the government had decided to reduce the proposed prison term for those convicted under the anti-fake news bill from 10 to six years after taking into account suggestions from several parties, including legislators.

“The bill tabled today is not a law that would obstruct the freedom of speech, but it is to curb the freedom of spreading fake news,” she said, adding that the government had also decided to amend a clause in the proposed law against falsehoods to make it a crime for people to “maliciously” create false news.

But on Thursday, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Kuala Lumpur to withdraw the bill.

Full story: BenarNews

BenarNews Staff
Washington

Copyright ©2018, BenarNews. Used with the permission of BenarNews.


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