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Another law to imprison us?

Zaid Ibrahim  |  Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | Anxious about his remote chance of winning the upcoming general election, our emperor asked his team if they could enact legislation whereby the purveyors of “fake news” could be fined up to RM500,000 or face a jail term of up to 10 years.

No one has seen the draft of the proposed law, but BN leaders talk about the new law all the time. At the same time, they talk about enhancing the sentences currently under Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA).

BN does not seem satisfied that under the existing Section 233 of the CMA, Malaysians who make public speeches during the election, who post their comments or send tweets that displease the government, can end up in jail, like what happened to Fahmi Reza for sketching a clown. 

It’s impossible to know what upsets the prime minister; or what “fake news” means. It seems that to the BN, whatever they say, whether the late Karpal Singh was paid by Anwar Ibrahim RM50 million to bribe the judges; or DAP will destroy the Malays is not fake. Whatever Najib Abdul Razak (photo) says is not fake either.

The Prime Minister’s Department and the Communications and Multimedia Commission are not interested in providing an objective test to determine what is and isn’t fake, and are certainly not interested in having the attorney-general explain how he proposes to implement this law fairly.

If the BN manifesto says Dr Mahathir Mohamad is not a Malay or did nothing for the development of this country, that is not fake news. But if Pakatan Harapan were to say Najib was the architect of 1MDB and is, therefore, a dangerous leader for us to have, then that’s upsetting to him and therefore fake.

Harapan then can be charged under the present Section 233 as well as under the new law. This is a bad news – any way you look at it – and it must be opposed.

News portals that are deliberately set up to disseminate fake news or writing something that is fundamentally without basis, much like the Russian attacks on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, are relatively rare, considering the volume of material on the Internet.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg said 99 percent of the news and information on Facebook is not fake. It may represent different perspectives on a particular issue, but it is not fake. People can come to understand something properly if they care to read about and study it.

That’s what the internet does. It gives us access to a wider pool of material that, if we choose to read it, can enable us to develop a better grasp of what is true and what is false.

In any case, libel laws are already well in place in this country. For example, the courts here have penalised critics of Felda by awarding Felda a huge (and in my view totally disproportionate) sum as compensation. This is a sufficient deterrent for people wanting to make “wrong statements” about Felda and Najib’s government.

Why punish citizens who give their views?

Just today, the Sessions Court found graphic artist Fahmi guilty under Section 233(1)(a) of the CMA for his satirical poster depicting Najib in clown face with the MCMC logo. The artist was slapped with a jail sentence of one month and a fine of RM30,000.

This is what democracy means to Najib but a fake democracy to many of us. If Fahmi (photo) has to go to jail because he upsets "some people," then will Najib go to jail too because I know many people who are upset with him, and some experience distress just listening to his speeches.

There are already criminal provisions in the Penal Code to take care of malicious and dangerous statements made by irresponsible people who are out to create trouble that will affect public order.

What more do they want? Why are we punishing citizens who give their views about matters that are of concern to them even they hurt the feelings of the leaders? If you do not want your feelings hurt, why go into politics?

The MCMC is behaving like a stooge when it says that the new law on fake news is necessary to protect “national interests”. Can the MCMC give an example of an activity that undermines national interests that our present laws cannot address? Just give one; otherwise, stop lying. 

I urge Umno and PAS supporters who are still supporting Najib to think again. Just remember that you all have children, relatives, friends and other people you care about who have Facebook accounts, who sometimes tweet, who post comments on the Internet or who write columns in the newspapers. You may have friends who give public speeches.

You must remember we live in an open society, and part of the global world. It's normal human behaviour to want to express our views, and Najib wants to send us to jail for this.

They may be prosecuted under this new law; as well as under Section 233 for giving an opinion adverse to BN. Your children may well end up in jail because many won’t be able to afford the fines.

You may think you are helping the country by supporting BN, but remember that even when Najib is no longer emperor, you and your friends and relatives will continue to be subject to it.

The Malays have a saying: “Buat baik berpada pada, buat jahat jangan sesekali”, which means even if you want to help Najib, don’t go overboard. Think about yourself and your children too.

This law must be opposed by all Malaysians.


ZAID IBRAHIM is a former law minister and Umno politician. He is currently a member of DAP.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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