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Hanipa apologises for failing to convince Senate on AFN Act repeal

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Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Hanipa Maidin has apologised for failing to convince opposition senators at the Dewan Negara to repeal the controversial Anti-Fake News (AFN) Act 2018.

Hanipa, who is in charge of legal affairs, said he was entrusted by the Pakatan Harapan government to present the repeal bill at both houses of Parliament.

"I fully and meticulously prepared, whether to debate opposing the Act (when it was tabled) or when presenting the AFN repeal bill in Dewan Rakyat or Dewan Negara. I don't even know how many books, articles, features and laws I read (including German legislation).

"In other words, I was truly prepared and ready to take on anyone at Dewan Rakyat or Dewan Negara," Hanipa said in a statement today.

However, he added, when he presented the bill on both occasions, he encountered an opposition - both PAS and BN parliamentarians as well as senators - that was ill-prepared and not "in-depth" on the move.

"With all due respect, I do not think the majority of those debating and criticising truly mastered the subject matter being debated... It is just that BN senators outnumbered Harapan senators," he added.

Even so, the Sepang MP said, he was forced to assent to a "valid" point by one BN senator in that Section 7 of the AFN Act relating to interim measures, which allows the alleged victims to seek an ex-parte legal injunction from the courts for the cessation of publication of the perceived fake news, was an advantage of the law that should be looked at.

"I agreed to his point (that it needed to be given appropriate attention) but not his conclusion (that the Act need not be repealed because of it).

"I added that before the Act, we could get such interim measures. Only, it was civil in nature. I don't propose to go point by point on why Section 7 is problematic. The same goes for Section 8, which is on interim measures if applied for by the government, which the courts must allow.

"To me, that is draconian as the hands of the judge are tied. I told the Umno senator that justice is not just in the decision, but the decision-making process must also be fair," he explained.

Despite this, the repeal of the AFN Act was voted down at the Dewan Negara yesterday, upon his winding up of the bill for second reading.

Bloc voting saw 28 senators rejecting the repeal bill, while 21 supported. Three other senators abstained from voting. 

"Unfortunately, with their (opposition's) superior numbers in the Dewan Negara, even though they were not 'elected' by the people, they rejected the repeal bill.

"The rejection would ultimately have no consequence... merely delay (the repeal).

"Perhaps I was weak in my arguments and failed to convince them. For this failure, I seek a million apologies from the rakyat," Hanipa said.

BN senator Khairul Azwan Harun had explained yesterday that the opposition bench blocked Putrajaya's bid to repeal the AFN Act because they believed the law, pushed through by the BN-led previous government in April this year, could be improved upon

Even so, de facto Law Minister Liew Vui Keong attributed the decision to BN's "political agenda" and to take revenge for the coalition's loss in the May 9 general election.

Critics had accused the previous government of rushing the law through Parliament without consulting the necessary stakeholders before it was passed.

Opposition members and rights groups criticised the AFN Act for its vague definition of "fake news" and stiff penalties, arguing that it could be used to curb press freedom and stifle dissent. 

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