SINGAPORE (Apr 3): Malaysia's lower house of parliament, the Dewan Rakyat, on Monday passed the Anti-Fake News Bill 2018.

See: Malaysia proposes up to 10 years' jail, fines for publishers of 'fake news'

In total, 112 Barisan Nasional (BN) members of the parliament (MPs) voted for the legislation that will carry stiff punishments of up to six years in prison and a maximum fine of RM500,000 ($169,524) – in a bloc vote after the second reading of the bill.

In addition, 10 other Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party PAS MPs, along with Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, have shown their support for this controversial proposed law.

Khalid is an independent lawmaker who was formerly the Selangor menteri besar and was previously with Malaysia’s People’s Justice Party or Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).

About 63 Pakatan Harapan MPs voted against the bill and was joined by independent member, Kota Melaka MP Sim Tong Him, who was previously with the Democratic Action Party (DAP).

After the vote, the bill proceeded to the committee stage where two amendments were approved and the bill later approved through a voice vote after a brief debate.

Before being gazetted as law, the bill will be brought to the Dewan Negara for debate and approval.

The two amendments made were replacing the word “knowingly” with “maliciously” in Clause Four, and reducing the maximum jail sentence to six years from 10 years in Clause Five.

In a wrap-up speech after the second reading, Minister for the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said says, “As stated in the explanatory statement of the bill, this law is not intended to restrict freedom of speech but to restrict the dissemination of fake news.”

The Federal Constitution may have provided for freedom of speech, but Azalina commented that this does not mean it is an absolute freedom of speech.

The Dewan Rakyat has the authority to control over such freedom in the interest of public order, security and morality, or to provide against defamation or incitement to any offence.

When asked about the government rushing to pass this law, Azalina commented that this is due to the rapid advancement of technology that has led to the rapid dissemination of fake news, which has created major issues globally, also adding that other countries, such as Singapore, Germany, France and the Czech Republic has implemented similar controls.

Meanwhile, on allegations that the bill is passed to help BN win in the upcoming 14th general election amid uncertainty on the party given the power to interpret the law and decide if an information is fake or not, Azalina has said that the bill clearly states that the court is given the power to make the decision, and not any ministry or government agency.

“The bill is meant to enable a party that is neutral and just to decide whether a specific news is fake or not,” adds Azalina.

Furthermore, on extraterritorial application of the law, Azalina commented, “People committing an offence under this law will only be charged when the person is in this country or after being brought to this country through an extradition process.”

And on danger of selective prosecution, Azalina has assured that a comprehensive investigation will be carried out before any prosecution.

As to who would be take action against the public prosecutor or attorney-general himself in the event he omits to act against the spread of fake news, Azalina quotes the Federal Constitution, saying that the solicitor-general will be the party undertaking the responsibility.