Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) refers to Communications and Digital Minister Fahmi Fadzil’s recent statement that his ministry is taking steps to “strengthen compliance of the law within social media platforms”, purportedly because an Al Jazeera report had highlighted Malaysia as an example of “fake news” regarding the ongoing Palestine-Israel conflict.
This appears to be a transparent and clumsy attempt to use this latest tragedy of the Palestinian people as an excuse to clamp down on social media sites.
It seems any excuse will do for this government, previously relying on the so-called “three Rs” (race, religion and royalty) and now citing supposed fake news circulation on the Palestine-Israeli conflict as a reason to restrict [social media]. It is deplorable that an international conflict high in the loss of human lives is being exploited by the government to justify its domestic agenda of stifling dissent and criticism.
It is hard to give the government the benefit of the doubt, as it has continually justified the existence of notorious draconian laws such as the Sedition Act 1948 and Section 233(1)(a) of the Communications and Multimedia Act in support of its supposed goal to curb ‘hate speech’ and ‘fake news’ on social media. However, the fact that the laws have mainly been used against government critics gives the lie to their narrative.
There is no reason for additional laws or regulations to be introduced to restrict social media. Section 505 of the Penal Code, which criminalises statements conducing to public mischief, would be enough to encompass the concerns that the government is claiming to address.
The ‘fake news’ and ‘hate speech’ tactics by the government seems to be just a smokescreen to mask its intentions to exert control on social media platforms in order to take control of what can or cannot be shared online. In essence, the government wants to be the sole arbiter of truth.
If this is allowed, then it would render the right to free speech – a fundamental liberty enshrined under Article 10(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution – merely illusory as the government can simply wave away this right away by citing the “three Rs” or [by claiming] it is “fake news”.
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The right to free speech is a sacrosanct right that cannot be restricted by mere allegations of fake news or hate speech. If such allegations had substance, then there are already existing laws that can be used against those responsible.
As such, we hereby urge the government to stop its campaign of fear and to halt any plans to introduce even more laws or regulations or to exert unwarranted government pressure on social media platforms to clamp down on freedom of speech. – LFL
Zaid Malek is director of Lawyers for Liberty