Hakam notes with grave concern the revival of anti-fake news legislation through the promulgation of the Emergency (Essential Powers) Ordinance No. 2.
An anti-fake news legislation is perilous to the freedom of expression. The criminalisation of views of the citizenry would crown the government as the ultimate arbiter of truth and falsity. With such expansive powers to dictate what is true and what is false, a culture of fear would be perpetuated, thereby chilling free speech.
Furthermore, a democratic society must not ignore the value of statements reflecting divergent and competing views. These should be allowed to compete in the ‘marketplace of ideas’ to encourage free and public discourse. It is only through such discourse that the truth would prevail over falsity.
The previous Anti Fake News Act 2018 received backlash from the public, causing it to be repealed under the Pakatan Harapan administration. To now revive this law under the guise of an emergency ordinance, albeit even for a stipulated time frame and scope, thereby side-stepping parliamentary procedures, is fundamentally inconsistent with the spirit of democracy.
As to the content of the ordinance, there are multiple causes of concern. The broad definition of ‘fake news’, the severe fine imposed upon conviction, and the empowerment of the police to remove any publication containing ‘fake news’ and the reversal of cherished principles of criminal procedure and evidence is highly susceptible towards executive abuse.
Hakam also expresses grave concern over the law minister’s recent statement, which declared that any claims that the emergency was occasioned by the government’s loss of majority, would be ‘fake news’ punishable under the ordinance.
To brandish any form of such criticism or questioning as ‘fake news’ would be an egregious incursion to the freedom of speech. No government should be immune from criticism, especially one where there is widespread public disquiet and debate as to the necessity for the declaration of the emergency.
As such, Hakam demands that Parliament as a voice of the people be reconvened and allowed to carry out its role under Article 150(3) and (5) of the Federal Constitution. It can then decide on whether or not to annul any ordinances promulgated under the emergency – as well as scrutinise the draconian provisions of the ordinance, as well as its implementation.