(Oct. 24, 2019) On October 9, 2019, the Dewan Rakyat, the lower house of Malaysia’s Parliament, voted to pass the Anti-Fake News (Repeal) Bill 2019 (D.R. 26/2019), which will repeal the Anti-Fake News Act 2018. It was the second time that such a bill had been passed, with the Dewan Rakyat also voting to repeal the Act in August 2018 through a bill numbered D.R. 14/2018. However, the upper house, the Dewan Negara, voted against the passage of the first repeal bill.
Under Malaysia’s Federal Constitution, when a bill is passed in the lower house but not by the upper house, it cannot be reintroduced until one year has elapsed. If the lower house then passes the same bill again, it will be submitted to the upper house for a second time. However, even if the upper house votes against it, the bill will still be sent to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (the Malaysian head of state) for assent. (Art. 68(2).) The Yang di-Pertuan Agong then has 30 days in which to give assent to the bill, after which time it will automatically become law. (Art. 66(4) & (4A).) According to news reports, the current Yang di-Pertuan Agong is not expected to block the bill.
The Anti-Fake News Act 2018 was passed in April 2018, having been introduced by the previous government headed by Najib Razak. The Act established the following offense:
Any person who, by any means, maliciously creates, offers, publishes, prints, distributes, circulates or disseminates any fake news or publication containing fake news commits an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding five hundred thousand ringgit [about US$120,000] or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six years or to both, and in the case of a continuing offence, to a further fine not exceeding three thousand ringgit [about US$715] for every day during which the offence continues after conviction.
The Act was widely criticized by human rights organizations as being overly broad and allowing the government to stifle dissent.
The current coalition government, headed by Mahathir Mohamad, won the national elections held in May 2018 and subsequently promised to repeal the Act. It also undertook to review several other laws that had been criticized as restricting freedom of speech and other human rights.
According to an explanatory statement accompanying the Anti-Fake News (Repeal) Bill 2019, the repeal of the Act was sought
due to the change in the policy of the Government that fake news may be dealt with under existing
laws such as the Penal Code [Act 574], the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 [Act 301] and the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 [Act 588].