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AG defends decision to charge journalist over fake news on Wuhan virus

Malay Mail logo Malay Mail 5/2/2020 Debra Chong
a person in a suit standing in front of a building: Attorney General Tan Sri Tommy Thomas is seen at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex February 4, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara © Provided by Malay Mail Attorney General Tan Sri Tommy Thomas is seen at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex February 4, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 5 — The prosecution of journalist Wan Noor Hayati Wan Alias on grounds of causing public alarm over her social media remarks on the Wuhan virus outbreak were done to protect Malaysia’s multiracial and multireligious interests, Attorney General Tan Sri Tommy Thomas said amid calls for a review.

Thomas said the Attorney General’s Chambers is working with the police and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) in scrutinising social media posts related to the coronavirus outbreak and will file charges against others if there was sufficient evidence for action, the New Straits Times reported this evening.

“This Chambers, working with the police, MCMC and other governmental agencies, is determined to prevent the spread of false statements concerning the coronavirus. Our health authorities must be allowed to deal with the problem in a calm and measured manner, without having to cope with extraneous matters,” he was quoted saying.

Despite outcry from groups including the National Union of Journalists and the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, Thomas stood by his decision, warning that there may be further charges filed soon against those who spread fake news and abuse the internet and network facilities.

“No freedom is absolute in any society at any point of time in history. The constitutionally entrenched guarantees of free speech and expression and the statutorily guaranteed right not to censor the internet stated in Section 3(3) of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 do not give a licence to propagate lies.

“This phenomenon is compounded by our obsession to introduce racial or religious overtones into every issue of public life.

“Hence, lies on the internet connecting the ‘coronavirus’ to any particular ethnic or religious group is not only deplorable, but inflammatory in our plural society of numerous ethnic and religious groups,” he was quoted saying.

Wan Noor Hayati, 41, was charged in the Magistrate’s Court here earlier day with making statements conducing to public mischief over three separate postings under the “Ibu Yati” Facebook account on 10pm, January 26 last month.

Among her allegedly offensive post was a warning against 1,000 Chinese nationals who arrived in Penang amid the 2019-nCoV coronavirus outbreak even though the state government had clarified that the tourists from a cruise ship had all undergone medical examinations.

She was charged under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code related to public mischief.

Thomas also indicated that a review is needed for the current law used to prosecute those misusing the internet, namely Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, which deems sharing of offensive and menacing content an offence.

“However, the elements required to be satisfied by the prosecution before a person can be convicted by a Court under that provision do not fit into the category of offences that have been committed in recent times.

“It is clear that Section 233 should be the subject of Parliamentary amendment, hopefully soon,” he was quoted saying.

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