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Malaysia’s super strict “fake news” law can’t seem to define “fake news”

Malaysia’s super strict “fake news” law can’t seem to define “fake news”
[Photo: Mbl2020/Wikimedia Commons]

“Fake news” is Donald Trump’s favorite specter-turned-buzzword, but it’s about to become a very real law in Malaysia. The country’s parliament just passed the aptly named the Anti-Fake News 2018 bill, which could send fake news offenders to prison for up to six years, Reuters reports. The bill is expected to pass the Senate and take effect soon.

The vaguely worded law defines fake news as “news, information, data and reports which is or are wholly or partly false” and covers digital publications and social media. The law is also broad, as it will apply to people–even foreigners–who maliciously spread “fake news” if Malaysia or a Malaysian citizen is affected by it. Websites that host third-party content are not immune, and anyone could lodge a complaint.

The law’s scope and vagueness have unleashed a wave of backlash from critics claiming it will curb dissent and free speech. The timing of the new law is also raising eyebrows ahead of a general election where Prime Minister Najib Razak will have to face voters in the wake of a scandal over the misappropriation of billions of dollars diverted from Malaysia’s state investment fund.

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