AG: People Spreading Fake News on Coronavirus to Be Charged Under Penal Code

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Anyone spreading false information on the coronavirus outbreak will be prosecuted under the Penal Code, said Attorney-General Tommy Thomas, adding that charges will be brought against suspects in the coming days.

He said the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) is concerned at the “incredible volume of lies relating to the ‘coronavirus’ epidemic” and has decided that people initiating and disseminating such lies on the internet shall be investigated and charged, if a case exists.

Thomas also said Section 505(b) of the Penal Code is more relevant than Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.

“The elements to be satisfied by the prosecution before a person can be convicted under the act do not fit the category of offences that have been committed in recent times,” he said in a statement today.

Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 relates to improper use of network facilities, while Section 505(b) of the Penal Code governs statements relating to public mischief.

“The key elements in the latter provision, which has been part of our criminal law for decades, are the making or circulation of any statement or rumour, which may cause fear or alarm resulting in anyone being induced to commit an offence against public tranquillity,” he said.

If found guilty, the accused may face up to two years in prison, or a fine, or both.

Thomas said the spread of fake news on the coronavirus was being “compounded by our obsession to introduce racial or religious overtones into every issue of public life”.

Bernama

“Hence, lies on the internet connecting coronavirus to any particular ethnic or religious groups are not only deplorable, but inflammatory in our plural society,” he said.

Stating that “no freedom is absolute”, Thomas added the AGC would not tolerate lies about the coronavirus because they endanger public safety.

“When epidemics occur, citizens must be prevented from panicking. Instead, calmness and firmness of authority should guide the people on the origins, scale and magnitude of the epidemic.”

At Kuala Lumpur Magistrate’s Court today, a Malay-language journalist denied three charges of making statements which could disrupt public peace in relation to the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). – TMI