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Persons who initiate and disseminate lies on any issue relating to the coronavirus on the internet will be investigated and charged. -NSTP/File pic

KUALA LUMPUR: Persons who initiate and disseminate lies on any issue relating to the coronavirus on the internet will be investigated and charged, if a case is established.

Attorney General Tan Sri Tommy Thomas said that he made a decision on the basis of national interest.

“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 connected to 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 said in a statement here today.

His statement follows the influx of fake news and rumours that were often racially charged and directed at Chinese tourists entering Malaysia.

Thomas said the police and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) were working closely with officers in the AG’s Chambers.

He said charges would be filed against individuals concerned in the coming days and one option was using Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.

“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 said while drawing on the section related to sharing of offensive and menacing content which was an offence under the act.

Accordingly, the individuals concerned would be charged under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code which governs statements relating to public mischief.

He said key elements in this provision, which has been part of our criminal law for decades, were 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.

“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.”

Award winning journalist Wan Noor Hayati Wan Alias was charged in the magistrate's court today with three counts of causing public fear or alarm, believed to be over her social media posts on the recent 2019-nCoV coronavirus outbreak.

Wan Noor Hayati, 41, pleaded not guilty to all charges before magistrate Tawfiq Affandy Chin.

She was charged over three separate postings under the “Ibu Yati” Facebook account at 10pm on Jan 26.

Among her allegedly offensive post was a warning against 1,000 Chinese nationals who arrived in Penang amid the outbreak.

Penang exco Yeoh Soon Hin had explained that the tourists from a cruise ship had undergone all medical examinations.

On Jan 29 police announced that five probes were being launched on fake news related to the spread of the highly contagious virus and one of them involved Hayati’s post.

She received the prestigious Kajai Award in 2014 and Tokoh Wartawan Rakyat in 2016, in addition to over 20 other journalism awards.

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