In a submission to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva for its Universal Periodic Review of the human rights situation in Malaysia, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has reported a disturbing decline in press freedom in this Southeast Asian country in the past five years.

Far from taking account of the recommendations that the Human Rights Council made during Malaysia’s previous UPR in 2013, Prime Minister Najib Razak and his government are stepping up their harassment of independent media outlets in the run-up to the 2018 general elections.

RSF’s submission on Malaysia for the current UPR session (see attached) highlights how Malaysia’s legislation is still as draconian as ever and drives Malaysia’s journalists to censor themselves.

The latest example is a so-called “anti-fake news” law that parliament passed on Monday. It provides for sentences of up to six years in prison and/or a fine of 500,000 ringgits (128,000 dollars) for anyone creating, publishing, printing, disseminating or sharing “news, information, data and reports” about Malaysia and its citizens that are “wholly or partly false.” The law also applies to content published abroad and to foreign media.

RSF’s recommendations

  • End criminal proceedings against independent journalists and cartoonists and free journalists held arbitrarily.
  • Sign and ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
  • Stop blocking independent news websites and guarantee online freedom of the press and freedom of expression.
  • Repeal the 1948 Sedition Act, amended in 2015.
  • Withdraw the Anti-fake news bill.
  • Eliminate prison sentences and disproportionate fines for press offenses, especially for defamation.
  • Amend the Printing Presses and Publications Act, particularly articles 3.3, 6.2, 9A, 13.1 on revoking and suspending operating licences, and article 13A, which does not allow any appeal.
  • Create an independent media regulatory body, so that the concession and revocation of licences is no longer under the government’s sole control.
  • Amend the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the National Security Council Act of 2015 in order to protect journalists from arbitrary detention and warrantless arrest under a state of emergency.
  • Repeal the Official Secrets Act of 1972, which punishes whistleblowers instead of protecting them.

Malaysia is ranked 144th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

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Updated on 23.08.2019