Malaysia's new leader indicates anti-fake news law to stay

In this picture taken March 29, 2018, a commuter waiting for a subway reads from her phone next to an advertisement discouraging the dissemination of fake news at a train station in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Malaysia’s new PM Mahathir Mohamad indicated a controversial anti fake news law will not be repealed but instead be redefined to clearly spell out what constitutes fake news. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — New Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad indicated Sunday that his government will keep a controversial law banning fake news that he once slammed as a tool to curb dissent.

The law, which was rushed through parliament last month ahead of last week's general election, carries a stiff penalty of up to six years in jail and a fine of 500,000 ringgit ($128,000). Mahathir himself was investigated under the law before he led his four-party alliance to a stunning victory in Wednesday's election, ousting the long-ruling coalition.

Mahathir said in a televised broadcast that the law will be redefined to clearly specify what constitutes fake news.

"We will have a clear definition of fake news so that the public and media companies will understand the difference between real and fake news," Mahathir said.

"Although we support the concept of press freedom and freedom of speech, these come with limits," he said. "If anyone purposely tries to cause chaos, they will have to face specific laws that curtail those acts."

Mahathir had said earlier that his government would review the law and may repeal it because it was aimed at curbing dissent.

Critics say the anti-fake news law adds to a range of repressive laws — including a sedition law, a press and publications act, an official secrets act and a security act — that have been used against critics, violated freedom of expression and undermined media freedom.

A Danish citizen became the first person to be convicted under the law last month for making false claims over the killing of a Hamas militant on a video he posted on YouTube.

Other Southeast Asian countries, including Singapore and the Philippines, have also proposed laws to clamp down on fake news.

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