12 March 2024

Fake News On COVID-19 Vaccinations – Up To RM100,000 Fines

As the Astra Zeneca and Pfizer vaccination programmes roll in, Malaysians are busy dealing with registrations...
Malaysia Coronavirus (COVID-19)
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As the Astra Zeneca and Pfizer vaccination programmes roll in, Malaysians are busy dealing with registrations, jabs, temporal side-effects and an abundance of conversation and debate. The topic of vaccinations has filled the minds, group chats and social media feeds of the ordinary Malaysian with a smartphone. While it is perfectly natural to ask, share or even argue about vaccinations, one should keep in mind of laws which have prescribed hefty fines and punishments for sharing "fake news" about COVID-19 and its vaccinations.

This reminder comes in light of the Emergency (Essential Powers) (No. 2) Ordinance 2021 (the "Emergency Ordinance"), which came into force on 12 March 2021, pursuant to the proclamation of Emergency issued by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. Section 4 of Emergency Ordinance states that it is an offence for anyone to create, circulate or disseminate fake news which is "likely to cause fear or alarm to the public". Under Section 2 of Emergency Ordinance, the term "fake news" includes "any news, information, data and reports, which is or are wholly or partly false relating to COVID-19 or the proclamation of emergency...".

For example, if you post or share some information about COVID-19 vaccinations that were partially untrue. How could you potentially get in trouble with the law?

  • Firstly, if proven to be untrue, even partially, you could be liable for an offence which is punishable by a fine not exceeding RM100,000, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years – or both.
  • Alternatively, Section 7 of Emergency Ordinance states that any person who is "affected" by the publication can make an application to the Court for an order to remove the publication. The application is done ex-parte, meaning you do not have to be present in the Court or even aware of the proceeding for an application to be made. If the Judge finds that you are committing an offence under the Emergency Ordinance, an order will be issued against you. Your options are then twofold: one, you will have to remove the posting immediately (or you will be subject to a hefty fine for a failure to comply with the order); or two, you can challenge the Court order but the grounds for you to do so are limited.

It should also be noted that the Emergency Ordinance affords the police wide powers. Section 3(1) of Emergency Ordinance gives the law extraterritorial power and applies even if the person posting the fake news is not presently in Malaysia.Section 17 of Emergency Ordinance empowers the police to arrest any person believed to have committed or is attempting to commit an offence, while Section 19 of Emergency Ordinance empowers the police to seize a smartphone or computer and any relevant passwords and encryption codes, with fines imposed on those who refuse to cooperate.

It is thus reminded for Malaysians to always fact-check and make effort to verify the truth of any COVID-19 related information they are reading before they repost, forward or share. It is always a safe bet to share material produced by the Ministry of Health Malaysia, or sources recognised as trustworthy by the international community of medical professionals such as the World Health Organisation.

Originally published 01 June 2021

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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