Originally, the bill stated that anyone found “knowingly creating, offering, publishing, printing, distributing, circulating, or disseminating” any fake news is liable for a fine up to RM$500,000 ($129,000), imprisonment up to ten years, or both. Later, Parliament amended the bill to reduce the maximum ten years of jail time to six. It covers all forms of media and even extends to foreigners outside Malaysia as long as Malaysia or its citizens are affected.
The bill was tabled in the the Upper House on April 8. Critics fear that the bill will be abused to silence dissent in light of the upcoming general election, as Prime Minister Najib Razak has been implicated in a multibillion-dollar state fund corruption scandal. Denying all charges, Razak fired critics in his government and muzzled the media after the corruption scandal erupted three years ago. Government officials warn that any unverified news regarding the indebted state fund is fake and accused the opposition coalition of using fake news to win votes. Critics claim that the bill adds to a series of repressive laws that violate freedom of expression, including a sedition law, a press and publications act, the official secrets act, and a security act.