Malaysia’s parliament on Monday passed a law prohibiting fake news that critics fear will be abused to silence dissent ahead of a general election. Despite warnings such a law would lead Malaysia closer to dictatorship, the bill was approved 123 to 64 after a heated debate. The bill originally proposed a 10-year jail term and a fine of up to 500,000 ringgit ($128,000) for offenders, but the approved legislation sets the maximum prison sentence at six years.
Rights activists say the law appears aimed at shutting down discussion of a multibillion-dollar financial scandal involving Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is widely expected to call for national elections in the next few days.
They also fear the bill, which covers all media and extends even to foreigners outside Malaysia, could be used against critics of gerrymandering or other aspects of the electoral process after parliament last week swiftly approved controversial new constituency boundaries for the elections, which are due in August but widely expected soon.