The Malaysian Parliament building in Kuala Lumpur.

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Malaysia made use of its

emergency powers on Thursday, bypassing parliament to impose new laws on fake news two years after the act

was scrapped by the previous government.

An ordinance that took affect Friday punishes creating or spreading information wholly or partly false relating to Covid-19 or the emergency proclamation with jail time and large fines, according to a

federal gazette published Thursday.

Malaysias parliament remains suspended through the emergency period, which is set to end on Aug. 1. The government has resisted calls to allow the legislative body to reconvene, citing the pandemic, even as the country reopened most of the economy and lifted a ban on travel between districts.

The Centre for Independent Journalism, a non-government organization based in Kuala Lumpur, criticized the law as an attempt to stifle criticism of the current government.

Fake news is not clearly defined in the law, opening the real possibilities of abuse through arbitrary arrests, investigations and punitive actions being taken against the alleged offender, the group said

in a statement.

Maximum Fine

The new law covers features, visuals, audio recordings or any other form capable of suggesting words or ideas. It also applies to individuals outside of Malaysia, regardless of their nationality.

Individuals found guilty face a maximum fine of 100,000 ringgit ($24,342), or up to three years in prison, or both. Repeat offenders will be fined up to 1,000 ringgit for every day they continue the offense.

Malaysias Emergency Widens Political Rift as Election Looms (1)

Malaysia first introduced legislation against fake news

months before the 2018 election that saw the nations historic change in government. It was used to place former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad under

investigation for saying that a plane due to take him on his campaign trail was tampered. The probe was later dropped, and the law repealed after Mahathir won the election.

With assistance by Hadi Azmi

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