Persons who disseminate lies on coronavirus issues to be investigated and charged

The police and the MCMC are working closely with officers in the AG’s Chambers

by RAHIMI YUNUS/ pic by BERNAMA

PERSONS who initiate and disseminate lies relating to the 2019 novel coronavirus on the Internet shall be investigated and charged if a case exists, warned Attorney General (AG) Tan Sri Tommy Thomas (picture).

Thomas said he takes very seriously the incredible volume of lies relating to the coronavirus epidemic which has gripped attention across the globe.

The public prosecutor said constitutionally entrenched guarantees of free speech and expression and the statutorily guaranteed right not to censor the Internet stated in Section 3(3) of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 do not give a licence to propagate lies.

“This phenomenon is compounded by our obsession to introduce racial or religious overtones into every issue of public life. Hence, lies on the Internet connecting coronavirus to any particular ethnic or religious group are not only deplorable, but inflammatory in our plural society of numerous ethnic and religious groups,” he said in a statement yesterday.

Thomas said the police and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) are working closely with officers in the AG’s Chambers and charges will be made against the individuals concerned in the coming days.

He said Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 is one option although the elements required to be satisfied by prosecution before a person can be convicted by a court under that provision do not fit into the category of offences that have been committed in recent times.

“It is clear that Section 233 should be the subject of parliamentary amendment, hopefully soon,” he added. Accordingly, Thomas said the individuals concerned will be charged under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code which governs statements relating to public mischief.

He said the key elements in the provision are the making or circulation of any statement or rumour which may cause fear or alarm resulting in anyone being induced to commit an offence against public tranquillity.

“When epidemics occur, panic must be prevented among the citizenry. Instead, calmness and firmness of authority should guide the people on the origins, scale and magnitude of the epidemic,” he said.

Separately, a journalist pleaded not guilty at the Kuala Lumpur Magistrate’s Court to three charges of making statements on Facebook regarding coronavirus which are likely to cause fear or alarm to the public, according to a Bernama report.

Wan Noor Hayati Wan Alias, 41, has been charged with making statements about coronavirus with the intention to cause fear or alarm to the public or any section of the public.

She was accused of the offences that were made via her Facebook account “Ibu Yati”, according to all three charges.

The three statements were read on her Facebook page at the Commercial Crime Investigation Department, Bukit Aman, at 10pm on Jan 26. She was released on bail of RM12,000 with one surety.

The accused was charged under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code which provides for a maximum jail term of two years, or with fine, or both. The court fixed March 11 for the case mention.