Corona Alarm: When Virus Viraling is A Criminal Offence

By: Sonny Zulhuda

coronavirus_update920.jpg.daijpg.600Everyone now speaks about this COVID-19, the latest Corona virus epidemic which started in China recently and had now affected over 45,000 people worldwide, and killed more than 1,200 people. People talk about it because it is everyone’s concern. It is about life and death (beyond just economy!).

The problem now is, we have too much information to the extent that it is so hard to identify the truth behind each piece of information. Some of those info may have led to increasing fear and panic. I believe this is not what we want: mixing facts with fiction, then distorting our priorities.

It is interesting to note recently (the past few days) that some penal sanctions were upheld by courts in Malaysia against those who are found to spread fake news or information about COVID-19. Here are some excerpts from one media report (The Star Online, 13 Feb 2020):

“Retiree fined RM5,000 for spreading fake news”

SANDAKAN: A former employee of the Sabah State Railway Department was fined RM5,000 in default 10 months’ jail by the Magistrate’s Court here for spreading fake news on Covid-19 (novel coronavirus), Bernama reported.

Magistrate Suhailla Selag meted out the fine on Aliuudin Amit, 67, who is retired, after he pleaded guilty to the offence yesterday. He was charged with circulating a statement aimed at causing public mischief through WhatsApp by spreading a rumour about a prisoner in Sandakan Prison who died from Covid-19. The offence was committed at Lot 70, Jalan Selunsung, Taman Sempelang, Kota Kinabalu, at 9.34pm on Jan 23. The statement was read by an officer of the Sandakan Prison at 10.46am the following day.

The charge was under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code, which provides for a jail term of up to two years, a fine or both, upon conviction. In mitigation, Aliuudin, who was unrepresented, promised not to repeat the mistake. Aliuudin paid the fine.

Now, let us see. The report said it was “fake” news. What law was used to bring the charge? No, not the “Anti-fake news Act, because it is now repealed (Almarhum) already. Instead, the charge was brought under Malaysia’s main criminal code, i.e. Penal Code section 505.

Section 505 of Penal Code is entitled: Statements conducing to public mischief. It has few sub-section, but let me zoom in to the sub-section (b) which has been used by the Court. Here are the excerpts: Continue reading

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