Reports by HEMANANTHANI SIVANANDAM, RAHIMY RAHIM, NURBAITI HAMDAN, JOSEPH KAOS Jr, ALLISON LAI, JUSTIN ZACK, CLARISSA CHUNG, CHEONG JIN WEI and NG ZHE QUN
KUALA LUMPUR: The Attorney General’s Chambers has warned against the spread of bogus information relating to the novel coronavirus on social media platforms.
Attorney General Tan Sri Tommy Thomas said those who do so would be investigated and might face charges under the Penal Code for fear-mongering.
“The AGC is working closely with the police, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) and other agencies to prevent the spread of false statements.”
Charges would be made against such individuals in the coming days, he said, adding that freedom of speech and the right not to censor the Internet were not a licence to propagate lies.
He said he viewed seriously “the incredible volume of lies relating to the coronavirus epidemic”.
“Our health authorities must be allowed to deal with the problem in a calm and measured manner, without having to cope with extraneous matters, ” he said in a statement yesterday.
The AGC, said Thomas, would charge those spreading false information on coronavirus under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code, which outlined the punishment for those who circulated statements or rumours that were of public mischief.
Although Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act was an option for prosecution, he said the elements required for a person to be convicted “does not fit the category of offences that have been committed in recent times”.
Thomas noted that truth is paramount whether in private dealings or in public and national affairs.
“When times of epidemic or pandemic crisis occur in any society, it is critical that truthful and honest statements are issued by health authorities on a regular and prompt basis so that the millions of individuals who make up a society can themselves make informed decisions relating to their own health and safety, and that of their loved ones.
“When epidemics occur, panic must be prevented among the citizenry. The authorities should guide the people on the origins, scale and magnitude of the epidemic calmly and firmly, ” he said.
He also noted the obsession to introduce racial or religious overtones into every issue of public life.
Meanwhile, Deputy Inspector-General of Police Datuk Mazlan Mansor did not mince his words when asked about the spate of fake news being circulated about the coronavirus.
“We have given advice and warnings to not spread such things that would create unrest. But this still happens.
“I don’t want to talk anymore about giving advice because there’s no point. You’ll just face court of law, ” he said after officiating an awards ceremony for Ops Selamat 16 at Bukit Aman yesterday.
The police have opened 13 investigations papers to date, with one suspect being charged yesterday in Kuala Lumpur.
Sources said that two more suspects, one in Sabah and the other in Terengganu, would also be charged soon.
Yesterday, a journalist claimed trial at a Magistrate’s Court here to three counts of making statements on the novel coronavirus on her Facebook account that could cause disruption of public peace.
Wan Noor Hayati Wan Alias, 41, pleaded not guilty after the charges were read out to her before magistrate Tawfiq Affandy Chin.
She was accused of knowingly making the statements with the intention to cause fear among the public.
The statements were made on the “Ibu Yati” Facebook account and read at the Commercial Crime Investigation Department at Bukit Aman at 10pm on Jan 26.
The charges were under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code for statements conducing to public mischief.
Wan Noor Hayati faces a maximum two years’ imprisonment, or a fine, or both, if convicted.
DPP Nurilya Ellyna Nor Azmal did not offer bail.
The accused, who was unrepresented, pleaded for a low bail.
The court fixed bail at RM4,000 in one surety for each of the charges and set March 11 for mention.