Denmark-based man is first person to be convicted under Malaysian ‘fake news’ law

A Malaysian court Monday handed a man who lives in Denmark a one-week jail term for breaking a law against "fake news", the first person to be punished under the controversial legislation.

Denmark-based man is first person to be convicted under Malaysian 'fake news' law
A motorcyclist rides past the flag of Malaysia's ruling National Front coalition in Pekan, Malaysia. Photo: AP Photo/Sadiq Asyraf/Ritzau Scanpix

The law, passed in early April, makes the deliberate dissemination of false information punishable by up to six years in jail and a hefty fine. It has sparked outrage from rights groups, who believe it is aimed at cracking down on dissent.

Salah Salem Saleh Sulaiman, a 46-year-old of Yemeni descent, admitted making and posting on YouTube a video accusing emergency services of responding slowly after a Palestinian Hamas member was gunned down in Kuala Lumpur.

Fadi al-Batsh, said to be a rocket-making expert, was on his way to dawn prayers on April 21st when he was assassinated by motorbike-riding gunmen.

A clip of the video played in court, which lasted almost two minutes, showed Sulaiman speaking in Arabic and complaining about what he claimed was the slow response of the police and ambulance service after the shooting.

Authorities have disputed his claims.

The Denmark-based man, who did not have a lawyer and was wearing white robes and a green skullcap during a court appearance in Kuala Lumpur, said he was not aware of Malaysia's laws.

“I agree I did a mistake because I didn't ask what is the law of this country,” he said, speaking in English, his hands trembling.

The court sentenced him to a week in jail, including time already served since his April 23rd arrest, and fined him around 15,000 kroner (2,000 euros). If he cannot pay the fine, then he will have to serve another month in jail, the judge said.

The Danish foreign ministry confirmed to Ritzau that a foreign citizen with an address in Denmark had been detained in Malaysia, but was unable to confirm the court sentence.

Denmark’s embassy in Kuala Lumpur was providing consular services to the man, the ministry said.

Sulaiman had been on a 10-day visit to Malaysia when the crime was committed, AFP reports.

He is the first to be punished under the law banning ‘fake news’, which has sparked concern the government is seeking to crack down on criticism with a general election looming on May 9th.

Leading independent news portal Malaysiakini last week mounted the first legal challenge against the legislation, arguing in the Kuala Lumpur High Court that it breaches constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech.

Malaysian legal reform group Lawyers for Liberty said they were “surprised and disappointed” that Monday's prosecution went ahead even though the law was being challenged in court.

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