Malaysian Artist Jailed and Fined for Caricature Mocking Country’s Prime Minister

By Mister Pravda, International News Writer

On February 20, Malaysian activist and designer Fahmi Reza was sentenced to one month’s jail and fined RM30,000 ($7707) for posting a caricature mocking the country’s Prime Minister, Najib Razak.

Fahmi, 40, was charged on February 8, 2016 under the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 when he uploaded an edited image of Najib on Facebook. Judge Norashima Khalid of the Sessions Court found him guilty of uploading an edited image with the intention to offend.

According to The Star Malaysia, Fahmi will be jailed an additional six months if he fails to pay his fine.

Fahmi’s original picture was posted to protest the abuse of the controversial Sedition Act. He had edited clown features over Najib’s Twitter profile picture. A caption that translates to, “In a country full of corruption, we are all agitators” accompanies the edited image. Fahmi’s image served as inspiration to other artists who have since reproduced the image in numerous artistic ways. In particular, a group of graphic designers called Grafik Rebels Untuk Protes & Aktivisme (Graphic Rebels for Protest and Activism) or GRUPA reproduced numerous images as a sign of solidarity with their fellow graphic designer. It is unknown if Fahmi is affiliated with GRUPA.

The British introduced Malaysia’s Sedition Act in 1948 in an attempt to limit opposition to colonial rule. Since then, the Malaysian Parliament has amended the act a number of times to also include specific limitations on freedom of speech. An example is that the Sedition Act covers dissent against the special rights of Malays outlined in Article 153 of the Malaysian Constitution. These special rights are part of the social contract agreed upon by the Malay and non-Malay founding fathers. In return for granting non-Malay individuals citizenship, these non-Malay citizens would need to recognize certain special rights and privileges of the Malays. The latest amendment to the Act in 2015 includes an online media ban and mandatory jail time.

Reuters quoted Syahredzan Johan who represents Fahmi saying that, “We are appealing the decision,”. Syahredzan also added that they will post a RM10,000 bond so that Fahmi is released from custody. The Star Malaysia had reported that Judge Norashima had allowed Fahmi’s sentence to be postponed pending his appeal at the High Court.

 

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, February 27th print edition.

Contact Mister at

mister.pravda@student.shu.edu

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