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Malaysian Artist Faces Possible Charges Over Online Posts

Amir Hadi Azmi
Kuala Lumpur
2016-06-03
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Fahmi Reza paints a sign for his exhibition “12 Years of Visual Disobedience,” in Kuala Lumpur, 2014.
Fahmi Reza paints a sign for his exhibition “12 Years of Visual Disobedience,” in Kuala Lumpur, 2014.
Courtesy of Fahmi Reza

Malaysian graphic artist Fahmi Reza, who made waves in January by posting an image on Twitter that depicted the prime minister as a clown, is to appear in two different courts next week to face potential charges of violating the country’s internet law.

Fahmi has been summoned to separate courts on Monday and next Friday, where he may be charged under the Communication and Multimedia 1998 Act over allegations of improperly using network facilities and services to post satirical posters of Prime Minister Najib Razak and other Malaysian officials and institutions on his Facebook and Instagram accounts.

Fahmi was issued a warrant at the Dang Wangi district police station in Kuala Lumpur on Friday.

“I believe that in a country where artists, designers, cartoonists and satirists have been censored, arrested and charged in court for their art, it is important that this vital form of artistic expression – parody and satire as a form of political protest – is continued to be practiced and to be defended at all costs,” Fahmi told BenarNews.

Fahmi, 38, has been lampooning a string of such arrests cited under the act, which he calls the #AktaSakitHati (#HurtMyFeelingsAct).

The first potential charge against him says he intentionally used his Instagram account to post his clown-face depiction of Najib on Jan. 31 with the intent of offending others.

The post, whose caption reads, “In 2015, the Sedition Act was used 91 times. But in a country full of corruption, we are all seditious,” caused a stir on Twitter.

In a second potential charge, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission claims that Fahmi intentionally posted a parody of an MCMC notice featuring a similarly altered photo of Najib, on his Facebook page on Feb. 8.

Fahmi said he did nothing wrong and only exercised his right to free speech.

He is scheduled to appear to answer the first charge on Monday at the Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court and on June 10 for the other charge at the Ipoh Sessions Court in the state of Perak.

If convicted, Fahmi faces up to two years in prison, or a 50,000 ringgit (U.S. $12,178) fine, or both for each charge.

Zunar’s trial approaches

The possible case against Fahmi comes as another Malaysian satirist, political cartoonist Zunar, nears the start of his trial on nine counts of sedition.

Zunar, whose real name is Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, is known for his biting cartoons that lampoon Najib and highlight themes such as corruption.

The co-recipient of the 2016 International Editorial Cartoons Prize is scheduled to stand trial on July 14, and he could be sentenced to more than four decades in prison if convicted on all nine counts under Malaysia’s Sedition Act.

Zunar has been jailed twice – for two days in September 2010 and for three days in February 2015. Five of his books have been banned and his office in Kuala Lumpur has been raided. Printers have been warned to not publish any of his cartoon books.

The latest charges against him stem from tweets he had sent that criticized the 2014 jailing of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on sodomy charges.

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