Leave Fahmi Reza alone

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Activists gather in a vigil last night to protest against Fahmi Reza's arrest

Hakam is appalled that the police have detained Fahmi Reza on the grounds of violation of the Sedition Act and the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA).

First, the detention over two days on the grounds of investigating the potential offences is entirely needless. The allegation relates to Fahmi posting a playlist of songs.

The purported offences under these two acts are based on what is self-evident in the postings. Is there then a need to arrest to ascertain the contents of the posting? Cannot any information that the police need be obtained by calling Fahmi for an interview at the police station during working hours; and the interview continued, if necessary, the following day?

This police act seems to be an overreach and has earned the ire of people who view this as a premature punishment to imprison Fahmi in a police cell.

Second, the nature of the act shows that Fahmi was doing little more than exercising his literary licence (as a renowned national literary artist) to present a satire around a comment that was making the public rounds. It was a play on the word jealousy that was used in that public comment.

In other jurisdictions, he could well be applauded for an astute, subtle, almost humorous take on the matter. Whatever, it can hardly be categorised as an act of a heinous crime. It is well to remember that the Sedition Act is only a shade removed from an act of treason.

Thirdly, courts in some countries have ruled a parallel provision under the CMA as unconstitutional. It makes it an offence to transmit any message online that is annoying, insulting, harassing, abusing or such like. The Indian Supreme Court ruled it as unconstitutional on several grounds. These are:

  • it could be applied even if it was a sanitised comment that did not lead to a disruption of public order or morality
  • the law was vague as it did not state clearly what would constitute such conduct and
  • it was too wide as even innocent dissemination could be considered an offence.
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Finally, the CMA is certainly out of sync with its avowed purpose to promote the wider use of multimedia information and the multimedia industry. It is not intended to curb free speech. Arresting Fahmi defeats the objective of the act or is, in any event, a wholly unnecessary and disproportionate measure.

Notably, Fahmi was charged once before for a Najib Razak clown caricature. The Pakatan Harapan government promptly withdrew the charge when it took over the reins of government. Sadly, the then-government did not have the gumption to repeal this provision as promised in its manifesto. Else, the kind of police reprisal in this case would not have come to pass.

Gurdial Singh Nijar is president of Hakam

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