The Ipoh Sessions Court recently found graphic artist and political satirist Fahmi Reza guilty under the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 and sentenced him to a month’s jail and RM30,000 fine. Aliran is taken aback by the harsh sentence meted out merely for poking fun at leaders and the institutions that support them.
This act is part of a raft of repressive laws (including the Sedition Act) used by the Malaysian government to clamp down on dissenting voices and to intimidate its critics. The key point of these draconian laws is their arbitrariness, which allows the government to interpret these provisions of these laws to fit its own agenda, namely to perpetuate its own rule and silence detractors.
Section 233(1)(a), under which Fahmi was charged and found guilty, states broadly that:
A person by means by any network facilities or network service or application service knowingly makes, creates or solicits; and initiates the transmission of any comment, request, suggestion or other communication which is obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person.
Many find it hard to understand how an online caricature lampooning those who abuse power can be seen as threatening and offensive.
On closer reading, the intention of this section of the act is to tackle the serious issue of cyber-bullying prevalent in social media circles. It is not intended to insulate the government from critics.
But it is precisely the arbitrariness of this law that allows the government to use it as a sledgehammer to bludgeon online critics into submission. One wonders how the government, with all the machinery at its disposal, can imagine itself as a victim of cyber-bullying needing legal protection.
There is also the question of the violation of Fahmi’s freedom of speech as articulated in Article 10 of the Malaysian Constitution and upheld by international human rights treaties. As we know, the Constitution is the supreme law of the land and, unless there are exceptional compelling reasons, any infringement of the right to freedom of speech and expression would be unconstitutional.
Fahmi is now challenging the constitutionality of the Communications and Multimedia Act, and we hope that he succeeds in striking down this oppressive law.
Fahmi is also organising a crowdfunding effort through the sale of merchandise to raise money to pay the RM30,000 fine. Those who are interested in helping Fahmi to raise funds can check out his Facebook page for more info: https://www.facebook.com/kuasasiswa
Malaysians must stand up to defend their constitional right to freedom of speech and of expression.
Aliran executive committee
22 February 2018