Malaysian artist/activist Fahmi Reza has been charged under his country’s Communications and Multimedia Act for caricaturing President Najib Razak as a clown. Fahmi first posted the caricature of the scandal-plagued politician on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in January, 2016. Variations of the clown-face Najib have since been reproduced on posters, walls and T-shirts.
“The original clown-faced Najib Razak artwork,” Fahmi told Vice magazine, “was my reaction to two issues. First, to the news that the Malaysian Attorney-General cleared Najib of any corruption relating to the long-running financial scandal, absolving Najib from all wrongdoing. The level of absurdity that the government used to cover-up the scandal and corruption is astounding. Second, it was a reaction to an Amnesty International report, which states that in 2015 alone there were 91 instances of the Sedition Act being used by the government to arrest, investigate, or charge individuals. In Malaysia, the government is very intolerant of dissent.” One target of the Sedition Act is the cartoonist Zunar, who faces a possible 43 years in prison if convicted over some tweets made in 2015.
“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 Reza
Fahmi pleaded not guilty to the charge of “improper use of network facilities or network service.” If convicted of using the Internet to “anoy, abuse, threaten, or harass,” Reza faces a year in jail and a 50,000 ringgit ($12,325 US) fine. Fahmi’s lawyer says the cartoonist is also being investigated for sedition. The artist/activist told Vice magazine’s Maddison Cannaughton that if he’s found guilty of all potential charges, he could be jailed for five years.