The National Human Rights Society (Hakam) condemns the 4 June arrests of activist and graphic artist Fahmi Reza and three others, Lew Pik-Svonn, Pang Khee Teik and Arif Rafhan Othman, and their being investigated for alleged offences under the Sedition Act 1948.
Hakam views these arrests as another attempt by the government to stifle free speech and quash dissent, adding to the burgeoning series of blatant acts by the authorities to limit the freedom of expression of individuals — a fundamental human right by international standards.
It has been reported that on 4 June Fahmi was arrested and is being investigated under Section 41c of the Sedition Act 1948 and Section 11 of the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) 1984, in connection with his sale of T-shirts bearing his #KitaSemuaPenghasut design.
On the same day, three others, Lew, Pang and Arif, were also arrested by police and taken in for questioning in connection with the sale of T-shirts carrying allegedly seditious messages.
On 6 June, Fahmi was charged at the Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court for posting a clown caricature resembling Prime Minister Najib Razak on his Instagram account on 31 January, which prosecutors charge to be an offence under Section 233(1)(a) of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA). He has claimed trial to this charge and if found guilty, he faces a RM50,000 fine, a one-year jail term, or both.
Fahmi will soon be facing a separate charge at the Ipoh Sessions Court for an alleged offence also under Section 233(1)(a) of the CMA. This second charge results from a complaint by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) in relation to Fahmi’s posting of a parody MCMC notice bearing the same clown caricature on his Facebook page on 8 February.
Recalling the wide ambit of Section 233 of the CMA and the ill-defined scope for offences it prescribes, this section can only be described as an unjustifiable restriction of freedom of expression based on recognised international standards. Like (their prosecution under) other laws that impinge on freedom of expression, the authorities’ prosecution of alleged offenders in reliance of this provision of the CMA seems arbitrary and selective.
Over the past two years, the government has severely interfered with freedom of expression, of speech and of information through increased blocking of media websites both local and international, intensified questioning and/or arrests of activists, journalists, lawyers and cartoonists over online content, and the passing of a series of tougher laws with stiffer penalties for offences to do with online expression.
Hakam seeks to remind the government of its obligations to protect and promote freedom of expression, speech and information and to safeguard human rights in the digital sphere.
As such, Hakam calls on the attorney general and the inspector general of police to put an end to the series of arrests and prosecution which could be viewed as intimidation on the part of the authorities.
Hakam stands in solidarity with Fahmi Reza and those arrested for voicing their opinions and expressing themselves, and calls on the government to stop invoking Section 233(1)(a) of the CMA, Section 11 of the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) 1984, and the Sedition Act to stifle freedom of expression.
Robyn Choi is secretary general of Hakam. This statement was issued on behalf Hakam executive committee.