The CSO Cluster on Freedom of Expression (FOE Cluster) strongly protests against the arrest of satirist Fahmi Reza this evening over a Spotify playlist that featured a picture of the Raja Permaisuri Agong entitled “This is Dengki Ke?”
Fahmi Reza is reportedly being investigated for sedition under Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA).
This arrest is unwarranted and disproportionate and demonstrates the current government’s persistent heavy-handed response to any form of expression that is critical of ruling powers.
It demonstrates the wide and arbitrary nature of the Sedition Act, which is long overdue for repeal.
Section 233 of the CMA is equally defective, as it makes it an offence to post offensive content with the intention to annoy.
These disproportionate and overly wide restrictions on the freedom of expression make them open to selective prosecution and abuse.
Satire plays an important role in society as a space for commentary, discussion and debate on shared values. Political satire, in particular, plays an important role to engage with institutional power in a way that creates space for humour.
Such a space should be defended as a vital part of public participation, to enable a robust civic discourse and healthy democracy that is able to withstand critique and differing opinions.
Any restriction on the freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 10 of the Federal Constitution must be legitimate, necessary and proportionate. Criminalising insults or satirical posts, which do not pose serious threats to national security, public morality and public order, do not constitute a legitimate restriction on the freedom of expression.
The Raja Permaisuri Agong herself had demonstrated the importance of protecting the space for freedom of expression, including critical speech, by denouncing the arrest of individuals over their remarks on Twitter in 2019.
The FOE Cluster is also greatly alarmed by reports that a group of police officers allegedly broke Fahmi Reza’s door to arrest him. Such a strong display of power is entirely unnecessary and constitutes an act of intimidation on the part of the authorities.
We demand that Fahmi Reza be released with no further delay. Any attempts to violate and undermine our fundamental freedoms should not be tolerated.
The Freedom of Expression (FOE) Cluster is a group of civil society organisations working to promote freedom of expression in Malaysia. The cluster is co-chaired by the Centre for Independent Journalism and Article 19 Malaysia. It is also part of the larger CSO Platform for Reform