Fahmi Reza and the cartoon for which he has been condemned
The High Court of Malaysia has reduced the sentence imposed on a graphic designer and activist to one month’s imprisonment and a fine Mohd Fahmi Reza Mohd Zarin from one month’s imprisonment and a fine of RM30,000 to only a fine of RM10,000 after he was found guilty of publishing a caricature of the now former Prime Minister on the internet Najib Razak.
Trouble for Fahmi Reza (1977), a cartoonist and activist in the “Occupy” movement, started on 31 January 2016 when he posted on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter a poster with a caricature of Najib Razak as a clown with the message“In a country full of corruption, we are all seditionists” , a direct reference to the sedition law. The police then issued a direct warning to him on Twitter for the poster.
The image of the sinister clown went viral and became a symbol of the “political circus” of corruption in Malaysia and was used both online and in other street protests and ended up printed on T-shirts, stickers, posters, trainers and other media.
Photo: Mids Nya
On 2 February, a police report is written against the clown poster and on 6 February, the deputy chief of police issues a warning against the dissemination of distorted images of political leaders on social media.
On 8 February, the author uploads a parody of a poster of an MCMC (Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission) notice to his social media networks, ironically warning against disseminating the poster with the Najib the Clown cartoon on social media.
Reza painting a mural with the cartoon in 2016
Cited and arrested
On 28 February, the police open an investigation and summon the cartoonist for questioning. The following day, the MCMC followed suit and also summoned him for further questioning.
Finally, on 4 June, the cartoonist was arrested by the police under the Sedition Act. The motive, selling #KitaSemuaPenghasut (We are all seditious) T-shirts depicting the caricature of the clown minister.
On 6 June he is charged in the Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court for the clown poster under Section 233 (1) (a) of the CMA (Communication Multimedia Act), popularly renamed“AktaSakitHati“, “Hurt Feelings Act” (Translation thanks to Fahmi Reza)
On 10 June, he was again charged in the Ipoh Court for the parody of the MCMC warning poster.
The cartoonist explained his motives for drawing Prime Minister Najib Razak as a clown.
On 17 August, he appealed to the Kuala Lumpur High Court in an attempt to have the charge quashed and #AktaSakitHati declared unconstitutional. Fhami went on to send two letters. On 12 June and 17 July, with them that the charges be dropped and the case closed.
On 5 September the trial began, facing up to a year in jail or a fine of RM50,000, or both, Fahmi pleaded not guilty. Although in October it was read that the cartoonist had been acquitted the trial did not end there.
Fahmi Reza holds up a caricature of Najib Razak in front of the entrance to the Kuala Lumpur court complex. Photo: Reza
Conviction and commutation of sentence
He was eventually sentenced to one month’s imprisonment and a fine of RM30,000, or six months’ imprisonment for non-compliance. Fahmi Reza managed to raise funds to pay the fine through a crowdfunding campaign. And he had not yet started serving his sentence pending the High Court’s decision.
Two years later, after his prison sentence was commuted, he will not have to go to prison. With the reduction of the fine, already paid, to RM10,000, he must be repaid the difference.
After the trial was over, Judicial Commissioner Datuk Mohd Radzi Harun, advised he told Fahmi Reza to use his talent for noble causes, uphold oriental etiquette and values and serve as a role model for his followers on social media.
He also suggested that she spend the RM20,000 (about 4,200 euros) that would be returned to her on art materials to teach orphans and children with special needs.
In short, he warned him in apparent good humour not to caricature politicians and to stop pointing out corruption. That satire could land him in jail, a matter of “regulated” Trappist-style freedom of expression.
In 2020, former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was sentenced to 12 years in prison for corruption.
Reza is not the first cartoonist to be charged with sedition and tried in Malaysia under the “Multimedia Act”, but he is the first to be convicted, as the cartoonist “Zunar”, after a long trial was acquitted of all charges.
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