Malaysian government’s new obsession with cartoonist Fahmi Reza

 
 
Malaysian government's new obsession with cartoonist Fahmi Reza
Fahmi Reza in court shows a joke card parodying his court visits. Photo/ FBFR.

Fahmi Reza (1977) is on his way to becoming Malaysia’s most persecuted cartoonist and could take over the title from his colleague Zunarthe Malaysian government has been relentlessly hounding him for years. No exaggeration, read on.

Forbidden to leave the country

On Friday 22 April, the police called the cartoonist and activist in for questioning without any explanation Fahmi Reza and found out that his name was blacklisted by the Immigration Department and that he is banned from leaving the country. According to the cartoonist, he has been on three such lists.

Fahmi he said on Facebook on Saturday 23 April.

Malaysian government's new obsession with cartoonist Fahmi Reza

“I have been blacklisted and banned from travelling abroad

I found out yesterday. My name is on an immigration blacklist. They blocked my passport renewal. The Department of Immigration said the restrictions come from Bukit Aman/PDRM. In May I need to go to Europe for a theatre performance. I am trying to get an authorisation from Bukit Aman (…)”

Malaysian government's new obsession with cartoonist Fahmi Reza
Fahmi Reza in front of the entrance of Bukit Aman in a photo from 22 April, the day of the interrogation. Photo: FB of the author.

Arrested for a few beers

This year has been a busy one for Reza. In February, he was arrested and charged under section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act for the second time this year (the first court move was on 10 February on account of this other parody) and released on bail of RM3,000 (about EUR 700).

In the drawing, published by Fahmi on Facebook on 1 June 2021, depicted a toast with cans of Carlsberg over the caption: “Carlsberg for all”.

Malaysian government's new obsession with cartoonist Fahmi Reza

The illustration was a satire on the decision by the Ministry of Trade and Industry to approve all factories producing alcohol to operate as “essential services” during the national shutdown due to COVID-19

The decision sparked a public outcry that led the government to reverse its decision and ban breweries from operating until the lockout was relaxed.

Malaysian government's new obsession with cartoonist Fahmi Reza
Fahmi in front of the Kuala Lumpur court with his beer on 17 February. Photo: Fhami Reza FB

“I am out on bail! One should not be afraid to defend our right to free speech because it instils courage in others to defend it. They can jail a rebel, but they can’t jail rebellion. #SatireIsNotACrime”, posted after leaving the court.

The colleague already has a nice collection of photos at the entrance of courthouses and police stations police stations in half the country.

The indictment was yet another chapter in the government’s harassment campaign against Fahmi following criminal charges brought against him and multiple previous investigations. So far this year, Fahmi has posted RM8,000 (about $2,000) in bail.

Nalini Elumalaithe human rights activist and head of the Malaysian programme, who is responsible for the in ARTICLE 19 is clear about it:

“The government’s use of criminal charges in retaliation in an attempt to intimidate Fahmi Reza only succeeds in exposing its malicious witch-hunt against him. Their campaign of harassment and criminalisation of expression must stop.”

“Successive governments continue to use section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Law as a weapon to muzzle government critics and stifle artistic expression. It must be amended to ensure that it is no longer used to undermine freedom of expression.”

Trouble for a real chimpanzee

On April 14, he was arrested again for this drawing of a chimpanzee in published on the internet a chimpanzee in a king’s attire.

Malaysian government's new obsession with cartoonist Fahmi Reza

Fahmi Reza’s illustration shows Mojo Jojo, the supervillain from the popular 1990 series Powerpuff Girls, in traditional royal garb

It was a satirical response to an art purchase by the Sultan of Malaysia, Sharafuddin of Selangor, which to top it all is a painting with a satirical scene depicting lawmakers on both sides of the Malaysian parliament as monkeys, apes and frogs, but not President Tan Sri Azhar Azizan Harun and his deputies.

In Malaysia, “frog” is also used as a euphemism for elected legislators who switch parties and political affiliations.

Absurdity taken to the limit. This is the painting in question and in this publication official website has a photo gallery with more detail.

Malaysian government's new obsession with cartoonist Fahmi Reza

The sultan in jeans posing with the painting in his shack. Note the colleague’s full name, take a breath: Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah Al-Haj Ibni Almarhum Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Al-Haj.

Convicted for clowning around

In 2018, Reza was convicted for a cartoon and was at the gates of jail, eventually the Malaysian High Court commuted the sentence and reduced his sentence from one month imprisonment and a fine of RM30,000 to only a fine of RM10,000.

He was found guilty of publishing on the internet the caricature of the former prime minister Najib Razak made up as a clown with the message “In a country full of corruption, we are all seditious”.

Paradox of humour, in 2020 former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was sentenced to 12 years in prison for corruption.

As expected, Reza later dedicated several cartoon to him.

Here are the details of that mess.

Background

About “Bukit Aman

Bukit Aman, which translates to ‘Peace Hill’, (officially Ibu Pejabat Polis Diraja Malaysia) is the name given to the district where various Royal Malaysian Police departments and their headquarters, as well as other important police, strategic and security facilities are located

Malaysian government's new obsession with cartoonist Fahmi RezaHumour in trouble, a collection of cases (III)
Cases of cartoonists who have had problems of some importance because of their cartoons or satirical illustrations. There are also some stories of other people who, without being cartoonists, have got into trouble for sharing them.


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