GEORGE TOWN: The one month’s jail and RM30,000 fine meted out to artist and prominent activist Fahmi Reza is excessive and unacceptable, several people said today.
The Ipoh Sessions Court had yesterday found the artist guilty under Section 233(1)(a) of the Communications and Multimedia Act for his satirical poster depicting Prime Minister Najib Razak with a clown face.
Under the act, Fahmi was found to have spread online content deemed “obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person”.
Fellow cartoonist Zunar said the punishment was unacceptable and even comical, as, he said, Fahmi had done nothing wrong.
“As a cartoonist Fahmi did his job very well. This is what cartoonists, graphic artists or artists do. It is a practice all over the world that artists take a stand and criticise the government of the day.
“That is why I find the judgment unacceptable. It is against the principle of freedom of expression guaranteed by our Federal Constitution. It is the basic right of any artist to express his art. That is what Fahmi did. It is nothing wrong. It is a very comical judgment,” he told FMT when contacted.
Zunar, who himself has been investigated over his cartoons, expressed hope that the judgment would serve as a motivation for Fahmi to come up with more cartoons.
“I hope he can continue to do more. He has to continue to do more. It is his right as an artist to express the way he wants – whether to use an object, animals or cartoon characters in art, it is common practice,” he said.
Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) executive director Eric Paulsen said it was a “preposterous conviction and an extremely harsh sentence, all because of a satirical caricature of the PM posted on Facebook.”
He asked: “Why must there be special protection for the prime minister, like Thailand’s terrible le majeste law, as we see more and more people being targetted for ‘insulting’ remarks against the PM?
“The authorities are just too keen to take offence at unfavourable social media postings. It is a manufactured outrage and exaggerated by Umno leaders and their supporters in order to justify harsh actions against dissidents like Fahmi,” he said.
In several tweets earlier, Paulsen said while it was true that freedom of speech was not absolute and that there were accepted limitations such as incitement to violence and hate speech, he observed that the threshold for freedom of speech must be high.
“It is irresponsible for the authorities to keep going after these perceived social media “insults” when there are more pressing matters at hand – like genuine crimes.
“The authorities have acted selectively and disproportionately in targeting dissidents like Namewee & @kuasasiswa (Fahmi) while doing nothing against pro-Umno individuals like Ibrahim Ali, Ali Tinju etc who have made much more inflammatory remarks,” he said in his tweets.
Meanwhile, Fahmi, in a Facebook post yesterday evening, voiced his disagreement with the punishment meted out against him, and has vowed to fight on.
He said he had already filed an application to challenge the decision at the Ipoh High Court.
“After four hours of sitting in the lockup, I have now been released on RM10,000 bail. My jail sentence has been stayed pending appeal, but I still have to pay the RM30,000 fine. If I don’t, I will be jailed six months,” he said in his post.
Fahmi further stated that while he was the one who designed the clown face, “all of us played a part in spreading and viralling the protest image criticising the corruption of those in power – whether online or offline”.