PETALING JAYA: Controversial graphic artist Fahmi Reza has advised other artists and creators who wish to take a stand against the government to carry on their dissent without fear.
He said they should make their work speak for them and the people despite government attempts to question and arrest critics under an Emergency ordinance against fake news.
Fahmi added that the people should also be aware that they were guaranteed the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 10 of the federal constitution.
“I think we should stop being afraid of the government,” he said during a press briefing on freedom of expression organised by Article 19.
The briefing called “New government, old tactics: laws abused to throttle online expression in Malaysia”, was attended by other panellists including human rights lawyer Edmund Bon, the Centre for Independent Journalism’s (CIJ) Wathshlah Naidu, and editor-in-chief of Malaysiakini Steven Gan.
Fahmi added that artists and critics who speak up should also be prepared for possible arrest, as the government continues cracking down on dissenting voices.
He said, in such an event, people must also be aware of their rights during arrests or questioning.
Fahmi was himself arrested on April 23 for investigations under the Sedition Act, after creating a Spotify playlist that allegedly mocked the Raja Permaisuri Agong over a comment she made on her Instagram account. He was released after a day in remand.
Meanwhile, other panellists agreed that despite attempts by the government to silence critics, people were still speaking up and taking up space, especially online, to voice their concerns.
This is in spite of the government re-enacting fake news laws under the Emergency (Essential Powers) (No.2) Ordinance, which came into force in March. The law criminalises the creation, publication and dissemination of “fake news” online about Covid-19.
However, all the panellists agreed that many were still afraid of jail sentences and fines under the law.
In a joint statement on the forum, Article 19, Access Now, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, and the CIJ together called on authorities to stop “baseless investigations“ that threaten freedom of expression.
They also urged the government to repeal or substantially amend repressive laws in line with Malaysia’s international human rights obligations.
“While governments have a duty to combat misinformation regarding Covid-19 in order to protect the rights to health and life, actions that restrict freedom of expression must be strictly necessary and proportionate to the aim of protecting public health,” they said.
“The Ordinance does not require criminal intent but rather allows for sanctions against any person who shares information ‘which is likely to cause fear or alarm to the public’.”
Recently, Inspector-General of Police Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani revealed that police opened 21 investigation papers under Section 4(1) of the Ordinance since March 12.
Ten individuals had been detained, three of whom are still in police custody.