ABSURD, undemocratic and totally unacceptable.
These were the general consensus among legal experts on the one month jail sentence and a hefty fine imposed on graphic designer Fahmi Reza by the Ipoh Sessions Court today for posting an edited image of Prime Minister Najib Razak on Facebook.
The court decision raised alarm bells, with one law expert questioning if Malaysia was emulating Thailand where punitive measures are taken against those who criticised the country’s monarch.
Universiti Malaya law lecturer Azmi Sharom said if laws were used selectively to protect one individual or a special group from legitimate criticism, it echoes of “lese majeste” (insulting the monarch or other ruler).
Thailand has a strict draconian lese-majeste law which forbids any insult to the monarchy.
Azmi said the decision against Fahmi also placed restrictions on the freedom of speech and made it an offence if anyone poked fun at a politician.
“In the context of a democracy, an elected leader must be open to scrutiny and criticism. Satire is a form of criticism and must be taken in that light.
“The clown pictures were a way of criticising a public official (who chose to be in the public’s eye) in a humorous, albeit cutting manner.
“If our leaders are above satire then in effect we are cutting off one form of criticism against them. This is unacceptable in a democracy,” Azmi told The Malaysian Insight.
Fahmi had uploaded a caricature depicting Najib with a clown face on his Facebook page in June last year. He was charged under the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (Act 588), which carries a maximum fine of RM50,000, or a jail term not exceeding one year, or both.
He was today sentenced to a month’s jail and fined RM30,000.
His lawyer, Syahredzan Johan, said Fahmi will appeal the decision.
Constitutional law expert Aziz Bari said Malaysia was showing signs of “totalitarianism” with laws being used against critics of some politicians.
“This is a disturbing development and a regressive move to criminalise an expression against a politician.
“It is undemocratic and unacceptable. This is a sign of a failed state and totalitarianism,” Aziz told The Malaysian Insight.
Aziz pointed out that laws were used selectively on those who criticised Barisan Nasional politicians but not the other way around.
Lawyers for Liberty executive director Eric Paulsen said Communications and Multimedia laws were being used against the government’s critics.
“This is an absurd conviction and an extremely harsh sentence, all because of a satirical caricature of the PM posted on FB.
“It is clear the Communications & Multimedia Act is being misused to target dissidents like Fahmi,” he said.
Eric also said Fahmi was expressing his freedom of speech and the matter was blown out of propitiation by pro-government supporters.
“Such is the escalating intolerance in cyberspace, with the authorities keen to take issue with ‘offensive’ social media postings that are exaggerated and blown out of proportion by Umno leaders.
“In reality, it is just the exercise of freedom of speech and expression in a democratic state.”
Fahmi was charged under Section 233(1)(a) of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (Act 588), punishable under Section 233(3) of the same act, which carries a maximum fine of RM50,000, or a jail term not exceeding one year, or both, upon conviction. – February 20, 2018.