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Malaysian artist charged for depicting PM as clown

KUALA LUMPUR — A Malaysian graphic artist was charged on Monday (June 6) with violating multimedia laws by caricaturing Prime Minister Najib Razak as a sinister clown to protest against allegations of corruption.

If found guilty of the charge under Section 233(1) of the Act, graphic artist Fahmi Reza faces a RM50,000 (S$16,580)  fine, a one-year jail term, or both. Photo: Malay Mail Online

If found guilty of the charge under Section 233(1) of the Act, graphic artist Fahmi Reza faces a RM50,000 (S$16,580) fine, a one-year jail term, or both. Photo: Malay Mail Online

KUALA LUMPUR — A Malaysian graphic artist was charged on Monday (June 6) with violating multimedia laws by caricaturing Prime Minister Najib Razak as a sinister clown to protest against allegations of corruption.

Fahmi Reza’s depictions of Mr Najib went viral earlier this year, and posters and stickers bearing the images have also appeared in public places, earning the designer-activist comparisons to other street-art provocateurs like the British artist known as Banksy.

Fahmi, 38, was charged under a section of Malaysian communications and multimedia laws that forbid disseminating online content deemed to “annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass” others.

He faces a possible one-year prison sentence and RM50,000 (S$16,579) fine, said his attorney, Mr Syahredzan Johan.

“This is essentially criminalising (free) expression,” said Mr Syahredzan.

Fahmi pleaded not guilty after the charge was read out in court.

According to the charge sheet, Fahmi is alleged to have spread the image which was “false in nature” with the intention of “hurting someone else’s feelings”.

The judge set bail at RM5,000 with a surety, lower than the RM20,000 sought by the prosecution, whose request that Fahmi’s passport be impounded was also turned down.

The case was fixed for mention on June 17.

Fahmi may be facing another charge under the same section of the Act for allegedly posting a fake Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission poster, also bearing the clown caricature, on his Facebook page on Feb 8.

Mr Syahredzan said that police were also investigating the artist for sedition.

Over the weekend, Fahmi was detained and questioned under the Sedition Act for selling #KitaSemuaPenghasut (we are all agitators) T-shirts.

He also presented former Premier Mahathir Mohamad a copy of his colouring book titled ABC Politikus Malaysia that features a likeness of the 90-year-old under the letter “D”, for “Diktator”.

In a Facebook posting on Monday, the artist vowed to “defend my rights to criticise the corrupt rulers by using art as a weapon”.

He was warned by police previously to stop posting the images, which show Mr Najib in powder-white clown make-up, evilly arched eyebrows and a garish blood-red mouth.

Mr Najib is battling accusations that billions of dollars were stolen from state-owned fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) he oversees, and is under pressure over US$681 million (S$927 million) in overseas funds that were deposited into his personal bank account.

Both Mr Najib and 1MDB have denied any wrongdoing.

The Malaysian Attorney-General’s office has cleared Mr Najib of any criminal offences or corruption, declaring that the money deposited into his personal bank account was a gift from Saudi Arabia’s royal family.

1MDB is being investigated in at least six countries, including Switzerland, US and Singapore, over allegations it was used to funnel money to politically-connected individuals.

Even before the corruption allegations emerged a year ago, Mr Najib’s government had moved to silence critics following a 2013 election setback.

Dozens of government opponents including opposition politicians have been investigated for, or charged with, a range of offences over the past three years, typically sedition.

There was a wave of social media reactions on Monday supporting Fahmi and criticising the government for clamping down on freedom of expression.

Facebook user Louis Arudas posted: “Stay strong Fahmi, they can’t crush you spirit or your will. The clown is probably afraid of his own shadow!”

“I respect your courage. Fahmi Reza is great @kuasasiswa,” posted Twitter user Yam Kim Wah.

“If (you) can’t take criticism than don’t be the PM,” posted user Michael Kumar on Facebook.

But there were also others who disapproved of Fahmi’s antics.

“I don’t know why Fahmi Reza is so proud about his Tun M (Dr Mahathir) colouring book,” posted user lilyhannah88 on her Twitter account. AGENCIES

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