Malaysia: Satire is not a crime, drop charges against Fahmi Reza

Fahmi Reza, a well-known artist in Malaysia, has been charged under Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act for a satirical graphic featuring a caricature of former Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba, who is the current Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation. The graphic, which was posted on Fahmi’s social media accounts on 10 February 2021, calls out the Minister’s decision to shorten the COVID-19 quarantine period for Cabinet ministers returning from abroad on official visits; the graphic reads as follows: ‘Get a 70% discount from your quarantine duration if you travel overseas.’ Fahmi was released on bail set at RM 5,000 (approximately USD 1,250).

Fahmi has faced repeated judicial harassment for his political activism. Authorities previously investigated Fahmi for several caricatures of Dr Adham Baba, including under Section 500 of the Penal Code. In 2018, a court convicted him under Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act for a satirical drawing of former Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Nalini Elumalai, Senior Malaysia Program Officer at ARTICLE 19, said:

“Fahmi Reza has been attacked with a near-constant stream of arrests, investigations, and harassment for his political activism. Satire is not a crime, and we call upon the Malaysian government to immediately drop the charges against Fahmi Reza and put an end to the vindictive campaign against him.”

“The Malaysian government’s hypocritical prosecution of political satire and other types of protected expression undermines the government’s pledges to promote and protect human rights while seeking election to the UN Human Rights Council. Each baseless action of censorship against Fahmi Reza is a strong setback for freedom of expression in Malaysia and makes a mockery of Malaysia’s presence on the Human Rights Council.”