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Malaysian Police Threaten Internet Users for Sharing Clown Memes of Prime Minister

Categories: East Asia, Malaysia, Arts & Culture, Censorship, Digital Activism, Freedom of Speech, Governance, Human Rights, Law, Politics, Protest, Youth

#KitaSemuaPenghasut means "We are all seditious." Image from the Facebook page of Grupa [1]

#KitaSemuaPenghasut means “We are all seditious.” Image from the Facebook page of Grupa

Clown memes mocking Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak [2] are being shared [3] on the Internet after the police threatened an activist graphic artist for uploading an altered image of the premier.

On January 31, 2016, artist Fahmi Reza [4] posted a tweet denouncing the Sedition Act [5], accompanied by a clown image of Najib.

In 2015, the Sedition Act was used 91 times. But in a country full of corruption, we are all seditious.

The Sedition Act is a colonial-era law which has been used [8] by successive governments to silence and arrest the opposition and other critical voices in Malaysia. Najib promised to repeal the law in 2012 but instead of doing this after winning a new term as prime minister, he urged parliament to strengthen the measure by citing the need to improve national security.

After Fahmi Reza posted the tweet, he got a quick reply from the Police Cyber Investigation Response Center [9] through Twitter:

You are now under police watch. Use your account responsibly and according to the law.

Friends of Reza from the Grafik Rebel Untuk Protes & Aktivisme (Grupa), or Rebel Graphics for Protests & Activism, immediately accused [15] the police of harassment. They started a campaign urging the public to post [16] clown photos of Najib in support of Reza. The hashtag #kitasemuapenghasut [17], which means ‘we are all seditious’, was used and instantly became popular in Malaysia.

In a Facebook post, Fahmi Reza defended [18] parody and satire as a form of artistic expression:

In a country where cartoonists and satirists have been censored, intimidated, arrested and incarcerated for their art, it is important that this vital form of artistic expression – parody and satire as a form of political protest – is continued to be practiced and to be defended at all costs.

Perhaps to stop netizens from sharing the clown images of Najib, a government agency warned [19] the public that those guilty of humiliating national leaders can face prosecution.

This elicited another reply [20] from the artist:

I designed the warning poster, as a piece of political satire and parody to highlight the absurdity behind the warning issued by the police against spreading the clown pictures; which is a form of internet censorship that goes against internet freedom.

The human rights group Suaram urged [21] the government not to equate satire with crime:

Recalling the nature of office hold [sic] by any government official, public scrutiny and criticism is [sic] part of the democratic process that serves as the foundation of Malaysia. Satirical images and comments made against government official[s] should not be considered as a crime.

Here are some of the clown memes of Najib that were shared by the graphic artist collective, Grupa:

One tweet referred to a corruption [43] scandal involving Najib, who is accused of receiving 600 million US dollars from a state-run investment firm. Najib claimed the money in his personal bank account is a political donation from a royal family in Saudi.

Another reminded people of Najib's 2012 election pledge to repeal the Sedition Law: