AN attempt by Malaysian authorities to silence a local graphic artist for his work depicting Prime Minister Najib Razak as a clown has only served to inspire a social media movement.
On Jan. 30, Fahmi Reza posted the sketch of Najib to his Twitter account, along with the caption: “In 2015, the Sedition Act was used 91 times. Tapi dalam negara yang penuh dengan korupsi, kita semua penghasut (But in a country full of corruption, we are all instigators).”
This was in response to the recent decision by the attorney-general to clear Najib of any criminal wrongdoing after investigations into the US$700 million that had turned up in his personal bank account.
The tweet attracted the attention of the Police Cyber Investigation Response Center, which alerted Fahmi the following day that he was now under police surveillance. In their tweet, they told him to use the social media platform “responsibly and in accordance with the law”. They even included the Twitter handle of Inspector-general of Police Khalid Abu Bakar.
Supporters of Najib have also filed police reports against Fahmi for the piece of satirical art, calling it an “insult” to the prime minister, which would “inspire the public to turn against him”.
However, Fahmi refused to be intimidated and instead responded with a Facebook post saying, “In a country that uses the law to protect the corrupt and oppress those brave enough to speak out against it, the time has come for us to stop being polite and courteous when fighting against the government’s corruption.”
In solidarity with Fahmi, fellow graphic artists began creating their own versions of a clown-faced Najib, using the hashtag #KitaSemuaPenghasut (“We are all instigators”).
The posters have been compiled at the GRUPA Facebook community page. GRUPA, short for “Grafik Rebel Untuk Protes & Aktivisme (Rebel Graphics for Protests & Activism)”, is an independent collective of local designers and illustrators.
The outpouring of support from the graphic art community through the #KitaSemuaPenghasut movement has surprised even Fahmi.
“It was beyond my expectations. It proved to me that I was not alone. There were others who share my outrage,” he told the Malaysian Insider.
He added that in the past, when it came to politics and activism, Malaysian graphic designers had usually kept themselves out of the limelight, and likened GRUPA to “a breath of fresh air”.
Though the authorities have yet to contact Fahmi again, he is well aware that he and those at GRUPA could be slapped with a fine of up to RM50,000 (US$12,044), a year in jail, or both, under Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, which vaguely covers the “improper use of network facilities and services”.
But this isn’t the first time the graphic “artivist” has had a run-in with police – in 2012, he was arrested for participating in the Occupy Dataran protest at Merdeka Square.
However, he managed to turn the tables on the authorities when the High Court ruled in his favor in a lawsuit over his unlawful arrest.
As a result, the Kuala Lumpur City Hall and the police were ordered to pay Fahmi RM38,000 (US$9,157) in damages and RM30,000 (US$ 7,229) in legal costs, all of which Fahmi announced would be donated towards anti-corruption efforts.