Malaysian Court Jails, Artist for Clown Caricature of PM Najib

Artist Feza Photo Credit: Channels News Asia

A Malaysian artist and prominent opposition activist was jailed for a month on Tuesday for publishing a caricature of Prime Minister Najib Razak looking like a clown, a ruling likely to exacerbate concern about free speech.

Southeast Asia’s third-largest economy recently announced plans to amend a law to stamp out fake news, the latest step to broaden enforcement powers and penalties against online posts or content deemed detrimental to public order and security.

Artist Reza was found guilty under a communications law for spreading online content deemed “obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person”.

Reza was also fined 30,000 ringgit (7,700 dollars).

His lawyer, Syahredzan Johan, said the judge did not give any grounds for the ruling.

“We are appealing the decision,” Syahredzan said, adding that they will post a 10,000 ringgit bond to release Fahmi from custody pending the appeal.

Reza faces a second similar charge in a separate court.

He was among anti-government and opposition leaders and activists rounded up after protests against the prime minister over his handling of a multi-billion dollar scandal tied to state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The government blocked several websites and news portals carrying reports critical of 1MDB and the prime minister, in spite of a longstanding government pledge not to censor the internet.

The prime minister, who faced a leadership challenge following the 1MDB scandal, is preparing to call general elections that must be held by August.

The fund and the prime minister denied all wrongdoing.

1MDB has been the subject of money-laundering investigations in countries including the U.S., Switzerland and Singapore.

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In civil lawsuits, the U.S. Justice Department has alleged that about 4.5 billion dollars was misappropriated from 1MDB.


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