Malaysian court jails artist for portraying PM Najib as a clown

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

South-east 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 Fahmi Reza was found guilty under a communications law of spreading online content deemed "obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person".

Fahmi was also fined RM30,000 (S$10,137). His lawyer, Mr Syahredzan Johan, said the judge gave no grounds for the ruling.

"We are appealing the decision," Mr Syahredzan said, adding that they will post a RM10,000 bond to release Fahmi from custody pending the appeal.

Fahmi faces a second similar charge in a separate court.

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

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

The government blocked several websites and news portals carrying reports critical of 1MDB and Mr Najib, despite a longstanding government pledge not to censor the internet.

Mr Najib, who faced a leadership challenge following the 1MDB scandal, is preparing to call a general election that must be held by August. The fund and Mr Najib have denied all wrongdoing.

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

In civil lawsuits, the US Justice Department has alleged that about US$4.5 billion (S$5.9 billion) was misappropriated from 1MDB.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 21, 2018, with the headline 'Malaysian court jails artist for portraying PM Najib as a clown'. Print Edition | Subscribe