Malaysian artist Fahmi Reza.

Malaysian Artist Sentenced to Prison for Mocking Prime Minister Najib Razak

Malaysian artist Fahmi Reza was sentenced to prison for one month and fined approximately $7,700 for drawing the country’s prime minister, Najib Razak, as a clown. The image, which depicts Najib with arched eyebrows, blood-red lips, and his face covered with powder-white makeup, has become popular among activists demonstrating against his administration. Fahmi, who was first arrested in 2016 when his image of the prime minister went viral online, was found guilty of breaching laws that ban the spreading of offensive content on social media.

“We are certainly appealing and are disappointed by the decision,” Fahmi’s lawyer, Syahredzan Johan told AFP. Fahmi has since posted bail and has managed to raise the full amount of his fine through crowdfunding. In a post on Twitter, the artist explained that he renders Najib as a clown because the country is being governed by “fools and crooks” and that his art is an “act of protest against this corrupt government that uses the Sedition Act and other draconian laws to silence dissenting voices.” He added: “Only dictators and their supporters find my posters and graphics to be offensive. In Malaysia, we have a government that is super intolerant to dissent. Any form of criticism against them is labeled as ‘seditious.’ But in a country full of corruption, we are all seditious.”

Najib has been cracking down on dissenters since he became embroiled in a corruption scandal in which he was accused of siphoning millions of dollars from a state investment fund that he established. The popular political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque had also been arrested in 2016 and was charged for sedition for his drawings of Najib and his wife. In January 2015, the authorities raided his office in Kuala Lumpur, seized his books and other materials, and banned the publication of his work. The fifty-three-year-old artist faces up to forty-three years in jail if convicted.

“The job of political cartoonists everywhere in the world is to criticize the government of the day," Zulkiflee told Beh Lih Ti of the South Morning China Post. But in Malaysia, that is not enough. When you live in a repressive regime, you not only criticize, you have to fight. My job is to fight through cartoons.”