In November 2016, I was one of the many (including officers of the law) who watched helplessly as a mob (later identified by Aliran as members of Penang Umno Youth) stormed an exhibition at Komtar in Penang.
They were protesting the display of the caricature works of renowned cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, better known as Zunar. To avoid any further disturbance, he voluntarily took his work down.
The next day, the police arrested Zunar after he turned himself in for questioning following the previous day’s disturbance. Fourteen months later, internationally renowned Lithuanian street artist, Ernest Zacharevic, was banned from entering Malaysia.
Elsewhere, the infamous Jamal Yunus led 300 men in red shirts to protest in front of the Malaysiakini office demanding for the news portal’s closure. Earlier, the publisher of The Edge, Ho Kay Tat, and the editor of the now-defunct The Malaysian Insider, Jahabar Sadiq were arrested.
It was then an era when anyone who did not “say nice things” about the government or the then prime minister Najib Abdul Razak and his wife were on the receiving end of such mobs and actions. No one was spared – civil societies, individuals and those who spoke about 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). 1MDB was taboo for members of the media and the ruling party and every government machinery was involved in preventing the truth from emerging.
Zunar was in his element when he fired the perfect riposte to intrusions into creative expressions: “Why is the government afraid of artists? We do not carry guns and bombs. We only carry pens and brushes.”
These days, he has not only graphic artist Fahmi Reza for company but scores of other creative people including journalists, theatre personalities and political analysts as dissent appears to be unacceptable.
The authorities are apt at carrying out investigations under Section 233(1) of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, which prohibits online content deemed to “annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass” others. This clause encompasses almost everything in cyberspace.
Those days, these actions were to be classified as “ikut arahan” (following orders) but no one was cowed. Zunar continued to draw and The Edge sustained its disclosure on the dirty deals and the soiled hands of many of our leaders and civil servants in the 1MDB debacle.
Then everything changed. The 14th general election rejected the lot and the new government gave creativity and freedom a fresh breath of air. But it did not last long.
The creative fraternity is now feeling the gust of gale-force winds. The authorities are coming down hard on any attempt which shows dissent or expresses contrary opinions.
Is this a subtle message to Alan Perera, Jason Leong and others who dabble in satire and parody in the course of their work? Already, three Malaysiakini journalists who did serious work – reporting a death in custody – have been pulled up for questioning.
The journalists were just doing their jobs and reporting allegations of police misconduct as part of their job. Instead of going on a witch hunt, wouldn’t it be more appropriate if they carried investigations into the many deaths in custody?
Yesterday, the police in Kedah arrested arrested a 61-year-old man for a nine-minute-long video deriding Kedah Menteri Besar Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor over a joke the politician made about containers being used as a makeshift morgue for those who died from Covid-19.
He is being investigated under Section 504 of the Penal Code, Section 14 of the Minor Offences Act 1955, and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.
What was the senior citizen’s supposed offence? He repeatedly questioned the Kedah menteri besar’s intelligence! But to criminalise someone for offering an enlightenment to the maker of a crude joke at a press conference is a no-brainer.
Why can’t we have a laugh at some incredulous statements and actions made of our political leaders? Do the police expect us to applaud and cheer Health Minister Dr Adham Baba minister who goes on national television and decrees that air suam (warm water) as the cure for Covid-19?
Should we garland him when he says he had a video conference with leaders of 500 countries? Do we nod our heads in agreement and congratulate Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein referring to his Chinese counterpart as “elder brother”.
Were we supposed to maintain deadpan silence when former higher education Minister Noraini Ahmad proposed a TikTok competition to convince young Malaysians to stay home during the movement control order (MCO)?
What do we make of ex-Prasarana chairperson Tajuddin Abdul Rahman’s arrogance and indifference in addressing issues of the LRT crash? His infamous “train kissing” is no tear-jerker and most would have let out a hefty laugh.
Such faux pas will continue judging from the number of incompetent people having been parachuted to high office because of political expediency.
With D-Day approaching and less than a month before Prime Minister Muhyuddin Yasin faces a confidence vote, there is an inherent danger that more such ridiculous statements will be made. This means investigations and prosecutions for touching on such speeches will continue.
But we should not be browbeaten into fear or submission by such threats. On the contrary, we must collectively stand up to such strategies which border on curbing the right to free speech which is enshrined in our constitution.
Having said that, why do the lawmakers in Putrajaya remain silent when they are referred to as the backdoor government? Is it a silent admission that they are not the rightful occupiers of those hot seats or do they not understand its meaning? Or do they have that “we can do no wrong” sensation in their heads?
R NADESWARAN feels the “ikut arahan” syndrome is back in full swing, affecting several government agencies.
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