PM left red nosed by censorship protest

PM as clown Image copyright Facebook/GRUPA
Image caption A portrait that probably won't grace the walls of the prime minister's office

When Malaysian police warned activist and graphic designer Fahmi Reza that his Twitter account was under surveillance after he posted an image of the prime minister, Najib Razak, as a clown, they probably hoped such behaviour would stop.

But then members of an art collective, Grupa posted even more clownish images of the premier to express their solidarity with him and to champion the ideal of free speech.

The pictures have spread across social media with the hashtag #KitaSemuaPenghasut which translates as "we are all seditious".

Fahmi's mockery of the prime minister was part of a wider reaction to news last week, when the country's attorney-general cleared Mr Najib of any corruption relating to a long-running financial scandal.

Image copyright Twitter/@FahmiReza
Image caption Fahmi's original portrait of the PM resulted in a police warning
Image copyright Grupa/Facebook
Image caption Grupa has been quick to express solidarity

Grupa and Fahmi both have a history of protest against the current prime minister, though Fahmi stresses his work is anti-corruption rather than anti-Najib and says he has lampooned politicians from all sides in his work.

Grupa says it is an independent group of designers and illustrators that formed just days before street protests in August that called on Mr Najib to resign. It says it designed many of the placards used in the protest.

Fahmi, a long-time activist, is unrepentant. He responded to the police warning with another tweet mocking it: "Warning! This Twitter account is under police watch. Use it with prudence."

On Facebook he has also made a tongue-in-cheek appeal to the authorities not to act rashly, saying his arrest would only give the issue more publicity.

Image copyright Facebook/GRUPA

In July last year, $681m was found in Mr Najib's personal bank account. In the furore that followed, the prime minister removed the attorney-general investigating the issue and sacked the deputy prime minister who was vocally and actively criticising the way the matter was handled.

Image copyright Facebook/GRUPA

There was widespread scepticism about the explanation that the new attorney-general gave about the source of the funds - that they were a personal donation from the Saudi royal family to Mr Najib - and the story trended for days on social media.

Mr Najib has consistently denied any wrongdoing.

The Malaysian police's attempts to use social media to monitor comments about the government has also sparked debate. The Police Cyber Investigation Response Centre account that cautioned Fahmi, has also cautioned a handful of other social media users for expressing racist or libellous sentiment since it was created in January.

While some say it is required to make people more aware of the legal limits of what they can say online, others point out it has been created in an era where the government has increasingly used pre-colonial sedition laws to stifle free speech.

The government has also tried to eradicate visible signs of protest by attempting to ban the yellow T-shirts worn by protesters campaigning against Mr Najib.

Blog by: Tse Yin Lee , BBC Monitoring

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