In conjunction with Human Rights Day on 10 December 2020, Amnesty International Malaysia is partnering with activists and popular voices of today to create awareness of freedom of expression and censorship of music, film, art, and other pop culture items.
The campaign will feature videos of activists, artists and media practitioners such as Jo Kukathas, Ian Yee, Wong Yan Ke and Shaq Koyok who shared their first-hand experience in being censored or silenced, and to voice out what it means to have freedom of expression. Content released throughout the campaign also focused on how censorship and bans not only hinder Malaysian creativity but also lead to people losing their fundamental human rights.
“From the music we listen to, films we watch, books we read, to the content we produce online, the campaign Unsilenced will highlight how the opinions and ideas that people are allowed to seek and share in Malaysia can be censored or even banned,” said Katrina Jorene Maliamauv, Executive Director of Amnesty International Malaysia.
The Unsilenced campaign will run a petition urging the government to repeal laws often used to ban, censor and restrict freedom of expression, namely the Sedition Act, Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA), the Film Censorship Act and the Printing Presses and Publications Act, so that Malaysians can engage in, produce and enjoy pop culture and various forms of expression without limitations, fear, or risk of being prosecuted.
The campaign’s microsite includes a gallery of items that have been censored and banned in Malaysia over the years, a history of censorship in Malaysia and stories of how laws have been used to control, repress and restrict popular culture. Some of the examples include:
• In 2014, Chinese Malaysian rapper Namewee’s comedy Banglasia, portraying Malaysians of different races uniting with a Bangladeshi worker to defend the country against a fictional invader was banned by censors who insisted the film promoted ‘a homosexual lifestyle’ and “ridiculed national security issues.” Authorities pointed to 31 separate scenes it described as inappropriate, and the film was banned indefinitely. Banglasia was finally deemed acceptable by the censorship board after a reshoot and the ban was lifted. It was released to theatres six years after its intended debut as Banglasia 2.0 in February 2019.
• Ernest Zacharevic’s 2013 street mural of two Lego figurines in Johor Bahru, one a robber and the other carrying a designer handbag, was painted over by the city council which did not find the depiction of the city’s high crime rate amusing.
• Martin Scorsese’s 2013 dark comedy Wolf of Wall Street, despite being indirectly funded by Malaysians via 1MDB funds, was ironically banned in the country due to its use of “profanity” and the portrayal of sex and drug use.
• In 2012, Peter Mayle’s sex education book for children, “Where did I come from?” was banned in accordance with the Printing Presses and Publications Act. Anyone convicted of circulating and distributing the book could be fined up to RM20,000 and jailed up to three years.
• Officially banned in December 2006, director Dain Said’s horror film Dukun spent almost eleven years on the shelf before finally being screened in April 2018. The National Film Censorship Board deemed it offensive to the family members of the people involved in the
case. No official reason was ever given for the film’s delayed release.
• The globally popular television show for children, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, was taken off the air due the word “morphin,” short for morphing, which could be confused for morphine, the opiate.
The public also has an opportunity to get more involved. On the 12th of December, from 3:00 PM – 5:00 PM, Amnesty International Malaysia is calling on people to use social media to share their thoughts on the effects of censorship, their experiences with restrictions on freedom of expression, and their hopes for free expression in Malaysia. The public is free to interpret these questions in their own way—for example, by creating artwork, writing about experiences, sharing poetry, or starting discussions. They are asked to use the #UNSILENCED hashtag and link to the petition.
“All individuals in Malaysia deserve to live out our right to think, feel, create, share, seek and express ourselves freely. We have repeatedly stood up against being silenced and found ways to express ourselves; we must keep claiming our right to be unsilenced. We hope many will sign the petition, and joining us in making freedom of expression in Malaysia a reality,” added Katrina.
Visit unsilenced.amnesty.my to sign the petition and to be Unsilenced .The website is available in Bahasa Malaysia and Mandarin.
*article updated with some typo error