Last month, ARTICLE 19 documented a number of concerning cases in which individuals were prosecuted for allegedly blasphemous speech. Malaysian authorities have investigated individuals under Section 298A of the Penal Code, Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act, and the Sedition Act. These cases are a continuation of long-standing practice of successive Malaysian governments in silencing expression deemed blasphemous, particularly that relating to Islam, the majority religion in the country.
In January 2021, ARTICLE 19 published a briefing paper in which it highlighted the legal framework used to target allegedly blasphemous expression. The briefing paper also set out international standards relating to the crime of blasphemy and made several recommendations to the government of Malaysia, including explicit calls to repeal legislation out of step with international law and standards. This update to that briefing paper sets out recent cases of concern and reiterates the international standards to which Malaysia is bound.
A string of criminal charges for alleged blasphemy have been brought against comedians throughout July. The Crackhouse Comedy Club has been at the centre of the harassment with a performer at the venue – Siti Nuramira Abdullah – and the co-founder – Rizal Van Geyzel – both being arrested for videos of their stand-up routines that were shared on social media.
As a new member of the Human Rights Council, it is imperative that Malaysia makes a serious commitment to reforming its legal framework to eliminate sanctions for blasphemy. The government of Malaysia should immediately cease investigation and prosecution of those who are exercising their right to freedom of expression.