Perikatan Nasional should not be oversensitive towards arts but should refrain from abusing state apparatus to suppress creativity and freedom of expression

Recently, Umno Youth chief Asyraf Wajdi Dasuki urged the government in his Facebook posting to take action and ban the book titled “Rebirth: Reformasi, Resistance, And Hope In New Malaysia” as the book cover featured an image that resembles and therefore has allegedly insulted the Jata Negara.

Youth wings from UMNO, MCA, MIC and PAS soon followed suit to file a police report at the Dang Wangi district police headquarters on the matter. Home Minister Hamzah Zainuddin later said in his Facebook posting that he has ordered the police to carry out the investigation and to take stern action immediately.

The police also confirmed that the case was being investigated under Section 5 of the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) (Amendment) Act 2016, Section 4 (1) of the Sedition Act 1948, Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 and Section 8 (1) of the Printing Presses and Publication Act 1984.

I would like to urge the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government to not overreact to art forms that are not aligned to its views. It should not be oversensitive towards arts but should refrain from abusing state apparatus to suppress creativity and freedom of expression.

Art helps cultivate our mind and characters, humanistic qualities and art are often interrelated and complementary. In a society that respects art and creative works, people have the opportunity to think and rethink about various aspects through art appreciation as they are exposed to different perspectives and interpretations.

Therefore, art appreciation helps develop the ability of critical thinking and thus, a society that values arts tend to have better and more comprehensive humanistic qualities.

The youth wings of BN and PAS shall not resorting to manipulating public sentiments for political gains through politicising art. Such a despicable action clearly reflected their ignorance, senselessness and disrespect for freedom of expression and artistic freedom.

The politicisation and denouncement of art by the youth wings of BN and PAS unfortunately perpetuated suppression of artistic freedom and freedom of speech that has been happening since decades ago under the previous BN authoritarian regime, and thus prevented art in Malaysia to gradually move towards mature development.

Apart from that, a country that values democracy and freedom should respect the innovative spirits of artists by encouraging and supporting them to unleash their talents in order to produce overwhelmingly outstanding, thought-provoking and epoch-making works of art.

Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah said in June 2020 that the National Film Development Corporation (Finas) has been tasked to support local films to compete and win in the much-coveted Academy Awards (Oscars) in 20 to 30 years from now. When even a small piece of artwork was deemed intolerable by the PN government, how possibly could ordinary citizens and local artists in particular expect unconditional support from the government to guarantee artistic freedom under the white terror?

The “Project Oscar” plan in which the PN government intends to produce works of art that could earn international acclaim therefore appears to be an illusionary scheme after all.

The PN government is absolutely wrong for suppressing art and freedom of expression, and the government should stop creating white terror that deters ordinary citizens as well as artists from freely expressing their thoughts.

PN government’s action might be effective in achieving its political objective of silencing dissent, yet the generational effort of developing art and cultivating humanistic qualities in Malaysia would eventually be undermined.

Chiong Yoke Kong
Media statement by Chiong Yoke Kong in Cameron Highlands on Tuesday, 30th June 2020