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Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) strongly denounces the arrest, overnight detention and remand of an overseas-based Malaysian book editor Kean Wong under the Sedition Act - over a book cover featuring a modified national coat-of-arms published three years ago. Kean Wong has also been unjustifiably retained in the police’s suspect list and subject to arrest upon return to the country since 2020.

On 16 October 2023, Kean Wong was detained at the Kelana Jaya Immigration Department, and subsequently detained overnight at Dang Wangi police station. On 17 October 2023, the magistrate granted a 1-day remand for the police to resume investigations on Kean Wong. To date, whilst the police released a statement that Kean Wong is released, the probe against the editor continues.

All aforementioned actions by the authorities are excessive, as it was already clarified three years ago that the image concerned was from an oil painting, which was even at one point publicly exhibited six years prior in 2014 with no issues when the Barisan Nasional administration was still in power. More importantly, the subject of alleged contention here is not even the crux of the book, i.e., its content and arguments on the 2018 general election and the country’s transition to the Pakatan Harapan administration.

Intimidation tactics from investigations to court charges against production of parody images are not new, with one of the more recent ones being Fahmi Reza’s arrest and detention over his ‘Sultan’ Mojo Jojo cartoon in 2022. Actions taken by the authorities in 2020 towards the modified coat-of-arms image, from the Gerak Budaya raid to book ban by the Home Ministry, were deplorable enough. Through the re-enactment of draconian tactics of arrest and detention, it is worryingly clear that we have before us a government with precarious commitment to uphold our fundamental freedom of expression, and a police force with concerningly misplaced priorities when these resources could have been better used to deter serious crimes that jeopardise public safety. Equally importantly, the problematic environment in which critical debate on issues of public interest and artistic expression continue to be criminalised and censored remains intact, especially because draconian laws such as the Sedition Act remain in place.

As the flagbearer of institutional reform, it is a moral imperative that this government take concrete steps in protecting and upholding freedom of expression for all. We thus demand that:

  • The probe against Kean Wong be ceased immediately.

  • Existing laws that curtail freedom of expression including the Sedition Act and Section 233 of the Communication and Multimedia Act be repealed, with moratoria implemented pending repeal.

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