Criticism of Probe into Book with “Controversial Cover”

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Popular cartoonist says controversial image featured on book cover should not be seen as a manipulation of the Jata Negara.

Rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) today criticised the probe into a book publisher over the artwork used for a volume’s cover which was said to have defaced the country’s coat of arms.

In a statement, it said the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act 1963 under which the investigation is held only prohibits the use of the official coat of arms without written permission from the minister.

“It does not prohibit any artistic rendition inspired from the nation’s coat of arms, such as the one used on the cover of the book, which no sane person would mistake for the country’s actual coat of arms.

“From the outset, we must correct the erroneous claim that an offence was committed,” said LFL coordinator Zaid Malek.

The group was criticising calls by Umno Youth chief Dr Asyraf Wajdi for action to be taken against the creators and publishers of the book: Rebirth: Reformasi, Resistance, And Hope In New Malaysia for the alleged offence of defacing and insulting the country’s coat of arms.

“This manufactured controversy is an obvious attempt to strong-arm citizens from exercising their freedom of speech. Dr Asyraf Wajdi needs to be reminded that freedom of expression is a fundamental right protected under the Federal Constitution and must not be stifled simply because some quarters do not like the expression or artwork.

“If you truly respect the law, then you must adhere to the Constitution and not fabricate crimes where there are none,” he said.

Zaid said the other laws under which the case is being investigated such as the Sedition Act, Section 233 of the CMA 1998 and the Printing Press & Publication Act 1984 are notoriously oppressive and anti-democratic laws, which should not be utilised by the authorities ever again.

“These laws should be urgently repealed in the coming session of Parliament,” he said.

Police yesterday raided the premises of the book’s publisher, Gerakbudaya, where they also seized 313 copies of the book.

The cover of the book featured an image similar to the national coat of arms, illustrated with a naked child flanked by two tigers with humanoid faces stepping on a crocodile.

The Prime Minister’s Office had also warned of action under the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act.

Home Minister Hamzah Zainuddin, who ordered police to take stern action against those involved, had said it is an offence to imitate the coat of arms under Section 3(1)(a) of the Emblems and Names Act 1963.

Amid calls for action against an alleged mockery, cartoonist Zunar said the controversial image featured on a book cover should not be seen as a manipulation of the Jata Negara.

Instead, Zunar said the designer would have used the national coat of arms only as a visual reference, rather than to manipulate its original image.

“This is because only one part, less than 50 percent of the whole complete national coat of arms image, was used in this piece of art.

“Manipulation is when someone uses the whole logo and twists one or a small part of the whole logo,” Zunar told Malaysiakini.

Zhafaran Nasir/The Star

“To understand this, it is the same as it is forbidden to use the national flag as a whole cloth, but if we take only the strips or only the sun part, I don’t think it is against the law,” he said.

Graphic designer Fahmi Reza, meanwhile, said the image used on the book cover was an oil painting that was publicly exhibited six years ago.

“The way I look at it, it is an abstract, self-expression art with a symbolic message and very wide and broad interpretation.

“I am sure if 100 people look at this drawing, they will come out with 100 ways of interpretation,” he said.

The book, a collection of essays on Malaysia’s political landscape after the historic 2018 general election, was published earlier this year and has been on sale for nearly six months.

A check today of Gerakbudaya’s website shows that the title has been removed from its online store.

The publisher yesterday said it had no intention to insult the national coat of arms and also promised to co-operate with the police.