'Unsilenced' campaign focuses on freedom of expression and censorship in Malaysia

The 'Unsilenced' campaign aims to create awareness on the freedom of expression and censorship of music, film, art and pop culture in Malaysia. Photo: Amnesty International Malaysia

Do you remember when four artworks from acclaimed Malaysian contemporary artist Ahmad Fuad Osman’s solo exhibition At The End Of The Day Even Art Is Not Important at the National Art Gallery were taken down early this year, following a complaint from a board member?

What about when Penang-based theatremaker Fa Abdul was forced to postpone the premiere of her new play in 2019 and subsequently change its title just because it contained the word "sex"?

Freedom of expression and censorship is indeed a hot topic in Malaysia.

In conjunction with the recent Human Rights Day, Amnesty International Malaysia (Amnesty) shines the spotlight on these pertinent issues through its aptly named Unsilenced campaign.

The virtual campaign aims to create awareness on the freedom of expression and censorship of music, film, art and culture in Malaysia.

“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, ” says Katrina Jorene Maliamauv, Amnesty’s executive director.

The campaign features videos of activists, artists and media practitioners such as theatre director/actress Jo Kukathas, student activist Wong Yan Ke and Orang Asli visual artist Shaq Koyok, to name a few, who will share their first-hand experience of being censored, and to voice out what it means to have freedom of expression.

The videos will be posted on Amnesty’s Facebook page until Dec 21.

The campaign also highlights events, books and exhibitions that have been censored and banned in Malaysia over the years on its website.

For example, in 2013, Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic’s mural of two Lego figurines in Johor Baru, one a robber and the other carrying a designer handbag, was painted over by the Johor Baru City Council.

In 2004, Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur denied the permit to Singapore-based Malaysian playwright Huzir Sulaiman’s play Election Day unless it removed certain words, including “Anwar Ibrahim, ” “Hidup Mahathir” and “Guardian Pharmacy.”

The producers complied but cheekily pasted a glossary of the original words and their substitutions outside the theatre.

The campaign aims to collect 10,000 signatures for its petition. Photo: Amnesty International MalaysiaThe campaign aims to collect 10,000 signatures for its petition. Photo: Amnesty International Malaysia

The Unsilenced campaign will also 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.

The campaign target is to collect 10,000 signatures.

“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 join us in making freedom of expression in Malaysia a reality, ” concludes Maliamauv.

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