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Two Malaysian filmmakers charged with blasphemy

On the 17th of January, the film’s producer, Tan Meng Kheng, and director, Khairi Anwar Jailani, were charged under blasphemy provisions in Section 298 of the Penal Code, which makes the insult of any religion a criminal offense.

The film, Mentega Terbang, was featured at a film festival in 2021. The central theme is the struggles of a 15-year-old Muslim girl who questions her Islamic faith, exploring other options and dealing with questions about life after death. The film contained religious themes and scenes that received criticism from conservative groups who “complained that the film went against Islamic religious doctrine.” The film was subsequently banned in September 2023 under Section 26 of the Film Censorship Act 2002, on the grounds that it was “contrary to the public interest and was hurting religious feelings”. 

Khairi Anwar was granted bail of RM 6,000 (the equivalent of $1,271) on the condition that he must report to the police station every month, while Tan Meng was ordered to pay RM 6,500 (the equivalent of $1,377) as bail. Nine human rights organizations have condemned the criminal charges as breaches of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Representatives of Amnesty International Malaysia and Freedom For Film Network stated: “Blasphemy provisions are arbitrary and open to abuse. They inappropriately empower government authorities to decide the parameters of religious discourse. Minority groups and individuals holding unpopular opinions are often disproportionately targeted. The enforcement of blasphemy provisions is highly problematic, especially when criminal sanctions are applied. As a result, blasphemy provisions promote intolerance by restricting the rights to freedom of expression, thought, and religion. Such prejudice can result in devastating consequences for society.”

The filmmakers have been exposed to threats since early 2023. Research from human rights violations monitoring groups reveals that authorities use these provisions against people who have allegedly insulted Islam. They have a devastating impact on religious minorities and artists who express their opinions about persecution.

Blasphemy laws are arbitrary and open to abuse in Malaysia. They promote intolerance and restrict the rights to freedom of speech, thought and religion. Government authorities have the power to enforce these provisions on any groups they see fit. Minorities and people with unpopular opinions are disproportionately targeted.


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