Malaysia has detained rapper for ‘obscene’ music video

The detention of the rapper is the latest in a series of recent high-profile censorship cases that points to the growing influence of conservative Islam in Malaysia

February 23, 2018
Malaysia has detained rapper for ‘obscene’ music video

Malaysian police have detained controversial rapper Namewee for releasing a music video that they say insults religion, according to Reuters.

“He was arrested as his video could have a negative impact on racial harmony in the country,” federal police Criminal Investigation Department director Comm Wan Ahmad said in a police statement, before explaining that the rapper had been detained under Section 298A of the Penal Code and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act.

The music video in question sees the 34-year-old artist, whose real name is Wee Meng Chee, sing the lyrics of his Chinese New Year-themed song ‘Like a Dog’ from an office chair in front of the Malaysian prime minister’s office in Putrajaya, while extras wearing dog masks dance around him and intermittently mimic sex positions.

In the main hook of the song, Namewee sings that while American dogs go “woof woof” and Indonesian dogs go “bow bow”, Malaysian dogs go “mari mari wang wang”, or “come come money money,” in what could be interpreted as thinly veiled criticism of government corruption.

Government officials have called the video “obscene” and disrespectful of the Muslim majority country’s cultural norms.

“Our country is one that emphasises on harmony. We respect the differences in beliefs of every Malaysian. If an individual chooses to be provocative, then he cannot blame the authorities when action is taken against him,” deputy prime minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told the Star Online a week prior to Namewee’s detention.

However, the 34-year-old rapper has maintained that he never intended to stoke religious tensions.

“Previously, I released a rooster-themed song for Chinese New Year and other songs that contained humorous elements to celebrate Chinese New Year… It was never my intention to insult any religion or race,” he said in a video posted to Facebook in response to Zahid’s comments.

In 2016, Namewee was arrested following a complaint that his music video titled ‘Oh my God!’ had allegedly insulted Islam. He was held for four days before being released. His most recent detention has been met with mixed response on Twitter.

The Malaysian government has a long history of censoring content that it believes undermines the country’s cultural values.

In July 2017, the state-run Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) stopped broadcasting the hit pop song ‘Despacito’ due to its “wholly inappropriate” sexually-charged lyrics. Many commentators took to social media to poke fun at the ban, given so few Malaysians would have understood the Spanish lyrics in the first place.

The RTM’s decision to ban playing ‘Despacito’ on national media outlets came just a few months after the release of Walt Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ was postponed after censors mulled over removing a ‘gay moment’ from the film. Many saw the homophobic censorship as evidence of the growing influence of conservative Islamic voices in the country.

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