Crackhouse Comedy Club has come under a lot of fire in recent weeks. It is believed to be catalysed by the viral video of a woman discarding her tudung and baju kurung, and allegedly insulting Islam during an open mic session at the venue on July 9.
The comedy club was then suspended on July 10, after authorities found that it was operating on a restaurant and beverage licence from 2014 to 2017, not an entertainment permit.
Meanwhile, Rizal Van Geyzel, the comedy club’s co-founder was also accused of uploading content on his social media accounts on July 4, 5, and 6 with an alleged intention to annoy others. The now deleted videos were said to touch on racial and religious sensitivities.
Rizal was then charged under Section 233(1)(a) of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, which is an offence punishable under Section 233(3) of the same Act.
If convicted, he faces a maximum fine of RM50,000 or up to one year imprisonment and can be fined RM1,000 each day if the offence continues after conviction.
On July 15, Rizal was arrested and later charged on July 22, pleading not guilty at the Sessions Court.
Effective July 30, DBKL’s licensing committee agreed to cancel the comedy club’s business licence. On August 17, it was announced that its owner was blacklisted for life from registering a business in KL.
The question is, could these sentences potentially be too harsh?
It’s worth noting that there are currently two cases going on, the co-founder’s social media content, and the business itself.
Section 233 (S233) of the Communications and Multimedia Act cited in other cases
In recent times, S233 of the CMA has been used in various instances as a basis to open up investigations on social media posts that are deemed “offensive” or “menacing”.
It’s worth noting that the statute does not provide a definition for either “offensive” or “menacing” content. So if the matter goes to court, the presiding judge or magistrate will decide whether the content shared is considered offensive and/or menacing.
This is according to a lawyer we spoke to who has seven years in the legal practice, specialising in Corporate Commercial, Intellectual Property & Technology. He agreed to be quoted in this article with the alias, Mr. H.
For example, a 34-year-old single mother, Hong Jia Ming, was fined RM8,000 by the Sessions Court in August 2022 for posting offensive content in March 2020. The Facebook post concerned an offensive posting about the solat hajat (prayer of need) ceremony.
The Judge meted out the fine, in default six months jail, after Hong pleaded guilty to the charge. Hong’s lawyer was able to lower the RM50,000 (max) fine on the grounds that Hong has a heart problem, and a nine-year-old son to support.
Dictionary time: A default sentence is a prison sentence that you may be required to serve if you fail to pay the fine on time.
Another case highlighted a 70-year-old blogger Aspan, who was fined RM4,500 by the Sessions Court on July 22 for improper use of network facilities. Aspan was charged with initiating the transmission of offensive communication with intention to annoy others against the King.
The judge meted out the fine, in default six months jail, and Aspan pleaded guilty and was able to lower the fine. His lawyer argued that the blogger was jobless, suffered from diabetes, and had high blood pressure.
These instances suggest that content made against race, religion, country heads, or royalties would be considered offensive and menacing under S233 of the CMA.
It can also be said that defendants have successfully pleaded for lower fines due to personal circumstances.
As such, Rizal and his team may bring up his personal circumstances in court as well. This might include his struggles with dyslexia, his four children, and his father who suffers from cancer.
Mr. H pointed out that a guilty plea would generally lead (but is not guaranteed) to a lighter sentence being imposed on the accused.
Pleading not guilty, Rizal has been granted RM12,000 bail for all charges and has been ordered to surrender his passport to the court.
It is learnt that Rizal paid the bail, and is barred from making any posts or comments about the case on social media. Hence, he was unable to respond to Vulcan Post’s request for an interview.
Blacklisting is not a penalty prescribed under the CMA
To recap, Crackhouse Comedy Club and Rizal himself have been blacklisted for life from registering a business in KL.
It’s worth noting that there is actually no express blacklisting provision under the Entertainment Act. More specifically, Section 5(2) of the Entertainment (Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur) Act 1992.
“Section 5(2) of the Entertainment Act provides that the Commissioner of DBKL has the authority to refuse to grant a licence to provide entertainment at a premise pursuant to any such licence application submitted at his/her discretion,” Mr. H explained.
Additionally, Section 11(1) of the Entertainment Act allows the Commissioner to revoke an entertainment licence or a licence to open a place of entertainment. This is especially so if there has been a breach of conditions or any contravention (offences) against any laws.
“In essence, DBKL’s blacklisting of the Crackhouse Comedy Club’s co-founder is an announcement to the public that it will reject all licence applications submitted by Rizal, and the companies associated with him,” Mr. H summarised.
“That being said, S12 of the Entertainment Act allows a rejected applicant to appeal against such decision to the Minister.”
Rizal is being trialled under Section 233 (S233) of the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA). Under this act, there is a maximum fine of RM50,000, up to one year of jail time, or both.
His lawyer has so far been able to appeal for an RM12,000 bail for all charges. Rizal pleaded not guilty and was released on bail. He is also barred from speaking on this matter publicly on social media, hence, we could not reach him for comments.
Crackhouse Comedy Club has also been blacklisted, and its co-founders, including Rizal, are no longer allowed to apply for a business licence in KL.
So far, the case hasn’t been officially concluded yet, and according to the lawyer we confided, it can take anywhere between nine months to two years (excluding any appeals) before it is settled.
Therefore, we come back to the question, were the charges against Crackhouse Comedy Club and Rizal too harsh?
Given the case studies we looked at above, the initial charges imposed on the convicted is justified, as these fines and jail time were predetermined by the court.
With good reason, the convicted individuals have also been able to appeal, and lower their fine amounts. As for the blacklisting, Crackhouse Comedy Club’s legal team appears to be appealing.
At the time of writing (August 19), there are reports circulating that the club’s lawyers may initiate legal action against the KL mayor for blacklisting the business, and suspending its operations without prior notice.
The city mayor has been given 48 hours to reverse the revocation of the club’s operating licence and the blacklisting of the owners from registering other businesses in KL.
- Read our previous coverage on Crackhouse Comedy Club here.
- Read other Malaysian startup features here.
Featured Image Credit: Rizal Van Geyzel, co-founder of Crackhouse Comedy Club