In a move that is sure to strike fear into the hearts of comedians everywhere (jk), Malaysia has requested assistance from Interpol in tracking down New York-based comedian Jocelyn Chia. Her crime? Making a joke about the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
As reported by BBC, Ms Chia, who grew up in Singapore and holds US citizenship, is being investigated under Malaysian laws on incitement and offensive online content. Her joke, which was posted online last week, prompted an official protest from Malaysia and an apology from Singapore.
The missing plane, which disappeared after taking off from Kuala Lumpur in March 2014, has never been found despite a four-year search in the Indian Ocean. All 239 people on board are presumed dead.
On Tuesday, Malaysian national police chief Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani announced that an application would be filed with Interpol to obtain Ms Chia’s “full identity” and “latest location”. It remains unclear whether Malaysia has jurisdictional power to request such information from Interpol, according to the BBC.
Interpol can issue a “Red Notice”, asking law enforcement in member countries to locate and provisionally arrest those who are facing either criminal prosecution or a jail term before they are extradited. However, Malaysian authorities have not yet indicated whether they intend to prosecute or charge Ms Chia.
The Scope of the Investigation Remains Unclear
The scope of their investigation is also unclear. The row began after Ms Chia posted a clip of her recent stand-up set at Manhattan’s Comedy Cellar venue. It included a routine about the historic rivalry between Singapore and Malaysia, which were once briefly part of the same country.
Noting that Singapore had risen to be a “first-world country” while Malaysia remained “developing”, she joked that Malaysian airplanes “cannot fly”. Ms Chia added: “Malaysian Airlines going missing not funny huh? Some jokes don’t land.”
The video, which created uproar in Malaysia, was removed by TikTok, which cited a violation of its hate-speech guidelines. Ms Chia’s Instagram account was also suspended, though she claims that it probably was suspended because of online trolls.
Singapore’s ambassador to Malaysia said Ms Chia did not speak for Singaporeans. Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore’s foreign minister, condemned her “horrendous statements”.
Ms Chia Stands By Her Joke
On Sunday, Ms Chia told CNN that she had performed the routine “more than 100 times” without any problems. She added that she stood by the joke and that the clip had been taken out of context.
Her right to make such jokes in the USA is obviously protected by the First Amendment.
It remains to be seen whether Interpol will take action on Malaysia’s request or if this is just another example of censor-happy governments overreacting to comedians’ jokes.