Police raided a restaurant in Bukit Mertajam over its communist themed artwork while an Umno leader has decried it as evidence that communism is spreading in Penang.
Speaking to Malaysiakini, the restaurant owner who only wanted to be known as Joey, admitted that the artwork style was similar to that of communist propaganda posters but stressed the content of the text did not promote communism.
Instead, she said the Chinese text was humorous culinary slogans.
"The text is not about promoting communism, it does not even touch the topic of communism. The content is all about food and our restaurant," said the 35-year-old restaurant owner.
Among the slogans read: "Welcome my dear guest. The taste is fantastic! I like it very much. Please come again, my dear guest."
Another slogan said: "There are many benefits after spending in our store - your romantic relationship will be successful and you will pass your entrance exam!"
The artwork included a caricature of Mao Tse Tung, a communist revolutionary leader and the founding father of the People's Republic of China, as well as caricatures of soldiers in communist uniform.
In the artwork, they were carrying banners with Chinese characters that read "foodie" and "recipe".
Joey, who was born and raised in Hunan, China, married a Malaysian and they decided in 2016 to start a restaurant business together in Penang where they have settled.
The restaurant, Xiang Ge Li Li La Authentic Hunan, serves food from Joey's birthplace.
She said the designs were inspired by similar restaurants in China and thought they would be an attraction for photos on social media.
"When I first saw this kind of design, I found it interesting and funny and thought it would attract customers (to take photographs and post online).
"When I started my own business, I decided to use this as a theme, but I really didn't expect that I would get in trouble with the law four years later," she added.
Communist materials banned
All communist-linked materials are banned in Malaysia due to its bitter history with the communist insurgency.
"Perhaps the authorities found the graphics to be sensitive - I really didn't know that they cannot be put up on the wall," Joey said.
The Bukit Mertajam restaurant is the couple's second and they have another in Georgetown.
Following the raid yesterday, she said five employees were brought to the police station for questioning.
Joey said police are also looking to question her, but she has yet to give her statement as she is under home quarantine due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"I never thought that creative stickers would result in this," she added.
During the raid yesterday, police tore down the wallpapers and confiscated them.
Plates purportedly carrying Mao's face were also seized.
Sources familiar with the matter told Malaysiakini that the workers were questioned by police on whether they had been implanted with communist ideology.
Police are investigating the matter under Section 47 of the Societies Act for the publication of propaganda related to an unlawful society.
It carries a punishment of up to two years imprisonment or a fine of up to RM5,000 or both.
Meanwhile, Umno supreme council member Mohd Razlan Rafii said the government must take stern action against the "communist movement in Penang".
"It is a subversive threat to national security.
"If immediate action is not taken, it will cause unrest amongst the people," he said in a statement today.