‘HAHA-laal’: Muslim comedian fights back

2013-10-20 05:00

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Simmi Areff, the comedian who was threatened with legal action by the SA National Halaal Authority (Sanha) has responded with a lawyer’s letter of his own.

“I want to show people they don’t have to be bullied by these institutions,” Areff told City Press yesterday ahead of his lawyers sending a response to Sanha’s demand that he hand over the promotional material for his show Strictly Makrooh for it to be destroyed.

On Monday, Sanha took issue with the stand-up’s use of their certification logo that he parodied to read “HAHA-laal” instead of “halaal” in the online marketing for his debut solo show on November 22.

Instead of “South African Halaal Authority” Areff’s online poster reads “Simmi Areff HAHA-laal Authority”.

The use their logo, wrote Sanha’s lawyer, Michael Jackson of Cox Yeats Attorneys, “is unlawful”.

Areff was instructed to “immediately cease the use of the trademark”. Sanha demanded his material, as well as the names of his designer and printer. They said the body would pursue damages.

They gave Areff until yesterday to respond before approaching the high court for an interdict.

“If I was wrong I would’ve taken the logo off. But they’ve come with the might of a huge army for something I’m not incorrect about … I’m a comedian, I make jokes … It’s like they’ve brought a tank to a Grade 3 cross-country race,” said the 25-year-old.

“I don’t have to be bulldozed. I can fight them legally.”

Areff’s lawyers, Willem de Klerk Attorneys, responded to Sanha with a firm rebuttal, saying that their client “is not prepared to give the undertakings you seek ... Any legal action your client may institute will be defended.”

Areff admits, they write, that his marketing includes “an image which in certain respects resembles the Sanha logo” but “believes his use of the image is lawful and that it constitutes protected expression under section 16 of the Constitution.”

They argue that Sanha has itself stated in the media that its issue is not “a case of commercial threat to Sanha … it is a case of Islam” and that Areff is “making (a) mockery of our faith”.

Areff’s lawyers question how the poster could be seen as an attack on Islam and write that, either way, “the Trade Marks Act provides no cause of action” on the matter of faith, just on commercial infringement.

They refer to the precedent established when the Constitutional Court ruled in favour of Laugh It Off Promotions against SAB in 2006. The satirists reworked the Black Label logo on T-shirts with a pay-off line reading “black labour white guilt”.

Areff also took issue with Radio Islam this week. On Thursday, Sanha’s spokesperson, Ebi Lockhat, was interviewed by the station.

Lockhat was quoted on Sanha’s Twitter feed as saying “the Constitution also protects our right to protect our logo” and that the issue “must not degenerate into an attack on religious institutes”.

The young comic says he was only called by Radio Islam an hour later to give his views, which would be recorded. He demanded a full right of response and has asked to debate Sanha live on air on Monday morning.

After the radio interview, he told City Press “I think their best quote was, ‘He is morally bankrupt’ … Half of that statement is true though. I am bankrupt.”

Areff, himself a devout Muslim, says he has received support from Muslims of his generation, who feel their institutions are too strict.

On Twitter, his fellow comedians have generated the hashtag #FreeSimmi.

“Will @simmiareff be the catalyst in a new Muslim youth thought process? So interesting to watch,” tweeted @Zain__Patel.

Yesterday, Lockhat said he would only be able to comment on Areff’s response once Sanha’s attorneys had briefed management who would then provide a statement.

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