Event organizers say government organization told them foreigners wouldn’t need special visas, arresting officers disagree.

With “play” right there at the end of “cosplay,” you’d think that the activity would be covered by a basic tourist visa when travelling abroad. That’s apparently not the case in Malaysia, however.

On Sunday, a pop culture gathering called Geek Summit was taking place in Shah Alam, a town not far from the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. However, at around 3 p.m. officials from the Selangor Immigration Department, which has jurisdiction over Shah Alam, raided the Ideal Convention Center, Geek Summit’s venue, questioning 13 participants and arresting four foreign cosplayers.

Three of the cosplayers arrested were Japanese women, with the fourth a man from Spain. They range in age from 28 to 41, and were taken to the immigration department’s local division office. Immigration official Mohamad Shukri Nawi told reporters “They came into Malaysia on tourist visas, but they were dressed up and performing without permission,” and were found to be in violation of the section of Malaysia’s Immigration Act that requires a special permit for arts performances.

Meanwhile, Geek Summit’s organizers have called the detention of the four foreign cosplayers unfair. “All our international guests did not perform on stage, thus were not bound to the requirements stipulated by PUSPAL to acquire a professional visa,” wrote the event’s planners in a post on the official Geek Summit Facebook page (PUSPAL is the acronym for Malaysia’s Central Agency for Application for Filming and Performance by Foreign Artistes).

While the same post asserts that “a false report made by an individual” is what prompted the raid, once the operation was underway, the immigration department apparently felt that the visa paperwork of the our arrested cosplayers warranted taking them into custody. The confusion seems to stem from differing opinions as to what constitutes a “performance.” It appears that Geek Summit, and the arrested cosplayers, were of the opinion that since their cosplay involved neither compensation nor a designated time or territory within the convention center, it didn’t qualify as a performance, and thus required no special permits beyond a basic tourist visa, which would gel with what organizers claim they were told by PUSPAL. On the other hand, the Selangor Immigration Department’s actions indicate that it believes simply being dressed up in a costume at the convention was enough to be called a performance, and thus trigger the need to obtain the associated special permits.

Geek Summit updated its Facebook page the day after the arrests to say that the embassies of Japan and Spain were in contact with various Malaysian government entities, and that the arrested cosplayers had been transferred to a second facility with better conditions than where they were originally being detained at. The cosplayers face the possibility of fines and deportation, though thankfully long-term incarceration doesn’t seem to be applicable to their alleged offences.

If the whole incident is starting to sound familiar, it might be because roughly the same thing happened just a few months ago, when 11 cosplayers were arrested by Malaysian officials at an anime convention in Kula Lampur, with five of those being visiting fans from Japan.

Moral of the story: if you’re a cosplayer headed to an event in Malaysia, you might want to make sure you’ve obtained every permit you could possibly need.

Sources: Japan Today/AFP, New Straits Times, Facebook/Geek Summit オタクサミット (1, 2)
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert image: Facebook/Geek Summit オタクサミット
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