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Problematic licencing law hampers distribution of new cartoon magazine

(CIJ/IFEX) - The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) and Writers Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI) are concerned about the confiscation of hundreds of copies of a cartoon magazine on current issues edited by prominent cartoonist Zunar. The confiscation smacks of harassment and censorship of discussion of current issues.

On 25 August 2009, officials from the Control of Publication Department of the Ministry of Home Affairs seized copies of the inaugural issues of "Gedung Kartun" (Cartoon Store) from the publisher's office in Kuala Lumpur. According to the magazine's editor-in-chief, Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, better known as Zunar, more than 400 copies were seized. When contacted by CIJ, the department's assistant secretary, Abdul Razak Abdul Latif, said the magazine was confiscated "primarily" due to the lack of a publication permit as well as for content "checking." He was unable to confirm the number of copies seized.

Zunar, however, disputed the lack of a permit as the reason for the confiscation and claimed that he had obtained the permit's serial number verbally. He said the officers insisted on confiscating the copies of the magazine even after they were informed of the verbal permission. Zunar said he was then told to ask for an official letter regarding the status of the permit.

The permit requirement for publications is legislated under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA) and failing to meet the requirement can result in imprisonment for up to three years or a fine of up to RM20,000 (approx. US$5,700).

The confiscation is a form of harassment against those who publish alternative interpretations of current events. Zunar is a long time contributor to the online news site and is well-known for his political cartoons. "Gedung Kartun", a bi-weekly slated for the market in September, features drawings that discuss the controversial death of the political assistant from the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) at the Selangor Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) office, as well as a drawing involving Prime Minister Najib Razak. Zunar said the magazine is about alternative humour.

The action against the bi-weekly once again shows how the licencing regime is used arbitrarily to control expression. The employment of such a law does not inspire confidence in Home Minister Hishamuddin Hussien's announcement that the law will be reviewed to keep up with the demands of the people. To show that the minister recognises the people's criticism of the law, he should stop any further implementation of harsh measures such as the arbitrary confiscation of publications.

CIJ and WAMI urge the ministry to return the confiscated copies of "Gedung Kartun" to its publisher so that it can be made available to the public. The organisations also urge the ministry to reveal what it's plan is for the supposed review of the PPPA and to include civil society in its consultations.

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