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Cartoonist challenges ban on books

(CIJ/IFEX) - The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) applauds and supports the cartoonist Zunar and the Malaysiakini online news site's legal challenge of the Home Ministry ban on Zunar's books entitled "1 Funny Malaysia" and "Perak Darul Kartun".

The two publications, compilations of cartoons satirising mostly political norms and events in Malaysia, were banned under the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) for being "prejudicial to public order". The order was signed by Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Abu Seman Yusop and gazetted on 17 June 2010.

On 26 July, Zunar and Malaysiakini, the publisher of "1 Funny Malaysia", filed separate applications at the Kuala Lampur (KL) Federal Court for leave for a judicial review of the ministry's decision. According to their press release, the ban is illegal as it infringes on their constitutional right to free speech and falls outside the scope of the PPPA. They also stated that the ban breached the rules of natural justice since neither prior notice nor reasons were given. Zunar and Malaysiakini view the ban as disproportionate to the "challenge" posed by the publications and are claiming damages for losses incurred from loss of income from the books.

Zunar, whose real name is Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, claimed that his are the first political cartoon books to be banned, and he is the first cartoonist to challenge a ban by the Home Ministry.

CIJ reiterates Zunar's right to publish his cartoons. An important aspect of freedom of expression, satirical cartoons lampooning politics are familiar to Malaysians, generations of whom are well acquainted with the works of the country's foremost cartoonist Lat. Essentially social commentaries laced with humour, with an occasional sting that comes from the biting truth revealed, satirical cartoons that beget any overreaction - such as a ban - are bound to invite the impression that "the lady doth protest too much".

It is worth noting the results of two court challenges in recent years. On 25 January, Sisters in Islam (SIS) succeeded in getting the KL High Court to overturn the 2008 ban on its book, "Muslim Women and the Challenge of Islamic Extremism". Although the court found the accusation of the book being "prejudicial to public order" as "something that cannot stand up to objective scrutiny", the ministry has brought the matter to the Court of Appeal where it is now pending.

The second challenge by SUARAM chairperson K Arumugam against the 2006 ban on his book "March 8" was quashed on 12 February 2010 by the same KL High Court. The court upheld the ban imposed by the ministry after finding that the contents of the Tamil-language book about the 2001 racial clashes in KL touched on "social and cultural sensitivities of the various communities in Malaysia".

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