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Malaysian cartoonist Zunar battling new sedition charge

This statement was originally published on on 5 December 2014.

The Malaysian government has expanded its efforts to silence Kuala Lumpur-based cartoonist Zunar.

On November 20, 2014 Zunar wrote "Today I was questioned for about 45 minutes by the police regarding my new cartoon book, Komplot Penjarakan Anwar (Plot to Jail Anwar) at the Dang Wangi Police Station in Kuala Lumpur.

"I was investigated under the 'Classified Crime Section' involving three different laws. The laws are: A) Printing Presses and Publications Act, B) Sedition Act, C) Penal Code.

"Two separate police reports were made against me in two different police stations regarding the production of the book. Throughout the investigation session, I refused to answer any of the 27 questions asked by the police.

"In the latest development, the police have asked the online payment gateway that handles my book transactions to disclose the list of customers who have purchased my books through my official website,"

In the preceding week, Zunar had seen three of his assistants carted off to police headquarters for questioning, copies of his cartoon collections confiscated, and the manager of his website subjected to police interrogation.

Following those events, Malaysia's civil-rights advocacy group SUARAM issued a statement decrying "the unrelenting harassment and persecution by government against political cartoonist Zulkifli Anwar Ulhaque, or better known by his pen name Zunar. We demand the police and Home Minister to uphold Zunar's constitutional right to express his ideas and cease all harassment against Zunar, three of his assistants, webmaster, printers and bookstore vendors."

Zunar says "The latest government crackdown is the highest harassment and intimidation against me by the Malaysian authority. In a previous episode, apart from me, the authority only went after the vendors, the printers and the publishers.

"This time round, they also went after the webmaster and my online customers."

The new incidents follow a unanimous Appeals Court decision in October finding that the Malaysian government had "acted unreasonably and irrationally in issuing the blanket ban" and the seizure of two of Zunar's other cartoon collections. The court rejected the government's charge of sedition, stating that "ridiculing politicians does not threaten public order."

Malaysia's Home Ministry has announced it will appeal that decision.

Message from CRNI Director Robert Russell

The government of Malaysia has to be congratulated for single-handedly creating the country's latest national hero. It's remarkable what a single person with a pen can accomplish in Malaysia.

For nearly 5 years now Zunar has been a thorn in the side of the government, as he uncovers and then illustrates all the modern wrongdoings of a quasi-failed state. His cartoons focus on corruption, cronyism, lack of transparency, theft, illegal kickbacks, nepotism, election rigging and every other kind of reward that failed state political hacks seem to thrive on. Zunar's drawings could be used as a primer for any failed state crony who wishes to further harvest ill-gotten gains from under the noses of their citizens, while flagrantly thumbing the same nose at their own Constitution.

Zunar must be recognized internationally and domestically as the patriot and hero that he is. Every Malaysian citizen should understand that he risks his life on behalf of everyone, and he does it in defense of the honor of Malaysia and in the name of the Malaysian Constitution. Zunar has deeply internalized the Constitution's guarantee that he and every other Malaysian citizen who has the courage, the right to be such a patriot.

For more than 20 years I have been monitoring the activities of political cartoonists who are in trouble because the power and influence of their work. I am constantly in awe of them. They are not all as dynamic and feisty and stubborn as Zunar, but they all exhibit a courage and the dignity which exemplifies the best of the human spirit. As the famous American humorist Mark Twain once said, "Against the power of laughter, nothing can stand." Zunar, along with so many of his associates who suffer along with him, are the hidden heroes of every modern democracy.

If the political leaders in Malaysia really understood what they were dealing with, they would just let him alone. They would allow him to publish his cartoons, and thus stop being the source of so many wonderful stories about unethical and illegal censorship in Malaysia. As they say on the French Riviera, you can never be too thin or too rich. A good look at Zunar's cartoons will assure us that Malaysia's leaders are certainly not too thin, but he does suggest that they are probably too rich.

Zunar's story is a wonderful life lesson about the power of the individual. Whenever anyone asks the silly question of, "Well, what can I do?" The answer is you can do what Zunar does. You can do what Malalla does. You can do what Mahatma Gandhi did.

Stay safe Zunar. Malaysia needs you. The world needs you.

Robert Russell

Executive Director
Cartoonists Rights Network International

What You Can Do

Zunar writes: "I think the best way for readers to help is to write to the Prime Minister, Home Minister and Inspector of General Police."

Prime Minister Mohd Najib Razak
Pejabat Perdana Menteri Bangunan Perdana Putra Pusat Pentadbiran Kerajaan Persekutuan 62502 Putrajaya,
Email: [email protected]
Tel: +603-88888010 / 03-88888000
Fax: +603-88887711 / 03-88880142

Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi
Kementerian Dalam Negeri, Aras 12, Blok D1, Kompleks D, Pusat Pentadbiran Kerajaan Persekutuan 62502
Putrajaya, Malaysia
Tel: +603-88868007
Fax: +603-88891720
email: [email protected]

Inspector of General Police Khalid Abu Bakar
Ibu Pejabat Polis Diraja Malaysia
Bukit Aman
50560 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel: +603 – 2266 2222
Fax: +603 – 2070 7500
Email: [email protected]

CRNI suggests that all letter writers follow Amnesty International's tips for effective letters. Letters should be brief; respectful and reasonable in tone; and instructive as to the positive opportunities to be gained from a change in government actions.

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