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Cartoonist Zunar arrested in crackdown on dissent following politician's trial

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, center, arrives at the court house in Putrajaya, Malaysia, 10 February 2015
Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, center, arrives at the court house in Putrajaya, Malaysia, 10 February 2015

AP photo

A concerted effort to control the discussion

"However the Federal Court decided, discussion regarding the Anwar case and the independence of the judiciary would have been inevitable, given the strong interest in the case . . . Shutting down such discussions and questions is not the way to move forward from here. If the police are indeed committed to maintaining public order in the wake of this decision, they should not discourage public discussion and expression over this decision. Stifling the tension and deep displeasure in certain segments of society over this decision may only lead to greater unrest. The police's role is to ensure that any discussion and discourse do not incite hatred and violence towards any individual or any particular group, rather than to ensure 'harmony', which is a vague and nebulous term."
Sonia Randhawa and Jac Kee, CIJ Directors

Kuala-Lampur based cartoonist Zunar, whose given name is Zulkiflee Awar Ulhaque, is a frequent contributor to the news website Malaysiakini and the author of several volumes of political cartoons. He has come under fire for his criticisms of the government a number of times, with the police recently raiding his home and confiscating copies of two of his books.
Despite the legal harassment, Zunar has not kept quiet. Soon after the Anwar verdict was announced, he tweeted:

According to Agence France-Presse he also wrote, "Those in the black robes were proud when passing sentence. The rewards from political masters must be lucrative."

Zunar was arrested at his home later in the evening of 10 February and was kept in custody overnight. A Kuala Lumpur Magistrate Court Judge granted a court order on 11 February remanding Zunar for three days while police carried out an investigation, according to reports. If convicted under the Sedition Act, Zunar faces up to three years in prison, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists.

"Malaysian leaders are so afraid of critical scrutiny that it doesn't matter whether Zunar draws or tweets--they will resort to harassment and even arrest to try to silence him," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. "We call on authorities to release Zunar immediately, drop all charges against him, and get to work reforming the sedition law that Prime Minister Najib Razak once acknowledged has no place in Malaysian society."

Zunar's arrest was condemned by ARTICLE 19 as an attack on free expression "and an attempt to silence legitimate criticism of the government online as well as offline."

"Zunar is scheduled to speak at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next month at an event hosted by ARTICLE 19, to outline the reasons why the UN must act to defend artistic expression. He will also deliver a statement to the UN Human Rights Council on the intensifying crackdown on human rights defenders in Malaysia."

"There is disproportionate attention given by the police to critical statements posted online which have not threatened or incited any violence. On the other hand, CIJ notes with regret that there have been no announcements forthcoming from the police on their progress in investigating actual threats of violence against a female journalist from a Tamil newspaper in Penang who received multiple death threats merely for doing her job."

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