This statement was originally published on cartoonistsrights.org on 6 April 2015.
Malaysian political cartoonist Zunar has been charged in Kuala Lumpur with nine counts of sedition for tweets posted following a controversial court ruling. Zunar could be sentenced to 43 years in prison if convicted. He pleaded not guilty. His bail was set at 13,500 RM (US$6,207.00).
Zunar (Zulkifi Anwar Ulhaque), known for cartoons lampooning the excesses and questionable practices of the government of Prime Minister Najib Razak, was previously charged with sedition in 2010. Over the years, his cartoon books have been periodically confiscated and bookstores banned from selling his work. Recently his webmaster was ordered by police to provide a list of those buying his books online.
"They are really trying to shut me off from criticizing the government, so I think it's clearly politically motivated," Zunar said of the latest charges.
The tweets in question criticized a Federal Court decision on February 10, 2015, which upheld the conviction and five-year prison sentence of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on a sodomy charge. The United States has also questioned the impartiality of Malaysia's judiciary in the case.
It was following the growing support of Anwar Ibrahim's opposition party in the 2008 and 2013 elections that the government intensified the arrest on sedition charges of its critics in academia, the press and advocacy groups, as well as opposition politicians. Malaysia's Sedition Act, brought in under British colonial rule, defines 'promoting hatred against the government' as seditious.
CRNI Executive Director Dr. Robert "Bro" Russell has called for the government of Malaysia to "immediately stop all proceedings against Mr. Zunar and all other journalists and human rights workers using the outdated and colonialist inspired Sedition Act."
Human Rights Watch has called these latest charges against Zunar evidence of a concerted government campaign to spin "peaceful criticism into a criminal act that threatens the state."
The free-speech advocacy group ARTICLE 19 has also called for the charges against Zunar to be dropped, stating: "This is clearly an attack on freedom of expression, and an attempt to stifle all legitimate criticism of the government, who have been carrying out a sustained campaign of harassment against Zunar for almost five years."
Zunar's response to the charges was a self portrait showing the artist shackled by the Sedition Act but still cartooning, which was posted on his Facebook page and tweeted.
Zunar's trial is scheduled to begin on May 20th.
Suggested letter/email to Malaysian Ambassadors/High Commissioners/Consuls General/Consuls in support of Zunar. For listing with addresses of Malaysia's Embassies, High Commissions and names of head personnel, click here.
To: Ambassador/High Commissioner/Consul General/Consul [See list]
Dear Mr./Ms. Ambassador/High Commissioner/Consul General/Consul,
[If writing on behalf of an organization, brief description of the organization here]
It has come to [my/our] attention that cartoonist Zulkifi Anwar Ulhaque, known through his cartoons as Zunar, has been charged with nine counts of sedition under the Malaysian Sedition Act.
We strongly object to the use of this archaic and inappropriate legal strategy to squelch the free speech rights of this internationally celebrated editorial cartoonist. Mr. Zunar has been hounded by the government of Malaysia for well over five years, in an effort to silence his criticism of the excesses of certain government officials. This criticism is well within his rights under the United Nations Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as under provisions of the Malaysian Constitution itself.
We call on you to use your good offices to intervene on Mr. Zunar's behalf, assure that all charges against him be dropped and that his free-speech rights not be denied.
[Your name and your designation if with an organization]
[w/copies to your network]