The Media Legal Defence Initiative joins Article 19, English PEN, Index on Censorship and PEN International in calling on the Malaysian prime minister to drop all charges of sedition against the cartoonist, Zunar. If convicted, Zunar could face up to 43 years imprisonment.
Zulkifli Awar Ulhaque, commonly known as Zunar, is one of Malaysia’s most acclaimed cartoonists. He is a regular contributor to the news website Malaysiakini and he has published several compilations of his political cartoons. Over the past ten years, he has been subjected to various forms of censorship including unlawful arrests both in 2010 after the publication of his book Cartoon-O-Phobia and in 2015. On 28 January, the police raided Zunar’s office and seized over 100 copies of Zunar’s new cartoon books, Pirates of the Carry BN and Conspiracy to Imprison Anwar.
In 2011 two of his books on Malaysian politics, Funny Malaysia and Perak Darul Kartun were banned by order of the Malaysian Home Minister on the basis that they posed a threat to national security. In October 2014, the Court of Appeal overturned this ban, stating in its judgment that “it will be most exceptional if a political cartoon will have the effect of disturbing public order, security or the safety of a nation”. This case is currently on appeal to the Federal Court, where proceedings to challenge the ban of both books resumed in May 2015.
The criminal charges against Zunar for sedition were brought in response to a series of tweets in February 2015 in which he commented on the Federal Court’s judgment against opposition politician, Anwar Ibrahim, who was jailed for five years on a trumped up sodomy charge. Zunar’s trial has been adjourned until 7 July 2015 pending a decision on the constitutionality of the Sedition Act in a separate case. The Sedition Act is currently used in a wide-spread crackdown on free expression in the country. As recently amended, it includes mandatory three to seven-year jail terms, allows for the blocking and banning of any online media deemed to be seditious and does not provide for bail .
The Media Legal Defence Initiative has provided both financial and technical support in the book ban challenges and is now supporting Zunar with his legal fees in his case of sedition. Zunar commented:
“Your continuous support is hugely appreciated. It is a torch for me to carry on the trial in a mission to expose the repressive regime, as well as to free Malaysia from the archaic Sedition Act. Freedom of expression and freedom of speech are fundamental rights and must be upheld”
MLDI has joined in an open letter calling on Prime Minister Najib to drop all charges against Zunar promptly and unconditionally.
Full text of our open letter to Prime Minister Najib of Malaysia:
Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak,
The Prime Minister of Malaysia,
Office of The Prime Minister,
Main Block, Perdana Putra Building,
Federal Government Administrative Centre,
62502 Putrajaya, MALAYSIA
19 May 2015
Dear Prime Minister Najib,
We, the undersigned international organisations, urge the Malaysian authorities to drop charges against cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Haque “Zunar”, who is currently facing a record-breaking nine charges under the Sedition Act for comments made on the social media network Twitter, for which – if convicted – he could face up to 43 years in prison.
We also call upon the Malaysian authorities to repeal the Sedition Act, a law that is used as a tool to stifle legitimate debate and dissent. In 2012, Prime Minister Najib Razak made a commitment to repeal the Sedition Act. However, following the most recent election, he has instead extended the Sedition Act’s reach and strengthened the penalties for infringement in a move we believe is intended to help maintain his party’s hold on power.
Freedom of expression is an essential part of any democratic society and the Malaysian authorities must protect this right for all, including those who are critical of government. Rather than safeguard this right, the authorities have intensified their crackdown on journalists, writers, activists, students, academics and artists. We, the undersigned international organisations, condemn these violations and urge the international community to support Zunar and everyone in Malaysia to speak freely in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Index on Censorship
Media Legal Defence Initiative
Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail, Attorney General
Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Khalid bin Abu Bakar, Inspector General of Police
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