Good news: Malaysian cartoonist Zunar acquitted of all charges

The Malaysian authorities have acquitted and dropped all charges against political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar “Zunar” Ulhaque, alongside lawmaker R. Sivarasa and civil rights lawyer N. Surendran.

Zunar, a political cartoonist, has been targeted numerous times by the Malaysian authorities as a result of his political cartoons

In 2015 Zunar was charged with nine sedition charges for allegedly insulting the judiciary by criticising the jailing of then-opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on Twitter.

© Zunar
© Zunar

This wasn’t this first time Zunar was targeted for expressing his opinion. Zunar had already been detained twice, and five of his cartoon books had been banned by the Malaysian Government on the grounds that their content was “detrimental to public order”.

His office was raided many times throughout the years, and three of his assistants were arrested in 2014 for selling his books. The online gateway that handled purchases of Zunar’s books online was forced to disclose to the police a list of customers who had bought his books.

Despite the arrests, charges, and detention, Zunar continued to draw, challenging the government’s crackdown on dissenting voices. In 2015, he was awarded the Press Freedom Award by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Malaysia’s Sedition Act

Zunar was charged under the Sedition Act, a law that stifles freedom of expression under the guise of protecting national security. Amnesty International has continually expressed concern about the use of this colonial-era law, which was originally used to target people calling for Malaysia’s political independence.

Since 2013, Malaysian authorities have made increasing use of this draconian law to silence dissenting views. In 2015, amendments to the law were passed in Parliament, expanding its reach to cover electronic media. This granted authorities sweeping powers to arrest, lock up and impose harsher penalties on critics.

How did you respond?

Amnesty supporters have campaigned for three years for the charges against Zunar to be dropped.

In 2015, Zunar was featured during Write for Rights, our annual letter-writing marathon. Millions of supporters sent letters to people in power during Write for Rights to demand that they create a more just world. Over 18,000 Australians emailed Malaysian authorities asking them to drop the charges against Zunar, and all of those actions have finally helped secure his freedom.

Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Amnesty International’s Malaysia Researcher, said:

“Zunar, Sivarasa and Surendran have shown great courage in shining a spotlight on injustices such as corruption and abuse of power. Their acquittal is a positive development but the Malaysian authorities must do more to protect people who dare to speak out.”

“The new government must take this opportunity to usher in a new era for human rights by fully restoring freedom of expression and abolishing the 1948 Sedition Act, an archaic piece of legislation which has been repeatedly used to target dissenting voices. The authorities must also drop any other charges under the Act and, pending its repeal, ensure that no one else is arrested, investigated, charged or imprisoned under its draconian provisions.”