Responding to news that the Malaysian authorities have acquitted and dropped all sedition charges against political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar “Zunar” Ulhaque, lawmaker R. Sivarasa and civil rights lawyer N. Surendran, 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.”
Amnesty International has campaigned internationally for the charges against Zunar to be dropped over the past three years. Zunar was charged with nine sedition charges on 3 April 2015 for allegedly insulting the judiciary in tweets relating to then opposition leader and former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, Anwar Ibrahim, after he was jailed on sodomy charges.
In addition, Amnesty International has called for charges to be dropped against N. Surendran, and R. Sivarasa, who were also charged in 2015 for allegedly seditious statements related to Anwar’s case.
Amnesty International has long expressed concerned about the use of the Sedition Act, a colonial-era law originally targeting those who called for Malaysia’s independence. In April 2015, amendments to the law were passed in Parliament, expanding its reach to cover electronic media, and giving the authorities sweeping powers to arrest, lock up and impose harsher penalties on critics.