The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate, the National Union of Journalists Malaysia (NUJM), in condemning the harassment and arrest of notable Malaysian political cartoonist Zunar for allegedly insulting Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak following an exhibition of his works in Penang. The incident follows a long pattern of harassment against the cartoonist, including legal harassment under the country’s controversial sedition laws.
On Saturday, November 26 Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, commonly known under the pen name Zunar, was detained overnight by police for alleged sedition with an intention to insult Prime Minister Razak. According to NUJM, the cartoonist has since been released on bail.
The arrest came after Zunar was forced to abandon his exhibition at the George Town Literary Festival in Penang, northwest Malaysia on Friday November 25 due to an attack by Penang United Malays National Organisation (UNMO) Youth members. The pro-government members stormed Zunar’s exhibit, and demanded that the show be cancelled because the cartoonist’s artworks were seditious. His exhibition featured caricatures of Prime Minister Razak and mocked government policies such as the Goods and Services Tax.
Zunar is already fighting nine previous charges of sedition relating to comments and a cartoon he tweeted alleging judicial bias and government intervention in the Malaysian opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy trial and conviction. He is also currently barred from leaving the country, issued with a travel ban by the Malaysian government on October 17 this year. Zunar is well known for his politically provocative cartoons, which have previously satirised the ruling UNMO administration.
In a statement to his supporters, Zunar said, “more than 30 thugs stormed into my newly launched exhibition in a public area. They were aggressive, hostile and abusive. Some of them assaulted me. I was fortunate that a few members of the public came to my rescue. The few policemen who turned up were unable to control the thugs and they had to call in the anti-riot unit. The thugs demanded that I take down the exhibition and some of them proceeded to destroy my artworks.”
The NUJM said, “NUJ Malaysia continues to voice against his arrests as it was a peaceful expression of his artwork and he faced a mob of angry men. We stand with both Zunar and Maria Chin Abdullah (human rights activist) for their fight for democracy for corrupt free elections.”
Zunar has been jailed twice previously for his work; in 2010, and again in 2015. Five of his books are banned in the country, and he claims to have been raided in his office in Kuala Lumpur on several occasions.The IFJ said, “The latest arrest of Zunar demonstrates the ongoing blatant attempts by the government to silence critical voices. We demand the withdrawal of all charges against Zunar and again continue our call for the abolishment of the Sedition Act (1948), which has become a tool of repression for the government to threaten and intimidate the country’s media and other dissenting voices.”
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