Malaysia: Cartoonist arrested after exhibition attack

1 December 2016

Cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, popularly known as Zunar, was arrested on 26 November 2016 for breaching the peace under Malaysia’s Sedition Act, just one day after an angry pro-government mob attacked his exhibition of satirical cartoons about the prime minister and other national leaders at the George Town Literary Festival, reported newspaper Free Malaysia Today.

“I was approached by some 30 aggressive people. They surrounded me and threatened me. They demanded I take down my artwork, which I did,” Zunar told the newspaper. “I did not fight back. All I wanted was to just display my work. But the situation turned violent and the police and FRU were forced to intervene.”

Zunar cancelled the exhibition for security concerns, but was later arrested after Mohd Norhiesam Ismail, the leader of pro-government group Nibong Tebal Umno Youth, filed a police report claiming that the cartoons “disturbed the peace of Malaysians at large”. Ismail said it was “unacceptable” to depict leaders like Prime Minister Najib Razak in such a bad light.

Zunar was released on bail on 27 November 2016 pending the results of their sedition investigation.

Cartoonist facing numerous charges
Zunar is already facing nine charges of sedition for social media posts criticising the prime minister, which included cartoons, and has been put on a travel ban until his trial is over. The trial is set to begin on 24 January 2016, reported the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Prime Minister Razak has used several pieces of legislation, including the Sedition Act, to quiet critics, such as Zunar, who comment or report on various scandals, most especially the 1MDB scandal wherein $3.5 billion USD was transferred overseas out of a development fund set up by Razak.

In an interview with The New York Times published on 29 November 2016, Zunar explained the current political climate in Malaysia:

People are really not happy with the government — more and more people — but there are laws stopping them from being in the front row and being very, very vocal. So they will use any type of form, of tool, to express their view or protest. So now, social media is something that is a very effective tool. People are starting to be creative in social media by using drawings, cartoons, posters or video clips.

If convicted on the nine charges, plus the latest sedition charge, Zunar could face up to 43 years in prison.

A history of persecution
Zunar has often been the target of the government’s ire over the last several years, landing him in prison and facing charges under several different laws.

Most recently, in September 2015 a case was opened under the Sedition Act about one of his books. Earlier, in January 2015, while on a speaking tour in London, police raided his office in Kuala Lampur and confiscated 150 of his books under the Printing Presses and Publications Act, Sedition Act and Penal Code. His office had been raided two other times in 2009 and 2010 wherein 500 books were confiscated at the time. In February 2015, Zunar was arrested and held for three days under the Sedition Act again for critical tweets.

In 2010 he was detained for two days under investigation over a collection of his cartoons, which was subsequently banned. In 2014, he was once again charged with sedition when police demanded he turn over details of his online payment system so they could access the names of those who had purchased one of his books.

When asked by The New York Times how these incidents have affected his creativity, the cartoonist said:

I’m facing so many laws three laws have been used against me so far. But one thing I keep in my mind — one very, very important thing — is that the biggest enemy for anyone in the world is self-censorship. For me, talent is not a gift but a responsibility. People ask, do I have fear? Yes, I have fear, I’m human. But responsibility is bigger than fear. So I don’t want to really think what the government will do next to me. I just concentrate on what I’m supposed to do. That can help me continue and draw more cartoons. If I start to think about law, I start to think about prison, I start to think about government action, I will definitely start to practice self-censorship — and this is no good. So I will draw as usual.

Photo: Zunar (fourth from right) after his release from his one-day detention/Zunar’s Twitter profile


» The Malay Mail Online – 30 November 2016
Penang police say investigation into Zunar’s case almost complete

» The New York Times – 29 November 2016
A Malaysian political cartoonist on facing his fears, and prison, for art

» Committee to Protect Journalists – 28 November 2016
Malaysia intensifies harassment of award-winning cartoonist

» Free Malaysia Today – 27 November 2016
Zunar freed on police bail

» Free Malaysia Today – 27 November 2016
Zunar remanded for a day

» Free Malaysia Today – 26 November 2016
Zunar arrested for breach of peace, sedition

» Free Malaysia Today – 25 November 2016
Cops save cartoonist Zunar from angry crowd

» IFEX – 7 January 2016
Profile: Cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Haque “Zunar”

More from Freemuse

» 5 February 2015: Malaysia: Cartoonist’s office raided and books seized by authorities

Home / News / Malaysia: Cartoonist arrested after exhibition attack

Check Also

Russia: Artist sentenced to three years in prison for alleged assault on a police officer

Artist Ilya Pershin was sentenced to three years in prison over the alleged attack on a police officer during the protest in support of Alexei Navalny.