Cartoon Villains

The heavy handed treatment of a popular cartoonist draws the world’s attention to Malaysia’s disregard for freedom of expression

Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, a well-known Malaysian cartoonist better known as Zunar, faces trial for 9 offences under the Sedition Act. If convicted he faces up to 43 years in jail for posting 9 tweets criticising the decision of the Malaysian Federal Court to uphold the conviction of opposition politician Anwar Ibrahim for sodomy. A recent Human Rights Watch Report points out that this is part of a broader pattern of the ‘government’s use and abuse of a range of broad and vaguely worded laws to criminalize peaceful expression, including debates on matters of public interest… [and] a disturbing trend of abuse of the legal process…’

In Zunar’s ongoing legal battle his next day in court will be 8th December, but in the meantime there has be growing international attention on the case. Zunar has appeared on the BBC and ABC and met with elected officials in the US, UK and Australia. Zunar’s plight was again in the spotlight on 25th November when he received an International Press Freedom Award.

In addition to Zunar’s profile and personal energy, and the visual impact of his cartoons which gives his story an immediacy that appeals to the international media, an important role has been played by an international network of advocacy organisations. In addition to Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International have also taken up the case, as have Malaysian groups such as Lawyers for Liberty, and Bersih.

Yet despite this attention, Western governments been tepid in their support for human rights (and anti-corruption efforts) in Malaysia, balancing professions of concern with their pursuit of other priorities, whether the US effort to counterbalance China, or the UK’s trade and security emphasis.

As ever, Zunar skewers the hypocrisy with a caustic pen:

 

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