A Malaysian cartoonist facing several sedition charges has vowed to keep on using his pen to criticize government corruption, human rights violations, and abuses of power.
Zulkiflee Sm Anwar Ulhaque, more popularly known as Zunar in Malaysia, is a political cartoonist who has been arrested twice for alleged violations of the Sedition Act, a colonial-era law. Zunar, who was arrested earlier this month, was charged with nine counts of sedition. If found guilty, he can be detained for a maximum of 43 years. He is currently out on bail.
Zunar has been critical of the ruling coalition which has been in power since the 1950s. Because of his activism, five of his cartoon compilations are banned in Malaysia. Even those who print, distribute, and sell these books are harassed by the government.
Instead of backing down, Zunar refuses to be intimidated. He once said that “as the regime sharpens their iron fists, my pen gets sharper!”
Talent is not a gift, but a responsibility. So I will use it as a tool to convey people’s voice through art and to push for total reform for a better Malaysia. I will not keep quiet. How can I be neutral, even my pen has a stand!
Asked about his technique, Zunar explained that it’s important for an artist to ‘take a stand‘ and convey the right message to the reading public:
My ideas are based on current issues, especially politics. When an issue arises, the first step is to understand the issue from different sources and perspectives. After gathering all information, the second step is to take a stand on the issue. This is actually an important step because it will determine the direction of my cartoons. The right stand will convey the right message. I do not want to convey the wrong message just to get people laughing.
This cartoon was widely shared after Zunar was arrested this month. Zunar said he will continue to draw even if he is detained:
This cartoon was used as a basis to charge Zunar with sedition. Najib Razak is the incumbent Prime Minister who is accused by jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim of using the courts to silence critics. Anwar, who is serving a five year sentence for sodomy, says his case was politically motivated.
Human rights group Suaram defended Zunar and lambasted the government for arresting its critics:
Persecuting and prosecuting people for dissenting or for criticising the government goes against the very fundamental principle of democracy and accountability of government. Democracy demands the active participation of citizens in the political process, and that includes the right to criticise, and the right to decide the government of the day.
Below are some of Zunar’s cartoons posted on Twitter. Zunar has been critical of the new taxes (GST) imposed by the government and what he sees as continuing corruption in high places. He showed how the GST will hurt the ordinary rakyat (people):
Zunar's cartoon about the passage of the new sedition law which activists believe willundermine online dissent:
Zunar depicted the new anti-terror law (Pota), which was approved by the parliament this month, as a repressive measure:
In 2011, Zunar received the ‘Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award’ by the Washington-based Cartoonist Rights Network International.