UPDATE: Zunar was released on bail on 13 February, but is still being investigated for Sedition. We reiterate our call that the government must end its harassment of Zunar, drop the sedition investigation and not bring charges against him.
Cartoonist Zulkifli Anwar Ulhaque, better known as Zunar, was arrested on 10 February at his home by five police officers and remains in detention on suspicion of sedition. Zunar had earlier posted a tweet implying Federal Court judges had bowed to regime pressure in convicting and sentencing to five years in prison opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in the “Sodomy II” trial.
Zunar is scheduled to speak at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next month at an event hosted by ARTICLE 19, to outline the reasons why the UN must act to defend artistic expression. He will also deliver a statement to the UN Human Rights Council on the intensifying crackdown on human rights defenders in Malaysia.
“The Malaysian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Zunar,” said Thomas Hughes, ARTICLE 19’s Executive Director. “The arrest is clearly an attack on freedom of expression in the country and an attempt to silence legitimate criticism of the government online as well as offline,” Hughes added.
This is the third time Zunar has been investigated under the Sedition Act 1948. He was last detained for two days relating to an investigation in 2010, and in November 2014 was investigated for sedition alongside offences under the Printing Presses and Publications act and the Penal Code.
Between 2009 and 2010, the Home Minister for Malaysia banned five of Zunar’s books. In November 2014, three of Zunar’s assistants were arrested for selling his books, and the webmaster managing his website has also been investigated for sedition. The police have also sought details of individuals who have purchased Zunar’s books through his website. On 28 January 2015, his offices were raided by police, who confiscated 155 copies of two books – “Pirates of the Carry Bn” and “Conspiracy to Imprison Anwar”.
The Sedition Act 1948, which is a relic of British colonial rule, criminalises any conduct with a “seditious tendency”, including to “excite disaffection” or “bring into hatred or contempt” against the ruler or government. It does not require the prosecution to prove intent, and provides up to three years imprisonment for those found guilty.
More than 20 people, including political opponents, academics, human rights lawyers and artists, have been arrested for sedition since August 2014, as part of an intensifying crackdown on critical voices in Malaysia.
Alongside Zunar’s arrest, Police chief Khalid Abu Bakar has announced plans to investigate two opposition politicians for sedition over further tweets critical of yesterday’s sentencing.
Last month, Eric Paulsen, co-founder of the human rights and law reform organisation ‘Lawyers for Liberty’ and lawyer for many of those facing sedition charges, was himself arrested and subsequently charged for sedition for a tweet in which he was critical of the government.