A Malaysian cartoonist known for his satirical take on the nation’s coalition government has been charged with nine counts of sedition today, for posting tweets criticising the judiciary.
Cartoonist Zunar, whose real name is Zulkiflee Anwar Alhaque, faces up to 43 years in prison if he is found guilty of all nine charges, under a sedition law established in the nation’s colonial era, his lawyer said.
Latheefa Koya, Zunar’s lawyer, said following Zunar's hearing at Duta Court in Kuala Lumpur: "This is a record, being charged nine times and using the sedition law. It is excessive and targeted at silencing vocal critics."
Sedition as defined by Malaysian law includes promoting hatred against the government, and the charges are symptomatic of the government’s widening crackdown on opposition politicians and the media. Critics say the heavy-handed use of the law has stifled freedom of expression in Malaysia.
On 10 February, Zunar posted nine tweets criticising the Malaysian justice system, after opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim began serving a 5-year prison sentence after losing his final appeal over a sodomy conviction.
Anwars’s arrest has been widely regarded as a politically motivated attempt to eliminate threats to the government, after his three-party political alliance made unprecedented gains in 2008 elections and further inroads in polls in 2013.
The government’s popularity has been waning since 2008, after more than five decades of unquestioned dominance, and Anwar's alliance was seen as the most real political threat to Prime Minister Najib Razak's National Front coalition.
"The lackeys in black robes are proud of their sentencse. The rewards from the political masters must be plenty," Zunar wrote in one of the tweets.
"Today Malaysia is seen as a country without law," read another.
Cartoon Zunar: PM Najib is the judge! pic.twitter.com/3FbAZQwxVm— Zunar Cartoonist (@zunarkartunis) February 10, 2015
Zunar was released on bail last Friday, but was detained and questioned by police over a picture on Facebook showing Prime Minister Najib Razak in prison attire. Latheefa said the picture was posted on Zunar's fan club page and he had no knowledge of it. The cartoonist was released after a few hours.
In the face of the charges against him, Zunar tweeted a new cartoon before he was released on bail vowing to "draw until the last drop of ink." The cartoon showed Zunar being cuffed and with a metal chain on his neck, but still drawing with a brush in his mouth.
Cartoon Zunar: Until last drop! pic.twitter.com/caunwHy3xF— Zunar Cartoonist (@zunarkartunis) April 3, 2015
The Prime Minister said several years ago that the government would eventually abolish the Sedition Act, which was introduced in 1949 during British colonial rule, but backtracked after the 2013 elections.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said the move against Zunar showed the government has "a new-found tendency to equate repression with effective governance."
"Day by day, Malaysians are losing more and more of their rights and democracy at the hands of an increasingly oppressive government," it said in a statement.
Additional reporting by the Associated PressReuse content