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Zunar ban more dangerous than cartoons

Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI) is a free speech and human rights NGO protecting and monitoring editorial cartoonists around the world who find themselves in trouble because of their influential cartoons.  

For the last 10 years the government of Malaysia has been seeking to silence one of the more popular political cartoonists in Kuala Lumpur, Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, better known as ‘Zunar’.

In the past two years he has been arrested and detained, his office has been raided, his cartoons books have been seized, and his publishers and editors have been prevented from publishing his cartoons. Zunar recently took the government to court appealing last year’s decision to ban his books  

On July 14, the High Court in Kuala Lumpur decided to uphold last year’s banning of his political cartoon books and dismissed his appeal.  

‘Perak Darul Kartun’ and ‘1 Funny Malaysia’, which featured more than 150 individual cartoons, were initially banned by the Malaysian government in June 2010 under Section 7 of the Printing Presses and Publications Act of 1984.

Without elaborating, the judge held, “their contents are not suitable and are detrimental to public order”. Nothing could be further from the truth. These two books focus the public's attention on important political and social issues such as conspiracies against the former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and the murder of Mongolian model Altantuya Shaariibuu and the Scorpene submarine scandal.  

CRNI deplores the decision of High Court Judge Rohana Yusof who agreed with the government’s argument that the cartoons would lead to public disorder.

As influential as Zunar’s work is in shaping Malaysian pubic opinion, there is no evidence that the cartoons would lead to public disorder. In so ruling, the court has furthermore ignored freedom of expression rights as provided by the Malaysian federal constitution.  

CRNI has reviewed the banned cartoon books ‘Perak Darul Kartun’ and ‘1 Funny Malaysia’ and found that all the cartoons in these books are in keeping with excepted international standards of political cartooning.

CRNI is deeply concerned that by this decision the court gives a license to government to act more harshly in suppressing both political cartoonists and investigative journalists. In the long run suppression of speech is a much graver threat to public order than one cartoonist’s well-informed opinions.  

CRNI urges the Malaysian government and the Malaysian Court to respect the rights of free speech for all Malaysian citizens and reverse its July 14 decision.

Robert Russell is director of CRNI.