Malaysian authorities must immediately drop politically motivated charges against one of the country’s best-known cartoonists, who could face a long prison sentence for a series of tweets, Amnesty International said ahead of his trial, which is starting on 6 November.
Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, better known by his pen name Zunar, is facing nine charges under Malaysia’s draconian Sedition Act – a colonial-era law the government is using to harass and silence critics. The charges relate to a series of tweets critical of the government that Zunar sent after opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was jailed on sodomy charges in February 2015.
“These charges against Zunar are clearly politically motivated and must be dropped immediately. Zunar has for years highlighted government corruption and repression through his cartoons – this is what he is being punished for,” said Josef Benedict, Amnesty International’s South East Asia Campaigns Director.
“It is absurd that Zunar is facing potentially decades in prison for a series of tweets.”
Zunar has been a target of authorities in Malaysia for years, and has been charged with sedition several times in the past. Printers and vendors of his cartoons have also been intimidated and harassed and raided by authorities over the past years.
Tomorrow’s trial comes amidst a widening crackdown on freedom of expression by the Malaysian authorities using the Sedition Act. Around 100 people have been arrested or charged under the Sedition Act since the beginning of 2015 – a spike from last year’s known total of 29.
“The disturbing crackdown on freedom of expression using the Sedition Act shows no sign of abating. The Malaysian authorities must take their obligations to respect human rights seriously, instead of using archaic legislation to lock up and harass critics,” said Josef Benedict.
This year, Amnesty International will feature Zunar as one its cases in its annual Write for Rights event from 4-17 December, the world’s biggest human rights campaign. Hundreds of thousands of Amnesty International supporters and activists around the world will take action online and through letters to demand Malaysian authorities drop the charges against Zunar.
Since 2013, Malaysian authorities have made increasing use of the 1948 Sedition Act, a draconian law originally targeting those who called for Malaysia’s independence, as a favoured instrument of repression. In April 2015, amendments to the law were passed in Parliament under controversial circumstances, expanding its reach to cover electronic media, and giving the government sweeping powers to arrest, lock up and impose harsher penalties on critics.
Those found guilty under the amended Sedition Act can face between three to 20 years in jail. Amnesty International has long expressed concerns about the law, which criminalizes a wide array of acts. The law does not comply with international human rights law, and in particular violates the right to freedom of expression, which is enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and also guaranteed in Article 10 of Malaysia’s Constitution.