Malaysian cartoonist goes into hiding after sedition arrest
A Malaysian cartoonist has gone into hiding for fear of being arrested under the country’s draconian Internal Security Act, his friends told press campaigners Tuesday. Zulfiklee Anwar Ulhaque was arrested then freed on 24 September at the launch of his new book, Cartoon-o-phobia.
Police arrested the cartoonist, better known as Zunar, for sedition on 24 September, just four hours before his book was due to be launched. He was taken to seven different police stations before being released, his supporters say.
The police also seized more than 60 copies of the book and went on to raid the office of the Malaysiakini website, for which Zunar works and which houses Kinibooks, the publishers of his book.
Local NGOs protested at the arrest, which has also attracted international criticism.
“How can a book of cartoons be seditious?” French-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders asked in a statement Tuesday. “Zunar’s cartoons may sometimes be very cutting in their portrayal of Malaysian political life, and especially the ruling party, but they cannot in any way be regarded as seditious.”
The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists also condemned the arrest Monday, claiming that “sedition charges in Malaysia are often used to suppress press criticism and carry possible three-year jail terms for first-time offenders”.
Zunar’s book has a cartoon of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s wife on the front cover and his targets include the ruling Umno coalition and sodomy charges against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.
Home Minister Hishamuddin Hussein on Saturday denied that Friday's arrest was because of cartoons “that touch on the prime minister and deputy prime minister”. The book commented on the legal system and religion, he said, and was found to be detrimental to public order.
Most of Malaysia’s press and broadcasters are close to Umno, while online media have become a vehicle for criticism of the government.
On Tuesday Wikipedia cofounder Jimmy Wales called for an end to censorship on a visit to Malaysia.
Before going into hiding, Zunar claimed that his arrest was an attempt to stop him drawing.
“I will expose the country’s corruption and abuse of power,” he said. “I will keep on drawing until I change from comic strips to prison stripes.”