Malaysia: Police Investigate Cartoonist over Caricature of Knife-Wielding Official

Hadi Azmi and Nisha David
Kuala Lumpur
2021-04-28
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Malaysia: Police Investigate Cartoonist over Caricature of Knife-Wielding Official Zulkiflee Anwar Ul Haque, more popularly known as Zunar, speaks to a reporter at his office in Kuala Lumpur, April 13, 2015.
AFP

Malaysian police are investigating a noted Malaysian editorial cartoonist for his caricature of a state’s chief minister, he and officials said Wednesday, after authorities arrested another satirist last week over social media posts about the queen.

In addition, the government plans to summon representatives from two media outlets over the credibility of reports about a senior police officer’s comments, the Home Minister said Tuesday.

In a statement to the press, Zulkiflee Anwar Ul Haque, more popularly known as Zunar, said police northern Kedah state had summoned him to appear on May 2. Zunar is a contributor to BenarNews.

“I was contacted by Police Inspector Zulkifli Bin Musa from Padang Terap district in Kedah informing me that I have to report to the police station to be investigated regarding my cartoon which was produced on Jan. 23, 2021.

“The cartoon was published on the ‘Zunar Cartoonist Fan Club’ page on Facebook,” Zunar said.

The moves against Zunar, the satirist and two local news outlets come ahead of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, and after Reporters Without Borders demoted Malaysia by 18 spots – the largest drop of any nation – on its annual press freedom index.

Malaysia, under a year-old unelected government, embodied “the desire for absolute control over information,” the watchdog group said in publishing the index on April 20

Zunar’s cartoon depicts Kedah state Chief Minister Muhammad Sanusi Md Norm using a meat cleaver to split apart a group of four people representing different races.

He produced the cartoon in response to the state government’s decision to not grant a public holiday for Thaipusam – an annual Hindu prayer festival – along with the cancellation of all festival activities because of COVID-19 safety procedures.

“Perhaps, this is to shut the mouth of critics,” Zunar told BenarNews.

Zunar said his lawyer would accompany him when he appears at the police station on May 2.

Kedah state police chief Hasanuddin Hassan confirmed that officers had summoned the cartoonist for questioning. Zunar, he added, was being investigated under the penal code and the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA).

If charged and convicted, Zunar could face a fine and a prison sentence.

Previously under the Barisan Nasional government led by then-Prime Minister Najib Razak, Zunar faced up to 43 years in prison after authorities filed nine charges tied to Malaysia’s Sedition Act as well as another charge under the CMA for his cartoons lampooning the leader.

All charges were dropped in July 2018 under the government of Mahathir Mohamad, whose coalition upset Barisan in a general election two months earlier.

Satirist arrested

On April 23, police arrested political artist Fahmi Reza over satirical commentary and an online music playlist that poked fun at comments by Queen Tunku Hajah Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah.

The playlist on Spotify featured a photo of the queen with the title “This is Dengki Ke” (Are You Jealous), and contained 100 songs themed around “jealousy.”

The satire was in response to a comment the queen allegedly posted on Instagram asking a random commenter if he was jealous that she had received her COVID-19 vaccine.

Arrested at his home, Fahmi was taken to a police station in Kuala Lumpur. A day later, a magistrate rejected a request that he be remanded for four days, leading to his release.

In February 2018, the Ipoh Sessions Court sentenced Fahmi to one month and fined him 30,000 ringgit ($7,313) after finding him guilty of violating the CMA for uploading a clown sketch of Najib on Facebook in 2016.

After the change in government, prosecutors dropped the charges against Fahmi while his case was being appealed to the High Court.

Summons for news agencies

Meanwhile, the home ministry announced Tuesday that it would summon online news outlet Malaysiakini and the Chinese-language newspaper China Press over their reporting of a comment made by Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani, the nation’s deputy police chief.

“The home ministry is seriously looking into the inaccurate media reporting published by Malaysiakini portal and China Press newspaper relating to a statement by Deputy Inspector General of Police Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani,” it said in a statement.

No date has been set for the meeting.

Acryl Sani, who was asked about a rape threat against a schoolgirl during an online press conference Monday, allegedly said that it was “perhaps teasing from her classmates that she could not accept.”

In a three-page statement explaining his comment, police spokesman Skandaguru Anandan said what the deputy police chief said about “perhaps teasing” did not mean that he meant “it is just teasing,” as “portrayed by Malaysiakini and China Press.”

The Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ) said there was no need for the ministry to summon the news organizations over their reporting.

“If the authorities are of the view that they have been misquoted or misrepresented, they are entitled to clarify their statement, which the police have done,” CIJ executive director Wathshlah G. Naidu said in a statement.

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