Malaysian satirical cartoonist Zunar, who faces trial next month on sedition charges, appears to be grounded after immigration officers stopped him from leaving his country for a trip to Singapore, he said Monday in a statement.
Zunar, a BenarNews contributor whose real name is Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, said he tried to board a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore on Monday but was stopped by an immigration officer. A second officer said the order to prevent him from leaving the country had come directly from Inspector General of Police (IGP) Khalid Abu Bakar on June 24.
“The IGP and the director of immigration have no right to stop or control my movement and barring me from leaving the country. Only the court does, and even then can only be carried out under specific laws,” Zunar said in the statement.
Zunar’s complaint drew a terse response from Khalid.
“He can challenge me if he wants,” the police chief told BenarNews.
The cartoonist pointed out that while he faces nine charges under the Sedition Act, he has not been convicted – and is awaiting trial on Nov. 22.
“This clearly shows gross abuse of power and blatant violation of human rights by these individuals,” he said.
Malaysia’s High Court in April turned down a constitutional challenge by Zunar to the Sedition Act, clearing the way for his upcoming trial.
The travel ban on Zunar was done in bad faith, infringes on his constitutional rights and is an abuse of immigration power, Eric Paulsen, executive director of Lawyers for Liberty and one of the cartoonist’s lawyers, told BenarNews.
Under the Immigration Act, the agency has discretionary power to bar anyone from leaving the country but it cannot be used arbitrarily against those deemed critical of the establishment, according to Paulsen.
“Zunar has not missed any of his sedition hearings despite having traveled extensively after his arrests, which strengthens the perception that the authorities have no solid reason to bar him from traveling,” Paulsen said.
Ongoing harassment: cartoonist
Zunar, whose cartoons are sometimes published on BenarNews, alleged that this was another form of the government’s ongoing harassment to stop him from drawing his cartoons critical of Prime Minister Najib Razak and the government.
Along with the sedition charges that could bring a sentence of 43 years, Zunar said he had been jailed twice, for two days in September 2010 and for three days in February 2015.
“Five of my cartoon books are banned and my office in Kuala Lumpur was raided a few times with thousands of my cartoon books confiscated,” he said.