A court in Kuala Lumpur on Friday charged one of Malaysia’s best-known satirical cartoonists with nine counts of violating the Sedition Act for criticizing the government in a series of tweets.
Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, 53, whose pen name is Zunar, later was arrested Friday under Section 233(1)(a) of the Malaysia Communications and Multimedia Act, after he posted U.S. $6,147 (22,282 ringgit) in bail for the sedition charges. He was taken into custody for several hours and then released.
"We will fight this. Sedition is being used in the most ridiculous fashion," Latheefa Koya, Zunar’s defense lawyer, told reporters following Friday’s sedition hearing at the Kuala Lumpur High Court, and before her client was arrested under the other law.
Zunar is among scores of media figures, opposition leaders and activists whom Malaysian authorities have swept up in recent weeks and accused of seditious speech.
As many as 114 people reportedly were arrested for sedition last month alone in the country’s biggest clampdown on dissent since 1987.
Zunar could be sentenced to a maximum of 43 years in prison if convicted of all nine counts, Latheefa said.
“Zunar has used Twitter to express what many thousands of others have felt, and now he is being charged nine times …,” Latheefa said, according to Agence France-Presse. “Looking at that alone, you can see how excessive and how completely misused the Sedition Act is."
Commenting Friday on Zunar’s case, Police Inspector-General Khalid Abu Bakar told reporters that the cartoonist had “asked for it,” according to the Star Online.
Zunar “should know by now” to watch comments posted online that may disrupt the peace by stirring public anger, the website quoted the Royal Malaysia Police chief as saying.
"Zunar was re-arrested because he abused the Internet, which is an offense under Section 233(1)(a) of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998,” Khalid said.
"He asked for it. You ask for it, you will get it. We will not ignore any action that is seditious and abusive of the Internet," he added.
Provocative online postings
According to Malaysian media, Zunar was re-arrested Friday under the Communications and Multimedia Act over an image posted on his fan club’s Facebook page.
The image depicted Prime Minister Najib Razak’s face superimposed on the body of Rafizi Rafmli, secretary-general of the opposition People’s Justice Party (PKR). Rafizi’s body is dressed in a purple prison jumpsuit.
It was Zunar’s messages on Twitter criticizing the jailing of PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim on sodomy charges that led to his previous arrest in February for alleged sedition.
Before he appeared in front of Judge Rashid Hussain, Zunar showed up at the courthouse dressed in a mock prison jumpsuit with a matching pair of handcuffs.
“I don't think I did anything wrong,” he told reporters. “A tweet is just my expression, and that's what every Malaysian thinks of the judiciary and every system in Malaysia.”
"The way they (authorities) do it, they are really trying to shut me off from criticizing the government, so I think it's clearly politically motivated,” he added.