Malaysia’s High Court is scheduled Thursday to hear a challenge to the Sedition Act lodged by a satirical cartoonist and his legal team on grounds that it contradicts the country’s constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech.
Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque – better known as Zunar – and attorneys Eric Paulsen and N. Surendran filed the challenge in October 2015 after Zunar was slapped with nine charges of sedition for tweets he sent criticizing the jailing of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on sodomy charges in February 2015.
The High Court is likely to decide the matter at its first hearing Thursday, Paulsen told BenarNews.
A rejection of the case will clear the way for a lower Sessions Court to set a date for Zunar’s sedition trial.
“Although we are likely to appeal further to the court of appeal, and we will seek further postponement of Zunar’s hearing at the Sessions Court,” Paulsen said.
A guilty verdict on all nine counts of sedition could carry a 43-year jail term.
After he sent the tweets in February 2015, police seized a compendium of his cartoons, which focused on Anwar, alleged government corruption, and the lavish lifestyle of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s wife Rosmah Mansor.
Zunar called nine charges under the Sedition Act “a new tactic to ensure that I’m silenced forever.” Since 2008, he has twice been arrested. His books have been banned. Printing presses and book stalls have been warned not to work with him.
“They don’t need nine. Logically, one is enough,” he told BenarNews in an interview in November.
In 2014 and 2015, some 200 people were investigated, arrested or charged under the Sedition Act, he said.
“We challenged the law because in our view, it goes against the Federal Constitution which in Article 10 states that every citizen has the right to freely give their views,” Zunar said.
Zunar, 53, received an International Press Freedom Award in November 2015 from the Committee to Protect Journalists, an international non-profit organization that promote press freedom.
Editor’s Note: Zunar is a BenarNews contributor.