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Malaysia: Cartoonist Zunar Released After Day in Jail

S.C. Lei
George Town, Malaysia
2016-11-28
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Zunar is joined by his lawyer, R.S.N. Rayer (right), and Penang MP Sim Tze Tzin (left) at George Town Police District Headquarters in Penang, Nov. 26, 2016.
Zunar is joined by his lawyer, R.S.N. Rayer (right), and Penang MP Sim Tze Tzin (left) at George Town Police District Headquarters in Penang, Nov. 26, 2016.
Courtesy of Zunar

Updated at 2:43 p.m. ET on 2016-11-28

Malaysian authorities have released cartoonist Zunar after arresting him for alleged sedition over an exhibit of his drawings in Penang state.

Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, whose pen name is Zunar, was released on bail Sunday evening after a court rejected a police application to hold him for four days for questioning. The court instead granted a one-day remand. The satirical cartoonist is a BenarNews contributor.

Assistant Commissioner Mior Faridalatrash Wahid, who heads the North East district police headquarters in Penang, told BenarNews “the probe is still ongoing.”

Zunar, who is also facing an investigation for breaching the peace through his artwork, was told to report back to police in Penang on Dec. 27, when his bail expires.

“It is possible that new charges will be filed against me. That will make it my 10th sedition charge,” he told BenarNews.

The winner of the 2016 Cartooning for Peace Award is facing nine sedition charges for allegedly insulting the judiciary in tweets made regarding the conviction of former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in a sodomy case in February 2015. Zunar has been under a travel ban since June.

Police said Zunar was arrested on Saturday under Section 4(1)(c) of Malaysia’s Sedition Act and for breaching the peace under Section 504 of the Penal Code over an exhibit that opened Friday in Penang’s capital, George Town.

Sedition ruling

The arrests occurred a day after a three-judge Court of Appeals panel ruled that Section 3(3) of the 1948 Sedition Act violated Article 10 of the Federal Constitution, which guarantees the right to free speech.

The ruling, in a case not involving Zunar, means that prosecutors must prove intent when charging a person with sedition, lawyers said. Prior to the ruling, prosecutors had to prove only that the offending statement was made.

“It is a victory for the constitution of Malaysia and Article 10 is a victory for the people who, in a democracy, have the right to speak freely as long as they do not infringe – as long as they do not call for violence and such things,” Lawyer N. Surendran, who represented Mat Shuhaimi Shafiei in the successful challenge, told reporters in Putrajaya following the decision, according to a YouTube video.

Lawyer Ramkarpal Singh, who represents Zunar, said the ruling affects all pending sedition cases.

“It is a positive development, but the outcome remains to be seen. The Federal Court may overturn the decision, but I hope it won’t come to that when this is a step in the right direction,” he told BenarNews.

Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali, meanwhile, announced that the government would appeal the ruling, according to a report by Free Malaysia Today (FMT).

UMNO protest

Planned to run three days, Zunar’s exhibit was cancelled for security reasons three hours after it opened on Friday after a group of about 30 people, led by the Penang State leader of the youth wing of the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party, demanded that the drawings be removed.

Zunar was summoned to the police station on Saturday as officers investigated the incident, and, upon arrival, was arrested, according to his lawyer, R.S.N. Rayer.

The police later took Zunar back to the exhibit venue, where they seized his artwork.

“I think this is strange. Others think so too. I was the victim, but I was the one arrested. Was it all part of some agenda, some script? That is how I see it,” Zunar told BenarNews.

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