Zunar the first full-time cartoonist to win CPJ’s press freedom award

1
Cartoonist Zunar has drawn caricatures of various political leaders

Despite threats, Zunar continues to draw, challenging the same forces that seek to silence him, notes the Committee to Protect Journalists in awarding him its International Press Freedom award for 2015.

Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque (“Zunar”), Malaysia

The personal slogan of Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, a Malaysian cartoonist who is better known by his penname Zunar, is: “How can I be neutral? Even my pen has a stand.”

Zunar is best known for his provocative cartoons that lampoon issues of high-level abuse of government power and corruption. His portraits are published both in books and on the Malaysiakini news website, one of the country’s few independent news publications. Malaysian police and authorities have claimed on several occasions that Zunar’s cartoons are “detrimental to public order” and run afoul of the country’s sedition law.

The latest legal threat against Zunar comes amid a government crackdown on dissent, a heavy-handed response to the long-ruling United Malays National Organisation’s waning popularity and legitimacy, a theme that Zunar’s cartoons have frequently portrayed.

The cartoonist has been temporarily detained twice–in 2010 and 2015–on accusations of sedition in relation to his cartoons. At least five of his cartoon books, compilations of original contents and his work previously published online, have been banned or confiscated by authorities. His Kuala Lumpur-based office and those of the printers who produce his volumes have been raided several times.

Despite these threats, Zunar continues to draw, challenging the same forces that seek to silence him. He currently faces nine counts of sedition and up to 43 years in jail in connection with nine critical tweets, including one with an embedded cartoon portrait of Prime Minister Najib Razak acting as a court judge, that he posted on 10 February 2015, in connection with a court decision to jail the country’s main opposition leader on sodomy charges. Zunar’s sedition trial is scheduled for late 2015.

READ MORE:  Journalism without fear or favour

Zunar is the first full-time cartoonist to receive CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award. While the attack on the staff of Charlie Hebdo in Paris in January 2015 showed the risks some cartoonists face in reprisal for their work, the legal harassment Zunar endures is indicative of the type of threats that outspoken satirists contend with around the world. CPJ highlighted these threats in its 2015 report, “Drawing the Line,” in which Zunar’s cartoons and case were featured.

In 2011 and 2015, Human Rights Watch honored Zunar with its Hellman/Hammett Award. In 2011, he was also the recipient of the “Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award” by the Washington-based Cartoonist Rights Network International.

Country facts:

  • In April, Malaysia’s parliament approved amendments to the country’s sedition law, which allows the government broad new powers to censor online media, and extended maximum jail term convictions from three to 20 years.
  • Malaysian authorities frequently abuse the 1948 Sedition Act to threaten journalists who report critically about the government, judiciary, or religious issues.
  • Malaysian authorities have also banned Zunar’s books on allegations that they violate the 1984 Printing Presses and Publication Act, another piece of legislation that is often used to censor the Malaysian press.
  • Journalists and executives affiliated with the news website Malaysiakini, one of Malaysia’s few independent news sources; the news portal The Malaysian Insider; and the portal’s parent company The Edge Media Group, are frequently threatened with sedition and other legal charges punishable by imprisonment for reporting critically on the government.
Thanks for dropping by! The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

Our voluntary writers work hard to keep these articles free for all to read. But we do need funds to support our struggle for Justice, Freedom and Solidarity. To maintain our editorial independence, we do not carry any advertisements; nor do we accept funding from dubious sources. If everyone reading this was to make a donation, our fundraising target for the year would be achieved within a week. So please consider making a donation to Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Negara, CIMB Bank account number 8004240948.
1 Comment
Newest
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Giog
Giog
19 Sep 2015 11.42am

We love Zunar’s satire. He is an artistically inclined, talented individual with a good bite of sarcasm and fun.