Charter 2000-Aliran condemns the unfair and unwarranted detention of cartoonist Zunar by the Malaysian government last night as it violates the basic principle of freedom of expression in a democracy.
The police have also seized 66 copies of Zunar’s latest book, ‘Cartoon-O-Phobia’ – a worrying testimony of the state of freedom of expression in the country.
Known for his wit and grit and critical observations of Malaysia’s political scene through his hilarious sketches, Zunar has always shown his determination in calling a spade a spade. He has effectively exposed abuse and corruption in a simplistic manner, which a thousand words would find difficult to achieve. He should not be penalised for doing a great service to the nation even if his views came into conflict with those of the powers-that-be.
If expressing views that are critical of the government and its policies are deemed to be an offence, then this unfortunately may be construed as a warning to not only other cartoonists but also critical political commentators, analysts and oppositionists.
Given the severe political constraints that exist in our society, we commend Zunar for his courage in soldiering on. His arrest and harassment will not deter him from his mission to expose the dirt in our political system.
Amidst this darkness, there are rays of light. We would like to congratulate the new president of the National Union of Journalists of Malaysia, journalist Mohamed Ha’ta Wahari, for being bold and brave in championing the freedom of the press in the face of criticism and political pressure from within and outside Utusan Malaysia, where he works. It is commendable that Mohamed Ha’ta has strived to be fair and independent by being equally critical of both BN and Pakatan Rakyat politicians particularly over issues relating to press freedom and freedom of information.
If a free and responsible press is the cornerstone of a democracy, then the political and legal constraints that have been placed against journalists and cartoonists, among others, must be removed to promote democracy, the free flow of information and honest journalism. In the case of Malaysia, the Sedition Act and the Printing Presses and Publications Act must be repealed.
We urge the government to release Zunar immediately and unconditionally and to show maturity and tolerance when poring over critical cartoons such as Zunar’s. A sense of humour might help to lighten up the nation!
Dr Mustafa K Anuar and Anil Netto
25 September 2010