“I became a journalist to come as close as possible to the heart of the world.”
Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, aka Zunar - arrested, detained, and threatened by the Malaysian government with a charge of sedition, his work has been banned from newspapers and his books have been confiscated, 2008 - present
Summary of incidents:
On August 25, 2009, officers from the Home Affairs Ministry seized the inaugural issue of the magazine Gedung Kartun (Cartoon Store) which features the work of Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, who uses the pen name Zunar, and the work of other Malaysian cartoonists. The factory that printed the magazine was raided and the printing plates were seized. Vendors carrying the magazine were also raided and copies of the magazine were seized.
On June 24, 2010, the Malaysian government banned Zunar's next two books, 1 Funny Malaysia and Perak Darul Kartun (Perak, The State of Cartoon), and, volumes one, two and three of his magazine Isu Dalam Kartun (Issue in Cartoon). Copies of the banned titles were seized from vendors. The Home Ministry officers also raided the printing factory and seized the printing plates.
In July of 2010, Zunar and Mkini Dotcom, the owner of Malaysiakin.com, filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of the banning the magazines and books. However, on July 14, 2011, the High Court in Kuala Lumpur upheld the banning of Zunar's titles.
On September 24, 2011, officers of the Home Affairs Ministry seized copies of Zunar's latest title Cartoon-O-Phobia. The officers once again also raided the printing factory and seized the printing plates. Zunar was detained for two days and threatened with a charge of sedition. To date that charge has neither been pursued nor dismissed by the government.
Details of incidents:
By 2008 the work of cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, aka Zunar, had developed a very popular following. His work which is critical of the national government explores important social and political issues such as racism, government corruption, and the conspiracy against opposition politician Anwar Ibrahim. In that same year, the Malaysian government warned the publishers of the country's national newspapers that they risked the renewal of their publishing licences if they continued to publish Zunar's cartoons.
In Malaysia it is illegal to publish a newspaper without a licence. Under the Printing Presses and Publication Act of 1984 (PPPA) all publishers must apply for an annual licence from the Home Affairs Ministry. This same ministry has "absolute discretion" in the granting and revoking of those licences. Furthermore, any decision of the Home Affairs Ministry cannot be challenged in a court of law.
Denied access to the pages of the national newspapers, Zunar began publishing his work online and in his own magazines and books. On August 25, 2009, eight officers from the Home Affairs Ministry seized 408 copies of the inaugural issue of Zunar's magazine Gedung Kartun (Cartoon Store). This magazine features cartoons by Zunar, Ronasina, Jonas, Art, Enot, Haili and other cartoonists. The officers threatened Zunar with charges under the PPPA and told him that the seizure was justified on the grounds of content checking and of a lack of publication permit. Zunar told the officers that a permit, number PP8541/08/2010(0282145) ISSN 1688-5398, had been granted by the Home Affairs Ministry but that the hard copy of the permit had not yet been delivered.
The Home Ministry officers then raided the printing factory and seized the printing plates, thus preventing any further publication of the magazine. The owners of the factory were warned not to print any more books or magazines by Zunar or else their printing license will be revoked. Home Affairs Ministry officers also seized copies of the magazine from vendors throughout the country who were likewise warned not to sell any more books or magazines by Zunar. The government did not charge Zunar. But Gedung Kartun was banned. The loss to Zunar and his publisher Sepakat Efektif Sdn Bhd was estimated at around RM10,000 (about USD 3,000).
Zunar continued to publish his work. On June 24, 2010, the Malaysian government banned Zunar's next two books, 1 Funny Malaysia and Perak Darul Kartun (Perak, The State of Cartoon), and, volumes one, two and three of his magazine Isu Dalam Kartun (Issue in Cartoon). Copies of the banned titles were seized from vendors. Other vendors fearing government raids and possible prosecution under PPPA with fines and/or imprisonment of up to three years, returned the titles. The estimated loss to Zunar and his publisher was RM 80,000 (USD 25,000). In a statement to Malaysiakini.com, the website host of Zunar's work, Home Affairs Ministry Secretary General Mahmood Adam asserted, "All three publications have been banned for its contents that can influence the people to revolt against the leaders and government policies. The contents are not suitable and detrimental to public order."
Zunar did not back down. In July of 2010, Zunar and Mkini Dotcom, the owner of Malaysiakin.com, filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of the banning of 1 Funny Malaysia, Perak Darul Kartun and the first three volumes of Isu Dalam Kartun. In the lawsuit, Zunar, Mkini and their attorneys asserted that the titles were "not contrary to public order but merely satirical cartoons dealing with matters of public interest." In their filing they noted that not even one incident of public disorder could be traced to any of Zunar's cartoons. However, on July 14, 2011, the High Court in Kuala Lumpur upheld the banning of Zunar's titles.
In September of 2010, Zunar announced that he would soon be launching his latest cartoon collection, the aplty titled Cartoon-O-Phobia. On September 24, just hours before the launching, the police raided Zunar's office. The police confiscated sixty-six copies of Cartoon-O-Phobia along with one original cartoon. At the same time other officers raided the two printing factories and seized the printing plates. The police told the factory owners that their printing licenses would be revoked if they were to print any more titles by Zunar. Zunar was arrested and detained under the Sedition Act. (If and when Zunar is tried and convicted of sedition he could imprisoned to up to three years.) When the police asked the magistrate to extend Zunar's confinement by four days, Zunar asked the officer if he had even read the book. When the officer admitted that he had not yet read the just released Cartoon-O-Phobia, Zunar asked him how then could he possibly know if there was anything in the book disruptive of public order. The magistrate limited Zunar's detention to one day, in addition to the twenty-fours Zunar had already been detained.
Actions taken by CRNI:
Upon learning of Zunar's situation, CRNI contacted Zunar directly and asked him what we could do for him. At his request, we wrote letters to a number of Malaysian government officials to remind them that efforts to silence Zunar are unethical, counterproductive and in clear violation of Article 19 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. CRNI then contacted the Centre for Independent Journalism in Kuala Lumpur and other human rights and free speech organzations to coordinate our efforts on his behalf.
To shine a protective spotlight on Zunar, we named him our 2011 recipient of the Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning. CRNI honored him in an award ceremony in St. Petersburg, Florida on July 7, 2011. To hear his acceptance speech on YouTube, click on Zunar Acceptance Speech Part One, and, Zunar Acceptance Speech Part Two. CRNI arranged a number of interviews for Zunar during his visit to St. Petersburg. CRNI arranged an interview in Washington, DC, for Zunar with Mickey Spiegel, Senior Researcher in the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch. Zunar's first media interview in the United States was with WUSF Public Broadcasting at the University of South Florida with the All Things Considered host Craig Kopp. Zunar was then interviewed by Rob Lorei the news and public affairs director of WMNF Community Radio. To hear Zunar's interview with Rob, click on WMNF Zunar Interview. Zunar's interview with Rob is followed by Rob's interview with CRNI President Joel Pett, and fellow editorial cartoonists Steve Kelley and Clay Bennett. CRNI arranged two interviews with Voice of America, one with Xiaoyan Zhang of the Chinese Division of Voice of America and one with Leonard Triyono of the Indonesian Division of Voice of America. To hear Zunar's interview with the Chinese Division Voice of America, click on VOA Chinese Division Zunar Interview. CRNI also arranged an interview for Zunar with Marco Werman of PRI's The World. To hear Zunar's interview with Marco and to see a beautifully designed slideshow by Public Radio International producer Carol Hills, click on PRI Zunar Interview. CRNI also arranged an interview for Zunar with the St. Petersburg Times. To see the paper's online coverage of Zunar's story which also includes a beautifully designed slideshow, click on St. Petersburg Times Zunar Interview.