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Dismissal of Charges Against Malaysian Political Cartoonist an Encouraging Victory


NEW YORK—The withdrawal of sedition charges against award-winning political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque alongside lawmaker R. Sivarasa and civil rights lawyer N. Surendran represents an encouraging victory for freedom of expression in Malaysia, PEN America said in a statement today.

On July 30, a Malaysian court dropped nine charges of sedition against cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, known to fans as Zunar. The charges stem from nine tweets he posted in February 2015, criticizing the government for jailing opposition politician Anwar Ibrahim on counts of sodomy. Under such charges, Zunar faced up to 43 years’ imprisonment.

The Attorney General’s office’s decision not to prosecute comes approximately two months after the May 9 election which unseated the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition. It is widely speculated that the favorable disposition of Zunar’s case is connected to the electoral change.

“The court’s decision in Zunar’s case is a welcome occurrence,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “However, it remains to be seen whether it is a one-off event, or an ongoing commitment of a government newly dedicated to the free press. The Sedition Act and other laws used to suppress free expression are still on the books, so other Malaysian artists and thinkers are still vulnerable.”

The 1948 Sedition Act targets conduct “that tends toward insurrection against the established order,” and has been widely used to neutralize government critics. Human rights groups have repeatedly called on Malaysia to repeal the Sedition Act. Those arrested under the Act in recent years include human rights lawyer Eric Paulsen and journalist Susan Loone.

This is not the first time Zunar has faced repercussions from the Malaysian government in connection to his work. In 2010, police detained Zunar for two days before his book of illustrations, Cartoon-O-Phobia, was set to launch. Since then, much of his work has been banned, and authorities have repeatedly raided his office. Zunar was also subject to an apparently arbitrary travel ban, beginning in 2016, which lasted nearly two years.  


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org


Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Manager: [email protected]