LAST YEAR, as we sat in a Washington home, Zunar raised his hands to jab and stab and punctuate his every impassioned point. When a cartoonist faces a moral crisis, he told Comic Riffs, “you need to stand and fight. You need to carry the people’s voice through your cartoon.”
Today, Zunar — the nom-de-toon of Malaysian political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque — is being recognized for raising a moral and unsilenced voice through his cartoons.
The Committee to Protect Journalists announces today that Zunar is among the recipients of its 2015 International Press Freedom Awards, which recognize journalists who “have endured death threats, physical attacks, legal action, imprisonment or exile in the course of their work.”
“Whether through blogs or traditional media outlets, or by drawing cartoons, they risk their personal safety and freedom to bring us the news,” Joel Simon, executive director of the New York-based CPJ, said in announcing the honorees.
The other 2015 recipients are Paraguayan journalist Cándido Figueredo Ruíz, the Zone 9 bloggers of Ethiopia and the Syrian citizen-journalist collective Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently. The Burton Benjamin Memorial Award, for lifetime achievement in the cause of press freedom, goes to Kathy Gannon, the veteran Associated Press special regional correspondent for Pakistan and Afghanistan. (Gannon’s “commitment to journalism has transcended personal risk and tragedy, including the loss of her colleague Anja Niedringhaus,” CPJ board chairman Sandra Mims Rowe said.)
The Malaysian government has cracked down often on Zunar, detaining him, confiscating his books and raiding his printer’s Kuala Lumpur offices. His cartoons, published on the independent Malaysiakini news site as well as through his own books and social media, regularly satirize the legitimacy of the ruling United Malays National Organization.
Zunar faces as long as 43 years in prison for tweets critical of the government, including one tweet featuring a cartoon questioning the political motives of Prime Minister Najib Razak. Zunar’s sedition trial has been moved to late this year.
Zunar has previously received the Human Rights Watch’s Hellman/Hammett Award, and the Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award from the Northern Virginia-based Cartoonist Rights Network International.
The 2015 recipients will be feted Nov. 24 at the CPJ awards/benefit dinner in New York.