Political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ul-Haque, popularly known as Zunar, has said he is prepared to return to Malaysia to face the Sedition Act charges that may put him behind bars for up to 43 years.
Opposition groups in Malaysia have long criticised the colonial-era law — which was initially put in place by the British in 1948 to stop opposition to colonial rule — as being used in modern times to silence critics and opposition voices.
Zunar is well known for his hard-hitting cartoons, which often target public figures like prime minister Najib Razak and issues like government corruption.
As a human, as a cartoonist, I need to make a stand … everybody has fear, but responsibility is bigger than fear. – Political cartoonist Zunar
Mr Najib had initially vowed that he would repeal the law, but a 2013 election setback was followed up by an announcement last year that the law would remain.
Zunar, who is currently on tour in Australia, is set it return to Malaysia and challenge the charges against him.
“I know we don’t have a good and independent judicial system, so my chances are very slim, but I want to stand trial,” Zunar told the ABC’s The World program.
“For me this is very important to challenge … to create awareness, not only for Malaysia but also for people overseas to understand the real face of the Malaysian government.”
Zunar has been charged with nine charges of sedition, the maximum penalty of which is 43 years in prison.
But Zunar is not alone. Many opposition voices and activists face charges under the law, so Zunar is now keen to use his high profile as a cartoonist to make an example.
“The risk is very high, but somebody has to do it,” he said.
“As a human, as a cartoonist, I need to make a stand … everybody has fear, but responsibility is bigger than fear.”
Every regime in this world, their survival is based on how they monopolise information … but now everybody has information in their hand. – Political cartoonist Zunar
Zunar also commented on the recent political protests in Malaysia that have called for the resignation of Mr Najib.
Onlookers were surprised to see former prime minister Mahatir Mohamed attending the protests and calling for the resignation of Mr Najib — but Zunar said the move was simply a political statement designed to help the ruling coalition, which has ruled for 58 years, win in the next general election.
Zunar also discussed Myanmar’s current elections as an ongoing trend in the modern world of democracy spreading, and expressed belief that this trend will also come to Malaysia soon.
“Every regime in this world, their survival is based on how they monopolise information,” he said.
“But nowadays, with social media, everybody has information in their hand by using a smart phone.
“I believe what we see in Myanmar now will also come to Malaysia … the most important thing for us is to keep moving forward and keep pushing for change.”