Defiant cartoonist Zunar, who faces 43 years in jail over sedition charges, says Malaysia’s embattled government has mounted a “personal vendetta” against him for highlighting corruption.
Travelling the world to discuss his plight — he spoke yesterday in the NSW parliament — Zunar told The Australian that police were determined to shut him out of the public eye.
Officers moved first against the publishers of his cartoon books, then against the printers, bookshops, and now online retailers and their customers.
“It’s a personal vendetta,” said Zunar — the pen-name of Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, 53. “But this is not a new thing. The government started to target me seven years ago,” when the police raided his office, confiscated more than 500 cartoon books and banned them from sale.
His work has recently focused strongly on corruption, with Prime Minister Najib Razak combating a series of revelations, including that almost $1 billion mysteriously ended up in his bank accounts.
Zunar produced a further five books in the year after the first police raids — all banned. In 2010 he held an exhibition, Cartoon-o-phobia, which resulted in 10 police coming to his office to charge him with sedition. He was in custody for two days.
Police then started chasing all those associated with publishing his cartoons, warning the businesses, including printers, that they would lose their commercial licences, and be forced to close down, if they accepted further work from Zunar.
The police demanded that his online retailer supply them with the names and details of all those who had bought Zunar products.
On February 10, eight police came to his home in the evening and took him away in handcuffs, to charge him over a cartoon and eight tweets about corruption — nine charges of sedition in all, for which the maximum penalty is 43 years’ jail.
He said he had been reliably informed the police were acting under direct political instruction.
He said the reason he had been targeted, out of many government critics and satirists, was that “others pinch, I punch”.
“I go direct,” he said. “And I have objectivity. My motivation is purely to oppose corruption.”
The core problem, he said, was that UMNO, the ruling party, had governed Malaysia for 58 years, it controlled most of the mainstream media, and “it really needs reform”.
The party’s leaders, he said, did not understand how cartoons worked, and “don’t have much of a sense of humour — even less as they have started to feel threatened, as their electoral support has begun to disappear”.
He is free for now because he has challenged the constitutionality of the sedition law.
“I am not pinning my hopes on the judiciary, though, because my case is political, and it’s very, very difficult to win a case against the Malaysian government — but they do have to make an attempt to justify themselves in the court.”