GEORGE TOWN: Cartoonist Zunar has issued a notice of demand to the police over the seizure of his caricatures at an exhibition in Komtar here in November 2016.
Lawyer Cecil Rajendra issued the notice of demand, dated March 26, on behalf of Zunar, whose real name is Zulkiflee Anwarul Haque, to the senior investigating officer of the Northeast district police’s Criminal Investigation Department.
Rajendra said Zunar had an exhibition of his work at the George Town Literary Festival 2016 on Nov 26, 2016, when police, without just cause or reason, raided his exhibition at the ICT mall in Komtar, Penang.
“They unlawfully seized 10 panels of his 20 valuable art works. Our client also informs us that he was forcibly detained in conjunction with the said raid.
“As a result of the police action, our client was deprived of his right to livelihood and his reputation severely tarnished,” he said in a press conference today. Also present with him was Zunar.
He said it had been over 14 months since the seizure and detention, and police have offered no explanation or justification for their high-handed action.
“They have yet to return our client’s artworks. Therefore, our instructions are to give the notice for the immediate return of the artworks in two weeks,” Rajendra said.
In the notice of demand, Rajendra said Zunar had also demanded an apology for the unnecessary pain, suffering, loss and embarrassment inflicted on him by the unwarranted action.
“Should you fail to comply with the demands of the notice, our client reserves his rights to initiate legal action for restitution of his artworks and damage to his person and reputation,” he added.
FMT has contacted Penang police chief Commissioner A Thaiveegan for his comments.
It was reported that police had arrested Zunar on Nov 26, 2016, after he turned himself in for questioning following a disturbance at an exhibition featuring his caricature works at Komtar.
Some 50 enraged Penang Umno Youth members had stormed the exhibition, which featured caricatures of Prime Minister Najib Razak, among others, and demanded that the show be shut down on grounds that it was seditious.
The Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) had to be called in to control the situation until Zunar agreed to have his artworks taken down.
Rajendra, who is also the former Human Rights chairman of the Malaysian Bar Council, also slammed the treatment of Zunar, in light of Malaysia’s present commitment to human rights.
He said that Zunar was the author of several books and had won multiple awards, including the Kofi Annan Cartooning For Peace Award 2016.
“Yet, he has been arrested five times, had nine sedition charges levelled against him, thousands of books and drawings confiscated and been banned from travelling abroad.
“These actions are in flagrant breach of Zunar’s fundamental rights, his right to express himself artistically, his right to a livelihood and his right to travel,” he said.
Rajendra, who is also Human Rights Association of Malaysia (Hakam) past president, said accusations that Zunar’s work was seditious and a threat to national security were laughable.
“The only threat that Zunar’s hilarious cartoons pose is that some readers might collapse and die laughing!”
At the launch of the National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP) on March 1, Rajendra said Najib had alluded to the 22-year regime of draconian legislation and promised that these things would not happen again.
He was referring to the time when Dr Mahathir Mohamad was prime minister from 1981 to 2003, when people with differing views were locked up under the Internal Security Act (ISA), newspapers shut down and theatre licences revoked.
“In Parliament, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Azalina Othman Said later reiterated the government’s commitment to human rights, and giving more space to dissenting views, unlike the time of the 22-year autocratic rule.
“We therefore call upon the government to make good on its promises and commitment to human rights, to withdraw all charges against Zunar, return his seized books and drawings and allow him latitude to pursue his artistic life.”
The government has so far banned nine of Zunar’s works, including three last year.
The cartoonist was also banned from flying to Singapore to attend a forum there in October 2016.