07
Jan
16

The Malaysian government has no sense of humor — and that’s dangerous

zunartoon

I’m a cartoonist in a country where cartooning can be a crime. Under my pen name, Zunar, I expose corruption and abuses of power by the Malaysian government. As it happens, I have a good deal of material to work with. For instance, Prime Minister Najib Razak is currently facing questions about a $700 million “donation” made to his personal bank account.

Last February, police raided my home in the middle of the night and hauled me off to jail. I was handcuffed for eight hours and thrown into a cell with all the other criminal suspects. I managed to avoid telling my cellmates what I was in for: using Twitter.

I was accused of sedition over a series of tweets I sent out opposing the jailing of a prominent Malaysian opposition leader. Now I’m facing nine charges under my country’s archaic, colonial-era Sedition Act, which could result in a 43-year prison sentence . The court proceedings against me begin this month.

I was in the United States in November to receive a press freedom award from the Committee to Protect Journalists. While I was discussing my case with American journalists and cartoonists, President Obama was in Kuala Lumpur meeting with Najib — the third time they met face to face.

Obama is eagerly courting Malaysia in his efforts to fight extremism and to advance the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, and his meeting reportedly focused on that to the virtual exclusion of everything else. That’s a grave disappointment and a missed opportunity. Obama has a responsibility to put the issue of human rights on the table.

The legal assault against me is nothing new, but it marks a major escalation. The authorities have repeatedly sought to silence me. My office has been raided multiple times since 2009, and authorities have confiscated thousands of my cartoon books. In 2010, five of my books — including “1 Funny Malaysia” — were banned by the home affairs minister, who declared the contents “detrimental to public order.” Later that year I was detained by police and locked up for two days after the publication of “Cartoon-O-Phobia.” To say the least, the Malaysian government has no sense of humor.

In late 2014, my webmaster was called in for questioning, and three of my assistants were arrested for selling my books. I was also brought in for questioning by the police, and the company that processes orders for my website was forced to disclose my customer list. In January, the police raided my office and then opened two investigations in February under the Sedition Act. That’s when they really threw the book at me.

The government hasn’t just targeted me and my associates; it also has cracked down on the entire ecosystem of free expression. Three companies that printed my books were raided and warned not to print my books in the future or their licenses would be revoked. Likewise, bookstores that carried my book were raided and their licenses were threatened. As a result, no one dares print or sell my books.

In such an environment, people like me must turn to the Internet to share our opinions and art. But now that space is under attack as well.

…more
The Malaysian government has no sense of humor — and that’s dangerous
By Zunar
January 1 2016 – Washington Post

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