Malaysian cartoonist Zunar has won the International Press Freedom Award 2015 from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
The political cartoonist, who uses his work to expose abuses of power and corruption in Malaysia, was presented the award yesterday evening at a gala dinner at The Waldorf Astoria, New York.
In his acceptance speech, Zunar dedicated the award to “the Malaysians who have equally pushed for reform”. He also took the opportunity to criticise the Malaysian government: “It is both my responsibility and my right as a citizen to expose corruption, wrong-doing and injustices. Laws like the Sedition Act mean that drawing cartoons is a crime.”
“The government of Malaysia is a cartoon government; a government of the cartoon, by the cartoon, for the cartoon — sorry Abraham Lincoln,” Zunar joked. “For asking people to laugh at the government, I was handcuffed, detained, thrown into the lock-up. But I kept laughing and encouraging people to laugh with me. Why? Because laughter is the best form of protest.”
Zunar currently faces 43 years in prison on nine separate charges of sedition for tweets he wrote criticising Malaysia’s judiciary over the incarceration of a Malaysian opposition leader. His court case was due to begin on 6 November. However, the cartoonist and his lawyers applied to have the case referred to the High Court, delaying proceedings. The application is set for a hearing on 8 December.
The threat of imprisonment obviously hasn’t deterred him from continuing with his work. “My mission is to fight through cartoons,” Zunar said. “Why pinch when you can punch? People need to know the truth and I will continue to fight through my cartoons. I want to give a clear message to the aggressors — they can ban my cartoons, they can ban my books, but they cannot ban my mind.”
Four of Zunar’s most celebrated cartoons are on display at London’s Cartoon Museum until January.