Malaysia: Zunar mounts constitutional challenge to Sedition Act

The court case against Malaysian cartoonist Zunar on nine charges of sedition was due to begin today, carrying a maximum penalty of 43 years in prison. Instead, the artist and his lawyers filed applications to have their cases referred to the high court, mounting a constitutional challenge to the country’s Sedition Act and delaying the case against them.

The charges of sedition are in relation to a series of nine tweets the cartoonist wrote in February concerning the politically charged sodomy conviction against Malaysian opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Zunar’s lawyer, Eric Paulsen, who was also due to face charges of sedition this morning, says the Sessions Court, which was due to hear the case, does not have jurisdiction to do so. He has posed the following three points for consideration by the court:

1 Whether section 3(3) of the Sedition Act 1948 is unconstitutional as it states that the “intention” of the maker “shall be deemed to be irrelevant” when making the seditious statement;

2 Whether the Sedition Act unlawfully criminalises peaceful expression of free speech and is thus unconstitutional;

3 The recent Federal Court case in PP v Azmi Sharom misread the constitution and should be reconsidered. Under Article 10(2), “Parliament may by law impose” restrictions on fundamental rights. Therefore, as the Sedition Act pre-dates the Constitution, it cannot be read into Article 10(2) to restrict freedom of speech.

The Malaysian Federal Court dismissed a similar constitutional challenge against the Sedition Act by University of Malaya law lecturer Dr Azmi Sharom early last month. Zunar’s application is now fixed for a hearing on 8 December, and the decision will be made on 15 December.

In the meantime, there are no trial dates set for the sedition case against Zunar and his lawyers.

Zunar has just returned to Malaysia, after visiting the UK to raise awareness of his case and mount an exhibition of his work at London’s Cartoon Museum.

4 Nov-Jan: Malaysian cartoonist Zunar exhibited in London


Cartoon by Zunar

Malaysian cartoonist Zunar, who is facing a trial for his work, is to have four of his most celebrated cartoons ​exhibited at London’s Cartoon Museum.

“This will be my very first exhibition held in a cartoon museum. At a time when I am facing pressure from the Malaysian government for my works this is genuine encouragement, a tribute I humbly acknowledge and am tremendously grateful for,” said Zunar, who is facing nine charges under the Sedition Act and potentially up to 43 years in prison.

Zunar’s work will be on display at the museum’s cartoon and caricature gallery from 4 Nov 2015, alongside a new exhibition Gillray’s Ghost, marking the 200th anniversary of the death ​of English caricaturist James Gillray ​who was also regarded as a provo​cative figure in his day.

“Zunar is part of a great political cartooning tradition which asks awkward questions of those in power in images which endure in people’s memory,” said Anita O’Brien, director of The Cartoon Museum. “No doubt Gillray would be sympathetic to his cause so it is appropriate that their works are on show at the same time.”

When: From Wednesday, 4 Nov 2015 to January 2016
(Hours: Mon – Sat: 10.30 – 17.30, (inc. Bank Holidays); Sun 12.00 – 17.30)
Where: The Cartoon Museum, 35 Little Russell Street, London WC1A 2HH (map)
Tickets: Admission information

Malaysia: Dismissal of Sedition Act challenge a blow to free expression

Malaysia’s decision to dismiss a challenge to the colonial-era Sedition Act has limited the country’s freedom of expression.

The Federal Court’s ruling is a setback to persecuted Malaysian cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, aka Zunar, who is facing nine simultaneous charges under the law and will appear court on 6 November.

“The ‘approval’ of the Sedition Act by the Federal Court is totally disappointing, unacceptable and undemocratic,” Zunar said in a statement.

The court, challenged by law professor Azmi Sharom, ruled on 6 October that the Sedition Act 1948 remains constitutional and a valid piece of legislation. Azmi had argued that the Sedition Act 1948 is not a valid law as it was not enacted by parliament and contradicted with the Article 10 of Malaysia’s constitution.

Article 10 of the constitution states, that “(a) every citizen has the right to freedom of speech and expression; (b) all citizens have the right to assemble peaceably and without arms.”

Zunar said: “The decision by the court simply mocked the Constitution and [is] politically motivated.”

The cartoonist said the Sedition Act has been used as political weapon by the government to constrain and curtail freedom of expression since it was introduced in 1948. More than 200 activists – students, lecturers, lawyers, writers, religious activists, opposition leaders and cartoonist – have either been arrested, detained, investigated or charged since last year.

“I am now being slapped with nine charges under the draconian act and facing a possible 43 years of jail term,” he added. “The hope to get justice from the court is just fairy tale.”

Last week, an online sales assistant working for Zunar was told to attend a meeting with police related to the sales of the cartoonist’s books.