Malaysia imposes travel ban on award-winning cartoonist

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Award-winning Malaysian cartoonist Zunar, who faces up to 43 years imprisonment for tweeting his cartoons criticising his country’s leaders reported on 17 October that he has had a travel ban imposed blocking him from travelling outside the country.

Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, known as Zunar, has faced harassment from the Malaysian government for his political cartoons. Five of his books have been banned in Malaysia and his office has been raided several times, resulting in the confiscation of thousands of his books.

The Malaysian government has banned his books on the grounds that they can “influence the public to revolt against the leaders and government policies” and they are “detrimental to public order.”

Any bookstore, vendor, printer or publisher who agrees to sell the cartoonist’s books also face harassment from the Malaysian government, receiving threats of having their business licenses revoked or their offices raided. Zunar’s books are now printed without the name of the publisher to protect them. Although this is against the law, he has no choice if he wishes to continue publication of his cartoons.

Zunar is being charged under the Sedition Act, which was originally put in place in 1948 to curb opposition to British colonial rule, but the law has remained part of Malaysia’s legal system. The Sedition Act prohibits any behavior that could be deemed detrimental to the government. This outdated law allows the Malaysian government to censor opposition.

His cartoons have covered a wide range of controversial topics in Malaysia, from unsolved murders to political conspiracies. His motto is proudly displayed throughout his website, “How Can I Be Neutral, Even My Pen Has a Stand” emphasising his unfaltering mindset to stand up to the Malaysian government.

Zunar has challenged the Sedition Act and the Malaysian government multiple times in the past. First in 2010 to fight the banning of his books in the country, then in 2011 against the government and police for unlawful arrest and detention. Unfortunately in both cases the courts ruled against him.

Now with a travel ban placed on him by the Malaysian government, Zunar plans to again file a suit to challenge its validity. The cartoonist discovered the ban on 17 October 2016 at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, though it has been effective since 24 June 2016.

With the court proceedings for Zunar set for 22 November, he faces a maximum of 43 years in prison for tweeting his cartoons. The cartoonist has been imprisoned twice in the past; once for two days in 2010 and again for three days in 2015, both times for violating the Sedition Act. Three of Zunar’s assistants were also arrested in 2014 for selling his cartoons.

Zunar is currently out on bail but is stuck in Malaysia with the threat of 43 years imprisonment ahead of him. Despite this, he remains dedicated to exposing the corruption of the government, stating in an interview with Index on Censorship in 2015, “I will never stop, it is my right as a citizen to express my view and my responsibility as a cartoonist to give alternative views.”