Malaysia’s sedition crackdown continues, political cartoonist held

Political cartoonist Zunar, who has for months defied Prime Minister Najib Razak with a stinging series of almost-daily cartoons, is free after having been arrested for putting on a show of his work in Penang that was trashed by a pro-government mob that punched him and roughed him up.

The 54-year-old Zunar, whose name is Zulkiflee SM Anwarul Haque, is widely known for lampooning Najib and wife Rosmah Mansor. He was freed by a court that refused the government’s demand for a four-day remand. He already faces a travel ban imposed in June and nine sedition charges for allegedly insulting the judiciary.

The cartoonist’s arrest also came a week after the massive Bersih 5 protest calling for Najib’s ouster and democratic reforms in the Southeast Asian nation, which has been rocked with a corruption scandal with United States investigations revealing millions were siphoned from a state fund into the prime minister’s private bank accounts.

Najib has denied any wrongdoing, saying the money was donations for his Barisan Nasional (BN) ruling coalition’s election war chest in the 2013 polls. Malaysia has no foreign funding laws but Najib’s colleagues have accused electoral reforms group Bersih 2.0 of getting money from financier George Soros to unseat his government.

Before Zunar’s arrest, police detained scores of politicians and activists last week in their investigations into Bersih and its sources of funds. Bersih 2.0 leader Maria Chin Abdullah was arrested a day before the rally and is now being detained without trial under an anti-terrorism law.

Abdullah’s three sons have filed a habeas corpus case which will be heard on Tuesday with the police saying it has handed over evidence to the public prosecutor to justify her detention.

Activists say several more politicians and activists are to be called up for questioning this coming week in the current police crackdown.

Zunar already faces nine counts of sedition for tweets posted in his Twitter account last year following a controversial court ruling on sacked deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy conviction. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and could be sentenced to 43 years in prison if convicted. He pleaded not guilty. He was also charged with sedition in 2010.

Zunar, who once worked for a pro-government Malay daily, joined Malaysia’s opposition after Anwar was sacked in 1998. Over the years, his cartoon books have been confiscated and bookstores banned from selling his work.