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Partial victory for cartoonist Zunar

 | July 31, 2012

The High Court rules the confiscation was illegal while his detention was lawful.

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KUALA LUMPUR:  Political cartoonist Zulkiflee SM Anwar Ulhaque, better known as Zunar, won a partial victory today when the High Court ruled that the police had acted unlawfully when they confiscated 66 copies of a compilation of his political cartoons entitled “Cartoon-o-phobia” and a colllage of his drawings two years ago.

(Cartoon-O-Phobia relates to “individuals or parties who are afraid of cartoons and use political power to act against cartoonists.”)

However, judge Vazeer Alam Mydin Meera ruled that Zunar’s detention was legal.

“The authorities have failed to give evidence to substantiate the confiscation [of his books]. The law doesn’t allow the authorities to keep the materials for a long time.

“The continued confiscation of the books will affect the plaintiff’s livelihood,” the judge said.

He also ordered the books to be returned immediately, saying that the damages would be decided by the court registrar.

In June last year, Zunar and his company, Sepakat Efektif Sdn Bhd, filed a civil suit against the Home Ministry, Inspector-General of Police Ismail Omar, and police officers ASP Arikrishna Apparau and ASP Marina Hashim for wrongful detention.

He also sued over the confiscation of the 66 copies of his works. Both the incidents took place on Sept 24, 2010.

Vazeer Alam ruled that Zunar’s detention was lawful as provided for under the Criminal Procedure Code, Printing Presses and Publications Act, and the Sedition Act.

‘Constitutional right not breached’

In 2010, when Zunar was arrested, he was initially told the detention was made under the Sedition Act. He was also told that his arrest was in accordance with the Printing Presses and Publications Act.

During the two-day detention, he was moved to seven different police stations.

“The court is satisfied that the constitutional right of the plaintiff [Zunar] was not breached [when he was arrested],” said Vazeer Alam.

He added that the police only needed to have reasonable suspicion to make an arrest.

“… the books maybe satire, maybe seditious. The police are not required to specify the crime committed by the plaintiff,” he said.

Zunar’s counsel N Surendran said that they would appeal the ruling over the legality of the arrest.

“The detention showed that the government wanted to foil the launch of Zunar’s book. They [authorities] had an ulterior motive and had acted with malice,” said Surendran.

Meanwhile, Zunar urged the authorities to return 408 copies of his other cartoon books entitled “Gedung Kartun” that were confiscated in 2009.

“Please lift the ban on my other titles – ’1Funny Malaysia, Perak Darul Kartun, Isu Dalam Kartun.

“The government claimed to have amended the Printing Presses and Publications Act but all these books were banned under this law,” he said.

Zunar also took a swipe at Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, saying: Keep your words [on reforms] and do not be a false democrat. I hope there will be no more action against cartoonists.

“Compared to the era of the previous prime ministers, it is only during Najib’s time that cartoonists are oppressed,” said Zunar.

HRW: Disturbing rejection

Meanwhile international watchdog Human Rights Watch said the court finding that the initial arrest and detention of Zunar was lawful was a disturbing rejection of the right to freedom of expression in all its forms, including cartoons.

“The court’s verdict against Zunar is no laughing matter, but of real consequence for Malaysia” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“The conclusion to be drawn is that politicians and officials who feel stung by Zunar’s pen apparently count for more than free expression.”

Robertson further noted that the government has also announced deepening censorship on cartoons by barring all cartoons for a period of two weeks before the general election.

“The government’s decision to ban cartoons before the elections shows a remarkable lack of confidence in Malaysian voters—not to mention no sense of humor,” Robertson said.

“Politicians from the prime minister on down should recognise voters can laugh at them, and the government will not collapse.”


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