Zunar on why he’s willing to risk prison

zunarKUALA LUMPUR: With several laws and the police zooming in on critics of the government, people are turning to social media to vent their feelings, says cartoonist Zunar.

Zunar, whose real name is Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, told the New York Times in an interview that more and more people were not happy with the government.

However, there were many laws “stopping them from being in the front row and being very, very vocal”, so they would use any type of form, of tool, to express their views or to protest, he added.

“So now, social media is something that is a very effective tool. People are starting to be creative in social media by using drawings, cartoons, posters or video clips.”

Saying the government felt threatened by this, he noted that it was either introducing new laws or increasingly using existing laws such as the Sedition Act to stifle dissent.

Zunar told the NYT that when protesters disrupted his art exhibition at the George Town Literary Festival on Saturday, he had assumed that the police would want his help identifying those responsible.

Instead, Zunar said, he was questioned by the police, detained for a day and informed that he was under investigation for producing cartoons that purportedly defamed Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Zunar already faces nine charges related to his cartoons and is barred from leaving the country. He told the NYT that all the charges had been politically motivated.

Asked if the laws and regulations had affected his creative process, Zunar replied: “One thing I keep in my mind — one very, very important thing — is that the biggest enemy for anyone in the world is self-censorship.

“For me, talent is not a gift but a responsibility. People ask, do I have fear? Yes, I have fear, I’m human. But responsibility is bigger than fear.

“So I don’t want to really think what the government will do next to me. I just concentrate on what I’m supposed to do. That can help me continue and draw more cartoons.

“If I start to think about law, I start to think about prison, I start to think about government action, I will definitely start to practice self-censorship — and this is no good. So I will draw as usual.”

Despite the risks, he said, it was very important to create awareness around the world about the state of freedom of expression and human rights in Malaysia.

“I’m going to face it,” he added of the police investigation and the charges levelled against him.