Can Zunar be stopped?

ZunarDid any one in authority think that imposing a travel ban on Malaysia’s most prolific political cartoonist would make him back off from his fight against corruption? Will the latest curb on Zunar’s freedom make him put his art supplies in storage so that he can live a peaceful life? Knowing Zunar, we can imagine him saying, “Hell, no!”

Neither should we Malaysians back away from supporting him and other activists calling for a return to democracy and the rule of law.

Last Monday, soon after he had checked in at KLIA for a flight to Singapore, Zunar was told by an immigration clerk that he was not allowed to travel out of Malaysia. The clerk said, without elaborating, that the ban was for a “sebab khas”” (a specific reason) and that the order came from the Inspector-General of Police, Khalid Abu Bakar.

This is the latest instance of harassment against Zunar in his longstanding run-in with the BN government. He has been mocking the authorities and highlighting the widespread corruption and abuses of power that are crippling the nation.

Eric Paulsen of Lawyers for Liberty has described the ban as a “serious infringement” on Zunar’s civil liberties under the Federal Constitution’s Article 5, the right to life, and Article 8, equality.

Zunar has indeed done no wrong. He is guilty only of expressing his opinion, and that is not a crime. Although he has been slapped with nine charges of sedition, he won’t be put on trial until next November 22.

So, what’s with the travel ban? Under what law has he been stopped from leaving the country? The Director of Immigration is acting like the IGP’s poodle and the IGP is exceeding his authority.

A source in the Immigration Department has confirmed that the instruction to forbid Zunar from travelling overseas had come directly from the IGP. He said the ban had been in place since last June 24.

The Immigration Department can impose a travel ban only when someone has been charged in a court of law – and for an offence like murder – or has not paid his income tax.

Zunar has attracted non-stop harassment from the Malaysian authorities since an exhibition of his work, held in Geneva, gained worldwide coverage. At the time, Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi said he would leave it to the police to take action against the cartoonist.

The IGP is spoiling for a fight. Responding to Zunar’s statement that he would sue him, Khalid said, “Let him challenge me, lah.” To a lot of people, that sounds more like a street thug’s retort than a response from a professional policeman.

And what does the Immigration Director-General have to say about his own double standards? Zunar is locked inside the country while someone like Jamal Yunos, who has unleashed his Red Shirt thugs to harass Bersih activists and their supporters, is still free to pop in and out of Malaysia.

This gives us all the more reason to support Bersih and to demand a return of our democratic freedoms.

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

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