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Malaysia drops sedition case against political cartoonist

Zunar routinely poked fun at former PM Najib Razak, who is accused of using draconian laws to try to silence his critic

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 July, 2018, 5:34pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 July, 2018, 9:26pm

A Malaysian political cartoonist said on Monday that nine sedition charges against him had been dropped after the scandal-mired government that he frequently lampooned was booted out of power.

Zulkifli Anwar Ulhaque – who goes by the pen-name Zunar – was repeatedly targeted under the former government for his cartoons, which often mocked ex-prime minister Najib Razak and his luxury-loving wife. Some of his collections were banned.

He was hit with nine counts of sedition in 2015, stemming not from his artistic work but Twitter criticism about the jailing of then-opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

It was a record number for a single court appearance in Malaysia, according to his lawyers.

But at a hearing in Kuala Lumpur on Monday, prosecutors said the attorney general’s office had decided it does not want to pursue the case and was withdrawing the charges against him, the cartoonist confirmed.

Zunar, whose cartoons are published by leading news portal Malaysiakini, said he was happy with the decision, but would not be “absolutely happy until the government abolishes the Sedition Act”.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, tweeted that Zunar’s acquittal was “fantastic news” and also called on authorities to scrap the sedition law.

The Sedition Act, a relic of the British colonial era, was one of several laws that critics said were used to gag free speech during Najib’s rule.

Dozens of government critics, including opposition politicians, activists and journalists, were arrested for sedition and under other laws.

Najib launched a brutal crackdown against opponents after allegations he and his cronies oversaw the looting of sovereign wealth fund 1MDB in a sophisticated fraud that spanned the globe.

The scandal was a major factor in the election defeat in May of his coalition, which had ruled Malaysia uninterrupted since independence from Britain in 1957.

Since the loss, Najib has been charged with corruption linked to the multibillion-dollar 1MDB controversy. He denies any wrongdoing.