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Human Rights Commissioner criticises looming prison sentence for Malaysian cartoonist

05.09.2016 - Press release

Bärbel Kofler, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office, issued the following statement today (5 September):

The Malaysian cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar “Zunar” Ulhaque could face a prison sentence of up to 43 years under the Sedition Act simply because he expressed, among other things, criticism on Twitter with regard to the conviction of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. Zunar is just one of many Malaysians who are being subjected to intimidation and random arrests and even draconian punishments because they are making peaceful use of their right to freedom of expression. The Sedition Act, which dates from colonial times, is being applied increasingly in Malaysia as a repressive measure to quash those who express criticism of the Government. I appeal to the Malaysian Government to drop the charges against Zunar, respect press freedom, freedom of opinion and the right to free speech and to undertake a critical examination of the Sedition Act. It has no place in a modern society.

Background information:

Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, known by the pseudonym ZUNAR, is Malaysia’s most famous cartoonist and a figurehead of the Malaysian opposition. In his drawings he spotlights political shortcomings in Malaysia, including accusations of corruption against Prime Minister Najib Razak, growing restrictions on freedom of opinion and increasingly repressive legislation.

Zunar has already received several threats, his work has been seized, his studio searched and his staff arrested. His books with collections of cartoons are being confiscated in Malaysia. He is on trial under the Sedition Act for publishing tweets on the politically motivated sentence imposed on opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. If convicted, he could face up to 43 years in prison. His next court appearance is scheduled for 8 September 2016.

Since summer 2014 a sharp increase in repressive measures against members of the opposition, journalists, human rights activists, lawyers and bloggers in Malaysia has been observed. In April 2015, the Sedition Act of 1948, which dates from colonial times, was more precisely defined and tightened up (allowing prison sentences of up to 20 years and extended to cover the Internet and social media). In 2015 alone, at least 91 people who had expressed criticism of the Government were subjected to police interrogations or random arrests on the basis of this Act.

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