Malaysian cartoonist Zunar is pessimistic about the chance of overturning his travel ban after a recent Court of Appeal decision.
“Malaysian Court of Appeal today ruled that the right of Malaysian citizens to travel overseas is at the absolute discretion of the government.” Zunar wrote in a post on his blog. “In delivering decision on other activist (Tony Pua), the judges said the issuance of passports to citizens to travel abroad is a privilege accorded by the government.”
Zunar has been barred from leaving the country since June 24, 2016, on direct orders from Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakr. The order was enacted shortly after Zunar received the International Editorial Cartoons Prize from Cartooning for Peace and stems from the fact that the cartoonist presently faces 10 charges of sedition under Malaysia’s Sedition Act, an antiquated law that predates Malaysia’s independence and constitution. The law is often used to silence dissidence in the country, and Zunar himself faces more than 40 years in prison over the charges.
In his statement about Pua’s court case, Zunar also points out that the constitution guarantees freedom of movement as a fundamental right of Malaysian citizens. “I do not know why judges choose grey when black and white is right in front of them,” he declares.
Zunar’s case will be heard by the High Court on September 25, but Zunar does not anticipate that the higher court will overturn the Court of Appeal. “It will be difficult for me because in normal practice, the High Court will follow the decision by the Court of Appeal.”
As for the sedition charges, the trial has been delayed several times over the last few years as Zunar and other individuals in Malaysia have challenged the constitutionality of the Sedition Act.
Zunar has endured persistent censorship by government authorities, including book seizures, harassment of his staff and printers, and more. Recently, an appeals court ruled that Zunar was entitled to compensation for books and original art seized by police in 2010 and finally returned to him in 2015, but several of his books and original art remain in police custody. In order to avoid more seizures, Zunar has embraced a novel tactic to sell his latest book Twit-Twit, Cin Cin during a the launch event: buyers received a photocopy of the cover, and the full book was shipped to them.