Malaysian cartoonist Zunar has finally been acquitted of the sedition charges leveled at him in 2015 by Malaysia’s previous ruling party. The nine charges stemmed, not from his political cartoons, but for his tweets about the corruption of the government, as well as the trumped-up sodomy charges that led to Anwar Ibrahim being jailed.
Since the sedition charges in April of 2015, Zunar has had to deal with regular persecution in the forms of a travel ban, book bans, threats from government supporters, and police raids confiscating his books and art. Throughout all of this, he has continued to create political cartoons and speak truth to power.
According to The Straits Times
“Zunar, whose cartoons are published by leading news portal Malaysiakini, told AFP he was happy with the decision, but added he would not ‘absolutely happy until the government abolishes the Sedition Act.”
Amnesty International has advocated that Malaysia drop the charges against Zunar for the last three years. Cheered by the recent outcome, Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Amnesty International’s Malaysia Researcher, echoed Zunar’s sentiments:
“The new government must take this opportunity to usher in a new era for human rights by fully restoring freedom of expression and abolishing the 1948 Sedition Act, an archaic piece of legislation which has been repeatedly used to target dissenting voices. The authorities must also drop any other charges under the Act and, pending its repeal, ensure that no one else is arrested, investigated, charged or imprisoned under its draconian provisions.”
The Sedition Act Was largely used as a tool to silence opponents of Malaysia’s previous Prime Minister, Najib Razak, and his government. Najib was in power from 2008 until 2018, during which dozens of critics of the administration were arrested, many under sedition charges. “Najib launched a brutal crackdown against opponents after allegations emerged that he and his cronies oversaw the looting of sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) in a sophisticated fraud that spanned the globe.” The scandal and the persecution of their enemies were both large factors in the surprising election results in May that removed Najib and the rest of the ruling party that had been in power since Malaysia’s independence in the 1950’s. Since the election Najib Najib has been brought up on corruption charged, and placed under a travel ban.