Malaysian Government Seeks Details on Zunar Customers

The trouble continues for Malaysian political cartoonist Zunar, who is now dealing with a government effort to intimidate customers who bought his most recent book, Komplot Penjarakan Anwar.

Unlike most of the rest of Zunar’s books, Komplot Penjarakan Anwar has not yet been officially banned for sedition in Malaysia, but that didn’t stop police from demanding that the payment processor MOLPay hand over the details of anyone who bought it. MOLPay now says it did not cooperate with the request, but has failed to respond to follow-up questions from Zunar and the blog Cilisos.

As Cilisos first reported last week, Malaysia’s Personal Data Protection Act would normally shield the information sought by police–except that the law includes a broad exception for cases where “personal data is required for investigation purposes.” MOLPay’s Customer Care department sent Zunar an email on November 17 informing him of the police request and that the company had “no choice but to furnish them with the requested details.” The cartoonist immediately asked MOLPay for clarification, tried again on November 20, and finally received a reply to a third email on November 26. Unlike the earlier email from Customer Care, this one came from the company’s head of Operations & Risk Management and claimed that “management eventually altered the decision” to release the information.

Given MOLPay’s selective silence and reluctance to provide proof that it denied the police request, Zunar and Cilisos remain suspicious. The company’s management told Cilisos that it can’t provide proof because the denial was verbal, not in writing, and that they did try to call Zunar after his November 20 email but “the phone given in record is not reachable.” MOLPay now seems to have gone silent again as Cilisos picks holes in its story.

In a November 28 statement on his website, Zunar highlighted the conflicting stories from MOLPay and issued an ultimatum:

Therefore, as a MOLPay customer, I am claiming from MOLPay to furnish me with:

  1. A copy of the letter from the police that requests the complete list of my customers.
  2. A copy of the answer made by MOLPay to the police that states the fact that they denied giving the complete list of my customers to them.

As a customer, I have the right to receive these explanations whether directly to me or I have to extend this to my lawyer.

Meanwhile, the cartoonist still faces a new round of investigations to determine whether Komplot Penjarakan Anwar is seditious according to the very government that he mercilessly mocks in his work. The possibility that MOLPay could or already has released customer information to the police is an effective means of shrinking Zunar’s audience and influence, since anyone found in possession of a seditious book could be fined up to 2000 ringgit (about $583) and/or imprisoned for up to 18 months. Luckily, not everyone is so easily intimidated. Cilisos bought a copy last week to see if the payment would still go through, and included a cheeky message for MOLPay on the order form: “Please don’t reveal my details to PDRM kthxbai.”

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Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.