Court Grants Zunar’s Ban Challenge

Sapuman: Man of StealCartoonist Zunar has been granted leave for a judicial review of his challenge to the ban to his book Sapuman: Man of Steal. Zunar filed the legal action in early January. The next court date for the challenge is February 27.

Despite concerns from the international community, as voiced by United Nations envoy Karima Bennoune, Malaysian authorities banned Sapuman in late 2017, alleging that the book is “prejudicial to public order.” The titular “man of steal” is Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak, who allegedly diverted $700 million from a government investment fund into his personal bank account (dubbed the 1MDB scandal). (Sapu is a Malay word meaning to grab or snatch.)

Zunar is being prosecuted under the Printing Presses and Publications (Control of Undesirable Publications) Order 2017, which prohibits “printing, importation, production, reproduction, publishing, sale, issue, circulation, distribution or possession of the publication described in the Schedule which is likely to be prejudicial to public order and which is likely to alarm public opinion.” Zunar argues that the order is null and void because it breaches Articles 5 (Liberty of the person), 8 (Equality), and 10(1)(a) (“every citizen has the right to freedom of speech and expression”) of Malaysia’s constitution.

Zunar police please return booksThe decision is a small but likely welcome victory in Zunar’s multiple legal challenges. The cartoonist has been barred from leaving the country since June 24, 2016. In November, the High Court dismissed Zunar’s challenge to the travel prohibition, a decision that the artist and his legal team are appealing.

The travel ban 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 several 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 faces more than 40 years in prison over the charges, which stem from a series of tweets Zunar sent in early 2015.

UN envoy Bennoune called for the repeal of the Sedition Act and the voiding of all charges against Zunar in her assessment of “efforts to implement the right of all people to participate in cultural life” in Malaysia. Zunar himself has also legally challenged the constitutionality of the Sedition Act.

The High Court also set a date in April to hear Zunar’s lawsuit for wrongful arrest and property seizure after his Tea With Zunar fundraiser and book signing in December 2016 ended with a police raid and the arrests of Zunar, two of his assistants, and two fans, including Member of Parliament Jimmy Wong. Police seized about $6,700 worth of books that were for sale at the fundraiser.

Zunar currently has nine books banned in Malaysia, and he remains defiant by keeping those books available for sale on his website. In 2014, he successfully fought a ban on two other books all the way to Malaysia’s top court. In 2017, he also was awarded damages for books lost in a 2010 raid.

CBLDF coverage of the Malaysian government’s ongoing attacks on Zunar from the last two years:

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