Listen to Zunar–Malaysia’s Gutsy Cartoonist and Freedom Expressionist


July 15, 2016

Listen to Zunar–Malaysia’s Gutsy Cartoonist and Freedom Expressionist

Cartoonkini-JET-JET-10-June-2016-Melbourne

“I don’t know if I will win or lose, but if I don’t fight, I’ll definitely lose.”

These are the words of Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, a cartoonist who goes by the name Zunar and who is facing charges under Malaysia’s Sedition Act and a possible 43 years in jail for speaking out against his government.

He is one of the most persecuted artists in the world.In February 2015 he was arrested for a Twitter post criticising the court’s ruling that opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was guilty of sodomy.  In June 2010 five of his books were banned, with the Barisan Nasional  government claiming that the cartoons in it could “influence the people to revolt against the leaders and government policies and are detrimental to public order.”

Printers and suppliers of his work have been harassed, with his office raided several times. Zunar is also one of the few Malaysian cartoonists to target public figures, including Prime Minister Najib Razak, and address issues like corruption and abuse of power. But is he a serious threat to national security or even the stability of the Malaysian government?

In this interview for New Mandala Zunar chats to Dr Ross Tapsell about freedom of expression in Malaysia, his work and pending sedition charges.

Watch the interview in the player below.

http://www.newmandala.org/can-cartoonist-bring-malaysian-government/

Malaysian Activism–1 Step Forward, 2 Steps Backwards but for Technology and Guts


May 6, 2016

Malaysian Activism–1 Step Forward, 2 Steps Backwards but for Technology and Guts 

by Mikha Chan

As much as we like to say that Malaysia is where free speech goes to die, we can’t deny that we’ve seen some progress in expanding our democratic space.

Twenty years ago, things would have had to become really bad to motivate activists to start waving their flags and risk instant arrest. This came from a lack of real organisation and an equal lack of easily accessible mass communication technology.

These days, no one is safe any more. More often than not, those in power can expect their screw-ups to spark mass texts on WhatsApp calling on protesters to gather at Jalan Raja Laut at 1pm next Sunday. Social media has become an even bigger bludgeon to hit errant authorities with, and Malaysian millennials are making full use of it.

The work of punk artist Fahmi Reza is a good example of this. His graphic, Instagram-friendly brand of street activism has perhaps contributed to the Malaysian public’s awareness of issues more than has any other agency next to Bersih, with his famous clown caricature of Prime Minister Najib Razak receiving international media attention.

Schulz 5

All of this has been helped by the vibrant do-it-yourself branding campaign he’s been running on his Facebook and Instagram accounts. It’s a movement in itself, one which has seen his personal hashtag #kitasemuapenghasut in full use by his followers and his trademark clown-Najib posters pasted all over the country.

It’s millennial activism at its best. You can deny it, you can call it hashtag activism, but the fact remains that awareness of political and related issues among Malaysian youth is at an all-time high.

We’re in the best place we’ve ever been for Malaysian activism and, who knows, it may get better. Of course, that depends on whether civil society maintains its pressure on the authorities. Our progress didn’t happen in a vacuum, after all. It happened through years of struggle.

(From left) Datuk Toh Kin Woon, Dr Michael Jeyakumar, Fuad Rahmat and A. Sivarajan with volumes of An Alternative Vision of Malaysia.

“The Police are better now, but change didn’t come from themselves. It came from civil society. With groups like the Bar Council, Suhakam and Suaram all speaking up, the space opened up,” said Parti Socialis Malaysia (PSM) Central Committee member Michael Jeyakumar recently in a comment on this year’s May Day rally in Kuala Lumpur, which saw the participation of about 500 people.

“We walked two to three kilometres,” he added. “This would have been unthinkable in the 90s. They would have jumped on us the moment we started meeting.”

It was a small demonstration and it lasted only two hours. On those two scores, you could say that the rally was not a success. But considering the relative lack of police response, it’s a pretty good marker of how far activism has progressed in the past twenty years.

Malaysia: The Extent to which Fawning Officials Go to Please The Boss


February 5, 2018

Malaysia: The Extent to which Fawning Officials Go to Please The Boss

by Anisah Shukry

An outpouring of solidarity for dissident artist Fahmi Reza in the form of posters shared online, after a warning from Malaysian police over his caricatures of the prime minister. – Fahmi Reza Twitter pic, February 5, 2016.

Images of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak dolled up in chalk-white makeup, with a bright red gash for a smile and neon green (or occasionally lush orange) hair, greet visitors to the Facebook community page called Grupa.

It is an acronym for “Grafik Rebel Untuk Protes & Aktivisme”, or “Rebel Graphics for Protests and Activism”, which brought together several graphic designers and digital artists to design posters for last year’s Bersih protest in Kuala Lumpur.

Now, they have set their sights on a new project: flooding the social media with pictures of a clown-faced Najib – sometimes grinning, sometimes sad, and sometimes with a rose dangling from between his lips – along with the hashtag #KitaSemuaPenghasut (we are all seditious).

In Malaysia, where an award-winning cartoonist was censured for drawing satirical comics on the Prime Minister and his wife, Grupa’s antics are more than just a colourful dig at Najib.

They told The Malaysian Insider they were risking arrest to stand up for fellow graphic artist Fahmi Reza, who posted the first clown caricature of Najib on his own Twitter on January 31, and promptly attracted police attention.

In Fahmi’s debut clown poster of Najib, he drew a fang-like smile on the Prime Minister’s face and sinister-looking eyebrows, with the caption: “In 2015, the Sedition Act was used 91 times. Tapi dalam negara yang penuh dengan korupsi, kita semua penghasut (but in a country that is full of corruption, we are all seditious).”

It was in response to the Attorney-General’s decision to close investigations into the RM2.6 billion found in Najib’s personal bank accounts.

Not impressed, the newly-set up Twitter account for the Police’s Cyber Investigation Response Centre (@OfficialPcirc) warned him that he was being watched.

“My first reaction was shock,” Fahmi told The Malaysian Insider as he recalled receiving the tweet.

“I didn’t know the existence of that police cyber unit, PCIRC, until they tweeted me that warning.”

But that feeling quickly turned to outrage when he read its tweet, especially the words “Gunakan dgn berhemah&berlandaskan undang2” (use properly and in accordance with the law).

Big Brother is watching

Defiant, Fahmi immediately wrote a post on Facebook in Malay, which translates to, “In a country that uses laws to protect the corrupt and oppress those brave enough to speak out, it is time we abandon all niceties when fighting the corrupt rulers”.

He also posted another satirical artwork on Twitter, using the police’s words against them in the caption, along with the hashtag #BigBrotherIsWatchingYou, an ode to George Orwell’s 1984.

The activist, who recalled his arrest 12 years ago for drawing a poster on police brutality, didn’t expect the Internet’s graphic artist community to rise up with him in solidarity this time around.

The #KitaSemuaPenghasut movement was a “new wave graphic rebellion against the Old Order”, he said, and the response has been overwhelming.

“It was beyond my expectations. It proved to me that I was not alone. There were others who share my outrage.In the past, graphic designers have largely kept themselves out of the limelight when it came to politics and activism. Grupa is a breath of fresh air,” said Fahmi.

On Grupa’s Facebook, fresh caricatures of Najib are posted every hour, and social media users are lapping it up.”Make a shirt of it, I’d buy it,” urged Facebook user Apisz Fumi in the comments section.

“That is one frightening image,” observed Richard Lee, to a digitally edited picture of Najib baring rotten, bleeding teeth and a cheerfully bright red clown nose.

Grupa said the movement came about when they decided to produce clown-faced posters of Najib to show solidarity with a fellow graphic artist and disgust at the ruling class for “constantly abusing the law”.

“We started releasing several posters on our Facebook page and before we knew it, we even had the public submitting their own versions of Clown Najib to us. To date, we have released 46 posters depicting Najib as a clown,” the group said, adding that they received dozens of paintings from “the citizenry” a day through email.

But the group, as well as Fahmi, risk running afoul of the law, more specifically Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.

A conviction could land the artists a fine of up to RM50,000, a year’s jail, or both.And as if to drive this point home, @OfficialPcirc’s only tweet since issuing the warning to Fahmi comprised an image breaking down that same law.

But the prospect of having the police cyber unit clamp down on them doesn’t seem to perturb Grupa, even though they risk courting more trouble than Fahmi, given the flood of caricatures on their page.

They said they were frightened of just one thing: being trampled over should they not voice out.

“So far, no authorities have contacted us, but that may change. We are looking forward to it,” they added.

Global attention

The BBC report on Fahmi Reza and the solidarity shown to him by fellow graphic artists. – BBC pic, February 5, 2016.

For the time being, the group plans to continue sharing clown images of the Prime Minister as long as it believes citizens are being repressed and denied their right to free speech and freedom of expression.

Besides receiving Facebook likes and shares, they gained international publicity with a BBC report on them titled “PM left red nosed by censorship protest”.

Grupa said they were left “humbled and surprised” by the attention.

“We didn’t expect it to go big…Actually we did lah, I mean, you mess with freedom of expression this is what you get lah, blowback,” they quipped.

Despite this, the group is strict about maintaining anonymity. “We are an anonymous collective group of graphic designers and digital artists who work as a team devoid of a formal hierarchy. There is no one in charge as we feel that our artwork should do the talking for us.You can say that our posters are in charge.”

Fahmi said he was ecstatic by the Malaysian graphic design community’s strong spirit of resistance.”It shows that they can ban a poster, but they can’t ban the idea behind the poster. Because ideas are bulletproof.”

And he is confident Malaysia’s #KitaSemuaPenghasut movement will herald a change in society.

“The outpouring of solidarity posters from graphic artists with their own versions of a clown-faced Najib despite the police warning against it was a clear act of defiance and represents a shift in the way ordinary people react to police intimidation.

“When people are emboldened to defy and stand up against injustice, it chips away at the power structure that keeps people docile.”

Clearly emboldened by the movement, Fahmi shared the BBC report on his Twitter yesterday, with the caption, “#KitaSemuaPenghasut has spread. The rebellion has begun.”

He told The Malaysian Insider: “That BBC took interest in the story shows how preposterous it is to consider a satirical graphic featuring the Prime Minister to be a threat.”


February 2, 2016

A Fearless Cartoonist challenges The Royal Malaysian Police over his Najib Clown Cartoon

by Arfa Yunus

http://www.freemalaysiaytoday.com

fahmi-reza-4

Artist and activist Fahmi Reza has warned police against arresting him over his artwork depicting Prime Minister Najib Razak as a clown.In an open letter posted on his Facebook page today, Fahmi said his arrest would only get him more publicity and draw more attention to his art pieces.

“With all due respect, I hope the Police would not make a rash decision to arrest me, following the Police report lodged by Ali Tinju and the Red Shirts movement against the poster I shared on social media.CaLsvZcVIAMmfH9

As you know, the poster was a satire based on current issues, which is protected under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution, which guarantees ‘every citizen the right to freedom of speech and expression’,” he said.

Fahmi recently received a warning from the Police for uploading a caricature of Najib as a clown, as part of a campaign against the Sedition Act.

In lodging a police report yesterday, Ali Tinju, whose real name is Mohd Ali Baharom, said Fahmi’s artwork had caused “public outrage” and could influence the rakyat to hate the Prime Minister.

Fahmi, however, said that if he was arrested, it could draw more visitors to his social media accounts and would inspire more people to rebel, become more aware of their rights, and be unafraid to speak up against corruption, injustice and oppression.

“I end this letter with Newton’s Third Law: ‘For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction’.”

Zunar seeks Freedom of Expression via The Washington Post


January 5, 2015

Zunar seeks Freedom of Expression through The Washington Post: What a damning shame for the Malaysian Government

By Zunar January 1, 2016

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-malaysian-government-has-no-sense-of-humor–and-thats-dangerous/2016/01/01/9f4437aa-af26-11e5-9ab0-884d1cc4b33e_story.html

Zunar is the pen name for the Malaysian political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque.

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I’m a cartoonist in a country where cartooning can be a crime. Under my pen name, Zunar, I expose corruption and abuses of power by the Malaysian government. As it happens, I have a good deal of material to work with. For instance, Prime Minister Najib Razak is currently facing questions about a $700 million “donation” made to his personal bank account.

Congrats Zunar

MALAYSIA-POLITICS-MEDIA-RIGHTS

Last February, Police raided my home in the middle of the night and hauled me off to jail. I was handcuffed for eight hours and thrown into a cell with all the other criminal suspects. I managed to avoid telling my cellmates what I was in for: using Twitter.

I was accused of sedition over a series of tweets I sent out opposing the jailing of a prominent Malaysian opposition leader. Now I’m facing nine charges under my country’s archaic, colonial-era Sedition Act, which could result in a 43-year prison sentence. The court proceedings against me begin this month.

Najib and Obama

I was in the United States in November to receive a press freedom award from the Committee to Protect Journalists. While I was discussing my case with American journalists and cartoonists, President Obama was in Kuala Lumpur meeting with Najib — the third time they met face to face.

Obama is eagerly courting Malaysia in his efforts to fight extremism and to advance the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, and his meeting reportedly focused on that to the virtual exclusion of everything else. That’s a grave disappointment and a missed opportunity. Obama has a responsibility to put the issue of human rights on the table.

The legal assault against me is nothing new, but it marks a major escalation. The authorities have repeatedly sought to silence me. My office has been raided multiple times since 2009, and authorities have confiscated thousands of my cartoon books. In 2010, five of my books — including “1 Funny Malaysia” — were banned by the Home Affairs Minister, who declared the contents “detrimental to public order.” Later that year I was detained by Police and locked up for two days after the publication of “Cartoon-O-Phobia.” To say the least, the Malaysian government has no sense of humor.

In late 2014, my webmaster was called in for questioning, and three of my assistants were arrested for selling my books. I was also brought in for questioning by the Police, and the company that processes orders for my website was forced to disclose my customer list. In January, the Police raided my office and then opened two investigations in February under the Sedition Act. That’s when they really threw the book at me.

The government hasn’t just targeted me and my associates; it also has cracked down on the entire ecosystem of free expression. Three companies that printed my books were raided and warned not to print my books in the future or their licenses would be revoked. Likewise, bookstores that carried my book were raided and their licenses were threatened. As a result, no one dares print or sell my books.

In such an environment, people like me must turn to the Internet to share our opinions and art. But now that space is under attack as well.

Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey recently proclaimed that the platform is a bastion of “freedom of expression” and speaking “truth to power.” With my personal slogan of “How Can I Be Neutral, Even My Pen Has a Stand,” I embrace his vision. The reality, though, is quite different.

If a person can face sedition charges for stating a belief in 140 characters or less, then there is no freedom of expression. The Malaysian Sedition Act is incredibly broad, banning any act, speech or publication purported to bring contempt against the government or royal sultans. In 2012, Najib pledged to repeal the act because, he said, it “represents a bygone era.” He’s since reversed course and moved to strengthen it.

I’ve been charged with one count of sedition for each supposedly seditious tweet. I could successfully fight one, or maybe two, counts, but nine counts and a potential 43-year prison sentence make clear that the government wants to make an example of me. I need help from people around the world who share my commitment to freedom of expression.

Amnesty International is highlighting my case as part of its Write for Rights campaign, the largest human rights effort on the planet. You can personally write to Prime Minister Najib and call on his government to drop the charges against me and to abolish laws like the Sedition Act that squelch freedom of expression. Public pressure from around the globe can make a big difference in my case and beyond. I hope you’ll join with me to take a stand.

 

 

 

 

Congratulations Zunar


November 25, 2015

Congratulations Zunar

by Kean Wong

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com

Sapuman -Zunar

Supermah

For a well-travelled Malaysian zipping between London, Cambridge, Kuala Lumpur, Sydney, Washington DC and New York, cartoonist Zunar belies his reputation as a hell-raiser activist, always sketching our homeland in black and white, the splashes of colour only to accentuate the differences he has with the ruling Barisan Nasional.

Instead of his apparently fearsome reputation which has earned him a record nine charges for sedition and a possible 43 years in prison, Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque is mild-mannered, a little droll, and funny in the way Malaysian ministers are not.

Like his satirical cartoons that often harshly portray a nation on the skids, the symmetry of culprits making off with glittering loot as the rakyat go under, the past week had a similar balance of scenes as US President Barack Obama thrilled his Malaysian hosts in Kuala Lumpur while Zunar made his case for urgent Malaysian reforms to the US Senate’s Human Rights Caucus in Washington DC and the US Mission to the United Nations in New York.

As Zunar claimed again last night in his speech in New York when receiving this year’s top media freedom prize from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), “the government of Malaysia is a cartoon government – a government of the cartoon, by the cartoon, for the cartoon.”

“For asking people to laugh at the government, I was handcuffed, detained, thrown into the lock up,” he told a slice of Manhattan’s moneyed elite at the glittering black-tie gala in the storied Waldorf Astoria, which raised US$2 million (RM8.43 million) for the CPJ’s work.

Congrats Zunar

“But I kept laughing and encouraging people to laugh with me. Why? Because laughter is the best form of protest. My mission is to fight through cartoon.”

“Why pinch when you can punch? People need to know the truth and I will continue to fight through my cartoons. I want to give a clear message to the aggressors – they can ban my cartoons, they can ban my books, but they cannot ban my mind,” the political cartoonist said, echoing the points he’s been making in the past few weeks in London, Sydney and Washington DC.

In Sydney the previous week, Zunar had regaled the big crowd of Malaysians and Australians at the state Parliament how the corruption scandals that have rocked Malaysia inform his arresting caricatures, his trials of satire, and his outrageously popular female protagonist’s helmet-haired symmetry, consumed in flights of fantasy money and jewels.

Obama at Taylors University

Although he insists that Malaysia has become a “kartunation”, “run by kartuns for kartuns,” many Malaysians demurred with that last part, preferring they were left out of an increasingly melancholy joke’s punchline.

For his hosts the Sydney MPs Jamie Parker and Jenny Leong, they were bemused and perhaps a little incredulous that a colonial-era law like the Sedition Act was still widely used to silence critics of a government in a proudly independent Southeast Asian nation.

Leong, who explained her father was originally from Sibu but never returned after his studies in Adelaide, welcomed Zunar to “a nation, a Parliament that celebrates the freedom of expression”.

The Australia Director of New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), Elaine Pearson, also took the lectern to congratulate Zunar for his “courage in cartooning” and for being awarded HRW’s Hellman/Hammett grant this year, which helps him work and publish at a time when his books are banned and whole print runs are confiscated in the thousands of copies in Malaysia.

In Washington DC in the past several days, Zunar caught up with his growing legion of friends and fans in the epicentre of America’s political cartooning community like Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Matt Wuerker of Politico.

For a town obsessed with China and its impact on the Asian neighbourhood now unsettled by apparently waning American power, Zunar’s interventions were effectively rendered in forums on Capitol Hill and media like The Washington Post.

While President Obama made plain the key role Malaysia (and Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Razak) plays in America’s plans coping with a rising China asserting itself across the region – in what some in Washington agreed was a “blingtastic success” among young people in Manila and Kuala Lumpur, thanks partly to Obama’s fable-like story of an Indonesian childhood – Zunar on the other side of the world stubbornly kept the stage curtains a little askew, to highlight what the cartoonist alleges was the misleading golf game indulged in at top levels.

Like many Americans following the clampdown on human rights in Malaysia, detailed in last month’s HRW report ‘Creating a Culture of Fear: the Criminalisation of Peaceful Expression in Malaysia’, Matt Wuerker is not amused.

“Sadly, Zunar’s case doesn’t surprise me,” said the softly spoken Wuerker, ahead of Zunar’s arrival in Washington.“It’s entirely too common the response to cartoons and satire in so many parts of the world today. In some sense, it’s a compliment to irascible cartoonists like Zunar. It just demonstrates the power and effectiveness their work.

“At the same time the response by a government that uses threats, lawsuits and other forms of intimidation to try silence dissent just demonstrates a weakness and fragility of their hold on power. Governments that are strong, popular and enjoy the support of their people have nothing to fear from a little ridicule and a few cartoons. Yes, I’m blessed to live in a part of the world where people can take a joke.”

For a Malaysian like Zunar facing jail time – and who has arguably cut through the fog of indifference about Malaysia in noisy power centres like Washington with little more than his starkly drawn portraits of a troubled nation and a rude sense of humour – it’s no joke.