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Zunar holds a copy of his banned cartoon book in 2010. The cartoonist has been arrested on accusations of sedition. (AP/Lai Seng Sin)

Cartoonist detained for critical tweets in Malaysia

February 11, 2015 9:20 AM ET

Bangkok, February 11, 2015--Malaysian authorities arrested a political cartoonist on Tuesday on accusations of sedition, according to news reports. Zulkiflee Awar Ulhaque, also known as Zunar, was detained after posting critical tweets about a court decision to imprison the country's main opposition leader.

Police raided Zunar's home at around 9 p.m. and took him to Kuala Lumpur's Dang Wangi police station, news reports said. Kuala Lumpur Magistrate Court Judge Mohd Isa Md Nor granted a court order today to remand Zunar for three days while police carried out an investigation, according to reports. If convicted under the Sedition Act, Zunar faces up to three years in prison.

Earlier on Tuesday, Police Inspector General Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said authorities would act against Zunar in relation to his tweets about a Supreme Court verdict to jail opposition politician Anwar Ibrahim for five years on sodomy charges. Soon after the verdict was announced, Zunar wrote, "Those in the black robes were proud when passing sentence. The rewards from political masters must be lucrative," Agence France-Presse reported. Other news reports said the tweet referred to the judges as "lackeys" of Prime Minister Najib Razak's ruling United Malays National Organization.

The Associated Press reported that Zunar also posted a cartoon on Twitter that portrayed the prime minister as the judge in Anwar's court case. Two opposition politicians were also placed under police investigation for social media posts criticizing the verdict, reports said.

"Malaysian leaders are so afraid of critical scrutiny that it doesn't matter whether Zunar draws or tweets--they will resort to harassment and even arrest to try to silence him," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. "We call on authorities to release Zunar immediately, drop all charges against him, and get to work reforming the sedition law that Prime Minister Najib Razak once acknowledged has no place in Malaysian society."

Even before his arrest, Zunar was harassed by authorities. On January 28, police raided Zunar's Kuala Lumpur-based office and seized more than 100 copies of two of his cartoon books, including a volume entitled Conspiracy to Imprison Anwar. Zunar tweeted at the time that police acted under the Printing Press and Publication Act, the Sedition Act, and the Penal Code.

Zunar told CPJ that he gave two statements to police about his book in November 2014 and that the subsequent confiscation of the volumes was politically motivated. "I am responsible for all the contents of my cartoons," he wrote to CPJ on February 2. "I will face the risk--no law can stop me."

Zunar was arrested in September 2010, hours ahead of the scheduled launch of a book of his political cartoons, Cartoon-o-phobia. He is still under police investigation on charges of sedition filed against him that year, according to news reports.

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