Malaysia bans political cartoons critical of government; artist vows to keep drawing

By Julia Zappei, AP
Thursday, June 24, 2010

Malaysia bans political cartoons critical of gov’t

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia banned three works of political cartoons that criticize the government, but one of the artists said Friday he was obligated to highlight issues other cartoonists would not.

The government said the cartoons in two books and a magazine posed a security threat.

Malaysia has banned dozens of publications in recent years, but usually because of sexual content or alleged misrepresentation of Islam, its official religion. But the latest ban is certain to spark complaints that the government is disallowing critical views.

“All three publications have been banned for their contents that can influence the people to revolt against the leaders and government policies,” said a statement by Home Ministry Secretary General Mahmood Adam on the official news agency Bernama. “The contents are not suitable and detrimental to public order,” he said without elaborating.

The works are mainly collections of comics by Zulkifli Anwar Ulhaque, known as Zunar, and other local cartoonists, questioning current events, such as police shootings and the sodomy trial of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

The books, titled “Perak, Land of Cartoons” in Malay and “1 Funny Malaysia,” were published late last year. The magazine, “Issues in Cartoons” in Malay, with a circulation of 15,000 copies, was launched in February with three volumes coming out since then, Zunar said.

Independent online news portal Malaysiakini, which publishes “1 Funny Malaysia,” said it would file a court case to challenge the ban of its book. Its chief executive officer, Premesh Chandran, said the book was a compilation of cartoons already published on Malaysiakini’s website.

“It’s peculiar that the book is banned … as so far there is no evidence of public disturbance stemming from these cartoons,” he told The Associated Press.

Cartoonist Zunar, who has published the other two works, told the AP he was still waiting for an official letter from the ministry but vowed not to stop drawing.

“In Malaysia the government is like this. They won’t allow alternative views. You can do cartoons, you can do whatever art work you want, but it must be in line with the government (view),” said the 47-year-old, who has been a professional cartoonist for more than 20 years.

“Drawing cartoons it’s my social obligation … I will highlight the issues that Malaysian cartoonist have failed to highlight so far,” he said. “They can ban my books, they can ban my publications, but they can’t ban my mind.”

He said hundreds of copies of his publications had been seized by authorities for inspections from vendors throughout Malaysia. Another magazine he began publishing was also banned last year after the first volume.

He estimated the latest ban may cost him up to 70,000 ringgit ($22,000) as distributors were likely to return his publications. Printing, distributing or possessing prohibited material is punishable by up to three years in jail.

Activists and opposition leaders have frequently accused the government of disallowing dissent.

Last month, Malaysian authorities seized more than 6,000 copies of a pro-opposition newspaper, saying it did not have a printing permit. The publisher insisted otherwise.

All Malaysian publications require government-approved licenses that must be renewed annually.


Zunar’s website:

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