Zunar Responds to Malaysian Prime Minister's Promise of Reform


Photograph of Zunar in Washington, DC, in July 2011 by Drew Rougier-Chapman

On September 15, 2011, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak pledged on national television to repeal the Internal Security Act of 1960 (ISA), and, to institute an official review of the Restricted Residence Act of 1993 (RRA) and the Printing Presses and Publications Act of 1984 (PPPA).  Is the announcement by Prime Minister Razak a sincere step towards reform or an insincere election year promise?  Cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, aka Zunar, in his work and in a written statement to CRNI says the Prime Minister's pledge is "just a lip service and PR exercise" in the run-up to likely November elections.  Click on Malaysia Repeals Internal Security Act from UPI.com to read more about the Prime Minister's announcement.     

Under ISA, peaceful political activists and protesters, in addition to militants and terrorists, can and have been arrested and detained for years without trials.  Under RRA, criminal suspects can and have been detained without trials in districts far from their home districts for up to two years.  The PPPA, which prohibits publishing without an annual government issued license, has been employed to prevent the publishing of books, magazines and newspapers (though, to date, not strictly online publishing) that are critical of the government.

Zunar, CRNI's 2011 Courage Award recipient, has long sparred with the government over restrictions on speech.  After book and magazine collections of his editorial cartoons were confiscated and after he was detained for merely expressing his political opinions in one of his books, Zunar challenged the government's actions in court.  To read more about the government's suppression of Zunar's political speech and the story of Zunar's unwillingness to back down, click on Oceania/East Asia in our Art to Die For collection.  Click on Courage Award to see and hear Zunar explain in his Courage Award acceptance speech how the Malaysian government is silencing any dissenting opinions.

Following Prime Minister Razak's announcement, Zunar sent CRNI a written statement that made the following four points.  One, "ISA will be replaced with another law" allowing people to be detained without trial.  Two, the government's claim that the new laws will be specifically for terrorists "and not for the opposition ... is the same thing [they said] when they introduced the ISA 60 years ago.  Three, there "is absolutely no media reform because the PM only mention[ed] ... 'no need to review license[s]'...."  The government still has "an absolute power to deny [a publishing license] application."  Four, "In his speech Najib did not touch [on] the fundamental issues for reform in Malaysia ... free and fair elections ... corruptions ... racism ... judicial reform ... [and] the police brutality issue."  Below is Zunar's cartoon in reaction to the Prime Minister's announcement.

To read the Wall Street Journal's coverage of this story, click on Cartoonist Wants Kuala Lumpur to Lift Book Ban from October 8, 2011, by James Hookway.