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Malaysian political cartoonist harassed anew; Turkish cartoonist exonerated

Political cartoonist Zunar poses with some of his artwork at the IFEX General Meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, June 2013
Political cartoonist Zunar poses with some of his artwork at the IFEX General Meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, June 2013

@Jason Tanner/Erika Pineros

This article was originally published on cartoonistrights.org on 8 November 2014.

One month after winning an appeal against government censorship of two of his cartoon collections, Malaysian political cartoonist Zunar finds his work being banned and confiscated anew.

In a press release on November 6th, 2014 Zunar stated: "Three of my assistants were arrested and taken to Putrajaya Police Station, near Kuala Lumpur today (Thursday) for selling my cartoon books. They were investigated under The Sedition Act, Penal Code and Printing and Press Act. They were released under the police bail."

Zunar has denied police reports that one of the persons arrested was his wife.

The trio had reportedly been displaying Zunar books, cards and cartoon strips near the Putrajaya courtroom complex since the controversial trial of government opposition leader and head of the People's Justice Party, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, commenced.

This latest harassment follows the Malaysian Court-of-Appeal decision in October overturning a 2010 ban of two of Zunar's political cartoon compilations on grounds of sedition.

The appeals court tribunal declared on October 9th that the Home Ministry "acted unreasonably and irrationally in issuing the blanket ban" and the seizure of Zunar's books 1 Funny Malaysia and Perak Darul Kartun.

In that decision the court rejected the government's charge of sedition, stating that "ridiculing politicians does not threaten public order."

Zunar, whose non-cartooning moniker is Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, received word of his court victory in San Francisco while attending an American Association of Editorial Cartoonists convention following the presentation of another of his cartoon collections, Pirates of the Carry-BN to the U.S. Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

In response to the Malaysian Appeal Court decision, Zunar posted his hopes that the ruling would prompt the government to lift bans on four of his other books and desist in the harassment of his printers, in the intimidation of the venders and bookstore owners wanting to sell his books, and would return all his books previously confiscated by the government.

Failing to do this and respect free speech and artistic expression, Zunar concluded, would relegate the administration of Malaysian PM Najib Rezak as "merely a cartoon government."

Zunar recieved word on November 11th that the government of Malaysia is going to a higher court in the hope of overturning his legal victory.

Turkish journalist exonerated

Meanwhile, in a separate case, Turkish cartoonist Musa Kart was found not guilty of "insulting through publication and slander" Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a cartoon published in the daily Cumhuriyet on February 1, 2014.

The offending cartoon depicted Erdogan, then prime minister, as a hologram fecklessly looming over a money-laundering operation that purportedly involved hundreds of people as well as government officials.

After the government squelched any investigation into the alleged scam, Musa Kart noted that the only one going to trial over the affair was the whistle-blowing cartoonist.

"I think that we are inside a cartoon right now," Kart is reported in Today's Zaman as telling the judge as his slander trial, which commenced October 23.

"Because I am in the suspect's seat while charges were dropped against all the suspects. I need to say that this is funny."

Turkey under Erdogan was the world leader in jailing journalists in 2013 according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, with the Istanbul-based media-advocacy group Bianet citing 19 jailed journalists and around 150 awaiting trial .

The court dismissed the charges against the award-winning Musa Kart on the first day of the trial, disappointing President Erdogan's lawyers, who were hoping to land the defiant cartoonist a 10-year prison sentence.

Martin Rowson, cartoonist for The Guardian, initiated a cartoon protest of Erdogan's attempt to jail Musa Kart - which saw Erdogan caricatures flooding the internet.

Both Zunar and Musa Kart are past winners of CRNI Courage in Cartooning awards.

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