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Zunar case: arrest was lawful, seizing cartoons was not
A Malaysian court has finally ruled in the lawsuit sought by cartoonist Zulkifli Anwar Ulhaque (AKA Zunar) after being arrested under the country’s Sedition Act and Printing Presses and Public Act and his cartoon book collections seized. Human Rights Watch reports that the court has ruled that the arrest was lawful. However the court ruled that the state’s continued holding of Zunar’s books and artwork was unlawful after the prosecutor opted not to file charges against the Zunar. The Court ordered their return as well as ordering the registrar of the court to determine any damages that should be awarded to Zunar.
Zunar’s lawsuit stems from police actions on September 24, 2010, several hours before the expected launch of his book Cartoon-O-Phobia. Police raided Zunar’s office in Kuala Lumpur, confiscated all copies of the book they could find, and arrested Zunar for sedition and publishing without a license. After handcuffing him, police ferried Zunar to seven different police stations during the course of an evening before detaining him overnight in a police station one hour’s drive from Kuala Lumpur. Home Minister Hishammudduin Hussein maintained at the time that Zunar was arrested for poking fun at the judiciary and at religion. However, a judge ordered Zunar released on September 25 without charge when arresting officers could not identify what content in Cartoon-O-Phobia they considered to be seditious.
In subsequent civil court proceedings, the first defendant, arresting officer Arikrishna Apparau, asserted he had examined Cartoon-O-Phobia, and believed the cartoons capable of confusing Malaysians and inciting hatred of the government and individual leaders. Zunar responded that the police never explained what content in his book they considered seditious, thus violating his right to be promptly informed of the grounds for his arrest.
In his civil suit, Zunar sought the return of all confiscated books plus damages. He alleged that his livelihood had been seriously affected by the continued ban on Cartoon-O-Phobia and two previous books, 1 Funny Malaysia and Perak Darul Kartun (Perak, Land of Cartoon). Government officials have threatened legal action against printing presses and publishers associated with Zunar’s work, and against bookstores who stocked his books. In 2011, Zunar received the prestigious Hellman-Hammett award, given to writers and authors facing political persecution and violations of their rights to free expression.