ZUNAR or his real name is Zulkiflee Anwar Haque has been drawing editorial cartoons for the past 20 years in Malaysia.
ZUNAR uses his drawing pen as a weapon to fight state corruption and abuse of power. He has turned the spotlight on local public-interest issues such as the politically explosive (literally!) and unsolved murder of a Mongolianwoman, the political conspiracy against the former-deputy-prime-minister-turned-Opposition-Leader Anwar Ibrahim, the domineering wife of the present prime minister, and the shady Scorpene submarine purchases that are now being investigated in France.
He started acquiring a reputation as a critical, no-holds-barred cartoonist during the “Reformation” period in Malaysia. Sparked by the sacking of the then deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, which shocked and arrested the nation, the people’s uprising provided him much fodder for ‘comment’ through his cartoons.
Unsurprisingly, the government-controlled national newspapers have blacked-out his cartoons since and he has to resort to publishing them online. On the bright side, no less than the country’s leading source of independent news and views, Malaysiakini.com, is publishing them on a regular basis.
ZUNAR holds that when one's country is facing a moral crisis and beset by corruption, abuse of power and violations of human rights, then it is one's duty to take a firm stand against those responsible for it.
As a cartoonist, Zunar feels compelled to show this stand in his work. There are no two ways to it: He must take the risk of fighting for change. Drawing cartoons, to him, becomes a fight for justice. As he puts it, "How can I be neutral, when even my pen has a stand?"
He aims to use cartoons as a weapon to fight corruption and abuse of power of the Malaysian government.
His philosophy is clear: In order to make an impact, we must do what must be done to the fullest. His method is to criticise the most powerful leaders in the hardest of ways.
In his words again: "Why pinch when you can punch?!"
In person, he is as straight-talking as he is in his cartoons. Possessing no false modesty, he considers himself one of the best editorial cartoonists in Malaysia. Indeed, the truth of his claim can be gleaned from how the government ignores him as an artist – he is still persona non grata to the mainstream media despite the international awards he has been winning recently –but constantly harasses him for what he draws.
He has been arrested and briefly detained for drawing cartoons that challenged official views. While detained, he was treated a criminal and put in the same cell with drug abusers and robbers.
Seven of his books are banned by the Malaysian government, his office has been raided twice by enforcers, the printing factories that print his books are constantly raided and vendors throughout the country are often warned not to sell his books.
Below isa summary of the challenges he has faced throughout his career:
“GEDUNG KARTUN” RAID
1. On September 2009, eight officers from the Home Ministry raided his office and confiscated 408 copies of his cartoon magazine, “Gedung Kartun” (Cartoon Store).
2. He was investigated under the Printing Presses and Publications Act, 1984 (PPPA).
3. The government also threatened to charge him under the PPPA, which carries a prison term of up to 3 years ora maximum fine of RM20,000 (approximately USD6,280).
4. Government officials also raided the printing factory and seized the plates.
5. The factory was warned not to print his books in future, or risk having its printing licence revoked.
6. The Home Ministry officials also confiscated “Gedung Kartun” from vendors throughout the country and warned them not to sell his books in future.
7. “Gedung Kartun” was banned thereafter.
8. The loss he incurred was estimated to be around RM10,000 (USD3,000).
“1 FUNNY MALAYSIA”, “PERAK DARUL KARTUN”(PERAK, LAND OF CARTOON) AND“ISU DALAM KARTUN” (ISSUES IN CARTOON) BAN
1. On June 2010, the Malaysian goverment announced the ban on five of his political cartoon publications. The ban was made under the PPPA. The books are:
a. “1 Funny Malaysia”
b. “Perak Darul Kartun”
c. “Isu Dalam Kartun vol 1”
d. “Isu Dalam Kartun vol 2”
e. “Isu Dalam Kartun vol 3”
2. The government claimed that his cartoons "can influence the people to revolt against the leaders and government policies and are detrimental to public order" as a ground for the ban.
3. This resulted in vendors withdrawing all the books and returning them to ZUNAR. The loss incurred was about RM80,000 (USD25,000).
1. On 24 September 2010, ten policemen raided his office in Kuala Lumpur, just four hours before the launch of his new cartoon collection, “Cartoon-O-Phobia”.
He was arrested, detained and locked up for two days under the draconian Sedition Act 1948, which provides fora maximum penalty of three years of imprisonment.
Sixty-six copies of “Cartoon-O-Phobia” and one of the original editorial cartoons meant for the launch were confiscated. All these materials are still in police custody.
2. At the same time, 30 other policemen raided two separate printing factories and warned them not to print his books in the future, or risk having their printing licences revoked.
Police also went to the publisher, Malaysiakini, to search for the remaining stock.
As a result of this intimidation, “Cartoon-O-Phobia” cannot be sold openly. Vendors fear the risk of being charged under the Sedition Act by the government. ZUNAR had to survive on online sales, which has a limited market.
ZUNAR has vowed to continue drawing to expose corrupt practices of the Malaysian government as well as fundamental key issues such as abuse of power, police brutality, violation of human rights and misuse of public funds.
1. July 2010, he filed a suit against the Malaysian government to challenge the banning of his books,“1Funny Malaysia”, “Perak Darul Kartun” and three volumes of “Isu Dalam Kartun”. In the suit, he sought the court to declare that the ban was illegal and an infringement to the rights of free speech guaranteed by the Federal Constitution of Malaysia.
The ban also breached the rules of natural justice and was mala fide. However, the suit was rejected by the court on 14 July 2011.
2. June 2011, he filed another suit to challenge the Malaysian government for unlawfully detaining him on 24 September 2010.
ZUNAR claims that the whole arrest and detention process reeked of bad faith and was politically motivated.
This suit aims to bring into focus the constitutional and human rights arguments, the police’s excessive powers and abuse, illiberal and outdated laws like the Sedition Act and the PPPA, and the collusion between the government and the police.
The court has yet to set a trial date for this suit.
1. Cartoon on Tun
2. 1 Funny Malaysia (banned)
3. Cartoon-O-Phobia (banned)
4. Even My Pen Has A Stand
5. Gedung Kartun (Cartoon Store) (banned)
6. Perak Darul Kartun (Perak, Land of Cartoon) (banned)
7. Isu Dalam Kartun Vol I (Issues in Cartoon) (banned)
8. Isu Dalam Kartun Vol II (Issues in Cartoon) (banned)
9. Isu Dalam Kartun Vol III (Issues in Cartoon) (banned)
1. “Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award 2011” by Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI).
2. Artist-in-Residence 2011 by BilbaoArte/Fundacion and BBK, Spain.
3. Human Rights Watch Hellman/Hammett Award for 2011.