Malaysian cartoonist held for sedition in swoop on dissent over Anwar Ibrahim’s jailing


(U.S. News) – “Clearly it is designed to intimidate and instil fear in people on social media to go silent on their views. It is a further erosion of freedom of expression in Malaysia” 


Malaysian police have detained a cartoonist and are investigating two lawmakers for sedition over tweets and a cartoon condemning the judiciary for dismissing opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s final appeal against a sodomy conviction.

Anwar began a 5-year jail sentence Tuesday after the country’s top court ruled there was overwhelming evidence showing that he sodomized a former male aide in 2008.

Police detained cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Alhaque, better known as Zunar, at his home late Tuesday over a series of tweets on Anwar’s case. A cartoon he posted on Twitter showed Prime Minister Najib Razak as the judge in Anwar’s case.

National police chief Khalid Abu Bakar also directed his men to investigate opposition lawmakers Nga Kor Ming and Rafizi Ramli for sedition. Nga tweeted it was time for the people to oppose a cruel regime, while Rafizi tweeted a cartoon of a judge wearing a white wig with the dollar sign on it.

The police moves were criticized by rights groups, with New York-based Human Rights Watch saying it was shameful that Malaysian authorities had turned peaceful criticism into a criminal act.

“Clearly it is designed to intimidate and instil fear in people on social media to go silent on their views. It is a further erosion of freedom of expression in Malaysia,” said the group’s Asia deputy director Phil Robertson.

Anwar’s case was widely seen at home and abroad as politically motivated to eliminate any threats to the ruling coalition, whose popularity has slowly been eroding since 2008 after more than five decades of unquestioned dominance.

He is the most vocal and visible symbol of the opposition’s resurgence and seen as the most potent political threat to Prime Minister Najib.

Anwar was accused of sodomizing Saiful Bukhari Azlan, then 23, who was working as a lowly aide in the opposition campaign office in 2008.

Homosexuality is a crime in Muslim-majority Malaysia and is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and by whipping, although prosecutions are rare.

Anwar was acquitted by the High Court in 2012 but the Appeals Court overturned the acquittal in March last year and sentenced him to five years in prison. Anwar appealed in Federal Court, but lost the battle Tuesday.

The U.S., U.K., Australia and the E.U. expressed concern over Anwar’s jailing, while human rights groups such as Amnesty International and the International Federation for Human Rights called the verdict “disgraceful” and a “black day” for justice.

The Federal Court in its ruling said Anwar’s allegation that the case was a political conspiracy “remains an allegation, unsubstantiated by any facts whatsoever.” It also rejected the defense argument that the semen samples taken from Saiful’s body were tampered with by police.

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