KUALA LUMPUR, April 3 ― Cartoonist Zulkiflee SM Anwar Ulhaque, better known as Zunar, pleaded not guilty today to nine charges under the Sedition Act over tweets he posted criticising the judiciary and the government over Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy conviction.
Zunar was accused of “publishing seditious material” through nine postings on microblogging site Twitter which, among others, slammed the judiciary for alleged bias, and claimed that Putrajaya had interfered in Anwar's trial.
“I don't think I did anything wrong… A tweet is just my expression and that's what every Malaysian thinks of the judiciary and every system in Malaysia,” Zunar said before the charges were read out at the Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court this morning.
“This is excessive. This is a record high for a person to be charged… which means he's facing a maximum of 43 years in prison,” Zunar's lawyer Latheefa Koya said.
Zunar was charged under Section 4 (1) (c) of the Sedition Act 1948, which deals with individuals who publish seditious publications, among other things
Judge Zainol Rashid Hussain set bail at RM2,500 for each charge, which amounted to a total RM22,500. The judge also set May 20 for mention.
In court earlier, Datuk Ambiga Sreenavasan, one of Zunar’s lawyers, said the bail initially suggested by Deputy Public Prosecutors Mohd Nordin Ismail and Lee Keng Fatt at RM50,000 was too “excessive”, given that the maximum fine for the charge was only RM5,000.
Ambiga added outside the courtroom later that Zunar's nine charges were a clear indication of how Putrajaya is using the Sedition Act to oppress detractors, especially in the last month.
“It's a record use of the Sedition Act. You're talking about just in one month, the number of arrests, they're using the Sedition Act to oppress. There's no doubt about it,” she said.
Earlier this week, three journalists from local news portal The Malaysian Insider (TMI), as well as its chief executive Jahabar Sadiq and Ho Kay Tat, who heads The Edge Media Group that owns TMI, were arrested under the Sedition Act 1948 and the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.
The arrests of the journalists comes amid a string of sedition investigations against Pakatan Rakyat MPs such as Rafizi Ramli from PKR as well as Tony Pua and Nga Kor Ming from the DAP over their tweets critical of police action and Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy conviction.
Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah Anwar was also arrested and detained overnight for a sedition investigation over a speech she delivered in Parliament on behalf of the jailed Anwar.
Since Anwar’s sodomy conviction in February, Inspector-general of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar and his police force have engaged in an apparent crackdown on dissent by lawyers, politicians and social activist movements.