KUALA LUMPUR, May 22 ― International non-governmental organisations (NGO) have told the federal government to drop all sedition charges against Zulkiflee SM Anwar Ulhaque, claiming it is a violation of the controversial cartoonist’s human rights and freedom of expression.
The groups claimed in separate statements that the authorities’ continued use of the Sedition Act 1948 against Zulkiflee ― better known by his pen name Zunar ― and others is a concerted effort by Putrajaya to “stifle” criticism against the ruling government.
“We also call upon the Malaysian authorities to repeal the Sedition Act, a law that is used as a tool to stifle legitimate debate and dissent,” said the groups, which includes Article 19, English PEN, and Index on Censorship and international rights group IFEX.
The statements condemned Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak decision to reinforce the Act despite having promised to repeal the colonial era law in 2012.
The groups also accused Najib of extending the Act’s reach and penalties in what they described as a bid to strengthen the ruling Barisan Nasional’s hold on power.
Zunar has been slapped with nine sedition charges over his tweets criticising the judiciary and government for alleged bias over Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s second sodomy conviction on February 10.
He was charged under Section 4 (1) (c) of the Sedition Act 1948, which deals with individuals who publish seditious publications, among other things, and he could face 43 years in prison if found guilty.
On April 10, Parliament passed a Bill to amend the Sedition Act 1948 after a record debate, effectively granting wider jurisdiction to the authorities to take action on speeches or activities that are seen as seditious in nature.
Putrajaya had previously pledged to repeal the Sedition Act that critics say is used to stifle political opposition and dissent, but announced in November last year that it will be retained and expanded instead.