KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 17 — The travel ban on cartoonist Zulkiflee SM Anwar Ulhaque was done in bad faith and is likely an attempt by the authorities to prevent him from criticising the government internationally, a legal rights group said today.
Lawyers for Liberty director Eric Paulsen said the ban was an infringement of the constitutional rights of the cartoonist better known as Zunar, and an abuse of immigration power.
“The travel ban on Zunar is a serious infringement on his civil liberties under Article 5, right to life and Article 8, equality.
“As no reason has been given for the ban, it must assumed that it was arbitrary and done in bad faith,” Paulsen told Malay Mail Online in an immediate reaction to the cartoonist’s arrest.
“Zunar is a well known critic of the government, and it would not be unreasonable to assume that he has been banned in order to prevent him from further criticising the government internationally,” he added.
Zunar was barred today from leaving the country ahead of a flight to Singapore.
He said an immigration officer informed him that the travel ban was an instruction from Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar effective last June 24.
Under the Immigration Act, the agency has the discretionary power to bar anyone from leaving the country but Paulsen argued it cannot be arbitrarily used against those deemed critical of the establishment.
“This is a clear abuse of immigration powers as being critical of the govt cannot constitute a valid ground for a travel ban,” he said.
The LFL director also noted that Zunar has not missed any of his sedition hearing despite having travelled extensively after his arrests, which strengthens the perception that the authorities have no solid reason to bar him from traveling.
“We don’t know as no reason was given. In any event, that cannot be a good reason as we have not had any complaints from the AGC or the courts regarding his court attendance.
“Since his criminal charge, he has travelled extensively, to the US, Europe, Australia etc, and there has never been any issue regarding his court attendance,” he said.
Zunar was slapped with nine sedition charges in April last year that could see him face 43 years in prison.
He was accused of making nine “seditious” tweets which, among others, alleged judicial bias and government intervention in PKR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy trial and conviction.
The cartoonist, whose art frequently lampoons Malaysian politics, said he was flying to Singapore to give a talk.