Sunday, January 24, 2016

Zunar Shows Pen is Stronger than Sword: Continues Drawing Despite Prospect of 43 Years Imprisonment for "Sedition"

To listen to our Subversity Online 48-minute interview with Zunar, click here.

Back cover of Zunar's recent book, Sapuman: Man of Steal.

Zunar during our interview
Irvine -- Political Cartoonist Zunar, whose pointed drawings target corruption and injustice in Malaysia, faces a combined 43 years' imprisonment in a trial for seditious tweets slated to begin later this week in Kuala Lumpur.  The tweets lampooned the decision to jail opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on sodomy charges.

Zunar was in Irvine as guest speaker on a UCI Law School panel of cartoonists at the Free Expression conference that lasted from this past Friday through Sunday at UC Irvine and USC.  The timing was not coincidental.  It was, after all, a year after fellow political cartoonists were gunned down in Paris at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine.  In fact, Zunar became the first Muslim to condemn the attack, and as he explained in our Subversity Online interview Saturday evening 23 January 2016, even though he disagreed with what they drew regarding Muslims.   Appearing by video hookup at the conference was also a healthy, youthful and intelligent Edward Snowden, the whistle-blower,  from exile in Russia.

In a Washington Post op ed titled "The Malaysian government has no sense of humor - and that's dangerous," earlier this month, Zunar's words detailing government harrassment are chilling, in wake of of the PRC's apparent extraordinary rendition of five Hong Kong booksellersIn that op ed, he made these points:
  • My office has been raided multiple times since 2009, and authorities have confiscated thousands of my cartoon books. In 2010, five of my books — including “1 Funny Malaysia” — were banned by the home affairs minister, who declared the contents “detrimental to public order.” Later that year I was detained by police and locked up for two days after the publication of “Cartoon-O-Phobia.” To say the least, the Malaysian government has no sense of humor.
  • In late 2014, my webmaster was called in for questioning, and three of my assistants were arrested for selling my books. I was also brought in for questioning by the police, and the company that processes orders for my website was forced to disclose my customer list. In January, the police raided my office and then opened two investigations in February under the Sedition Act. That’s when they really threw the book at me.
  • The government hasn’t just targeted me and my associates; it also has cracked down on the entire ecosystem of free expression. Three companies that printed my books were raided and warned not to print my books in the future or their licenses would be revoked. Likewise, bookstores that carried my book were raided and their licenses were threatened. As a result, no one dares print or sell my books.  
For the Hong Kong booksellers, by the PRC apparently abducting the five booksellers, the publishing house and its associated bookstore and web site, Causeway Bay Books, have effectively been shut down.

 As for Zunar, luckily around the world activists have rallied to his defense, including the Chinese dissident artist Ai Wei Wei (left), as Amnesty International asked netizens to Write for Rights to demand the charges against Zunar be dropped immediately.

While U.S. libraries in academia and outside, such as the Library of Congress, collect some of his 18 political cartoon books, Zunar believes no libraries in Malaysia dare acquire his cartoons.  His book titles are especially inventive:  The latest takes off on Superman, with a pointed jab at his country's prime minister as "man of steal".   Meanwhile the London-based Sarawak Report suggests that the target of Zunar's pen may be negotiating a way out even with his millions.  So is Zunar's pen actually stronger than a sword in regime change?

In our interview, Zunar appeared incredibly composed and even jovial, for someone facing potential decades-long imprisonment.  He was philosophical as well, saying he was optimistic about regime change from dictatorship to democracy in the future, if not in his lifetime.  He indicated he started cartooning at age 12 but it was later during a career as medical technician that he found his true calling in political cartooning. His other target beyond the corruption and injustice?  It's capitalism.  For that is what is keeping the people poor in his country.

Zunar also believes the deportation of Hong Kong teen activist Joshua Wong from Penang last May is because, after Arab Spring, the authorities in Malaysia do not want any trouble from young people in the country.  While Zunar's books are banned from stores in Malaysia, he continues to proliferate his art online through social media, which is, as he told me, alternative media.  His Facebook fan club has over 100,000 "likes".  So he's extremely popular in Malaysia despite what the state tries to do to silence him.

Subversity Show Online interviews Zunar

Cover of Zunar's recent book published in January 2015

1 comment:

frothquaffer said...

Thanks for the interesting post.