Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, better known as Zunar, uses his political cartoons to test the limits of free expression in Malaysia. During his twenty-plus year career, he’s been jailed and his books banned. On July 7, 2011, Zunar was awarded the Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award by the Cartoonists Rights Network International. Here’s a selection of his cartoons featuring some of his favorite subjects.
Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque’s acceptance speech at the “2011 Award in Editorial Cartooning,” St Petersburg, Florida, July 7, 2011.
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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman, this is the world. Malaysian authorities confronted 20,000 demonstrators this past weekend. The protesters were peaceful, the government was not, it responded to the march with tear-gas, water cannons, and mass arrests. You see, leaders in the southeast Asian country have a problem with opposition activists. People like political cartoonist Zunar, his work appears on the internet and in the book Cartoon-o-phobia. Zunar was in Saint Petersburg, Florida on Friday to except an award from Cartoonist’s Rights Network International. Zunar told us he is no favorite of the Malaysian authorities.
Zunar: My cartoon is focused on corruption as well as abuse of power by Malaysian government. There’s two main characters in my cartoon, they are prime minister and his wife. So she is on secret of public perception that the prime minister wife is more powerful than the prime minister himself. So those two are my main character in my cartoon.
Werman: I can see why that has gotten you in trouble, I mean, to fight corruption and fight abusive power and singling out the prime minister and his wife. What kind of trouble has that gotten you into?
Zunar: Oh yeah, last year I was, my office was raided by ten police officers and I was arrested and detained. And previously, they banned all my books on the ground that the content is a threat to national security and the government investigated me and decided to carry maximum jail, three years. They haven’t trashed me yet but they trash me any time.
Werman: Your book, Cartoon-o-phobia, I’m wondering what you are able to convey about the current situation in Malaysia with abusive power and corruption in cartoons that you can’t say in traditional reporting.
Zunar: In Malaysia, all newspapers are controlled by the government using a law printing and pressing, where every media’s honor have to apply license every year and the government have a right to reject or to grant their license without any explanation and on top of it the decision by the government cannot be challenged in the court of law. So they shut any alternative views and news. So this includes political cartoons, so we need to go to internet to get alternative views. So that’s what it did to me.
Werman: I mean, despite the censorship it sounds like you’re determined to get your cartoons out there and for people to see them. You’ve got this motto “why pinch when you can punch”, what do you mean by that?
Zunar: In order to make an impact, you need to do it to the fullest, you cannot do it halfway, or you cannot back down. Because if you do that, it mean that you sacrifice your principal.
Werman: It sounds, Zunar, like you’re quite a thorn in the side of the status quo in Malaysia. What kind of security precautions do you take? Are you ever concerned about your own safety?
Zunar: Ah, yeah, of course as a human I’m very concerned about my security, but I’m thankful I got a lot of support back in Malaysia from supporters as we are as human right organization. That give me strength as well as now, an international community, like Cartoonist’s Rights Network International, give me courage in editorial cartooning. This award give me a strength, like giving a spinach to Popeye.
Werman: Like giving spinach to Popeye!
Zunar: Yeah, giving spinach to Popeye is very, is a new strength.
Zunar: So that, this support helped me a lot, like telling Malaysian government that you’re being watched by world. So be nice to Zunar, maybe.
Werman: Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, A.K.A, Zunar, an editorial cartoonist in Malaysia.
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