Asia

Malaysian cartoonist charged with sedition

Malaysian political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, or "Zunar", reacts with mock handcuffs during his case at Duta Court, in Kuala Lumpur, 03 April 2015 Image copyright EPA
Image caption Zunar alleged political pressure on the judiciary in Anwar Ibrahim's case

Malaysian authorities have charged a prominent cartoonist with sedition over his criticism of the jailing of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, known as Zunar, faces court action over tweets he sent about the widely condemned ruling.

Zunar said the nine charges - one for each tweet he sent - were a bid by the government to silence him.

Rights groups have accused Malaysian authorities of using the sedition laws to suppress dissent.

"They are really trying to shut me off from criticising the government, so I think it's clearly politically motivated," AFP news agency quoted Zunar as saying.

'Ridiculous'

The well-known cartoonist had accused Prime Minister Najib Razak of influencing the judiciary in the case of Mr Anwar, who is the main challenger to the government's hold on power.

Anwar was convicted of sodomising a male aide. Sodomy is illegal in Muslim-majority Malaysia, though very few people are ever prosecuted.

He was acquitted of the charges by a High Court in 2012, but an appeals court overturned the ruling in March 2014. He lost his final appeal in February.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Anwar Ibrahim - the opposition leader - is currently back in jail, after a widely-criticised case

Rights group inside and outside Malaysia have said the case was about removing him as a threat to the ruling coalition. The government denies this.

Zunar's lawyer, Latheefa Koya, told the AFP news agency that they would fight the case. "Sedition is being used in the most ridiculous fashion," she said.

Arrests under the sedition law have spiked recently, with opposition politicians, journalists and lawyers detained.

Earlier this week, five staff members - including the publisher and editor - at news website the Malaysian Insider were arrested on suspicion of sedition.

The group are being investigated for a report relating to a controversial proposal for sharia punishments.

Prime Minister Najib Razak promised to scrap the sedition laws - a legacy of British colonial rule - after public rallies calling for reform in 2012.

But last year he went back on that pledge and said the laws would stay and even be strengthened.

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