Malaysia: Travel ban for Zunar and other HRDs a violation of right to freedom of expression

Malaysia: Travel ban for Zunar and other HRDs a violation of right to freedom of expression - Protection

ARTICLE 19 urges the Malaysia government to lift the travel ban imposed on famous Malaysian cartoonist Zunar, as discovered by the cartoonist when trying to leave Malaysia on 17 October 2016.

“The Sedition Act under which Zunar is facing multiple charges for simply criticising the independence of the judiciary is itself a clear violation of international human rights law relating to the right to freedom of expression,” said Oliver Spencer, Head of Asia.

“The imposition of a travel ban just increases the violation – the United Nations Human Rights Committee has explicitly and clearly stated that it is incompatible with the right to freedom of expression ‘to restrict the freedom of journalists and others who seek to exercise their freedom of expression (such as persons who wish to travel to human rights-related meetings) to travel outside the State party,’ ” he added.

“The UN Special Rapporteurs have also as recently as August condemned the use of travel restrictions by governments as a repressive measure used to increase the chilling effect on journalists and human rights defenders.”

According to Zulkiflee SM Anwar Ulhaque, known as Zunar, the order to ban him from traveling was directed from the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Khalid Abu Bakar, on 24 June 2016, but Zunar only found out when he tried to leave the country to attend an event, and was stopped in the airport by immigration authorities. Until now Zunar has not been provided with any valid reason for his travel ban.

There are no general powers under the Immigration Act for the Director General of Immigration nor the IGP to ban anyone from leaving the country, except on bankruptcy and tax evasion allegations. The travel ban that has been issued against Zunar is only the latest in the long, arbitrary and systematic travel restrictions against prominent human rights defenders and activists who have been critical of the government.

Zunar’s travel ban is the latest attack on human rights and civil liberties in the countdown to the upcoming national protest, known as “BERSIH 5” which is set to see thousands take to the streets to protest against government corruption.

In April 2015, Zunar was charged under nine counts of the Sedition Act (1948), and if convicted he faces 43 years in prison. Zunar has been a fierce critic of the government and used his cartoons as a medium of expression. He has faced continuous harassment from the government including the banning of many of his books, threats to revoke the license of his printers and intimidation against his booksellers.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Malaysian government to lift the ban on Zunar and other HRDs with immediate effect, and provide the Malaysian public with an explanation as to why Zunar was banned, and publish the list of those persons banned from leaving the country.

ARTICLE 19 reminds the government that the right to freedom of expression applies regardless of frontiers. The ban on Zunar appears to be demonstration of the authorities’ arbitrary use of power to stifle freedom of expression. The de facto purpose of this ban appears to be illegitimately used to restrict Zunar from continuing with his public criticism of the government, including at the UN.

ARTICLE 19 also finds the travel ban to be a disproportionate and unnecessary reaction aiming to prevent him from carrying out his human rights defence. Zunar has repeatedly travelled in and out of the country, attending court appearances in between. Zunar has stated that he will never abscond because he intends for the government to embarrass themselves internationally for harassing and imprisoning a cartoonist for a tweet.