KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia has arrested a cartoonist for sedition over a Twitter post that criticized the judiciary for upholding a five-year jail term for opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who accused the courts of “bowing to the dictates of the political masters”.
The country’s highest court on Tuesday rejected Anwar’s appeal against a conviction for sodomy, illegal in Muslim-majority Malaysia, so sending back to prison the politician who poses the greatest threat to the long-ruling coalition.
Zulkifli Anwar Ulhaque, better known as Zunar, was arrested on Tuesday night after Malaysia’s police chief ordered an investigation into his Malay-language tweet that suggested the judges had been paid off by politicians.
“Profits from the lords of politics must be lucrative,” read the tweet, in part.
Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government has rejected any suggestion of interference in the case, saying that Malaysia had an independent judiciary, and there had been many rulings against senior government figures.
Zunar, 52, is to be detained until Friday to allow the police to investigate, official news agency Bernama said on Wednesday.
Khalid Abu Bakar, Malaysia’s inspector-general of police, himself made use of Twitter to order the investigation of Zunar’s tweet, as well as messages by two opposition politicians, also on sedition grounds.
Malaysian authorities seem to be turning peaceful criticism into a criminal act that threatens the state, Phil Robertson, of rights group Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
“All these authorities are accomplishing is to further erode freedom of expression in Malaysia and inspire fear in those who wish to speak up for their rights,” he added.
In a cartoon on Zunar’s Twitter feed, a black-robed figure labeled “PM Najib” brings down an outsize gavel on a bespectacled, and startled-looking, Anwar. Nearby a wastepaper basket holds a large book prominently inscribed “Law”.
Reporting by Trinna Leong; Editing by Clarence Fernandez