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Malaysian cartoonist charged with 'record' number of sedition charges

A Malaysian cartoonist faces more than 40 years in prison after being charged with several counts of sedition. Known as Zunar, he has appealed for support in what he's called a politically motivated case.

A Malaysian cartoonist famous for ridiculing the country's ruling coalition has been charged with a record nine counts of sedition over tweets criticizing the judiciary.

Zulkiflee Anwar Alhaque, better known as Zunar (pictured above), faces up to 43 years in jail if found guilty on all nine charges.

Sedition is defined as the crime of saying, writing, or carrying out other actions that encourage people to disobey their government.

Zunar's lawyer said the charges levied against her client on Friday were excessive and aim to silence government critics.

"They are really trying to shut me off from criticizing the government, so I think it's clearly politically motivated," a defiant Zunar said as he arrived at a Kuala Lumpur courthouse dressed in a mock prison jumpsuit.

Social media as a political tool

The charges stem from nine posts Zunar made on Twitter on February 10 criticizing the judiciary when opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim began a five-year prison term after losing his

final appeal against a sodomy charge

.

Zunar posted a new cartoon on Twitter after his release on bail, saying he would "draw until the last drop of ink."

It was cartoons like the one included in the tweet below, which led to his arrest and record number of sedition charges:

Malaysia's ruling coalition, which has been in power for 58 years, keeps a tight rein on mainstream media.

Prime Minister Najib Razak's government launched a crackdown on freedom of speech after its worst-ever showing in the 2013 elections against the Anwar-led opposition.

Government critics, including opposition politicians, academics, activists, and journalists have also been arrested for sedition or other charges that rights and legal groups call "highly questionable."

Human Rights Watch described Zunar's case as part of a government move to turn "peaceful criticism into a criminal act that threatens the state."

lw/sms (AP, AFP)

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