Famed Malaysian political cartoonist Zunar will keynote the 3rd Asian Investigative Journalism Conference this October 6 in Seoul, South Korea. A cartoonist since 1973, Zunar (Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque) has attracted international attention for his sharp satirical humor. The cartoonist brings the heart of an investigative journalist to his craft, digging into the corrupt acts of senior officials and other abuses of power.
Until the change in government this year, Zunar had faced a decade of persecution. Malaysian authorities charged him with nine counts of sedition, threatening him with over 40 years in prison. They have twice imprisoned him, banned him from traveling abroad, raided his office and harassed his staff, printers, vendors, and bookstores. Officials banned five of his cartoon books on grounds that they were “detrimental to public order.”
All that changed in May this year, when Malaysians voted out of office the ruling party and a reformist government took over — one of the few bright spots in a world losing ground to autocracy and censorship. Sedition charges were dropped in July and the travel ban is now gone.
Zunar’s frequent targets have included powerful government officials, including now-former Prime Minister Najib Razak, who notoriously could not explain how nearly $700 million of the country’s sovereign wealth fund — 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB — wound up in his personal bank accounts.
For his years of standing up to authorities, Zunar has been honored with the International Press Freedom Award by the Committee to Protect Journalists in 2015, the Human Rights Watch Hellman/Hammett Award in 2011 and 2015, and the “Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award 2011” by Cartoonists Rights Network International. “They can ban my books, they can ban my cartoon, but they cannot ban my mind,” Zunar is fond of saying. “I will keep drawing until the last drop of my ink.”
The Asian Investigative Journalism Conference (#IJAsia18) takes place October 5-7 in Seoul, South Korea. The largest assembly of investigative and data journalists in Asia, the event is co-hosted by the Global Investigative Journalism Network, Newstapa, and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung. For more information, see the conference website.