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Laughter as a Political Tool

January 31, 2019 in Events, General

The excellent and courageous Malaysian cartoonist Zunar (Zulkiflee Ulhaque) recently gave a talk entitled ‘Laughter as a Political Tool’ at the Institute of Advanced Studies, University College London. There was also an accompanying exhibition of his campaigning cartoon work.

Zunar speaking at the event (pictures of him in handcuffs featured heavily as he’s frequently been arrested)

Back in his home country he has faced continued harassment and censorship for standing up against government corruption. His books have been banned and the printers harangued for publishing them. His Kuala Lumpur studio has been raided and thousands of his books confiscated. He’s been arrested on numerous occasions and some of his exhibitions have even been physically attacked. He was charged under the Sedition Act and faced the prospect of 43 years in prison. He was also banned from international travel up until last year.

The discussion was focused on how humour can be used to challenge existing political structures and was part of the IAS Laughter programme of events.

Cartoon by © Zunar

Zunar told the story of how the Head of Police ordered his arrest via Twitter – since then he has playfully tucked a drawing of the police chief using a mobile into many of his drawings (see above cartoon)

Zunar with CRNI’s Terrry Anderson (and a drawing I did of him during the talk)

He also spoke passionately about the need to stand up against political injustice and corruption. He said ‘How can I be neutral? Even my pen has a stand’.

Zunar was presented with the Cartoonists Rights Network International Courage Award in 2011.

Thankfully things have eased up for him since the regime he pilloried has been removed from office (although he joked that he will really miss drawing former Prime Minister Razak and his wife Rosmah who gave him so much material)

Zunar with The Guardian political cartoonist Martin Rowson at the exhibition after the talk. Martin described Zunar as one of the bravest people he’s ever met.

Cartoon by © Zunar

More can be read about Zunar’s long fight in this Guardian article.

He is planning a book about his experiences and will hopefully be visiting the UK again later in the year to talk about it.

Cartoonists and freedom of speech

September 12, 2012 in Comment, General, News

Picture from The Hindu - Protest in Mumbai about the arrest of Aseem Trivedi

Protest in Mumbai about the arrest of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi. Picture from The Hindu newspaper @

The late editorial cartoonist Doug Marlette described the job of the cartoonist as follows:

“Good cartoonists are also the point men for the First Amendment, testing the boundaries of free speech.”

In his home country of the United States, the first amendment to the national constitution famously guarantees this right. It also does in India, one of the world’s other great democracies.

Of course, national jurisdictions vary in how they apply their laws, but Marlette’s assertion notes a role that editorial cartoonists tend to fulfil wherever and however they deliver their work.

This is why the news from India about the arrest for sedition of the Indian cartoonist Aseem Trivedi  is worrying. Trivedi is a campaigner against corruption who works digitally and deploys social-media distribution tools that are principally made by US corporations.

We include the specific cartoon that brought his arrest below (the translation on the plinth is “Corruption alone triumphs”,  a parody of the original text.) Trivedi’s  drawings also frequently visually reference national Indian symbols and it seems that it is the offence derived from this that triggered his original arrest.

Trivedi corruption cartoon @

It appears this morning that Trivedi is now to be released on bail, but as the conflict between national jurisdictions and pervasive digital distribution of words and pictures continues we can expect to see more of this sort of event even inside what is sometimes described as the “largest democracy in the world”.

We’d like to encourage all friends of cartoonists to note the petition organised here on behalf of Trivedi. Many of our members have already signed it.

If you have anything to add to our knowledge of this please do use the comments facility below. We expect to be returning to this subject.

Update: 14th September 2012. The Indian High Court has according to this report in The Hindu newspaper rebuked the police for the arrest of Trivedi.

Our friends at English Pen have different information and a drawing about the issue.

Updated: 14th October 2012. The BBC reports charges against Aseem Trivedi have been dropped.