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Malaysia drops sedition case against political cartoonist

© AFP/File | Cartoonist Zulkifli Anwar Ulhaque, popularly known as Zunar, was repeatedly targeted by the regime of Malaysia's ex-PM Najib Razak

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - 

A Malaysian political cartoonist said Monday that nine sedition charges against him had been dropped after the scandal-mired regime that he had frequently lampooned was booted out of power.

Zulkifli Anwar Ulhaque -- who goes by the pen-name Zunar -- was repeatedly targeted under the former government for his cartoons, which often mocked ex-prime minister Najib Razak and his luxury-loving wife. Some of his collections were banned.

He was hit with nine counts of sedition in 2015, stemming not from his artistic work but Twitter criticism about the jailing of then-opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

It was a record number for a single court appearance in Malaysia, according to his lawyers.

But at a hearing in Kuala Lumpur Monday, prosecutors said the attorney-general's office had decided it does not want to pursue the case and was withdrawing the charges against him, the cartoonist confirmed.

Zunar, whose cartoons are published by leading news portal Malaysiakini, told AFP he was happy with the decision, but added he would not be "absolutely happy until the government abolishes the Sedition Act".

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, tweeted that Zunar's acquittal was "fantastic news" and also called on authorities to scrap the sedition law.

The Sedition Act, a relic of the British colonial era, was one of several laws that critics said were used to gag free speech during Najib's rule.

Dozens of government critics, including opposition politicians, activists and journalists, were arrested for sedition and under other laws.

Najib launched a brutal crackdown against opponents after allegations emerged that he and his cronies oversaw the looting of sovereign wealth fund 1MDB in a sophisticated fraud that spanned the globe.

The scandal was a major factor in the surprise election defeat in May of his coalition, which had ruled Malaysia uninterrupted since independence from Britain in 1957.

Since the loss, Najib has been charged with corruption linked to the multi-billion-dollar 1MDB controversy. He denies any wrongdoing.

© 2018 AFP