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Planting "flowers" in Kuala Lumpur
Planting "flowers" in Kuala Lumpur
Faidzal Mohtar

Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, better known as Zunar, is a cartoonist who has been drawing editorial and political cartoons for over 20 years. His cartoons cover a range of issues, but are known for being critical of the government.

“Most of the mainstream media neglect or black out the important issues, just focusing on petty or sensational issues. They want to distract people’s minds from focusing on the fundamental issues. Through my cartoons I want to highlight the important issues in Malaysia, like corruption; there are so many cases of corruption that have been blacked out by mainstream media.”

As rules get stricter on what can or cannot be said in Malaysia, people are having to get increasingly creative about putting out alternative news — like planting flags which they call "flowers."

A group of designers and architects set up the "Malaysia Spring" group after the disputed general election results came out. Architect Ng Sek, who heads the group, says they wanted to give people a sense of hope.

“Because the political process is so alienating, a lot of people in Malaysia feel helpless. The fact that they can do something as simple as planting "flowers' in a public space as an act of defiance is very important.”

The group encouraged people to plant the symbolic flowers in the shape of colorful flags in empty spaces around Malaysia, such as roundabouts and public parks. People of all ages took part in the campaign and thousands of flags were planted.

“We want to show that maybe Malaysia could have a spring, and we wanted to do this mass planting of flowers to make our neighborhoods a lot more colorful, and at the same time making people think that things can be beautiful, things can be sunny, things can be warm if everyone puts some effort into it.”

But the government didn’t see it as something beautiful.

Local government officers, the DBKL, came and tried to take the color flags out. But Ng says in some of the areas the residents fought back. “Residents came out of their homes to protest and more and more people came out with them. It got to a stage where the DBKL decided that they couldn’t proceed anymore because an incident might happen so they backed off.”

The government has also actively tried to stop political cartoonist Zunar from getting his work seen. “In 2009 an official from the home ministry began to harass the vendors and bookstores who sell my cartoons. They gave a warning to them not to sell my cartoon in the future, also seizing hundreds of my books at that time. They raided the bookstore and seized them. Later on they banned my cartoon under the printing and publishing act. After the raid I released another book and so they banned that too.”

He says the internet has been harder for the government to control. “Now we have internet, we are lucky.” Messages are continuously being spread in alternative ways in Malaysia that have yet to face any regulation.

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