This week, Cartoon Movement is in Doha, Qatar, at the invitation of the Doha Centre for Media Freedom (DCMF). So, why are we here and what have we been up to?
First and foremost, we are here to explore the possibilities of creating a partnership between Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI), DCMF, ICORN and CM with the aim of better protecting and supporting cartoonists who get into trouble because of their work. The idea is to set up a network, we're now tentatively calling 'Cartoonists in Distress', that uses the strengths of each organization to create an effective support structure.
CRNI and DCMF have vast experience in monitoring abuse against journalists/cartoonists, and offering emergency support in the form of legal, medical and financial aid. ICORN is the acronym for International Cities of Refuge Network; their expertise is arranging a safe haven for journalists and cartoonists if their life is at risk in the country of origin.
Cartoon Movement's first real experience with supporting a cartoonist in distress came this year, when Palestinian cartoonist Mohammad Saba'aneh was arrested. Although we did not succeed in getting him out of jail (fortunately he is out now), we did learn we can get the world's attention. By maintaining a blog with all the latest news, and a spontaneous cartoon campaign by our cartoonists, we managed to raise a lot of awareness, and became to go-to source for many media outlets wanting to write on this issue. We would like to build on this role, and this partnership will allow us to do so. Although in some cases, cartoonists in danger will be better served by discretion, in other cases we will want to raise global attention. And we can make a lot of noise if we want to.
It will take time to build on the basic concept laid down in the past week, and secure the necessary resources, but the intention is there.
Qatar is a complex country. At first sight, it is an absolute monarchy (Qatar is headed by the Emir) with a growing reputation for not treating migrant workers too well (check out today's cartoon on that issue). Another look, however, reveals a safe and stable and rich country committed to the well-being of its citizens. The fact that they host and fund a centre dedicated to Media Freedom speaks volumes in itself, although that does not necessarily mean that there is absolute media freedom in Qatar. It truly is a country with 'more than one truth'.
We could of course write about these truths, but we would rather hear about it from a local. Fortunately, more and more cities around the world are home to CM cartoonists. Khalid Albaih is a Sundanese cartoonist who have been living in Doha since he was 10 years old. We visited him to talk about his work, but also about his view of Qatar. The interview will be published next week on this blog.