Iranian cartoonist Atena Farghadani sentenced to 6 years in prison

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Originally published by Cartooning for Peace.

We are dismayed to learn that the Iranian activist, artist, and cartoonist Atena Farghadani has been sentenced to a total of six years in prison; five years for “insulting the sacred” and one year for “propaganda against the State”. This sentence was handed down by the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Revolutionary Court on Monday, June 10, as confirmed by lawyer Mohammad Moghimi via social media. The maximum penalties are indicative of the Iranian regime’s long-standing determination to persecute and silence this courageous rights defender.

Atena Farghadani had been detained since April 13 2024 after attempting to display a drawing in a public space, not far from the presidential palace in Tehran. Over the past decade, she has been regularly monitored and harassed due to her art and activities opposing the repression of rights in Iran, especially those of women and children.

Previously jailed in 2014-16, and again for a short period last summer, Atena Farghadani risks coming to harm within the penal system. In 2023 she alleged an attempted poisoning. At the time of her arrest this year she reported that she suffered severe injuries from Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) personnel.

Artwork by Atena Farghadani was recently exhibited in Norway, at the sixteenth Oslo Forum for Freedom (OFF) organized by the Human Rights Foundation, dedicated to “reclaiming democracy”. In the presence of human rights defenders from around the world, Atena Farghadani’s representative Mohammad Moghimi ensured that her voice was heard, a voice that is both brave and righteous, and is targeted because she dares to defy oppression and injustice in her country.

Our organizations call for her immediate release and that she be returned to her family unharmed.

Signatories:
Africartoons
Artists at Risk Connection (ARC)
Association of Canadian Cartoonists
Cartooning for Peace
Cartoon Movement
Cartoonists Rights
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
Forum for Humor and the Law
Freedom Cartoonists Foundation
Freemuse
Index on Censorship
Professional Cartoonists’ Organisation

Signataires-768x532


Spokes in the pencils. Protecting the hand behind the drawing

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By Emanuele Del Rosso

It is a Sunday in January. My wife and I have just returned home to Amsterdam from our usual end-of-the-year trip to Italy. It is evening, almost ten o'clock. The doorbell rings. I answer the intercom.

It's the police. "It's the police," I tell her. She looks at me worried.

I open, and a middle-aged officer comes up, introduces himself, apologizes for the late hour, and then tells me that he was told I published a drawing in a French magazine, the week before.

I nod, "Charlie Hebdo." The name doesn't seem to tell him much. He scribbles some notes, snaps a picture of the magazine, which I produced for him – I had gotten it through friends –  and hands me a business card of the Dutch police.

"The Iranian government has very long arms," he tells me, with a serious expression. He expects me to contact them at that direct number, written on the business card, if I notice anything strange. He hopes, for himself and me, that there will be no need for that. And he leaves.

My cartoon had been published on that January 7th in Charlie Hebdo, in a special issue, dedicated to Iranian mullahs, after the death of Mahsa Amini and the protests that followed it. Forty works from cartoonists around the world, as well as from the staff of the French satirical magazine.

After publication, Iranian religious and government authorities threatened the magazine and, by extension, all published cartoonists.

Without protections

This was just a short, unimportant story. A small scare and nothing more. Fourteen months after that Sunday visit, nothing has happened to me yet.

But the cartoonists who encounter a different, far worse, fate are dozens. And you have to count them one by one, case by case, because there are no reports that give precise numbers.

The organizations Cartooning for Peace, Cartoon Movement, and Cartoonists Rights stated, "2020 could see the global community of cartoonists irrevocably damaged. In part the circumstances are unavoidable; the economic depression will lead to the loss of many, and we have seen that attrition is already underway. But far worse, deliberate repressive action will silence yet more." This was 2020. Things have certainly not improved in the past four years.

If we want to give a few examples, take Gábor Pápai in Hungary. In May 2020, after a cartoon pointed out as blasphemous, Gábor and the newspaper he works for, Népszava, were fined, with the obligation to publish an apology, signed by Gábor, in the same box where the cartoonist publishes his work.

Or, outside the EU, in Jordan, Emad Hajjaj, who again in 2020 was arrested without even knowing why, and then found out that the reason was a simple tweet with one of his cartoons, which apparently could damage Jordan's diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates.

Or in Turkey, Zehra Ömeroğlu, accused of obscenity for one of her drawings, who faces more than six years in jail if found guilty.

And these are just the lawsuits, filed against cartoonists to get them to stop drawing, or against the newspapers that publish them. To push them to fire the cartoonists. To make political satire become a liability.

Then there is the violence. The online trolling, the death threats, the illegal arrests, the disappearances, the kidnappings, the beatings, the torture. The murders.

Such is the case of Pedro Molina, who in 2018 found a stranger trying to write "plomo" on his front door. Plomo means "lead" in Spanish, and it means "death" in Nicaragua, because you angered someone powerful and criminal. Pedro fled to the U.S., on Christmas Day, because there are fewer controls at the airport on December 25.

Worse still was Ali Farzat’s fate. Ali, Syrian, had his hands broken by President Bashar al-Assad in 2011 so that he would stop drawing his subversive satire.

His colleague and countryman Akram Raslan, instead, did not survive torture. He died in prison in the spring of 2013.

These are just some of the many stories of cartoonists unprotected, neither by the newspapers they work for, nor by the authorities, nor by public opinion.

So much success, so much precarity

But why don’t we care about cartoonists? We need to take a few steps back and look at the bigger picture. The fact is that political satire is like a dying person who has never been better. A real oxymoron.

On the one hand, the number of cartoonists employed by news outlets continues to decline. In the U.S. alone, one of the places where "newspaper" political satire was born, it has dropped from about 150 cartoonists in 1997 to about 20 in 2023.

But at the same time, social media gives a lot of visibility to cartoons, which go viral, passing from eye to eye, from click to click, and going around the world. It happens because satirical cartoons are such a powerful medium. They make us smile, laugh, get angry, and most importantly, they make us think.

The problem is that, if all it takes to attract the anger of the satirized is to be talented and to go strong on social media, deciding who is a cartoonist and who is not becomes problematic – although to me, "cartoonist is, who cartoonist does."

And so it also becomes complicated to define cartoonists as journalists.

What is certain, however, is that cartoonists encounter the same risks as journalists. And journalists have it pretty rough.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 78 were killed in 2023, and nearly 800 were detained, according to Reporters Without Borders. This year instead, in Gaza alone, 95 journalists have already lost their lives, again according to CPJ numbers.

As we said, there is no exact data on cartoonists, but one only has to look at all the cases that Cartooning for Peace or Cartoonist Right cover to see that there are so very many emergencies.

When I attend some event related to the world of journalism – and I often do, since I work for the European Press Prize – I'm always there in the third or fourth row raising my hand to ask the same question to the speakers: "You've talked about the safety of journalists. But what about cartoonists?" And when I then talk to the speakers privately, I realize that the cartoonist category is losing pieces: you see cartoons galore online, but cartoonists are always talked about very little, and those of them who work in the newsroom, on a regular contract, are replaced by freelancers when they retire. Freelancers are easier to dump, in case some drawing sparks controversy-which it certainly can.

This weakens the profession. And if it then happens that someone tries to write “plomo” on the doorstep of the house of a cartoonist, or they arrest another without explanation, or they break his or her hands: who will defend them, if they don't have a newspaper behind their backs, and if they don't have official data to illustrate the dangers they face?

The next time we see a cartoon

I am under no illusion that an editorial is enough to convince us, but if I had to decide where to start I would say: the next time we see a cartoon on social media, or read about some satirical cartoon that has angered someone powerful, let's think about who drew it.

Behind a cartoon is always some cartoonist, sitting in his or her little room, paid perhaps, certainly often alone, even more often precarious. Whether they are journalists or not, cartoonists deserve to be protected when they are doing their job and someone is trying to put spokes in their pencils.

I, meanwhile, continue to raise my hand at events about journalism.

 

This editorial originally appeared on March 21, 2024, in the Italian newspaper Domani.


Political cartooning in Hungary

By Tjeerd Royaards, Cartoon Movement editor

 

221108 Satire and the law

 

These past few days, I had the opportunity to spend some time getting to know the cartooning scene in Hungary. Cartoon Movement was in Budapest for Cartoons in Court, a research project into satire and the law. The research team consists of four academics from various universities around the world. Representing Cartoon Movement, I am the fifth member of the project as a so-called stakeholder, providing a link to actual practitioners of satire (cartoonists).

As Hungarian democracy slowly slides towards authoritarianism under the leadership of Victor Orbán, being a cartoonist in Hungary is increasingly challenging. I met with some cartoonists from the cartoonist association at the Association of Hungarian journalists. The fact that they are part of the journalist association is a good thing, but that's one of the few positives that I can say about political cartoons in Hungary (aside from the excellent cartoons and the cartoonists themselves, of course).

First of all, there is basically only one full-time cartoonist in the country. His name is Gábor Pápai and he is perhaps the most renowned cartoonist in Hungary, making a daily cartoon for Népszava, the last independent newspaper left. The rest is working part-time, unpaid, or is struggling to find any publication to run their work, as the vast majority of Hungarian media is under control of Orbán and therefore not very open to political satire.

 

Cartoon-Gabor-Papai-3Cartoon by Gábor Pápai

 

One other gem of political satire can be found on the covers of economic magazine HVG, which has a decade-long tradition of making sharp satirical covers.

FI-ABJXXsAkNkBWA cover of HGV with Victor Orbán and Vladimir Putin from April 2022.

 

Gábor and his colleagues have gotten into trouble numerous times in the past two years and Gabor's newspaper is currently in the process of appealing to the European Court of Human Rights after the Hungarian Supreme Court ruled one of Gabor's cartoons to be insulting to Christians. I'm not going to go into the details of the court proceedings here, but you can head over to the website of Cartooning for Peace for a detailed explanation of both the cartoon and the court case. You can also watch this video, made when Gábor was named one of the recipients (alongside Ukrainian cartoonist Vladimir Kazanevsky) of the Kofi Annan Courage in Cartooning Award 2022:

 

 

Suffice it to say that the red lines are many. Religion is one, but other cartoonists have gotten in trouble for depicting Orbán as a painful boil on the body of Europe, or by drawing the Hungarian people as pigs. Although the latter two examples haven't lead to court cases, the artists and their publications have faced threats and harassment from government officials and people close to the regime.

 

Sans-titre'

His underlying condition caused dependence'

Cartoon by Gábor Pápai, for which his newspaper had to pay a fine and publish a formal apology.

 

221108 Presentation CEU'

I don’t have the slightest wish to have it, not even on my back but it stings and itches as if there was an ugly ulcer on my splendid body, Doctor.'

'Incurable'

Cartoon by Weisz Béla

 

Malacmese

In this comic the Hungarian people are portrayed as pigs. In panel 1, they are arguing about politics; in panel 2, Orbán comes along asking if he can help rid hem of the 'migrant pest'. In panel 3, two pigs who support Orbán are trying to get the third pig in line; and finally, in panel 4, they all end up in the same place, the butcher shop.

Cartoon by Marabu

 

On November 8, we held an event at the Central European University, to present our ongoing research. I invited Gábor to come and speak about his work and the challenges he faces. Unfortunately, students couldn't attend in person,  as the CEU is no longer allowed to teach students in Budapest, because Orbán took away the accreditation and all the student facilities have moved to Vienna.

Gábor was pessimistic about the future of press freedom in his country, which in his opinion will go the same route as Russia, restricting free speech further and further. In the face of this growing oppression, Gábor has continued to create sharp cartoons, trying to provoke the authorities. However, the new strategy of the government has veered away from stimulating public outrage and court cases, opting for silence and indifference instead. This indifference, along with the insidious and unrelenting takeover of Hungarian media, might well prove successful.

Stay tuned for a recording of the event and a more in-depth interview with Gábor Pápai in the near future.


Editorial: defending a controversial editorial choice

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This cartoon by Portuguese cartoonist Rodrigo de Matos, which ran on our homepage last week, stirred up some controversy and even made one of our Ukrainian cartoonists decide to leave Cartoon Movement. Many people consider it to be offensive to Ukraine. Although I concede in retrospect the cartoon might not be our best editor's choice of the year, I do feel the need to explain why we chose it and why I feel it is a valid selection.

First of all, a bit of context: six months have passed since Russia invaded Ukraine and interest in the war in Ukraine is slowly receding. After hundreds, if not thousands of photos and cartoons about the violence and atrocities taking place, people are getting desensitized.

Our aim with the daily editor's choice is to make people think about what's happening in the world. Since the start of the invasion, we published many cartoons that protest the war, Putin's unprovoked bloodshed and the horrors of war as they are inflicted on the Ukrainian people. But as the war continues, these cartoons are less and less effective, as people get used to them. To continue to keep the war top-of-mind, we need to find new perspectives. With Rodrigo's cartoon, we thought we did.

Then onto the cartoon itself, the imagery that Rodrigo chose to use, and our interpretation of it. In the image we see a woman who is a symbol for Ukraine. She is battered and bruised, and pregnant as well. She is a victim of Russian aggression. The baby in her belly is 'hate' as we gather from the word written there. Two horns protruding make it clear that hate is evil. Since Russia forcefully invaded Ukraine, we could conclude the woman is a victim of rape.

The imagery is sharp. But sharp imagery is what cartoons often employ to jolt people into thinking about the subject at hand. In this case, Rodrigo wants us to consider the consequence of the war. Ukraine has been brutally raped, and the (logical) result is hate. The analogy of rape and a resulting child is effective, because the consequence (hate) will be long-lasting. Even after the war ends, it will probably take decades for Ukrainians and Russians to reestablish something approaching friendly relations.

This is a prospective we had not seen in a cartoon yet, and that's why we decided to make it an editor's choice. Yes, the imagery is uncomfortable, but that is sometimes needed to effectively address an issue.

I do understand that people get upset about the image, especially Ukrainians. It's not nice to see your country portrayed as a victim of rape. But in this case we felt the chosen symbols were legitimate given the point the cartoon is trying to make. We might have been wrong (although I continue to think it's a valid cartoon) and we'll probably make our share of controversial editor's choices in the future. When dealing with editorial cartoons, this is bound to happen from time to time.

Tjeerd Royaards
Cartoon Movement editor


Protest art by Badiucao

We don't usually offer things for free, but renowned Chinese dissident artist Badiucao has created a series of protest posters to mark the Beijing 2022 Winter Games. Check 'm out here below. You can download large versions here; feel free to post, share and use them to protest against the Chinese regime.

 

Beijing2022

Hockey

 

Biathlon

 

Snowboard

 

Skate

 

Curling


CRNI launches Cartoonists’ Legal Advisory Network

Cartoonists Legal Advisory Network-1

Cartoonists Rights Network International has launched a new service for cartoonists who get in trouble. From CRNI's website:

CRNI wants to hear from you if you are, or you represent, a cartoonist who fears criminalisation. The Cartoonists’ Legal Advisory Network exists to provide reliable and rapid guidance to those cartoonists who face arrest, court action or harassment from the police or judiciary.

Who do we support?

-Those who have been arrested, cautioned or questioned by the police, or have reason to believe they soon will be.
-Those who have received notification of a court action pertaining to criminal charges.
-Those who believe a change in the laws of their nation will immediately render them liable to criminal prosecution.

You can read more details and contact the legal department of CRNI here.


'I want to make a difference'

The story of escaped Afghan cartoonist Hossein Rezaei.

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Some details about Hossein's situation and family have been omitted from this article, for security reasons.

Hossein, based in Kabul, first contacted us in early August. As the Taliban advanced through the country, he was getting worried. He asked us to remove all his cartoons from Cartoon Movement, and deleted all his social media profiles. When the Taliban reached Kabul, and stories were spreading of how the Taliban were taking revenge on people who had worked with the Western world, Hossein began fearing for his life. He has worked with us on several international cartoon projects, drawing about human rights, freedom of expression and the dangers of extremism. If the Taliban found out he was a political cartoonist, working with a European platform, he would be in grave danger.

In addition, Hossein is from the Hazara minority, a group of people with a different religion, language and appearance than the majority of Afghan people. The Taliban has relentlessly persecuted this group, committing several mass murders during their previous reign.

We were able on get him on the evacuation list, because Dutch parliament decided that all people who were in danger because they worked with the Netherlands had the right to be evacuated. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs funded several of our cartoon projects, projects in which Hossein participated. So we were able to make a legitimate case; we were even more fortunate to get in touch with the crisis team almost immediately, who in turn responded rapidly. After several failed attempts to reach the airport, getting stuck in the thousands of people who crowded the roads to the airport, and losing his phone on on of these journeys, he got a message from the Dutch crisis team. If he could make is way to a specific spot at the airport, he could be evacuated.

As the situation in Kabul deteriorated, Hossein made the choice to try one more time. He took only some spare clothing and his digital tablet (for drawing). He got into a taxi, hoping to make it through the various Taliban checkpoints by pretending to be traveling elsewhere in the city. He was lucky. Even so, a journey that would normally take less than an hour, no took him over 8 hours. He was forced to go most of the way on foot; since he lost his phone, he had to use his drawing tablet to communicate with the crisis team . Both the large device and him talking in English made him stick out like a sore thumb. But he made it.

Now, Hossein is in a refugee camp in the east of the Netherlands, having left his house, car (just bought after years of saving) and his career behind in Kabul. We talked to him last week, asking him about his plans and how we can support him. Hossein still aims to pursue a PHD in archaeology, hoping that his dream to work in Bamiyan will be possible somewhere in the future, to help preserve the history of Afghanistan for future generations. That seems a long way off; on social media, he now sees photos of his former students in the streets of Kabul, dressed as Taliban and carrying guns.

 

Interview RezayeHossein, now safe in the Netherlands, with CM editor Tjeerd Royaards.

In the meantime, he has taken up making cartoons again. 'I need to do something', Hossein says, 'I need to make a difference. We share some of his recent work here, made after his arrival in the Netherlands:

 

242398060_4361369437275008_7781057143901839358_nThe situation of Afghan women under the Taliban rule.

241671251_4329342773811008_5732665188161713280_nJournalists tortured in Kabul.

 

241862051_4342647475813871_9063509716690016090_n Pro-Taliban Afghan women attend lecture at Kabul university.

 

We will continue to support Hossein and his work. If you are interested in supporting him, by publishing his work, or in some other form, please contact us here.

 


Review: Red Lines

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Red Lines - Political Cartoons and the Struggle against Censorship
Cherian George & Sonny Liew
The MIT Press
448 pages
$34.95

The number of (international or English) books that deal with political cartoons are few and far between. We did our last in-depth book review in 2016, on a book about comics journalism. Either we have missed some titles - unlikely, as we keep a sharp eye on anything and everything related to editorial cartoons - or there's just not that much being written about cartoons. All the more reason to give some attention to the upcoming publication Red Lines by Cherian George and Sonny Liew. This 448-page behemoth not only gives a broad and comprehensive overview of all forms of censorship, it does so in style, as the authors opted to present their book as a graphic narrative.

And it couldn't have come at a better time. The number of functioning democracies around the world is dwindling, and press freedom is caught in the wake of this trend towards authoritarianism. At the time of writing, the Taliban have taken over Afghanistan and I know of at least two cartoonists that are desperately trying to flee the new (and likely) oppressive regime. The author of the book, Cherian George, is a Professor of Media Studies at Hong Kong University; based in Hong Kong, he himself is witnessing the potential collapse of democracy first-hand.

The book gives a thorough account of cases where cartoonists have been harassed, threatened and murdered for the drawings they made, most frequently at the hand of oppressive regimes or extremist (religious) groups. But the book has a scope beyond the censorship of violent dictatorships. It promises a 'grand tour of censorship', looking at cases of censorship all over the world. The book was over three years in the making, during which time Cherian George traveled across the globe to interview over 60 cartoonists about their experiences with different forms of censorship.

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The scope is, I think, the biggest achievement of the book. George effective shows that violent censorship is actually a small percentage of all cases of censorship. In our interconnected world, total censorship isn't practical anymore for oppressive regimes, so most have opted for new strategies of soft censorship (George calls this 'Post-Orwellian strategies'). These strategies include discrediting the cartoonist or threatening to punish (by either removing funding or access to government) the publication in which the cartoon appeared. He then moves on to market censorship, showing how capitalist forces have both decreased the possibility for cartoonists to publish their work and get payment for it and pressure cartoonists to draw or not draw about certain topics. In addition, the book also deals specifically with censorship on the internet, gender-based censorship and censorship in wartime (taking a look at the political climate for cartoons in the aftermath of 9-11).

One of the most scary things for cartoonists is that you often cannot predict what cartoon will get you in trouble. Most cartoonists are familiar with the red lines of the country and society they live and work in, and adhere to these when drawing cartoons, but that does not prevent from sparking controversy by accident. An Iranian cartoonist drew a cockroach for the children's supplement of a government newspaper, and ends up being accused of targeting an ethnic minority. A Venezuelan cartoonist draws a gag cartoon of a rat funeral two weeks before a politician is assassinated, but the cartoon is published after this murder (the magazine was already at the printer at the time of the murder): controversy and accusations ensue, forcing the cartoonist to leave the country.

A lot of attention is of course devoted to the attack on Charlie Hebdo. Over six years after the attack, the book not only provides historical context for the attack, with a thorough account of Charlie Hebdo's track record of controversial cartoons and various lawsuits before January 2015, but it also opens a frank discussion on where and how the cartoons that Charlie Hebdo publishes fit in with press freedom. Immediately following the 2015 attack, it was almost impossible to condemn the attack while also being critical of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. George does not shy away from this question, giving equal attention to defenders of Charlie Hebdo cartoons and to people that argue that the anti-Islam cartoons targeted an already stigmatized and discriminated group, French muslims.

This, perhaps much-needed, discussion of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons is preceded by a chapter in which cartoonists talk about how they 'censor' themselves to avoid perpetuating negative stereotypes and offending people for the wrong reason. Because political satire isn't about offending just because you can; it's about using satire, which definitely includes the right to offend, to hold those in power accountable and expose their wrongs. But, to use a cliche, cartoonists should always punch up, not down. And there is nothing wrong with a degree of self-scrutiny to make sure the imagery and symbols you use as a cartoonist mock those that should be mocked without collateral damage.

3

I cannot review this book without saying something about the form. The graphic narrative is designed by Sonny Liew, an Eisner Award-winning cartoonist and illustrator. Presenting the narrative as kind of a graphic novel not only sets the tone and atmosphere of the different chapters, it makes the narrative engaging and accessible.. For those who find reading a book of close to 450-pages challenging, I can promise the graphic novel approach makes all the difference.

So, all positives. If I would have to mention something negative, it would be that I was familiar with the majority of the cases being dealt with by the author. This is to be expected, as I deal with cartoonists from around the world on a daily basis, and keep a keen eye on cartoonists getting in trouble. If you are either an internationally oriented cartoonist or a well-informed cartoon aficionado, this book might not hold much secrets for you. That said, I did discover some new cases, and, perhaps more importantly, I did gain new insights along the way. In conclusion, I would recommend this title to anyone with an interest in political satire.

The book is on sale August 31st. More info here.

Tjeerd Royaards
Cartoon Movement editor