'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.

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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


Osama Hajjaj banned from travel and facing charges over a cartoon

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Renowned Jordanian cartoonist Osama Hajjaj is banned from travel pending legal action (and potentially time in prison) because of a cartoon that is said to be offensive to Islam.

The cartoon (shown above) is about birth control. The text in the top panel reads' birth control' and in the bottom panel 'without birth control'. The prosecution claims the cartoon is offensive to Islam, because the women in the bottom panel wears a veil, while the woman in the top panel does not.

Osama was charged with the offence pursuant to Article (150) of the Penal Code, and in terms of Article (15) Cyber Crimes, and he plead not guilty.

We support Osama's not guilty plea and call upon the Jordan authorities to drop all charges against him.


Three-finger salute in support of Myanmar protests

Myanmar protests - ADENECartoon by Anne Derenne


A three-fingered salute that originated in the Hunger Games film series has been adopted by activists from Thailand to Myanmar, becoming a symbol of resistance and solidarity for democracy movements across south-east Asia.

UK cartoonists have been drawing Three-finger salute cartoons in support of the Myanmar Cartoonists Association. The UK Professional Cartoonists' Organisation (PCO) has been sharing a lot of them on Twitter. We share a few of them here. Visit our cartoon collection to see more cartoons about the militiary coup in Myanmar.

 


Become a Cartoon Movement supporter!

القمع وو حرية التعبيرCartoon by Ahmad Rahma

In December 2020, we celebrated our 10th anniversary (very modestly, given we were, and still are, in lockdown). We are incredibly proud to have been around for a decade. Building and launching Cartoon Movement would not have been possible without funding, which we were lucky to have in 2010. But our aim was always to become self-sustaining as a platform, and we have been since 2013.

Keeping ourselves afloat without external funding, investors or advertisers has been challenging at times. While our hosting and server costs have only gone up over the years, money earned per cartoon sold has either stayed the same or gone down.

So in 2021, we would like to see if we can leverage additional support from our fans. If you like what we do, and if you want to support political satire, press freedom, and freedom of expression in general, please consider making a (onetime or monthly) donation. You can also become a supporter of our Facebook page. Supporting us will not only ensure we remain ad-free, it will also help us pay our cartoonists for the beautiful, scathing, hilarious and always thought-provoking work they do.

Part of our mission is to promote editorial cartoons and we feel we do that best by trying to reach the widest audience possible. Therefore, we will not put our cartoons behind a paywall. However, we are open to experiment with fan involvement. If you became a support, would you for instance be interested to help in the editorial process? Or would you like access to exclusive content such as interviews and behind-the-scenes to get an idea of the creative process behind the cartoon?

Let us know by leaving a comment or by sending us an email at cartoons@cartoonmovement.com

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Cartoon by Gatis Sluka

 


Charges dropped against Emad Hajjaj

765726FD-95FA-44DF-A864-CC346023F792Cartoon by Emad Hajjaj about being a cartoonist.

Cartooning for Peace reports some good news to start the year: the Criminal Magistrate’s Court of Amman (Jordan) has decided to cease the prosecution of cartoonist Emad Hajjaj.

Emad Hajjaj was charged with 'contempt of a president of a foreign country against the provisions of 122/1 of the Penal Code' following the publication of a cartoon about the leader of the United Arab Emirates.

More on the website of Cartooning for Peace.


Global cartoon campaign in support of Nasrin Sotoudeh

United Sketches is raising awareness for Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who was sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes. Sotoudeh, 57, who has represented opposition activists including women prosecuted for removing their headscarf, was arrested in 2018 and charged with spying, spreading propaganda and insulting Iran’s supreme leader.

Here below you can see some of the excellent works by cartoonists that already have drawn in support of Nasrin. If you want to join the campaign, send your cartoon to kianoush@unitedsketches.org

 

131901478_10226282308028865_3299574933390359457_oCartoon by Izabela Kowalska

 

131366031_10226260066832849_6621064766074385308_nCartoon by Phil Umbdenstock

 

131903528_10226284595246044_829287185322367333_oCartoon by Marco De Angelis