Drawing lines: humor, free speech and hate speech

Tnt_pencil__marian_kamenskyImage by Marian Kamensky

Online event - 21 September 2020, 15:00-16:30 (CEST Time)

Freedom of humor and satire is an essential component of democratic life; but at the same time, some forms of humor can be a vehicle for hateful or anti-democratic messages. How can we draw a line between free speech and hate speech, when it comes to humor? Answering these questions is particularly difficult in the case of highly condensed (and often ambiguous) forms of visual humor, such as cartoons or memes.

On September 21st, the members of the Constructive Advanced Thinking team ‘Cartoons in Court’ will present their project and discuss humor controversies from an interdisciplinary perspective, with special but not exclusive regard to cartoons. The event will start with a presentation by the team members, followed by an open Q&A.

Speakers: Alberto Godioli (University of Groningen, PI); Vicky Breemen (Utrecht University); Andrew Bricker (Ghent University); Ana Pedrazzini (ECyC IPEHCS CONICET – Comahue National University); Tjeerd Royaards (Cartoon Movement).

Host: Andrey Demidov (IAS CEU Budapest)

The ZOOM link to the event: here

The project is supported by the Constructive Advanced Thinking (CAT) program, an initiative by the Network of European Institutes for Advanced Study (NetIAS). IAS CEU is a host institution for the team 'Cartoons in Court'. The online event is co-sponsored by Cartoon Movement.

Newletter 8, August 2020

New_news__osvaldo_gutierrez_gomezCartoon by OSVAL

We are back with your monthly dose of cartooning news; read our August newsletter here. August is typically our most quiet month of the year, but September is ramping up to be a lot busier. In the meantime, we do have some new cartoonists to introduce and a save-the-date for an online event about cartoons. We also ask your support for Emad Hajjaj, who was arrested (and now released on bail) in Jordan last week over a cartoon.

If you want to receive a monthly update from the world of international editorial cartooning, subscribe!

Jordanian cartoonist Emad Hajjaj arrested


Image by Gianluca Costantini

This report is taken from Cartooning for Peace:

Renowned Jordanian cartoonist Emad Hajjaj was arrested by the Jordanian authorities for a cartoon related to the signing of the peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, published by Al Araby and subsequently posted on the artist’s website and social networks. The publication on social networks has since disappeared.

Screen Shot 2020-08-27 at 17.56.02Screenshot from AlAraby, where the cartoon is published. The text in the cartoon reads: 'Israel asks the United States not to sell F35 to the United Arab Emirates'

According to Nidal Mansour, head of the Jordanian Center for the Protection and Freedom of Journalists, the cartoonist was arrested for obstructing the Jordanian Information Systems and Cybercrime Law of 2015. An arrest that Emad Hajjaj’s brother, Osama Hajjaj, a cartoonist himself, confirmed. According to Reporters Without Borders, the publications of online newspapers or those of citizen journalists on social networks are punishable by prison sentences and lead to pre-trial detention in case of prosecution under this law. The cartoonist was taken to a court this morning to be heard.

We join Cartooning for Peace in calling for his immediate release. No artist can be arrested for the realization of a cartoon.

Locked in Kashmir


CRNI has posted a comics journalism piece by cartoonist Suhail Naqshbandi to mark the first anniversary of the repeal of Article 370, India’s suspension of the Jammu & Kashmir region’s autonomous status and the subsequent degradation of civil liberty, including one of the world’s longest internet shutdowns.

We recommend you read this essay by Suhail first, describing his experiences prior to the repeal of Article 370. The you can read the full comic here.

Bolsonaro in 10 cartoons

This week, Bolsonaro’s Justice Ministry asked the Federal Police and prosecutors to investigate cartoonist Renato Aroeira, because of a cartoon depicting Bolsonaro using a paintbrush to transform a red cross into a swastika.

Cartoonists in Brazil and other countries have made cartoons in solidarity with Aroeira. To show our solidarity, we have collected 10 of our favorite Bolsonaro cartoons here, showing his lack of regard for environment, his misguided approach to the coronavirus and his general incompetence.


Carmelo Kalashnikov - Italy


After the rainforest, Bolsonaro is now cutting down pencils, it seems.


Antonio Rodriguez - Mexico


Cartoonists are often a target of authoritarian leaders...


Rice Araujo - Brazil


...because they expose their shortcomings in one visual. In the case of Bolsonaro, he has been trying very hard to hide the true death toll of the coronavirus in Brazil.


Amorim - Brazil


Although he might just be trying to set a world record.


Anne Derenne - Spain


Of course, would-be dictators do not like to be compared...


Luc Descheemaeker - Belgium


....to other famous examples from history...


Olivier Ploux - France


...or other...


Rice Araujo - Brazil


...pop culture references.


Faditoon - Norway


Also, they don't like it when their mental capacity is questioned.


Vilma Vargas - Venezuela


Vilma Vargas summaries the Bolsonaro presidency as 'darkness and regression', in stead of the 'order and progress' featured on the Brazilian flag.

Coronavirus pandemic heralds renewed threat to cartoonists

Freedom_of_expression___ahmad_rahmaImage by Ahmad Rahma

Cartoon Movement, Cartoonists Rights Network International and Cartooning For Peace warn that amid 2020's pandemic the global community of cartoonists could be irrevocably damaged. Economic depression will lead to losses but far worse is deliberate action repressing free expression.


Cartoon Movement, Cartooning for Peace and Cartoonists Rights Network International appeal for aid.

Fears of extreme difficulty ahead for cartoonists as the coronavirus pandemic worsens existing trends toward authoritarianism, censorship and intolerance.

Cartoon Movement, Cartooning For Peace and Cartoonists Rights Network International welcome last week’s statement made by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, European Federation of Journalists and the Media Freedom Rapid Response consortium calling attention to problems faced by cartoonists in Belgium, Denmark, Hungary, The Netherlands, Sweden and elsewhere.

In particular we object in the strongest possible terms to both:
- interventions from ambassadors and other top-level national and international representatives calling for the dismissal or censure of cartoonists
- and mass targeting of cartoonists via social media, apparently encouraged if not actively organised by bad actors

On at least two recent occasions such public over-reactions have led directly to death threats against the cartoonists in question. It is a scant five years since the attacks at Charlie Hebdo; death threats against cartoonists are still regarded with the utmost seriousness by police forces across Europe and lead to great levels of distress for those so threatened as well as their families.

But this report from within the EU covers only part of the picture. In the last two months we have also seen cartoonists arrested, threatened, subjected to cyber attack or court action originating in Bangladesh, Bolivia, China, Palestine, Peru and Uganda (see list below). And these are only the incidents that we can safely acknowledge. There is more; CRNI says that from late March through early May there have been twice over the usual number of incidents reported. This spike in cartoonists experiencing violations of their human right to free expression comes at the same time as the economic downturn. The vast majority of editorial cartoonists are self-employed and while some nations have extended relief in the form of grants to that sector, most have prioritised helping businesses and other organisations with payroll for employees. Even among the minority of cartoonists who have a relationship with a news media outlet, we've heard many describe being furloughed, dismissed entirely or warned by editors of rapidly diminishing revenue. The inevitable consequence will be a reduction in the numbers of cartoonists pursuing their careers.

We do not suggest that cartoonists are uniquely or especially troubled during this crisis. Journalists, commentators and artists of every description are encountering a newly hostile and difficult working environment; we note that Index on Censorship’s tracker has over one hundred and fifty incidents related directly to coverage of COVID-19 over the same period.

However we do recognise – through long experience in the matter – that cartoonists are often among the first to feel the effects of such a crisis, to the worst extent and yet can be overlooked thereafter. Not every incident we have seen since the start of 2020 can be explicitly linked to the health crisis. But we cannot escape the reality that an already bad situation can only be worsened by coronavirus, as new laws and emergency measures have an accumulative effect in favour of the forces of repression.

In their special collaboration with Courrier International last December, Cartooning For Peace described 2019 as “une année noire”. Every phenomenon mentioned: the notable emergence of authoritarianism, isolationism and nationalism in all regions; dwindling opportunities as news media dispense with cartoonists, citing falling revenue; and the deleterious effect of social media on the public’s sensitivity to “offensive” material will be exacerbated in the wake of COVID-19. If 2019 was “black”, 2020 could prove to be an utter void.

Terry Anderson, Executive Director of CRNI said: “In a recent poll our regional representative cartoonists cited criminalisation as their top anxiety. The current global crisis is has emboldened regimes that seek to censor dissenting or contrarian voices. We’re seeing it in Bangladesh with the arrest of Ahmed Kabir Kishore and others, whose open scepticism about the measures taken there is being spun as dangerous misinformation."

“We need to be very careful we’re not sidelined in the effort against ‘fake news’”, adds Cartoon Movement’s Editor-In-Chief, Tjeerd Royaards. “Who arbitrates between a sarcastic comment and a deliberate lie? We know that colleagues in Bolivia are anxious about Supreme Decree 4231, in Morocco there are worries following Law 22-20 and in France likewise after the adoption of Loi Avia. In so many places local press is already heavily censored and now social media is going the same way.”

All three organisations acknowledge the vital link to audiences that social media provides to cartoonists in nations without a free press. As changes are made by companies and in particular Facebook to address issues of public trust in their platforms, we call upon them to recognise the special status of satirical content. Cartoonists do not make flat, factual statements: they caricature, exaggerate, distil and distort, but all in pursuit of truths deeper than mere headlines can convey. They must remain at liberty to do so.

In the worst case scenario 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.

Cartooning for Peace often remind us that cartoonists are democracy barometers, as the threats they face indicate broader movements of repression that consequently affect society as a whole. As such there is a renewed urgency behind their reiterated call for solidarity and protection.

Ultimately we prefer to sound an alarm and risk being perceived as doomsayers rather than wait until a sudden surge solidifies into a trend.

We call on all governments to remember their obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, especially article 19, and ask that careful consideration be given to 2019’s Addis Ababa declaration for the recognition of cartooning as a fundamental right

We make most urgent appeal to anyone who has ever considered assisting in our shared mission; now is the moment, so please take action in support of cartoonists.

Download the statement here in English, French, Spanish and Arabic.


Cases of note:



AUSTRALIA – dissident Chinese cartoonist Badiucao receives death threats via social media on a continuous basis, but intensified while he reported on events in China and in particular his illustrated “Wuhan diary”.

GAZA STRIP – cartoonist Ismael el-Bozom detained by Hamas personnel, spat upon, interrogated.



BOLIVIA – cartoonist Abecor receives death threats via Facebook.

IRAN – cartoons posted on social media leads to arrest of journalists.

PERU – cartoonist Carlín receives death threats over cartoon on first anniversary of former president’s suicide.

SWEDEN – Palestinian cartoonist Mahmoud Abbas subjected to mass trolling, death threats from Twitter users in Saudi Arabia.

UGANDA – cartoonist Jimmy Spire Ssentongo among those prevented from leaving coronavirus quarantine despite negative testing, resorts to hunger strike.



BANGLADESH – cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore among multiple arrests under Digital Security Act, denied bail.

HUNGARY – cartoonist Gábor Pápai accused of blasphemy and sued by ruling KDNP. 

USA – cartoonist and syndicate operator Daryl Cagle writes to his congressional representative warning of collapse in industry and regression in press freedom.

SPAIN – cartoonist Miguel Villalba Sánchez’s Facebook page is summarily deleted, prevented from signing in again under his own name; cites fact-checkers under contract to Spanish government.

JORDAN – cartoonist Rafat Alkhateeb pressured to remove caricature of Prime Minister Al-Razzaz from Facebook.


China Delegation Objects to Cartoon at THIMUN

In January, we had a small exhibition at THIMUN (The Hague International Model United Nations), a gathering of 3,500 secondary school students from all over the world at the World Forum in The Hague to think and talk about the world’s problems.


This year's exhibition theme was 'Advancing and Securing Democracy'. One of the cartoons featured was a 2014 cartoon by Tjeerd Royaards about freedom in China.


The delegation from China wasn't happy with this cartoon and wrote an official complaint letter. How much of this is at the initiative of (indoctrinated) students and how much is enforced by teachers and/or the Chinese embassy (which is practically next to the World Forum) is unclear, but to state China is a democracy that 'respects and defends freedom of speech', while accusing the cartoonist of not portraying the truth sounds, to us, like a statement of 1984's Ministry of Truth.

Quote 2

Read the complete letter here.

Basque Police Union Mad About Human Rights Cartoon

2100-181102 UN Art. 5 (Duayer)_small

Our 30 cartoons about the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights  - made last year in partnership with the United Nations Human Rights Office - are currently on display at a UNESCO exhibition in Getxo, a town near Bilbao, Spain.

ERNE, the police union of the Ertzaintza, the atonomous Basque police ,has protested against the cartoon illustrating article 5 (no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment). The cartoon by Brazilian artist Elihu Duayer depicts three policemen in riot gear laughing about human rights, as if they were a joke.

ERNE has demanded this cartoon be taken out of the exhibition, because they do not like to be linked to torture. However, the Getxo City Council has replied to the union that it does not intend to remove the cartoon from the exhibition, stating the vignette does not refer to the Ertzaintza, but alludes to police brutality in other countries.

ERNE will today (December 3) file a formal complaint. Read more about the controversy on this website (in Spanish) or watch this video (also in Spanish).

Talking about Cartoons at the UN

Last week, CM editor Tjeerd Royaards was invited by the Permanent Representation to the UN of the Netherlands to participate in an event at the Palace of Nations in Geneva. He talks about his experience with talking about social satire at the United Nations:

My talk focused on the shrinking space for freedom of expression in general, and for editorial cartoons in particular. Not only do we have many leaders in power that do not like to be mocked, newspaper editors seem to be getting more timid when it comes to publishing political satire (just look at the decision of the New York times earlier this year to stop publishing cartoons altogether).

To illustrate my point I made a video showing a cartoon about the current situation for cartoonists:

Now the thing about the UN is that within the halls of UN buildings you are not allowed to insult political leaders. I had hoped to get away with it by drawing a lot of them in one cartoon, but the organization that invited me was afraid they might never be allowed to host an event at the Palace of nations again if I were to show the cartoon above. So I was faced with a choice; either withdraw from the event, or censor my own work.

I try to take any opportunity I get to talk about the importance of cartoons and freedom of expression (especially at international level), so I was reluctant to cancel. Instead, I tried to think of a way to work around the constraints while still making the same point. Here's what I came up with:

In the end, there is little difference between kings fearing the jester mocking them and (authoritarian) leaders fearing the cartoonist's sharp pen. And I'm quite sure those in the audience will have recognized many of them in my altered version. Here are the two of them side by side:

191031 Tolerance

Blocked in China, Iran, Russia and Turkey


If you can read this post, you are part of the diminishing group that enjoys free access to the Internet (or using a VPN). An old saying about cartoonists states that a good cartoon always needs to piss off someone.

We tend to agree, and it seems we are doing a good job pissing off those in power, especially those despots who fear a few lines will make them lose their power. How do we know this? Cartoon Movement is currently blocked in China, Iran, Russia and Turkey.

Source: Comparitech