Humanitarian biometrics: gateway or barrier?

This comic is based on research by Keren Weitzberg, a senior lecturer in the School of Politics and International Relations and a fellow at the Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences at Queen Mary University of London. The artwork is by Kenian comic artist Maddo. The story explores the problem of a biometric database, set up by the UNHCR, that labels people as refugees, preventing them to get the Kenyan nationality, even if they are Kenyan. read the comic here below or download the PDF.

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Western Balkans media freedom cartoon competition: exhibition & winners

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In January we launched a cartoon competition, together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, in the six countries that make up the Western Balkans: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro North Macedonia and Serbia.

Out of a total of 186 submissions from 95 artists, a jury of journalism and comic professionals selected 44 works for a cartoon exhibition on media freedom. You can see all the submissions (and more info on the jury members) on our project page.The jury was also tasked with picking a winner and a runner-up. They decided to award first prize to Dušan Petričić from Serbia, with a caricature of Serbian president Vučić. The jury was impressed by the style and execution of the cartoon and the fact that the artist needed no words to convey a clear message. The cartoon also has universal appeal; if you do not know who Vučić is, you will most likely still understand the visual message.


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The winning cartoon by Dušan Petričić


Second place was awarded to Armend Ajredini from North Macedonia. Armend is an editorial illustrator for Gazeta, a publication in Kosovo. The jury complimented his clear style. They were also happy to see journalists presented not as victims, but as professionals that can alter the status qua with the work that they do.


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The cartoon that won second place, by Armend Ajredini


Although not part of the official awards, the jury also decided to give a special mention to Anastasija Visekruna, a 16-year old artist Bosnia and Herzegovina. Although the message in the image might not be as straightforward as in the winning cartoons, the visual intrigued the judges and sparked debate about the meaning of the drawing. The goal of a cartoonist is to create an interesting image that will make people think; in that, Anastasija certainly succeeded.


A special mention was awarded to this cartoon by Anastasija Visekruna


The exhibition is on display in the six countries of the Western Balkans in April and May. Here below are some impressions of the exhibitions.


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Podgorica - Montenegro


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Podgorica - Montenegro


Skopje - North Macedonia


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Belgrade - Serbia


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Belgrade - Serbia

Our March newsletter is out!


A day late (we usually send our newsletter out on Monday) because of Easter, but our monthly update from the world of political cartooning is out. Read it here to discover our latest news and last month's most popular cartoons. If you haven't subscribed yet, you can do so here.

And remember, we also send out a newsletter every weekday with our daily cartoon, t0 which you can subscribe here.

Spokes in the pencils. Protecting the hand behind the drawing


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.