Last week’s news about the deaths of 12 people of the Charlie Hebdo magazine has sent a shock wave in the political cartooning community. The death of the staff due to Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons by Islamic extremists is an assault on the freedom of expression that is one of the foundations of a thriving democracy. Over the decades, political cartoonists all over the world have been frequently the first journalists targeted by extremists, thugs, and tyrants. Cartoonists Rights Network International exists to champion their cause, leading the fight to protect the free speech and human rights of political cartoonists around the globe. The Cartoonists Rights Network International works with a global network of over 600 cartoonists in over 50 countries to monitor threats and abuses against editorial cartoonists ranging from censorship, fines and penalties, to assault, imprisonment, disappearance, and execution. The group brings international pressure on the persecutors of cartoonists by mounting campaigns for their just treatment, among the public at large and within the diplomatic community; as well as reaching out to heads of state and ministries, and coordinating joint actions with other organizations that promote free expression.
CRNI encourages political cartoonists of all stripes and political persuasions all over the world to make their opinions about free speech and this particular attack known. We encourage the world’s press to show their support for free speech by republishing the very cartoons that caused this attack.
Dr. Robert Russell, Executive Director of CRNI was quoted as saying, “Cartoonists are among the first people targeted by extremists and fundamentalists for poking fun at the sacred cows of our societies. Humor and satire are tools that close minded extremists have little defense against except by the use of weapons and murder.”
CRNI and other institutions of free speech will strive to defend, monitor and protect cartoonists all over the world as they choose to exercise their rights to express themselves freely, openly and without submitting to fear.
We are in awe at the courage of the French cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, we look forward to the next issue, and admire the society and environment that promotes this level of free speech. They are our heroes.
Harassment against cartoonists have continued in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings. A German newspaper was fire bombed on January 11 after reprinting several of the controversial Charlie Hebdo cartoons. In Turkey, several of the country’s cartoonists and satirical magazines were threatened after referencing the Hebdo killings.
Here are some political cartoonists that the Cartoonists Rights Network International have defended.
The government of Malaysia has worked for 2 years to silence Kuala Lumpur-based cartoonist Zunar. Zunar has been a consistent critic against the corruption of the Malaysian government, focusing his cartoons on government corruption, cronyism, lack of transparency, theft, illegal kickbacks, nepotism, and election rigging. Malaysia’s civil-rights advocacy group SUARAM issued a statement decrying “the unrelenting harassment and persecution by government against political cartoonist Zulkifli Anwar Ulhaque, or better known by his pen name Zunar. We demand the police and Home Minister to uphold Zunar’s constitutional right to express his ideas and cease all harassment against Zunar, three of his assistants, webmaster, printers and bookstore vendors.”
The jihadist militant group ISIS has pronounced a death sentence for Kuwati-born comic book artist Naif Al-Mutawa. Dr. Al-Mutawa created the comic “THE 99″ to give the Muslim community its own superheroes while at the same time fostering a greater, more positive understanding of Islam among non-Muslim readers. Fundamentalists within Islam have been unhappy with the project because of the positive attention it has been given by most western media.
Kanika Mishra, a cartoonist and web-animator living in Mumbai, was threatened for months for doing cartoons critical of popular religious leader, Asaram Bapu, who had been accused of raping the 16-year old daughter of two of his followers. Despite death threats to Kanika and her husband, she continued to make cartoons to make sure that the religious leader is kept accountable for the rape. Mishra has continued to produce hard-hitting political cartoons on a wide range of topics and she recently received the Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning from the Cartoonists Rights Network International.
Palestinian Majda Shaheen was the co-recipient of the 2014 Courage in Editorial Cartooning award in response to the repeated threats and public campaign mounted against her due to a cartoon she published on her Facebook page that was critical of Hamas, the political and military entity in control of Gaza, where she resides. She wrote in a statement after winning the award: ““Despite all the obstacles and challenges put in my way, I still believe in the influence of art on society and culture, even when that influence might be undetected. It is essential for me to express myself as a woman and as a Palestinian living in Gaza, a place where opinions similar to mine are rarely heard and are not given the opportunity to be broadly communicated. Our political leaders willingly choose to ignore or silence voices that do not match their agenda. Revolutions begin from the simple people, who raise their voices to speak for themselves and represent the silent majority.”
For cartoonists around the world who are threatened, the Cartoonists Rights Network International created a manual to provide advice and action plans. Here is a link to the manual.
This is a 2012 interview of French cartoonist Stéphane “Charb” Charbonnier, the editor of the satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo, by . Six months prior to this interview the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo were firebombed by Islamic extremists. The interview was conducted by Drew Rougier-Chapman, the Deputy Director of the Cartoonists Rights Network International.
This is a 2014 interview with Mumbai political cartoonist Kanika Mishra conducted by Dr. Robert “Bro” Russell, executive director of Cartoonist Rights Network International
This is a 2012 Cartoonists Rights Network International interview of Egyptian cartoonist Amro Selim
This is a 2012 Cartoonists Rights Network International interview of South African cartoonist Zapiro
A 2012 Cartoonists Rights Network International interview with Iranian-Canadian cartoonist Nik Kowsar. Kowsar spoke out against the sentencing of Iranian cartoonist Mahmud Shokraye to 25 lashes for drawing a caricature of parliamentarian Ahmad Lotfi Ashtiani.
Robert Russell explains the Cartoonists Rights Network, International, Pulitzer-Prize winner Joel Pett compares the plight of cartoonists and draws presidents, Nik Kowsar remembers his time at Evin prison