Cartoonists Living Dangerously

In New Zealand … the likeliest reaction to a pointed cartoon about a cabinet minister’s foibles is for his or her press secretary to be on the phone wanting to buy the original. Ian Grant, Founder of the New Zealand Cartoon Archive

Having the courage of their convictions

By Roger Childs

A cartoon shows the grim reaper looking down at a grave which has the inscription CARTOONIST. He observes: That’s not funny.

Glasgow cartoonist, Terry Anderson, recently spoke in Wellington on the 25th Anniversary of the New Zealand Cartoon Archive.

His subject was Cartoonists on the front lines of free speech.

He is closely involved with a group which supports cartoonists under threat: the Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI).

Unfortunately there was only a small audience of about 40 at the National Library; Terry’s fascinating and informative talk deserved at least a hundred more.

Is the threat to caricaturists real?

Terry Anderson (Credit Alarmy)

In most countries there is no concern, however from 2015 to 2017 cartoonists have been harassed in 21 countries.

Governments have used the police, and sometimes even the armed forces, to harass the caricaturists and often there are court cases and time in jail.

Terry observed that the men and women with sharp pens are very much the canary in coal mine.

He illustrated the situation with examples from four continents.

Four Key Cases Of Courage in Cartooning

Disney motifs not appreciated in Malaysia

Zulkifli Anwar does not hold back on criticising politicians and exposing corruption. Recently he was charged with nine sedition offences, had his books banned and his passport seized.

The authorities don’t like being lampooned in cartoons which use Disney characters. No big surprise to hear that the current favourite target in the contemporary World, Donald Trump, often appears as the famous duck (Dedak).

Zulkifli is merciless with local political leaders, and the prime minister and his wife are favourite targets.

The Penang Inspector of Police told him that he should draw nice cartoons!

Erdoğan is no pussy

Musa Kart works for the Cumhuriyet newspaper in Istanbul. Turkey’s authoritarian ruler  Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has objected to being portrayed as a kitten and a hologram.

He has been keen to prosecute Musa for sedition and has even suggested that this “crime” should one day be punishable with the death penalty!

Musa and other staff from the paper have been charged and the trial resumes on Christmas Day. They are actually charged with crimes on behalf of the Fethullahist Terror Organisation and the banned Kurdistan Workers Party.

Exposing ill treatment on Manus Island

An Iranian, using the pen name Eaten Fish has produced cartoons on human rights abuses and the agony of everyday life in the refugee camps.  His “account” of the death of a detainee in 2016 was not appreciated by the authorities.

He is not officially a refugee, but was detained in Papua New Guinea. The Cartoonists In Action group appropriately launched a defence of Eaten Fish with an online mural called AddAFish. Hundreds of cartoonists have drawn a fish.

As it happens Eaten Fish has recently been released from custody.

The Equatorial Guinea president is not amused

Credit Ramón Esono Ebalé

Jamon y Queso (“Ham and cheese”) is the pen name of Ramón Esono Ebalé, an African cartoonist who produced a satirical book about President Obiang Mbasago.

He is also fearless in portraying the corruption, human rights abuses and violence in Africa. (See alongside)

He had been detained on trumped up charges, and once again The Cartoonists In Action have leapt to his defence and used their graphic skills to produce cartons and sketches of Ramón.

One shows him hanging on the cross.

Harassment not uncommon

Terry mentioned a number of cartoonists in the western world who have also been threatened. The list includes Dave Brown, Steve Bell, Brian Adcock and Martin Rowson.

Readers will recall that Aussie cartoonist and artist, the late Bill Leak, was hauled before the Human Commission in Australia for a cartoon considered to demean Aboriginal parents. See above. (Scroll down to December 14  for an article on Bill.)

In Terry’s view, caricaturists are on the front line of free speech and often take the flak first. He observes that If the cartoonists are fine, everyone is fine.

CRNI is vigilant in tracking cases of cartoonists under fire and each year provide appropriately named courage awards.